Yes, yes, I know.
For all my griping about how fucking stupid the theoretical end of “Heat Of The Moment” would be, here we are in an episode that more or less has the same ‘cop-out’ in there. The always-dreaded “it was all a dream.” The end-all negator of plot twists. The mid-episode reset-button. The worst crime you can commit to any piece of storytelling. “Virtual Slide,” then, has to be the stupidest episode ever, right? The most frustrating viewing ever of all time. Worse than “Time Again & World.”
Well, no. It’s good. Really good. It’s smart, and it’s telling a different story than we think it is.
This season, so far, has been pretty stellar at giving us episodes that at first glance seem to be about one character, but thematically end up being all about another. Last week, a seemingly Maggie/Kromagg-Centric episode was actually all about Rembrandt’s darkness. This week, we have what seems like an episode that delves into the group dynamic, giving us each a little bit of insight into all of our leads.
But it’s not. This is Maggie’s hour, whether we like it or not. Everything we learn here, we are learning about Maggie. And sure, it’s jarring when suddenly the episode pulls the rug out from under you. It probably could have been handled better. The episode would be served better if the moment wasn’t framed as a ‘twist.’ But “Virtual Slide,” more than it doesn’t, is playing with our expectations for a Sliders episode in a wonderfully deft manner. It gives us what we expect, then what we want, then takes that away, leaves us with a refreshing throwback to those heady days when it was up to our team to save the world.
But, again, this is all about Maggie. We should realize this from the start— we’re seeing everything through her eyes. We might hate this episode at first glace (or at least just be frustrated with it), but we’re left really with no choice but to watch again, this time watching thru the Maggie Lens. VR, we’re told (and this is one part of the episode I’m willing to believe), feeds from the user’s mind to create its fantasies, with guidance from the outside (the nefarious Simmons). Maggie is making some educated guesses about Quinn & Rembrandt’s personality, and while she’s pretty accurate (as far as we know— it’s amazing how little we still know about this people after so long), she’s pulling all this from herself. So while it’s pretty accurate to assume that Quinn never had the time to get busy and live a real adolescence, this is really just Maggie injecting her life into things.
Maggie wasn’t a scientist— she was a fighter pilot. But the expectations were the same between Quinn & Maggie. Maggie’s General Father is a known quantity— she’s spoken of the difficulties he’s posed throughout her life. Life wasn’t easy for Maggie— it probably wasn’t easy for anyone on Pulsar Prime. Maggie’s story about World War III last week is almost glossed over, but it explains a lot about how weird the people of her world all acted. It’s a fact I’m sure our characters never learned in “The Exodus,” and it’s a fact that might have helped them live through that world.
But the fact is that Maggie comes from a world that has to live with the ramifications— political, cultural, personal— of nuking their home soil.
Maggie probably didn’t have a childhood. But now she’s around people who did. So she’s getting an insight to this whole type of life she never knew existed, let alone had. So when we see Quinn bemoan his lack of youth, it’s really Maggie bemoaning hers. Likewise to Rembrandt and his quest for respect. I don’t think we’ve ever heard about Maggie’s mother (have we?). Here, I think, it’s fair to guess that maybe her and the General didn’t see eye to eye. Maggie’s just using what she knows of Rembrandt’s past life (seriously, would Rembrandt really still be having dreams of stardom at this point?) to inject her own failings.
There’s also a tangent to go on here, which is the overt over-sexualization of Maggie’s VR world. It’s a little funny to think of this in the eyes of Maggie— if she’s feeding this, really, then damn girlfriend gotta get laid quiiick.
Seriously, there hasn’t been this much hanky-panky going on in Sliders, like, ever. Sure, the first two seasons were chock-full of making out and oodles of shots of Rembrandt making his Roger Moore “Oh, you mean with me?” face. But there’s very little deal-sealing. Here, we watch the most bizarre sexual fantasy ever depicted on an all-ages show: Maggie imagines catching Quinn fucking Maggie. So what’s the attraction here? What’s the fetish? Is it the chastising that follows? Maggie is really so clueless as to how ‘relationships’ work that she has to create this complicated net of sneaky-sexy-time to play a cosmic game of Chess to get Quinn to admit the feelings that Maggie actually has for him?
