The Fire Within

Season 3
DVD Box Set
Region 1 NTSC

Season 3
DVD Box Set
Region 2 PAL
(Sliders Story No. 30, starring Jerry O'Connell)
  • written by Josef Anderson
  • directed by Jefery Levy
  • music by Stephen Graziano
  • produced by Mychelle Deschamps & Richard Compton
  • Production # K1814
Story: Money matters combine with a short stopover in a completely burning world, forcing the Sliders to settle for a few days and look for jobs at a refinery in an oil-rich California. But have they brought an unknown life-form with them, one that resembles a flame? And is there more going on in the refinery than simple battles between management and the unions?

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide to the season instead.

Finally, a solid dramatic episode based on a truly unique and interesting sci-fi premise. Today, we focus on an unknown life-form instead of an alternate history, and such variety helps keep "Sliders" healthy as a sci-fi show. Here is yet one more of season three's best stories.

There's a LOT of good stuff happening in this episode. First off is the practical attention paid to the regulars' financial situation, something that most other stories gloss over a little too easily, and a little too unbelievably. "The Fire Within" manages to help make sense of some of those other stories, while using money matters as a superb device to motivate our Sliders into their involvement in the main world for this story. And the characters all seem to respond to it differently, in ways that are true to themselves, and a lot of fun for audiences to watch. Good one!

Perhaps best of all, this story goes straight to the core of what good science fiction should be: an exploration of the unknown, and it does it with an open heart too which is a nice bonus. For this story, the writer creates a completely non-human life-form, and digs fairly well into what its psyche and life-cycle might be, and how humans might manage to communicate with it. Tantalizingly left open to audience interpretation are the precise details of what it actually is. My best guess would be some kind of energetic being or ethereal force, perhaps one whose consciousness is primarily focused in fifth density or above. And this unknown life-form's primary projection into our reality - akin to the tip of an iceberg - resembles a flame in many but not all its aspects. Way cool!

I do like that Arturo joins Quinn in being excited about discovering more concerning the flame-creature. Has he accepted at this point that skeptics don't make the scientific discoveries that change the world, like inventing sliding? If Arturo wants to embrace the fun side, I say go for it! Carpé Diem! Here's one more fun thing to add to his bucket list, following all those he indulged in during "The Guardian".

I have to say, Veronica Cartwright's voice of the flame really does work surprisingly well in the episode, and it is a nice touch that you can't really predict going into the story. A big thumbs up from this sci-fi fan! Is such an articulate voice believable for the unknown life-form that we so conveniently dumb down when calling it a flame? I say yes; it's a fascinating character. It learns faster than we do, and can access electromagnetic wave forms like TV & radio signals more directly than we can. Quinn and the Professor pretty much gave it a bit of a "Rosetta Stone" and peaked its curiosity, after which it had a blast deciphering our language from our cultural broadcasts - and I must say this is much more believable than the Dalek that absorbed the entire internet in one very ridiculous go in "Dalek" (Doctor Who story no. 165).

And there's just something rich about watching these four regular characters try to balance the exploration of the unknown with day-to-day work in a refinery. They know each other so well by now that they have their own intimate shorthand with each other, and can communicate well under the workplace radar. If anything, I'd have given them more than just four days on this world - maybe two weeks - just to give them more breathing room to accomplish all that they do a bit less hurriedly.

We have seen many corrupt governments versus underground resistance fighters on many worlds on this show, but there is a unique and more accessible nature to the dynamic when it becomes corporate establishment versus unions. On our world, I wouldn't be too quick to automatically side with unions, but on this one, in this situation, it easily seems the more sympathetic.

Although Wade is perhaps biased towards the unions, her main motivation which she returns to over and over is to balance her own karma, to do good deeds to balance out some of the needy and/or bad things she perceives she's done (including the "borrowing" of computer equipment from the office to add to all that which Quinn and the Professor "borrow" from the company lab), all of which is yet another nice twist on the money issues. But at the end of the day, motivation for her choices all boils down to the individual guest characters themselves. There's a deceitful murderer and the victim's down-and-out widow. She helps the widow. Their union/corporate affiliations become secondary considerations. I'll go with it, and the investment is nicely rewarded.

It does feel like another gratuitous Hollywood executive move to graft dancing girls into the breakfast diner, but I guess this is one of the few shows out there that can absorb such bizarre moves. Though you can perhaps get away with it in an episode or two, the danger is doing it too often. Following the example in "The Dream Masters", and not having a truly relevant explanation here, perhaps it was over the top on this occasion.

The gunplay here is a bit better than we've seen in other episodes, yet still isn't the greatest thing ever. Perhaps more damaging is an emerging trademark for writer Josef Anderson - to throw in gratuitous character revelations at bizarre moments that seem to have nothing to do with the character's past or future, and merely serve to defocus the characters and stick out like sore thumbs. Well, Wade gets a doozy here in the final act. I'd have left that scene on the cutting room floor, along with half the footage of the burning building which seems to go on a bit too long, because time is much better spent on a few things that this story sadly left out.... BUT, at least this stretched out climax is still solid and has my emotional investment. Of course, we're here because we want an ending that the flame-creature can actively participate in, and for what this is, it works well enough.

Visual effects for the wormhole have become noticeably conspicuous by their absence during the last couple of episodes (in broadcast order). Budget issues, eh? Hmmm. This episode delivers well during the opening, even though the complications of creating flame world on screen probably made showing the vortex there on top of everything else prohibitive. But I will take issue with the wrap up at the end of the story. Simply jumping out of the main world through an off-screen vortex, then fading to black just doesn't cut it.

What we REALLY need is tangible on-screen proof that the flame-creature's theory about controlling the slide to navigate back to the previous world works. And if it does work, can that help Quinn and friends also find home? There are a lot of important questions that need answering, and one can legitimately cry foul when the episode stops short of answering them. Additionally, if the flame-creature(s) are going to direct the slide, should they be interacting with the timer before it fires, or dictating co-ordinates, or at the very least jumping into the vortex first? Simply bringing it up and watching Wade, Rembrandt, and the Professor jump in first makes me wonder if they are going to end up in a different place to Quinn and the flame-creature(s). There certainly seemed to be enough extra transitional footage during the final act that some of that could have been excised to make room for the more important stuff, and if you're going to the trouble to show burning hell world at the beginning of the episode, how much more trouble is it to shoot another shot there for the end? It would have been well worth seeing the flame-creatures get home, how the Sliders get to their next destination, and why that next destination isn't their home.... Something is missing from this wrap up for sure.

When all is said and done though, this has got to be one of the best season three episodes of Sliders, delivering a very good sci-fi ride and keeping the main plot and its drama quite solid and satisfying. Excellent! I like this one, and easily consider it Josef Anderson's most worthy solo script for this season.

Best Story so far....

  1. The Guardian
  2. Double Cross
  3. The Fire Within
  4. Desert Storm
  5. Dragonslide
  6. Electric Twister Acid Test
  7. The Dream Masters
  8. Rules of the Game

Best Director so far....

  1. Adam Nimoy (The Guardian)
  2. Richard Compton (Double Cross)
  3. David Livingston (Dragonslide)
  4. Jim Johnston (Desert Storm)
  5. Jefery Levy (The Fire Within, The Dream Masters)
  6. Oscar (L. or no) Costo (Electric Twister, Rules of the Game)

This story has become available on DVD. Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Season 3 DVD Box Set
Region 1 NTSC
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
Season 3 DVD Box Set
Region 2 PAL
for the U.K.

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Dead Man Sliding"

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