Topic: The odd self-awareness of Sliders: a mini-essay
Sliders is one of the most strangely self-aware shows I've come across. Strangely, because there's a lot of self-aware fiction out there, but you get the feeling that it's trying. I don't think Sliders was trying.
Season 3 is where the show starts to turn on itself, in multiple ways. I'll be the first to admit that that's when the show starts getting bad, but it's also when the magic starts, when it becomes most lucid. Suddenly this group of adventurers and friends starts breaking down, on-screen and off, though there's no narrative reason for it to happen on-screen; it's just that someone new has control of the scripts. The bonds between former friends become weaker and weaker as the creators fail to pay any attention to the characters, preferring drinking binges to thoughtful storywriting. And yet at the same time, the characters notice.
"You know, when I first started sliding, all I saw was adventure. Now all I seem to see is death."
"You're not alone, you've got us." "Do I?"
"Everything's just so different, you know? ...I feel like I'm losing everything to her."
Episode by episode, Wade takes Quinn to task for what he's become - what he can't help becoming, at the hands of David Peckinpah and Jerry O'Connell. It's not, strictly, Quinn's fault. What's written isn't consistent with his character, and you'd think that if the writers noticed this enough to have Wade comment on it, they'd have noticed enough not to write him like that in the first place.
But they didn't. And so you have this odd mishmash of awareness and ignorance that really, more than anything, feels like Wade stepping outside the show to comment on its falling apart.
If this were any other show, I'd say Sabrina was just ad-libbing all her dialogue from mid-season 3 onwards. It's pointedly hostile towards all the changes that have been made: towards Maggie, towards Quinn's fickleness, towards the death of the Professor. At one point we're simply given a long, lingering, uncomfortable take of Wade screaming and crying, like something out of Candle Cove, a commentary on the beloved friendships the writers have abused and destroyed. It feels too real to be scripted.
Yet there's a problem. Sliders fandom has everything documented. There's no scandal, no bit of trivia that dedicated fans haven't uncovered, from drunken parties and hungover actors to actual on-set death. Something as daring as that would surely have been preserved, somehow, in Sliders history, and dutifully ferreted out by the fandom. We're forced to conclude that, even as the show imploded from bad writing, it maintained enough awareness to comment - scathingly, brutally - on everything it was doing wrong.
And it's fascinating for that. Sliders isn't just the story of four people travelling between parallel worlds; it's also the story of a show, with Wade as its prophet of doom, only able to watch helplessly as everything she once loved collapses around her. And then she's gone, and the rest of the show is like an afterthought, these ghosts of the characters (except Rembrandt, somehow, who miraculously always remains himself) plodding on, becoming increasingly poorly characterised to the point where they're unrecognisable. Quinn forgets her; Quinn in turn is forgotten, lost in the Mallory character. They bring Wade back, but it's not her; it's a ghost and a simulacrum like everything else, a sad echo of former times.
The show concludes its five-season run with the Sliders landing on a world where their exploits are fiction. Fans hold up signs proclaiming "Bring Back Wade"; Arturo is back on the show "by popular demand". Look what we were, the show's capstone seems to be saying, and look what we are now. A show within a show, commenting on itself. It's a fitting end, for a show that commented on itself more than people gave it credit for.