Topic: ESSAY: The Assassination of Quinn Mallory
The lead character of Quinn Mallory in SLIDERS has an interesting reputation among fans: they seem to hate him. In SLIDERSCAST, podcasters Jim Ford and Dan Kurtzke regularly declare Quinn to be the worst character of the original quartet. Sliders blogger Ian McDuffie wrote that "Quinn Mallory was never worth your time" and "Quinn Mallory is a bad person" and that "Quinn was a total dick."
On the message boards, Informant remarked that he would liked Quinn to have been shot and blown up after getting his brain sucked out. Slider_Quinn21, despite naming himself after the character, declared that Quinn "clearly lost his mind" as the series progressed.
Fans of SLIDERS seem quite willing to write off the main character of the series as a worthless waste of space and it saddens me greatly because I think that Quinn Mallory is one of the greatest fictional characters of the twentieth century. When fans look down upon Quinn, I believe they are in part mistaking the actor for the character, holding the character responsible for behind the scenes problems, and overlooking the magnificent creation that they're eviscerating.
Conflicting Creativity: Jerry O'Connell versus Quinn Mallory
One of the most peculiar casting choices in SLIDERS is hiring a football playing male model type to play a character who, as scripted on paper, is a slightly toned down Steve Urkel. In the Pilot script, Quinn is shy and socially awkward, portrayed in unaired scenes as afraid to approach women romantically and laughed at when asking a lady out on a date.
It's impossible to imagine the extremely attractive and amiable Jerry O'Connell lacking confidence towards women and in fact, Jerry's performance is completely at odds with the scene descriptions. Instead, Jerry plays the secretive and isolated Quinn Mallory with the full force of his charisma.
But instead of undermining Quinn, this acting choice adds depth: despite being athletic, handsome, friendly and brilliant, Quinn Mallory chooses to create his inventions in obscurity. This has the net effect of making Quinn seem damaged for reasons unknown.
Whether this is a conscious acting choice against the script or not, it works. There is a striking internal conflict to the character that speaks to both the adventurous action hero he can be and the distantly aloof intellectual that he is. The contradictions create a multi-faceted character. Throughout the first two seasons and a few episodes scattered through the third and fourth, SLIDERS finds fascinating stories to explore Quinn's adventurous spirit, his traumatic past, his clever ingenuity, his introverted behaviour and also his moral and philosophical values.
The striking thing about Quinn in the Pilot and the two seasons that follow is his gift for improvisation with the writers mining it to exhibit the characters' intelligence. When captured by the local revolution in "Prince of Wails," Quinn presents the Professor (a double of an establishment political figure) as his prisoner. When mistaken for his own fugitive double by the authorities in "Fever," Quinn attempts to use his football injury to distinguish himself from his alternate. When unable to rescue Rembrandt alone in "Luck of the Draw," Quinn rallies a group of protestors to lend him extra muscle.
The writers frequently have Quinn rush into situations without thought or competence, such as his disastrous rescue of an abused woman in "El Sid" or falling prey to a pickpocket in "Greatfellas," but they also present Quinn's lightning fast mind and ability to combine knowledge and observation to form solutions on the fly. It's a very effective technique for showcasing Quinn's cleverness while leaving him open to vulnerability and failure.
In addition to lack of planning and foresight, Quinn is also shown to lack some vital human resource skills. He avoids intimacy and close friendships for a time (the Pilot and "Last Days"), he is easily confused by sexual manipulation ("Greatfellas" and "Double Cross") and he exhibits an unwillingness to trust people he's close to (the Pilot, "The Guardian"). Throughout the first two seasons, it becomes clear that the 50 megawatt charm of Jerry O'Connell is really a mask that Quinn Mallory uses to obscure a damaged personality whose high-functioning nature is marred by self-induced loneliness and a constant sense of secrey.
Morality and Philosophy
In the first two seasons, Quinn's heroism is primarily defined through his proficiency at problem solving. Even when his ideas don't work ("Fever," "Last Days"), the genius behind them is undeniable. His successes stand out as a display of how the sliders can triumph over danger and threat through the power of ideas, a willingness to fail in different ways to see what does and doesn't work and his failures are often based in a refusal to trust in teamwork and delegation.
