Virtual Slide

"How dare you have sex with me without my consent!"
"How dare me? How dare you! This is my private fantasy!" — Quinn and Maggie sparring (or are they?) over the perils and the promise of virtual reality.

Review by Matt Hutaff


“Virtual Slide” isn’t Season Three bad, but it isn’t Season Three good, either.

I’m torn by this episode; on the one hand, there’s exceptional writing, emotional scenes, and acting elevating by a well-paced script, but on the other, most of it never happened. Wait — I’m not spoiling anything by revealing it’s all an elaborate illusion, am I? With a title like “Virtual Slide,” one never knows!

Maybe I’m a stickler when it comes to storytelling, but few things bug me more than It Was All a Dream. If everything we see is the fevered hallucination of Maggie Beckett, why should I care? It’s a tease that permits the author an opportunity to engage in unconventional plotlines they’d like to see happen but don’t have the balls to follow through with in normal continuity. And few resets are lazier than having the character simply wake up.

By all accounts, this should be a huge episode. You’ve got blowback over missing a slide — something that’s never been taken seriously on the show thus far (if you consider “Slide Like an Egyptian” seriously, you’re out of your mind) — and the potential pairing of Maggie and Quinn. Each of these stories alone is worth its own episode, and they’re both given a fair shake here. What does the group do when they wake up and find the window of opportunity is shut? With no jobs or sources of income, building a system from scratch is cost-prohibitive. As Quinn says, “We’d be better off just waiting for the next window.”

Except Quinn never said that; it’s a simulation concocted by this world’s Shelley Levene, Randall Simmons (John D’Aquino). Desperate to climb the corporate ladder, Simmons is not averse to kidnapping Maggie after she’s knocked unconscious by an errant demolition charge and playing with her head to learn the secrets of sliding. Naturally, it’s up to Quinn and Rembrandt to rescue her, retrieve the timer, and teach Simmons a lesson before the next interdimensional train ride.

What does this mean? It means three-quarters of this episode is spent inside Maggie’s brain, which could be disastrous were we peeking inside between The Breeder and Slither. Fortunately, the introspection proves an interesting analysis of what Maggie thinks and feels about her cohorts, which is why this episode rates higher than it should. She cares about Quinn and Rembrandt’s frustrations, encourages them, and serves as wet nurse when her friends are going through VR withdrawals.

There’s one telling scene between Maggie and Rembrandt where, after having plugged himself in to the VR system, she finds him living the life he wished he had: success, wealth, fidelity, a loving family, and a relationship with his mother. Rembrandt’s been on the outs with his mother since he pursued a career in showbiz, and here in the warm confines of a digital lie those troubles are over. Maggie is gentle but firm in helping Rembrandt snap out of it even as he makes the case reality hasn’t been very good to him of late.

She’s also key in helping Quinn jump start his brain with regard to sliding. “It’s not like I carry the blueprints in my back pocket,” he says when asked about reconstructing a sliding mainframe. “I’d be working from memory. I’ll need your help.”

It’s a smart move on the part of writer Keith Damron to pair them in this way; as Quinn notes, Maggie’s husband was developing his own sliding, so she might have picked up a phrase or nugget of information while handing him the occasional magnospanner. Sure enough, the name Tesla rings a bell, and Quinn’s memory is jogged.

Working together lends to a certain level of chemistry, one where Quinn eventually admits he has deep feelings for Maggie. (Of course, he has to admit to this after Maggie catches him schtupping a virtual double of hers.) His shy and awkward admission is perfectly in line with the Quinn of old, a kid two years younger than his peers thrust into an adventure of unimaginable responsibility. “I never had that period in life when there’s no future to plan, no pressure to perform,” he says. “Nothing to think about but just being young.”

Maggie realizes they have the time to explore their mutual feelings, leans in to kiss Quinn, and that’s when she wakes up.

It Was All a Dream.

Can you see why that’d be frustrating beyond belief? You’ve committed to 30 minutes of solid character interaction only to have it swept under the rug. We don’t know if Rembrandt’s respect issues with his family are real, or if Quinn bats an eyelash Maggie’s way. Granted, there are little clues sprinkled throughout the dialogue that something’s wrong (either that, or production really thinks there’s an Artist Formerly Known as Elvis touring Earth Prime), and Maggie’s talk about making peace with her husband’s death is true to her, but it’s just such a waste of time to get invested in these scenes when there’s no factual basis behind them. I don’t care.

Back in the real world, things turn pedestrian real fast. Typical dystopic society, typical rescue plot, typical timer theft. It’s all recycled, which makes me wonder why they left the VR realm? At least that was interesting.

On a production level, this one’s the cheapest yet this season. The heavily guarded research facility unlocking sliding using Maggie’s brain and the timer is located in a burnt-out husk of a neighborhood, which just happens to be the backlot. Maggie’s choice in taking back the formula to sliding involves shooting up a blackboard instead of erasing it. Too bad the blackboard looks none the worse for wear after the assault.

Quinn is even able to use the Acer computer from David Peckinpah’s office at Universal Studios to reverse engineer the pleasant VR world into a nightmare in mere moments (heck, after the miracle he pulled off in Common Ground, that should be a piece of cake, anyway). This inevitably results in a global Rage overtaking virtual reality programming. “We’ve just given your world a wake up call,” Maggie says. “I don’t think anyone will be interested in using your virtual reality toys for some time.”

Right — because all heroin addicts go cold turkey after a bad high.

Simply put, if you can look past the fact that everything good in this episode was a fabrication that never happened within the canon of the show, you’ll enjoy “Virtual Slide.” I’m giving this one a lot more credit than I did Common Ground, and all that one did was humanize an evil and unlikeable nemesis.

At the very least, this episode does prove one thing: the second someone invents virtual reality they’ll be using it for porn.

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