Oh, come on.
I mean, let’s look at the first act of this. Quinn & Maggie argue. Sure, Fine, Whatever. They slide into a broom closet. Sure, Fine, Whatever. The Chandler set has never looked so cheap. Sure, Fine, Whatever.
So this is “drug world,” also known as “Narcotica,” also known as “Mandatory Drug Use World.” More about that particular decision (accidental or otherwise) later. First, let’s talk about Maggie, and why we’re supposed to watch this show. Because the first act has Maggie & Colin getting drugged because of their ‘aggressive behavior.’ Which is when the episode devolves into the bizarre ‘humor’ of Maggie making O-Faces and doing cartwheels into the path of a bus. Why is this here? Is it funny?
No, I’m pretty sure it’s so we can see Maggie’s underwear:
Fuck you, Sliders. I’ve often said the show isn’t smart enough to do actual humor. I don’t know why it’s always such a dud. Jokes within episodes of a different tone can work. But not so here. Maggie making Orgasm Noises while dancing is fucking stupid. So is her cartwheel. I really fucking hate her cartwheel. This isn’t why we have characters on this show, so they can be treated like walking sex-bags. Moments like this—that reveal how much of a ridiculous “Boys Club” Sliders is— make me ridiculously infuriated.
So. As I said, this episode is basically a re-tread of “Narcotica,” the comic that Jerry O’Connell wrote for Acclaim. At the time I reviewed the comic, I praised it for it’s grey-area emotional tone, and the fact that it’s clearly meant to be ambiguous whether or not the sliders ‘succeeded’ in ‘overthrowing the government.’ All of that is missing from “Just Say Yes,” which, in case you didn’t get it, is a joke about the whole “Just Say No” anti-drug message, which is about as preposterous as this episode.
But there are parallels here. In “Narcotica,” Wade’s arc details her descent into drug addiction. It’s slow, and scary, and the toll it takes on her is obvious and horrifying. “Narcotica” uses real drugs as a means of Body Horror, where in “Just Say Yes” it’s used for dopey stoner jokes. If there was anything bad to say about “Narcotica,” it was that the idea that ‘everyone can use cocaine in the streets’ took it out of the realm of reality— that plainly wouldn’t be allowed in society. Also you can’t really operate your life normally whilst on Cocaine.
But “Just Say Yes,” at least on paper (if you black out the rest of the episode), is more believable. No, you wouldn’t be shooting up before you go to work— this world is about regulation, not stimulation. Which is a small but crucial difference. Which is why the joke of Alt-Quinn in “Just Say Yes” talking about not doing drugs doesn’t work— because these people aren’t “dropping out.” They’re just living.
Yet at the end of the day, “Narcotica” was smart because it showed an undercurrent to the ‘blissed-out’ nature of the world. There was evil, and it was worth fighting. But having Quinn & Rembrandt break in to an office with ease because the doors weren’t locked leaves a sour taste. Especially when Rembrandt highlights it by saying “with everyone so blissed out maybe they don’t have a huge crime problem.” Which, excuse me for pointing it out, I guess, but isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that a huge and awesome example of this world improving upon our own? I write this from Chicago, where the homicide rate is so ridiculous that it almost is impossible to look at. There are so many gun-deaths in the poor, non-white parts of this town that the headlines become numbing. So when I hear Rembrandt (of all people) say that this ‘drug world’ has basically no crime— no crime to the point that no door would be locked— my first reaction is “right on.”
So then we have Alt-Quinn, who is an “anti-drug agitator.” But the little video we see of him shows him to be …well, high. Which makes no sense, really. As a joke about Quinn in a shitty wig, Sure, Fine. Whatever. Quinn & Rembrandt vow to find him, so they can …I don’t know, preach together and be happy. But then we never find him. We never see Alt-Quinn in real life. They don’t even try. Sure, they’re only on that world for like, what, three hours? But still— if you’re going to introduce something like an Alt-Quinn that for ONCE supports your cockamamy theories on “How this World should Really Be,” then fucking use him. If you need me to believe that this world is wrong, show me someone who lives there who already believes that.
Which marquees in the brightest of lights the overarching problem of this episode, which is that we’re supposed to believe this world is wrong.
