It is with some disappointment that one later discovers that the title is a play on the Alfred Hitchcock movie "To Catch a Thief", starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly and based on the novel by David Dodge. All the fascinating business with the timer breaking down is just meant to provide motivation for the Sliders to go hunting for... and possibly thieving.... a priceless jewel to repair it with.
Still, the beats that thread the Sliders into the main plot are some of the most fascinating of the season, and the icing on the cake is how well the series remembers and honours its past here. We recall and explore the origins of this timer in season three's "Slide Like An Egyptian", and discover something about how those people thought when designing their technology. Nice touch.
Of course, everyone relies on Rembrandt now to provide such remembered information. If the writers had followed the Doctor Who template for regenerating Quinn closely enough to reap the reward they said they had wanted, namely to "retain the memories and experiences of the old Quinn", as well as the "relational bonds established between Quinn and the other characters", we could and should be getting all that information out of Robert Floyd's version of the character. Thus they prove yet again that they didn't know what they were doing with that concept.
Nicely though, all this gives Diana plenty to do as the scientist character. On top of that, she gets the opportunity to be the most showcased member of the team in their best shot at stealing the critical jewel, and in the process gets to explore sides of her character that we would rarely otherwise see. I'd say her romantic exploits here evoke more sympathy and audience investment than anything we've seen recently concerning Maggie or Mallory, partly because of the archetypal challenges that come up for her, and partly because we know it's also all in aid of the long-term goals for the Sliding team instead of a distraction from them.
Roles for the other three Sliders are also well-fleshed out and satisfying. Mallory has his own side-romance going on, which is successfully played mostly for laughs while also showcasing his fast-talking adaptability. Rembrandt becomes the keeper of the philosophical and ethical flame here, tempered with the kind of "queasy slider" humour that he used to be much more adept with in the early seasons of the show. And Maggie seems to be in her element here, putting on camouflage and taking charge of the mission.
I have to say that I found this story much more enjoyable and exciting than the "To Catch A Thief" movie it sprung from. The mystery is better worked out and more believable here, the story has a much better pace, and I'd sooner invest in Tembi Locke's romance than Cary Grant's. In some respects, with this story taking place in modern times instead of the post WWII mid-fifties, and using computer security references, it ends up resembling films like "Ocean's Eleven" more than "To Catch A Thief". Then again, Mallory's romantic interest does resemble a Grace Kelly look-alike to some degree.
Another bonus is that we get actor Israel Juarbe taking reservations in the hotel again, and this time he actually answers to the name "Calhoun". Excellent. I really enjoy his presence yet again here. It really is too bad that we haven't seen more of him each time we return to the Chandler Hotel, which has been OFTEN.
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