Furthermore, the recklessness he displays in getting his friends lost is increasing balanced by guilt and responsibility. In "Love Gods," he balks at the idea of fathering a child he would never get to see; in "The Good, the Bad and the Wealthy," he is outraged by a culture of violence; in "The Young and the Relentless," he is appalled at education being used as a marketing opportunity. Throughout all this, Quinn represents how knowledge, literacy and an openness to new information will allow the sliders to survive anything.
A Heroic Legacy
Quinn Mallory is part of an elite group: he's a science hero who uses nowledge and ideas to save the day. He stands alongside iconic characters like Sherlock Holmes, Batman, Mr. Spock, MacGyver, Dr. House, Hercule Poirot and others known for their incredible brainpower.
However, Quinn is also among heroes who are so strongly identified with the actor who played them that the two can be confused, and in the post-Torme episodes, Quinn's characterization takes an abrupt downturn that has took Quinn from being flawed but admirable to becoming a character who his loathed and despised by the fans.
Season 3 Changes
In numerous Season 3 episodes, Quinn's aptitude for problem solving is lost as the series begins to prize violence over ingenuity as a way to resolve stories. Episodes like "Season's Greedings" and "Prince of Slides" have Quinn punching out villains and battling them with swords. By "Paradise Lost" and "Dinoslide," clever solutions are out and massive explosions are in, reducing Quinn from a scientifically minded hero to a generic figure of 90s machismo.
Also present is Jerry O'Connell's gradual but painful decline as an actor. In "Double Cross," Jerry performs Quinn with the same analytical, scientific presence he created in Season 1 and with a gentle humility: he's touched when Logan flatters his timer technology, he's a little hesitant when she makes advances romantically. But by "Season's Greedings" and "Paradise Lost," Jerry performs Quinn with an absurd flirtatiousness towards the female guest stars and starts infusing an arrogant swagger into Quinn, replacing the open-minded and thoughtful traveller with an overconfident action hero whose defining characteristics are his sexual appeal and physical dominance over others.
Diminished Intelligence and Sensitivity
The most offensive aspect of the character is his sudden stupidity in Season 3, behaving in a baffling and illogical manner that would outrage the real Quinn. In "Dragonslide," Quinn falls head over heels in love with Melinda, a woman with whom he's not had a single conversation and largely seen while she's unconscious. In "Slither," Quinn is so infatuated with Kyra and despite Kyra being an obviously untrustworthy manipulator, he is prepared to abandon sliding for her.
More shocking, however, is Quinn's insensitivity towards his friends where responsibility, compassion and consideration, while imperfect areas for him, were certainly never his blind spots. In "Season's Greedings," Wade melts down emotionally over her longing for family and Quinn goes out on a date with Wade's sister instead of accompanying Wade. In "The Exodus Part 2," Quinn finds the way back home, but refuses to allow his friends to return for reasons incomprehensible. In "Sole Survivors," Quinn pranks his already anxious friends by tricking them into thinking he's being electrocuted.
By the end of Season 3, the character has gone from being a tender, sincere and brilliant young man with some social issues to becoming dim-witted, violent and incomprehensibly cruel by neglect or illogical decisions. There is no inciting incident, no path of characterization, no sequence of events that leads to this characterization. In fact, the early episodes of Season 3 show Quinn dealing with some bad news about the Professor in a rather positive if pained fashion, making this downturn in his characterization even more inexplicable in-universe.
On a visual level, this Season 3 version of Quinn Mallory is difficult to recognize as the Season 1 - 2 incarnation. Jerry O'Connell is now sporting a sun-tan and a stylish wardrobe rather than the secondhand shop attire; his screen presence has become preeningly smug rather than thoughtfully earnest.
Season 4 Retcon
With Season 4, we have one of the strangest onscreen retcons ever made in science fiction television -- we're told that Quinn Mallory is not a boy genius from our world but a refugee from the Kromagg homeworld and a pivotal figure in an interdimensional war and that the people who raised him were in truth his kidnappers.
This retcon is so wrongheaded it's difficult to know where to start, but very simply, the strength of the Quinn Mallory character is his ability to survive insane situations with clever improvisation. The appeal of Quinn is that anyone could apply his attitude to facing their challenges; the idea that Quinn is now a mythic chosen one undermines his appeal.
There's also the fact that Season 4's version of Quinn is completely incapable of living up to his new reputation as an individual of central concern in a multiversal conflict because Season 4 shows Quinn at his least heroic.
