There comes a point where we have to throw what’s actually on screen out the window.
The flaws in this episode are obvious, glaring, myriad, distracting. This episode is terrible. “California Reich” was deeply flawed, but it was at least interesting. You couldn’t fault it at such a deep level as this. This episode barely deserves the title. It’s such a jarring drop in quality between weeks. You can lay it on whatever you’d like— there’s a gap in airdates, maybe this was the last episode produced before a holiday. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. It’s jaw-droppingly inept. So let’s lay out the easy critiques and then move on to something else.
The acting is perhaps the absolute worst the show’s ever put forth. The guest stars are all incredibly lacking in talent, or effort, or …anything, really. You can tell why everyone was hired— they look pretty alright, for late-90s bit actors. I’m sure production was pissed when they finally put Jenny in a tanktop and saw that she looked like a real human being and not the melted Barbie Doll they’re so enamored with. I’m also glad she still has time to do her hair and makeup before strutting out into a fucking Warzone. Same goes for perfect hair and beard Smarmy Man. I was just so bummed when they both got fried.
On the other side, we’ve got the Freakin’ Kro-maggots. The Kromaggs have always been hindered (Kromanus and Kolitar aside) by poor acting. I’ve made the case before that this is most likely down to the fact that the Kromagg prosthetics look completely stupid and make it hard for actors to take themselves, or their roles, seriously. This episode is no exception.
Having Kromaggs be a recurring enemy this season was a gamble that until this week was looking like it was on its way to paying off. But there’s a downside to the ‘Maggs, and it dovetails with the other withering problem with this episode— it’s cheap. Really cheap.
That downside is the fact that we’ve seen the Kromaggs enough on the show to realize that they’ve run out of prosthetics. You can actually recognize the masks from earlier episodes. I understand the need for this, but it’s distracting. And it isn’t as if the actors are doing anything to make it seem like there’s a difference from ‘Magg to ‘Magg. Most of the time they’re extras anyway, they don’t even have lines. But production continues to put the most pig-looking of the Kromagg masks on the most inept of sub-commanders, time after time. Am I supposed to assume that there’s a great family of Kromagg Brothers who all have shitty sub-commander jobs? I doubt it. The show’s too lazy.
So lazy that it somehow manages to shoehorn the set of the Chandler in a place it has absolutely no right to be in. Again, I understand the need to reuse sets. But you are straining credibility if using Season 3’s fucking cave set would have made more sense than whatever you used. Throwing dirt on a hotel doesn’t look edgy. It looks stupid.
Finally, if we’re going to ream the episode for its cheapness, let’s look at that bag of fake eyeballs in, what, spaghetti? Is that how Kromaggs like eyeballs? Like meatballs? Or is that what we’re actually supposed to think is what is inside of the human head? Spaghetti? Like, thick spaghetti. Like, play-doh spaghetti. Like, the Kromaggs love to eat human eyeballs… and play-doh.
But not as terrifying as the hideous fake arm we’re tormented with in the teaser. Now, let’s think about this. We just saw some semi-Kromaggs murder a dude and cut his arm off. That should, in any other universe, be terrifying. It should be the return of the Kromaggs as a true threat to the universe, and to the show. Now they’re back, and they’ve got parts of us inside them, and men are no more than meat to them.
But instead, this arm looks like shit.
That’s done and dusted.
This episode is a failure.
But what was it failing at?
What was it trying to do? What was the goal of this? There are bits that shine through, worms poking at the surface of the graveyard. This isn’t a complete wreck— but it actively takes digging to see what’s right. That’s not a defense, of course. Too much digging is necessary for this to ever be a successful anything.
But, since me tearing this apart is too obvious and lazy to suffice for an entry, I dig the digging. And I’ll leave you with a radical viewpoint— “The Dying Fields” is the show’s thesis episode. It’s the episode that tells us what kind of show it wants to be, what it’s trying to do, what it’s trying to say. Since it’s increasingly clear that “World Killer” was an outlier in the show’s ouvre, it’s still a little hard to define what the show is anymore.
So now we know what this show is.
First, though, let’s talk about War.
So the plotline that isn’t will-Rembrandt-die-of-course-he-won’t-idiots plotline is that of Kyra and Kryoptus. They’re two “hu-maggs,” or Human-Kromagg hybrids. They’re the result of the horrific ‘breeding camps’ that Wade is now a member of. The magic weapon that defeated the Kromaggs on their Homeworld leaves Kromagg women unable to procreate.
Which smears something on the whole ‘wonderful utopia’ that Quinn’s homeworld is supposed to be. I understand that living with the Kromaggs would be difficult— a constant war. But then, is that really what it’s like? We only know there was a war, and that while the humans won their world, the Kromaggs still won the multiverse.
