What just happened?
It’s I myself began sliding. It’s as if the last six months worth of blogging didn’t exist, and we’re still in that part of Season Three that had something to say. But if this episode followed, say, “The Prince of Slides,” it would still be a shock. Here’s the thing: I’ve crossed the point where I’ve seen these episodes way less than I’ve seen the ones that came before. It’s not as fresh, and it certainly isn’t ingrained in my mind.
So I come into this expecting inane schlock and instead get campy fun that you can actually discuss. That’s the real thing that amazed me this week— I watched this episode with friends, and we spent a good 15 minutes talking about what we saw.
The crux of that discussion comes from something Rembrandt says partway through the episode. He’s not sure what side to be on (he doesn’t really want to be on either) in this, and he’s pretty sure he knows what at’s the heart of both sides of the problem. “It’s all about power,” he proclaims, and he’s right to dilute the crises in this episode to such simple terms.
Because as much as the Oracle-side of things is wrong, it’s only wrong because they’re murdering people. And that’s actually kind of the only flaw in the episode. The episode is obviously about the ‘evils’ of organized religion. While it’s certainly creepy and chilling (and thankfully not a mystery) to have the Church’s Sliding Machine actually be an incinerator, isn’t it scary enough just to see how brainwashed the citizens of this Earth have become? How much of the Kool-Aid they chug? Even knowing that the Other World is a Death-Ray, you know they’d still hop in willingly. Even if there wasn’t a Death-Ray, they’d still hop off a bridge.
That’s unsettling enough. But the whole incinerator ends up becoming a mark against the episode— which is a shame, really, because the episode doesn’t really play the initial reveal cheaply; not 10 minutes go by between the revelation of “the rapture is a sliding machine” to “carousel is a lie”— it derails a morality play into a moustache-twirling farce (having someone say “the final solution” doesn’t help either).
There’s a chance it could have been played differently. But the climax of the episode is simultaneously ripe for discussion and a colossal fart. It relies heavily on massive coincidence (the vortex gives not only extremely convenient timeframes, but also plops the team exactly where they need to be for maximum visual impact). I understand the need for a tidy script, but my willing suspension is stretched too thin.
Plus, it overplays the common man of Oracle World as fools. They shouldn’t be merely fools— they should be misguided. Yet they treat the reappearance of Samson with the same “oohs” and “ahhs” that they give to Cadmus and Gareth. Samson reveals the truth of the Next World, but the crowd doesn’t really react to it— not with any sort of true emotion.
There’s ways to read this that work in the episode’s favor. You can read it like a comparison between organized religion and television, and a treatise on the dangers of both. The crowds in the episode certainly seem like they’re supposed to echo the Hour of Power-style of Evangelist Television. That sort of boring (read: white) gospel that almost (read: not really) ruined our nation this week (read: Go-bama!). But that sort of tepidly-emotive crowd keeps such a monotonous delivery that it makes it seem like Samson could have come tumbling naked out the vortex with his dick wedged in a Reuben Sandwich and they still would have just nodded their heads in agreement. It removes the power of the Rad-Rats’ victory.
It also opens up a heady question: what happens after the sliders leave Oracle World? Does Samson become a noble leader? Uprooting society and throwing the Oracle under the proverbial bus? Or would be become just another power-hungry preacher? I’m not trying to be overly cynical here, but it certainly seems like the magic 8-ball is pointing to the latter here. Rembrandt might say “I was wrong about you,” but that doesn’t mean he’s right about being wrong.
Yet here I am, sitting at home with friends, discussing this episode and what it means. Talking about the intent of the writers vs. the deeper implications of humanity the episode portrays. Read that again: what it means. Not just “what happened” or “look at that,” even though the shot of the ash-piles in the ‘sliding machine’ is a way more horrifying scene than Sliders has any right to display. But let’s be real: when was the last time I watched an episode that I could have an intelligent discussion about? Probably “The Guardian.” That was almost a year ago. Almost two, if we’re going by transmission dates in 1998.
While it seems like most of what came above seems like I’m knocking this episode, I’m really not— I’m just trying to understand what I saw, because it had me invested in its intentions. Because for all the faults of this episode, Sliders has earned something huge: this is the last time I’m going to throw in a disclaimer paragraph in one of these reviews for a good hot minute. “Prophets & Loss” is good enough to divorce the show from the “despite all that happened” or “but actually it’s…” or “somehow it manages to…” or “I didn’t see that coming.”
If the edict for Season Four is “make it smart,” then I will respect that. Especially if the episodes produced actually live up to that claim.
Next Week: Why Can’t We Be Friends? (Common Ground).
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