In "Genesis," Quinn discovers his adoptive home Earth has been invaded and sets off to find an anti-Kromagg superweapon and liberate his home and also rescue his mother and Wade who are now Kromagg captives.
However, subsequent episodes show Quinn to repeatedly ignore this mission. In "Common Ground," Quinn finds a superweapon capable of destroying all Kromaggs; in "World Killer," he learns about the power to slide massive populations to other Earths; in "Mother and Child," he finds a virus so lethal to Kromaggs they've fled; in "Revelations," he finds another anti-Kromagg weapon. At no point does he even voice interest in using these weapons to save his world. And he never mentions his mother again.
In "Mother and Child," Quinn meets an escaped Kromagg prisoner who knew Wade, but asks no questions about Wade's well-being. When Rembrandt declares they must take this chance to rescue Wade, Quinn ignores Rembrandt's plea and in fact leaves it to a guest-star to tell Rembrandt that Wade has been moved offworld, and despite Quinn having the technology to track other sliders, he voices no interest in trailing Wade to save her.
In Quinn's final episode, "Revelations," he declares that Rembrandt will be returning to the Kromagg-invaded Earth alone and that he intends to reside on Kromagg Prime, apparently no longer pursuing his mother or Wade. In both "Mother and Child" and "Revelations," Jerry O'Connell's performance indicates that neither Rembrandt, Wade nor his home hold any emotional weight or turmoil for him.
An Understandable Contempt
The fans' distaste for Quinn Mallory for his portrayal in Seasons 3 - 4 is understandable. However, it is unreasonable to view the latter-era seasons as a legitimate portrayal of the Quinn Mallory character as created by Tracy Torme and Robert K. Weiss.
Certainly, Quinn's behaviour upset the fans at many turns, but the problem wasn't that Quinn Mallory was a hateful sociopath; the problem was that SLIDERS' creative staff weren't writing Quinn Mallory correctly. There was no deliberate effort to make Quinn a more unpleasant, alienating, hateful character whom the fans would hold in contempt; the aspects of Quinn that infuriate the fans are random decisions made by an indifferent creative team. There comes a point when it is necessary to look at the onscreen events in a real-world context.
Stepping Outside the Game
The switch from brainpower saving the day to blowing things up instead was not a storyline in which Quinn became more violent and cynical. It was because the original showrunners were not present during Season 3 to rewrite scripts and set direction and showrunners more familiar with crime dramas and action movies took over the writing of the series.
The shift in Quinn's body language and behaviour from an earnest youth to a showboating flirt was not a character direction in which Quinn began to indulge his libido; it was the actor becoming enchanted with the Los Angeles nightlife when the show moved there from Vancouver and bringing his personal life into performing a character who wasn't anything like him.
The selfish disregard for others shown in Seasons 3 - 4 was not an episodic arc in which Quinn became a more self-absorbed person. It was entirely due to writers and the actor having degenerated so severely in quality control and professionalism that they were failing to communicate plot information clearly and soon became unable to convey character information coherently or manage their actors' performances.
Quinn's flirting with Kelly Welles in "Season's Greedings," for example, suggests a total indifference to Wade's grief, but it's Jerry O'Connell's performance that turns what should be a platonic friendship and a desire to understand Wade's family into an inappropriately romantic date.
In "The Exodus," Quinn is hated by the characters and fans for refusing to give his friends the way home, except the script actually has no logical reason for Quinn to refuse, and both installments of this two-parter are filled with nonsensical characterization for nearly every character involved: there's a murderous US Army Colonel inexplicably keeping a list of all his victims for anyone to find, soldiers who have forcefield technology but inexplicably decide to shoot rioters despite voicing a reluctance to do so, the Professor inexplicably supporting Quinn withholding the way home -- all this demonstrating the writers' inability to present any of their characters in a plausible fashion. While Quinn's character suffers most from poor characterization, he's not the only one.
In "Sole Survivors," the writers can't seem to figure out if the zombies kill people instantly or prefer to take them hostage and so determining if Quinn pranking his friends with a feigned electrocution is appropriate or not is likely beyond them as well. In "Slither," the writers have the sliders inexplicably taking separate vacations despite the necessity of sliding together and have Wade agree to vacation with Maggie despite having shown nothing but aggravation towards her, and Quinn's willingness to abandon his friends would suggest that the writers have lost any understanding of their characters.