Again, this smears Quinn’s world. Engaging in biological warfare is bad enough. Targeting at women (instead of just, I don’t know killing them all outright) is needlessly cruel. But doing these things in order to liberate just one world out of the infinite is selfish. And it clearly doesn’t even help. It makes the Kromaggs into bigger monsters than they already were. It makes them desperate.
Taken with the idea of the Slidecage as something that needs to exist, this paints Quinn’s people as intensely xenophobic— monstrous mirrors of the ‘Maggs. There is evolutionary deviation— but not by much, really.
We are, of course, supposed to blindly believe that Quinn’s Parents are Good, and that the Kromaggs are bad. The truth is, though, that it’s far more complex than that. Both sides have problems. But this episode poses a light of hope for the Kromaggs and, by proxy, for us.
We’re introduced the the Hybrids as inferior (which is ironic considering that eventually they’ll be the only Kromaggs left), as looked down upon. Basically, they’re the children bullied at the schoolyard. But they’re the children on the schoolyard given a deadly Nobelium Laser Gun and told to murder the people who made them inferior. They’re a terrifying weapon because they’re just human enough to be able to tap into their intense rage and feelings of inadequacy, but Kromagg enough to not even consider the idea that they have a choice.
So what we have here is something pretty interesting. This is an episode where the correct course of action really is “overthrow the government.” I’ve been pretty harsh on the show when it goes down this path. And I’m not going to go back on that, either— the “overthrow the government” plots are always one-sided and xenophobic.
But here there is the chance of real change. Change in the name of Humanity, and also int the name of Wade— who, again shockingly, is mentioned. After all, even if Kyra isn’t actually Wade’s child, she could be the child Wade will one day have (what an absolutely cruel call back to her desires of motherhood “The Fire Within”). It means everything in the world to the memory of Wade if her legacy contains her deeply rooted Humanity. Wade was, through everything, a good person. If it’s impossible for that goodness to persevere, then her life is nothing but a tragedy.
It’s absolutely an imperative, then, that the goal of this episode is to ‘convert’ Kyra, to make her see her inner Humanity. And sure, that’s an age-old trope, done to death. But it’s really only the course of action this episode can take. Otherwise, what’s the point?
The point is, it turns out, to show us that nothing we can ever do on this or any other world matters at all.
The sliders do, in fact, succeed. They open Kyra’s eyes and show her that it’s more important and worthwhile to pay attention to her Human side. And she runs to Kryoptus, her almost-lover, and tells him this revelation. She is moved with the import of her words. Rembrandt, Maggie, and Colin slide, content in the knowledge that they’ve done their duty. They’ve changed the Kromaggs. Maybe it’s an infinitesimal bit. But it’s a start. It’s more than they’ve ever done to turn the tide of this “war,” wherever it is truly fought.
Which is when Kryoptus stabs Kyra in the gut, killing her almost instantly.
Not quite instantly, of course. There’s just enough time for the camera to linger on Kyra’s shocked face, enough time for us to think about all the torture in her eyes. And then she falls, dead. Quinn watches, emotionless, as all they tried to do slips away with her lifeblood. Then he slides.
They tried. And they failed. And it was the last failure in a long, long string of failures reaching all the way back to the moment Quinn took two friends and a stranger on a trip around the universe. He should never have slid, never had started this journey. We didn’t even think of this until Quinn had a bullet in his back. But once he had destroyed an entire Multiverse with a deeply selfish action, it’s been extremely downhill. The third season’s shadow-plot was showing how science is somehow evil, how exploration through technology can only lead to death. Then Arturo died— the voice of elder science, silenced. Then he succeeded in the most important thing in the world to him— getting his friends home. But then his home was destroyed by Kromaggs. One friend tortured. One friend gone, the only clue he had to her existence the threat of constant rape at the hands of her slavers. And here, a quiet, gentle way to inflict change.
And it fails. Brutally.
The show doesn’t even hang on the moment. There’s barely a minute between Kyra’s death and the end credits. The show treats it as just another line of action on the page. No more importance than the stage directions.
Because what’s the use? You can see the finality on Quinn’s face— change is worthless. It doesn’t exist. Life is cruel, and unusual, and completely unfair. So why bother? Why bother feeling? Why bother trying— why bother with anything?
And this is what Sliders is really about.
It’s the personification of cynicism.
Of existential horror taken to such a complete extreme as to become completely meaningless.
Or, it’s nothing more than yet another inane episode of a shitty television show no one watches anymore.
Next Week: Another inane episode of a shitty television show no one watches anymore (Lipschitz Live).
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