Maggie comes home...The Sliders make a most unusual and entertaining exit from the wormhole as they enter this adventure, which sets it off to a good start. Then we go straight to discovering the identity of Maggie's double, which will fuel both audience interest and plot. Excellent.
One sad note is that we don't quite get complete consistency on the spelling of Maggie's last name. The on-screen titles, street name, and park name all use two t's, which means the memorial plaque is outvoted and its Becket with one t is an unfortunate typo. Yikes.
I'm very pleased to see such lengthy exploration beats at the beginning of this story, which work because the writer has such good concepts to explore, what with the Mars mission, the alternate world history.... make that galactic history, and both Maggies' relationships with their fathers. This is so much better than the usual formulaic premises that other episodes often come up with.
Zeta ReticuliSomething that makes this story very special amongst other offerings from "Sliders" is that the alternate history on display today expands to include civilizations beyond the Earth(s). It's logical, smart, and as I hinted at in my review of "Strangers and Comrades", something I'd been secretly hoping for on this show for a long time. It's great new territory for "Sliders" to explore. Add to that the obvious bonus that writer Chris Black must have been doing some research into UFO phenomenon and E.T. contact reports to enhance the details in this script - and he does it better than is managed in most episodes of "The X-Files" for that matter.
The name of the Reticulans is not just pulled out of the air. It refers to the sixth brightest, or "zeta", star of the Reticulum constellation, which is where a race of grey humanoids come from, a race that reportedly had a lot of UFO interaction with us Earthlings over the course of the 20th century. For more information on them, a philosophically helpful source I'd recommend would be Royal Priest Research.
But of course, this is "Sliders", where each universe's history is different, and the same must apply to the Reticulan history as well. Interestingly, we don't actually meet a Reticulan character today. Doing their species justice on "Sliders" reduced budget and time constraints, much less getting their characterization right, probably would have been too much to ask. So we get a human with some Reticulan features, which is an effective compromise and allows for the creative freedom that will naturally poke through anyway.
Chris Black seems to be handling his DNA explanation a little less than believably though, making essentially the same mistake that he did back in "Applied Physics". A vaccine did this when the subject was a baby or young boy? It resurrects the old problem of trying to change the DNA in every cell of his body in exactly the same way, instead of doing it at conception, when he is only one cell in size. And if you do research the Zeta Reticulan interaction with humans on our Earth, there's a much more plausible explanation for his existence just waiting to be used. Why not say he was a product of our joint program to create Human-Reticulan hybrids? It would just fit his look so much better, and handle the DNA questions more easily. Or did the switch from President Eisenhower to Stevenson put any additional monkey-wrenches into the existence of such a program?
Of course, as a hybrid, one may have to lose or drastically change the whole "alone and abandoned" thematic arc for this guy, as he should both have plenty of hybrid companionship within the program and have a more subdued, clinical expression of almost all of his emotions.
Forced PlotBut on that note, all of the characters of this story can be brought into question. Chris Black is generally very good at creating internal issues in all of them that get explored deeply in very emotional scenes, which is great. He attempts to make the plot spring from those character points, and yet the plot often doesn't feel as much organic as it does forced. This problem doesn't turn up in the opening exploration beats which are superbly handled, but is really noticeable as the story's antagonists are brought into play. And once more the regulars fall too easily into the role of the pawns of the guest characters for most turns of events.
Early on, Mallory has a beat being one of the antagonists, and he is pretty badly handled. It may not be a totally bad idea to have his greed to cash in on Maggie's celebrity trigger something, but approaching her with a knife as she sleeps is a little too ridiculous.
Daddy IssuesMaggie's early scenes with her father are frustrating. She gets into a deep discussion of trying to explain who she is, where it makes no sense that she should talk so much while skirting around the truth about sliding and doubles. Plus, why does she waste so much time accusing this man for what his double did? Parental accusation is usually a waste of energy in any case, but add the concept of doubles, and it can't make any sense anymore.
To be fair, the problems seem to be here as a kind of artificial way of driving to the point where the General admits a certain revealing truth, which is a nice dramatic turn. Massaging this into a slightly more tasteful way of getting there would be a good goal. The real bonus is that after we get to that point, we get twice as much time again of scenes between Maggie and her father's double that actually deliver absolutely super, wonderful material. Good show. Chris Black has been one of the best writers for taking care of Maggie's character, defining her voice, making her likeable, making the audience want to invest their emotions with her, and ensuring that she shines, and in the end, this episode is probably the crowning jewel in that journey.
Rembrandt also steps up to the plate in later sections, with some nice supporting bits from Diana, in proactively working to solve their problems.
We also get a nice guest appearance by Rob LaBelle in this story, who was just making himself famous as a regular on the "Fugitive"-like conspiracy series "First Wave" that debuted and aired right after "Sliders" in the Sci-Fi Prime line up for fifth season. He's got a good role in this one, with some surprising twists and nice bits in it. It's clearly a different role for him, but has enough similarities to the "Crazy Eddie" character on "First Wave" that once again the connotations brought from that show actually help make this episode work better.
One area of slight concern is whether two of the concepts in this story really work well together. If humans have contact with extra-terrestrials that is established well enough to produce trade agreements, how significant does the "first" mission to Mars remain? The E.T.'s have probably already been there many times, and may be able to reveal much about Mars that we would otherwise have to piece together haphazardly. Do humans and E.T.'s venture on joint missions? If so, a mission to Mars may only be a big deal to the humans. I've covered a few other important aspects of human proactivity vs. reliance on aliens in my review of "Star Trek 8: First Contact", so I'll point interested readers there and refrain from repeating myself.
What we do actually get in this episode can easily still work, but perhaps an extra line of alt-history dialogue here and there could help calm the yellow flags.
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