In all these disastrously characterized episodes, Quinn Mallory's declining competence and likability are merely symptoms of a systemic failure to tell any worthwhile stories at all, never mind stories with a worthwhile lead character.
The Non-Arc of Season 4
This inability to manage characterization clearly is even more severe in many fourth season episodes in which pitch reviews and script editing seem to have fallen aside. Quinn is despised for abandoning the mission to save his adopted Earth, yet Rembrandt is also oddly uninterested in all the numerous anti-Kromagg measures the sliders discover in "Common Ground," "Mother and Child," "Slidecage" and "Revelations." The writers seem incapable of maintaining running plot elements throughout Season 4.
The first episode establishes that Quinn and Rembrandt have been traumatized by the invasion; by the second episode, they are joking and laughing. The third episode reveals that the Kromaggs have a standing order that none of the sliders are to be harmed or captured, but all subsequent episodes show the sliders regularly attacked, captured and nearly killed by Kromagg forces without explanation for why the protective order has been rescinded.
The episode "Mother and Child" has Quinn at his most contemptible: when Rembrandt says he wants to save Wade, Quinn walks away indifferently, tossing the sentence, "I don't know if we have enough time" over his shoulder. But this characterization says less about Quinn than it does about Jerry's reading compehension issues in this season. The script actually has Quinn agreeing with Rembrandt while noting, "We don't have much time," only to discover right there and then that Wade had been shipped offworld and they'd missed their chance.
Jerry O'Connell altered his line from acknowledging the danger to refusing to face it and performed the scene with indifference, and "Mother and Child" says less about the problems with Quinn Mallory and more about Jerry O'Connell's laziness towards reading scripts without John Rhys-Davies to guide him. This laxness towards reading scripts is also present to a shocking degree in "Slidecage," where a portion of the plot hinges on Quinn being overwhelmed with grief over Maggie's supposed death -- but Jerry's bored performance mistakenly suggests that Quinn doesn't think Maggie is dead, creating a plothole as Quinn has no reason to think she survived.
The script for "Revelation" in which Quinn hatefully abandons his adopted home and Rembrandt is one of the most incomprehensible SLIDERS scripts ever penned. Quinn states that he has the coordinates to find the anti-Kromagg weapon and bypass the security measures -- yet, he inexplicably has not used them during the weeks of inactivity he's shown to have had. Furthermore, Quinn then permits a stranger to alter those coordinates. When the altered coordinates take the sliders to the wrong Earth, Quinn makes no effort to use the correct coordinates to get to the correct Earth, and Maggie states, "I hope you find your home someday" despite the script having established they already have their route there.
The script compounds its errors further when guest-character Isaac Clarke accompanies the sliders to this Earth to get the superweapon from a Michael Mallory double -- only for Michael to state that it is Clarke who has the superweapon with the sliders failing to question this. Stranger still, despite the weapon being the object of their travels, the sliders only raise the subject with Michael when it comes up incidentally.
The story has Isaac Clarke stating his intention to see Michael Mallory arrested for war crimes for using the superweapon -- except the story also establishes that the weapon's use is openly known with no consequences to Michael and that Clarke helped create it. With "Revelations" being this contradictory and internally inconsistent, the fact that Quinn's motivations make no sense is one of many incoherent plot points and the result of making Quinn hateful is clearly unintentional in that little of the story seems intended to achieve much of anything.
The truth is that every episode where Quinn Mallory's character comes off as unconscionable and hateful is also an episode where the writers have failed in almost every area of basic storytelling and created massive plotholes that undermine and invalidate their own material -- and Quinn's aberrant behaviour in these stories is symptomatic of these unremedied errors.
But let's set all that aside for a moment -- let's say that all this really is Quinn Mallory's character, that it's the character's course to go from the sweet scientist of Seasons 1 - 2 to the violent ladies' man in Season 3 and the emotionless deserter of Season 4. Let's say Quinn really doesn't care about Wade or freeing his home or about Rembrandt's fate. Then why is he a slider?
Why does he continue to step into the vortex every week? Why doesn't he just settle on the paradise vacation world in "Slidecage"? Why does he continue to get into one dangerous situation after another if he doesn't actually want to help people and cares only about himself?
