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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I’ll give you credit you have given me another reason to watch this episode…myself I could never get over the end Where Maggie shot a million holes in the chalk board yet the equation was their plain as day, Quinn could of just said good job Maggie but the equation isn’t even close to correct, also “Inception” is one great film and you missed out also “Momento” is another similarly amazing work from Christopher Nolan’s mind.
Crazy, again what little the main characters know about each other, this is told from Maggie’s point of view, yet all she knows is that Quinn is a horn dog and Rembrandt wants Mamma’s home Cooking and perfection would be living out his dream of being a big shot musician, that’s not really that far off of the Rembrandt we know and love, I noticed he didn’t brag about the Navy in her dream odd…
Also this is the 1st episode since the egyption timer that didn’t bring them into massive bloodshed…
Most of the time these sites rate this ep very low however I actually enjoyed it and I am glad to see that you give it high marks and a mostly positive review. so far the Fourth Season is showing a lot of promise, Episodes like Genesis, Prophets and Loss and Common Ground were entertaining and quite good. Then we get Virtual Slide. this episode opens with some comic relief (after a grim Common Ground the previous week) and then we’re off and running.
There were some sublte hints dropped that this was all not quite real, (the scene of Maggie being overpowered in the clinic, the fact that they are still wearing the same clothes) and we should have been tipped off but we just run with it because there is so much happening. and we are not given time to think about it too deeply.
The episode is well written (for the most part) with minimal plot holes (the assault rifle shots at the black board and of course where did Maggie get those later outfits?) I’m not complaining because she looks Great. All large budget films and series have plot holes and they can’t be avoided so we just run with this and enjoy the ride.
Like you said this is a “Maggie Episode” and I was delightfully impressed with how the writers set about to make Maggie a more likable character in Season four. she is such an improvement over the Marine Bitch that constantlly grated on Wade and the others in her thirst for revenge. I like the new and improved Maggie Beckett.
Virtual Slide is the best of the season Four so far and a bright beacon that tells fans to come on aboard and enjoy the ride.
I like this episode. This is the point where I stop judging individual episodes in terms of how they relate to “Pilot” or “Prince of Wails” or “Eggheads” or “Luck of the Draw” or “Obsession” or “As Time Goes By” or “Genesis.” There’s just no point to expecting SLIDERS to be a worthy successor to the first two seasons. And no point in evaluating the series’ development of the Kromagg invasion; even with this episode, the Kromagg invasion is just a joke to be brought up and blown off.
With all that out of the way, all I can do is try to appreciate the individual episode as it is, and “Virtual Slide” is good with some great bits. I do like the humour and the central concept, I think Kari Wuhrer’s performance has become likable and appealing, and Keith Damron crafts a well-paced, engaging script that has some worthwhile points of social commentary, amusing scenes and a good sense of fun.
It’s not as deep as I’d like it to be; under Torme and Weiss, this would have been an episode about people relating more to simulations than reality, and Maggie claiming that a bad VR experience will scare the population off using virtual reality shows a strangely poor grasp of addiction for a Hollywood screenwriter. Also missed is a chance to develop Quinn and Maggie’s relationship in any way — they say they’ll talk about Maggie’s fantasy later — and they NEVER DO. A vital step in the relationship is blown off. Again, this is the sort of ongoing development the series is clearly never going to do, so it’s almost pointless to complain about it.
To paraphrase Tardis Eruditorum, Keith Damron is mostly capable and he’s following the formula of a solid SLIDERS story well. None of this suggests he should be promoted to story editor, however; it just indicates that take this journeyman writer under your wing and in two or three years, you’ll have a great writer.
“Virtual Slide” represents what I wish the majority of Season 4 had been if it couldn’t be FRINGE or FARSCAPE; it should have been good-natured, competent, engaging, well-paced and fun.
What strikes me about “Virtual Slide” is how it pales to other examples of cyberspace addiction. “Pathfinder,” an episode of STAR TREK VOYAGER, really examines the nature of VR addiction with a character who is charismatic and commanding in a simulation and a nervous wreck in reality. But curiously, “Virtual Slide” suffers most when comparing it to another SLIDERS story, “Reboot,” by Nigel Mitchell. “Reboot” is the story of Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt, Arturo and Maggie exploring an Earth where telecommuting and Internet-based operations have virtually replaced all transactions, interactions and social exchanges of any kind. “Reboot” explores the nature of a world filled with people who’ve lost the ability to relate to human beings and depend on their online avatars and identities. And when you compare the two, “Reboot” looks like a real episode of SLIDERS (with Maggie) while “Virtual Slide” looks like mediocre fanfic. (I will be making this argument again with “Net Worth.”)
Reboot, Part One: http://web.archive.org/web/20080517164257/http://www.psi-fi.com/IS/eps/RebootOne.htm
Reboot, Part Two: http://web.archive.org/web/20080517164050/http://www.psi-fi.com/IS/eps/RebootTwo.htm
I suspect the writer of this episode is a fan of Red Dwarf. The ‘cyberspace-is-an-addiction’ idea is cloned from the Red Dwarf novel ‘Better Than Life’, the ‘which-world-is-the-dream-and-which-is-real?’ dilemma is very, very similar to ‘Back To Reality’ (and indeed Simmons even says, “Welcome back to reality!” at one point) and some of the lines are very similar to various lines in Red Dwarf episodes.