But again, this world isn’t wrong. The Drug Empowerment Agency officer (good joke, btw) is painted as an EVIL EVIL MAN. And yes, giving that poor young man a drug that could kill him without telling him is wrong. And yes, he pushes for ‘justice’ in the wrong ways. And yes, he forces the nice ol’ Doctor to do more drugs. And yes, that story with the baby seal is ridiculous (the poor seals! the poor hippies!) But his arc is ridiculous. He’s the moustache-twirling villan that Sliders loves wayy too much. It removes any sense of conflict because moustache-twirlers always get their due.
But the episode still asks us to believe that it’s the world that’s wrong, not just one man in that world. This is a macrocosm of the problem I have with “Prince of Wails,” where it wasn’t clear why exactly that world needed Democracy. Here, without even really saying it, we as an audience are asked to hate this world.
And then there’s Damon. Damon, and the entire Decimide saga, should be our gateway into the episode. We should deal much more profoundly with the body horror of what’s been done to him. We’re treated to a lengthy (seriously lengthy— and having Quinn shout “are you kidding me?” in the middle of a scene that’s going on too long is not a productive bit of meta-commentary) sequence of Damon trying to tear Quinn & Rembrandt apart. He’s hit by a car, he’s hit by barrels, he’s hit by chains, he falls off a building. And he doesn’t die, because Decimide apparently makes you totally invulnerable.
But then when he comes down, he’s treated to the horrors of ‘real feelings.’ It should be a chilling scene, mixed with not a little bit of triumph. But it falls flat, because I still can’t shake the feeling that the rest of the world is better than this. Damon feels horror at, well, feeling horror, but I still feel like he was better off before hand. When we meet him at the beginning of the episode, he’s totally fine— he’s an upstanding citizen.
And then we get to the end, where Quinn and Rembrandt harshly upbraid the Doctor, saying “you need to take a hard look at yourselves.” To which I said aloud “fuck you, Quinn.” But seriously, what an asshole. She says that Drug Therapy isn’t Perfect, which, fine— clearly if Decimide is allowed to exist, that’s true. But for once, it’s the narrowing of the story that does it a disservice. This is only the second time Decimide has been used. So it’s a blip on this World’s radar. It’s not the norm. We don’t see everyone on the street convulsing from overdosing and withdrawal. We only see our sliders— who’ve never been dosed before, and Damon— who’s given a lethal dose out of desperation.
Plus, Quinn is seeing this ugly side of things because of his own actions— this world is reacting to him, because he is introducing an unstable element. A smarter story choice would have been to have the DEA use Decimide out of bewildered desperation, not out of the simple need to give the episode a clear villan plot-device.
So for Quinn to be actively cruel to an actually innocent person (and as much as the episode tries to use the lazily offensive trope of “I was just following orders,” I still find the Doctor to be wildly sympathetic) effectively serves to undermine him as a character.
And to be honest, this is the moment where I stop treating Quinn as a character with an arc. That’s non Jerry O’Connell’s fault. It’s production’s fault. It’s the fault of the writing in this episode. It’s the fault of a bunch of sexist brain-dead men who don’t care about how the world works. With this, they aim for the lowest common denominator.
And man, they barely hit that.
Because I am very, very, very pointedly not paying attention to Colin and Maggie’s time in the Beaver’s House. Because it is very, very, very stupid. The humor is very, very, very insulting (another fucking Canada joke?). Are we punishing Maggie for showing her underwear by making her live in a male fantasy? Where she makes shitty cookies and tries to knit? While Colin puffs a pipe and tells her that her cookies are shit? What is this fucking nonsense? Is it funny?
No, it’s not funny. It’s insulting. It’s garbage. It has no place in my life. “The Breeder” was offensive, but it was at least obviously so. This is more sly, and that makes it a piece of evil.
The worst thing that can happen to a show like this is when you can boil the entire hour into the title of a Friends episode. “The One With The Drugs” is literally all you need to know about this one. If that entices you, sure, go ahead. Maybe you’ll get a kick out of Kari’s Fran Drescher impersonation.
Maybe you won’t.
Next Week: There isn’t enough Acid Rain in the world (The Alternateville Horror).
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