That’s the crux of the weirdness, and why I think Maggie’s little fantasy is worth it to stick with— Quinn clearly doesn’t feel the same way. It’s awkward when Maggie finds out he was watching the whole thing (I also would really have liked to see Quinn and Rembrandt’s faces when they watched the screen as Maggie caught Quinn boffing herself. My God would that have been priceless).
But still— this is a pretty bizarre way to admit that Maggie really does have feelings for Quinn. And yes, I remember that they did make out in “This Slide of Paradise.” But the sort of slow-boiling sexual tension that was ‘built up’ in the tail end of Season Three clearly resolved itself in that kiss. As soon as they’re on future world, Quinn is all business. And the three months they spent alone, while being a secret reference to the “eyes of love” show that FOX sort of wanted, clearly was spent with Quinn trying desperately to fix the timer and get home. There’s not sexual tension in the teaser for “Genesis.” And once they get to Earth Prime, of course there’s no tension. Quinn doesn’t have time for romance when his Earth is gone.
Clearly talking about Quinn’s reaction to the Kromaggs is a dangerous subject to broach here, but it’s increasingly apparent that one of the reactions Quinn is having is to shut himself down emotionally— this includes Maggie. And for Maggie, that’s painful. And, to the endless credit of the writers, it’s a complicated thing for Maggie to admit she ‘loves’ Quinn— she’s raw over Steven, but she can’t deny what she’s come to feel about Quinn.
Of course, I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the greatest dick jokes of all time. We’re told that VR is used for construction work, so workers can imagine that their tedious jobs are actually something more exciting. Rembrandt sees this:
And immediately turns to Quinn and says “I don’t even wanna know what he thinks he’s doing.” Which is honestly hilarious, if you’re 7. But even funnier is the fact that it’s Maggie’s VR World— that dick joke is coming from her, not Rembrandt. Damn girl, you nasty.
Here’s the thing: this episode is a missed opportunity. It hinges itself on the wrong moment— it uses the ‘reveal’ of Maggie’s VR world as a twist, the defining moment of the episode. There’s a ton of emotional moments in the script, and on the screen, but we aren’t being led, mentally, to focus on them. We’re led to look at the ‘science fiction’ aspects that think they’re clever. But they aren’t really clever, and they aren’t really compelling (neither is Maggie machine-gunning a chalkboard).
But learning about Maggie is compelling. I don’t know if any of you remember The Prestige, Christopher Nolan’s Magician Movie (and if you do, but haven’t seen it, I’m about to completely spoil the ending). In that movie, there are two twists— one is that Nikola “Bowie” Tesla accidentally invented a device that duplicates a body, and that Hugh “Pissy Pants” Jackman uses it to drown himself and make it look like he escaped a trap. The other is that Christian “Grumpy” Bale has a twin brother. The movie focuses all of it’s dramatic weight on the latter reveal. But it’s the wrong point to emphasize. It’s much more terrifying that Hugh Jackman would actually drown himself, night after night, just to perform the greatest magic trick on Earth. I don’t care that Christian Bale had a brother— there’s no emotion in that, other than that he had to sacrifice his brother. Hugh Jackman sacrificed himself, night after night, and lives with that knowledge.
That’s an obscure point to make, I guess. But what I mean is that this episode is this close to being a classic. It’s just held back by it’s impulses. It second-guesses itself, trying to please everyone. If it had just tried to please itself, it could have been amazing, and would have a much better standing.
I might be giving it too much credit. But I guess that’s my tack with this season— to find the buried gem. They’re all diamonds in the rough, but I don’t really think this diamond was too far from the surface. Give it another try. You may be surprised.
Next Week: the greatest and best episode of all time ever I hope (World Killer).
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