Even if you accept the premise that sliding turned Quinn Mallory into a monster, even if you focus solely on the Season 4 presentation, this version of the character is internally incoherent -- which would indicate that the problem isn't the character but rather how he's written.
A Combination Complex
While fans are fully aware of the misjudged and clumsy writing, direction and production of the latter seasons, fans excuse the characters for all this in most cases -- except when it comes to Quinn Mallory.
The hostility is in part due to the actor. Where Cleavant Derricks' acting remained capable throughout most of the series, Jerry O'Connell's performance declined severely. While Cleavant remained with the show throughout its run, Jerry quit over a contractual dispute and refused to perform an exit story. Cleavant had no creative control over the series and was saddened by its errors; Jerry was a Season 4 producer, writer and director and viewed as complicit in SLIDERS' misdeeds.
As a result, Rembrandt's crimes are acknowledged as poor creative direction while Quinn is considered a villain with a character arc in which his worst character traits become the whole of his personality. The antipathy for the actor has become intertwined with the actor. The anger towards the series and the actor riding roughshod over the feelings of fans becomes anger towards a character who cannot help how he is being mis-performed, mis-written and mis-directed. Quinn Mallory was not the problem.
I think the other part is that fans genuinely do not realize what a significant and special character Quinn Mallory once was; Quinn could have been as iconic and popular a character as science heroes like MacGyver or Sherlock Holmes or Batman, but FOX's abysmal marketing never gave him a chance.
Infecting the Past
The claim that the Quinn of Seasons 1 - 2 becomes the Quinn of Seasons 3 - 4 in a logical character arc is fundamentally insulting to Tracy Torme and Robert K. Weiss' superb scripting in Seasons 1 - 2 and their brilliant casting and direction. The Quinn character was extremely well-devised as a capable protagonist who was still vulnerable and flawed; the writing and acting decisions that made the character seem loathsome were entirely blind to the strengths of Quinn's character.
Fans seek to combine the behind the scenes failures for Quinn into a coherent character arc when the simple truth is that the character was not being written or performed correctly and even regarding the seasons separately and even within the latter seasons alone, Quinn's psychological trajectory is nonsensical. Quinn bearing loss with the desire to make a difference in "The Guardian" is not the Quinn who reacts to loss after "Exodus" with acidity and cynicism. The Quinn who vowed to rescue his mother and Wade in "Genesis" is clearly not the indifferent Quinn of "Mother and Child."
The real Quinn Mallory is a fascinating character with a truly distinct voice and purpose. He is a science hero who represents the power of ideas to overcome hardship and difficulty; he is an improviser who shows how the willingness to take chances and make mistakes can lead to refinement, improvement and triumph but can also lead to one fine mess after another.
The contradictions between the performed character and the scripted role make Quinn complex with many different functions: he can be the stalwart and moral hero or the thoughtful academic, he can be the wise teacher or the impetuous student, he can be the leading man or he can be the bystander. This is a character with incredible versatility as Torme and Weiss cleverly crafted a character who could be smarter than his writers without ever being invincible.
The fan argument is constantly that Quinn is a selfish coward and has been all along. But the truth is that Quinn's character was the product of many key influences: Tracy Torme and Robert K. Weiss scripting him, Jerry O'Connell interpreting the scripts, the writers adjusting their material to the actor, the costuming department, story editors Jon Povill and Jacob Epstein, and veteran actor John Rhys-Davies providing Jerry O'Connell with personal coaching. When these influences were tampered with or removed without consideration, Quinn's character suffered.
After Torme's departure, Quinn's characterization was handled by David Peckinpah, Marc Scott Zicree, Jerry O'Connell, Bill Dial and Keith Damron, all of whom had fundamentally contradictory and irreconciliable takes on Quinn and Jerry's post-John performances show how vital Davies was for Jerry's talent. By the final episode of SLIDERS, the only remaining employees who'd been there since the Pilot were a single actor and a production supervisor and the downward spiral for Quinn only reflects these behind the scenes situations.
The numerous failures of how he was written and the onscreen character being unlikable in his last two seasons on the air should not be seen to represent Quinn Mallory's character; they should instead be seen to represent the ineptitude and unprofessionalism of the writers and the actor and their willful blindness to Quinn's limitless potential.