alternate wednesday: Sliders Re-Watch: “Summer of Love”

Sliders: “Summer of Love”
Written by Tracy Tormé
Directed by Mario Azzopardi

Season 1, Episode 2
Air date: 04:19:95
Same Earth, Different Dimension: It’s still the Sixties, man.

Recap

Back on Earth Prime, FBI agents ask Conrad Bennish about his friend Quinn Mallory, who has been missing since Tuesday along with Professor Arturo, Wade Wells, and Rembrandt Brown. The agents bring him to Quinn’s basement, where they are photographing his wormhole equipment and equations on the blackboard, and show him a video in which Quinn mentions discussing the Einstein-Rosen-Podalski Bridge with Bennish–and says he’s found a way to cross it. This blows Bennish’s mind. He tells them it’s possible that Quinn and the others have gone to another universe.

At that moment, the Sliders land on an empty San Francisco street and learn the city has been evacuated because of an impending swarm of spider-wasps(!!!). The timer has overheated and needs a break, but as the spider-wasps descend Quinn forces it to create an exit wormhole. Wade and Rembrandt escape before it collapses. Quinn only barely manages to create a second portal for him and Arturo and they slip through, followed by a few of the horrific flying insects.

With the team split up, they are each convinced they have arrived on different worlds, separated forever. Wade and Rembrandt end up in a hippy commune where they are worshipped as prophets from another world in human form. Wade embraces her role as the hippies’ new guru, happy to teach them about astrology and the Beatles, while Rembrandt explores the city in search of their friends. He gets sidetracked when he stumbles across his own funeral–that of this world’s Rembrandt Brown, a soldier who was missing in action while fighting in the Australian War, an ongoing Vietnam-like conflict that is a source of much controversy and conflict.

Meanwhile, Quinn and Arturo find a room in which they can work on the timer schematics in peace, but their patriotic landlady rats them out to the FBI as “subversives.” A team identical to the ones investigating Quinn’s research back on his world attempt to arrest him and the professor, but they escape and reunite with Rembrandt, who just happened to be driving by. They recover Wade and slide off this world, with Wade leaving her subjects with the final directive, “All you need is love.” “Love is all you need,” they chant in response as she disappears.

The Sliders arrive on another empty San Francisco street and wonder if they’ve finally returned home–until they see a giant tsunami towering over the city and rushing towards them.

Analysis

This is only the second episode but I’m already doubting the wisdom of re-watching the series. I think it gets better.

“Summer of Love” was the fifth episode to air, but it was intended to be the second episode, which is obvious given the mini-recap of the characters at the beginning and the surprising continuity that people are looking for Quinn and his friends and are now interested in his invention. Fox’s bizarre predilection for shuffling episodes around may cause a little confusion, but wasn’t as disastrous for the series as it was for Firefly.

At first, I was thrown off by the episode starting on Earth Prime, and then again by the quick slide to the world savaged by spider-wasps. It was an interesting concept that was wasted on this episode, and coupled with the tsunami cliffhanger at the end of the episode, highlights how dangerous sliding is and just how many Earths are completely hosed in the multiverse. I wish the insects had been more important to the plot in some way. One of them is crawling on Arturo’s back, and Quinn accidentally knocks the anxious professor out by trying to throw a rock at it. Seriously, he’s supposed to be a boy genius?

It might have been more interesting if Arturo had been stung and Quinn needed to find a cure for him on a world completely ill-equipped to deal with an extra-dimensional venom. There’s also the matter that at least a few of these things have slipped through to a new world. Considering that the bugs destroyed the world they just slid from, what’s the fate of this one? Will the enduring “Summer of Love” finally end in a swarm of deadly bugs? The episode ends with Wade insisting that they should leave each world a better place, that they have to get involved. What if it had ended with a final shot of a spider-wasp flying by, showing what their true legacy is?

I’m impressed that they raised these questions of how involved they should get, but all it does is raise them; the show wasn’t quite mature enough to handle them, and I’m not sure it ever gets there. It’s pretty much the same debate over the Prime Directive on Star Trek, one of Tracy Tormé’s previous gigs, and indeed I recall the show moving in that direction. But this episode just doesn’t hold together–it relies on coincidence far too much, causes characters to act in unbelievable ways to advance the plot, and plays out like a series of loosely connected events. Basically, stuff happens, without much dramatic impact. It tries to do too much but ends up doing nothing at all.

I was alternately bored and disturbed by Rembrandt’s side adventure as he decides to step into his dead double’s life. Though it’s a compelling situation–getting to live the life he could have had and thinking he will be happy, only to discover it’s not so enjoyable after all–it was played for comedy that just didn’t work for me. His wife, who was his high school crush in his own universe, only went out with him after ten years of nagging, and then she turned out to be a shrew. Ha ha. I remember disliking the way Rembrandt is supposed to be the comic relief, and he continues to annoy me. Then there’s also the cliched portrayal of hippies with their free love and vacant-eyed fawning over him and the other men in the commune, and it was all just a little too much “The Way to Eden” for me.

And the sloppy drama: They arrive in an alternate San Francisco just as the swarm approaches. They arrive in the Summer of Love universe and Rembrandt visits his old house just in time to catch his double’s funeral. They arrive in another alternate San Francisco just as a tsunami approaches. Blah.

I’m also pretty sure that the politics and alternate history surrounding Australia is over-simplified and, just possibly, outright wrong, but I’m not going to bother researching it. How probable is it for this to happen, especially in a world in which Vietnam has also probably happened, given the signs about the “Outback-Cong”? Is it really necessary to hit us over the head with the Vietnam parallels with this and the whole hippy thing? On this show, unfortunately, yes. Had they dialed that back a bit or done more with the intriguing, horrifying, and ominous set-up with the spider-wasps, this might have been a passable episode. Instead, it was a big disappointment following the premise of the pilot. It’s clear that they were still laying the groundwork (or figuring out) the premise and the mechanics of the timer, and it remains to be seen whether Fox’s decision to lead with “Fever” (intended as the fourth episode) was a good call after all.

But yeah, I’ll stick with it a little longer. This is the first time I’m watching this show in the proper order, and it’s interesting to see it develop and what ideas will continue, evolve, and eventually be dropped altogether.

Rating: 1 out of 6 Earths

Trivia: A scene deleted because of the changed episode order would have explained that the timer countdown wasn’t a requirement until Quinn damaged the device on the spider-wasp world. If they miss the randomly-designated sliding window, they would be stuck on a given world for 29.7 years.

Next episode: “The Prince of Wails”

Previous episode: “Pilot

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