Quantum Leap 1×06 “What a Disaster” has one question to ask you: Have you called your mother lately? If you haven’t (and she’s a good mom doing her best and not, you know, horribly abusive and toxic), it wants you to go call her now. That’s okay. It’ll wait on you to get back. Take your time.
Living With Regret
The sixth episode of Quantum Leap was originally intended to be its pilot, according to show runner Martin Gero. For various Hollywood-ish reasons, they made the decision to move it to episode 6 after it was filmed and change tactics for the series launch. (Obviously, this decision required them to do some re-shoots to fit “What a Disaster” into the current plot continuity.)
Watching the episode, it’s really not a surprise this was shot as a pilot. It’s a big episode in terms of Problem of the Week. There was definitely some money thrown at this one, and you can see. It’s like Quantum Leap meets San Andreas, with less of the Rock. But with the somewhat unique twist – for a disaster movie, at least – that the on-the-rocks relationship (between the Leapee and the always excellent Jewel Staite) still progresses toward divorce at the end. As it turns out, dodging falling debris doesn’t actually solve all the problems in a marriage.
While I haven’t seen the episode as it was originally filmed, moving it later in the season makes sense. While no doubt high-stakes, if Ben was trying to figure out who he was and what he was doing in the past while playing “beat the clock” to save a kid from a building collapse, we’d be screaming at the television that he needs to freaking focus. But also, moving the episode to this point in the season allows the focus to shift from figuring out what’s going on in general to delving more into Ben’s history and heartache.
And, listen, I could bask in the show’s growing ship between Ben (Raymond Lee) and Addison (Caitlin Bassett) for ages. Like I did over the last couple of episodes. But this episode was emotional in its own way, giving Ben (and his decisions) a little more depth. Addison may not be the only one falling more in love with him, is all I’m saying.
At the same time, this glimpse into his past raises questions of its own. I could totally understand why his mother’s death would lead to his obsession with time travel. Everyone has moments in their past their regret, though not always with consequences so profound. Still, I’ve written before about the ways grief can present itself. The simple truth is, it changes you. Often, you’d give just about anything to have one last moment. One last chance to say goodbye. Because the sad truth is, we rarely know which goodbye will be our last with the people we love.
All of Ben’s actions in this episode – including initially pushing Addison away instead of revealing his loss, as well as begging her to give him his mother’s phone number – made sense to me. It’s the actions before the episode that I can’t decide if I admire or simply don’t understand. Because, again, Ben wasn’t the one who was originally supposed to Leap. His life’s obsession was time travel, but he wasn’t originally supposed to be the one traveling through time, so he could possibly one day right his personal wrong.
Is there more to that story, to explain how he could have reconciled himself to miss the opportunity that had driven him to that point? Or is he just a stronger person than me? Maybe we’ll find out.
Of course, Ben’s personal tragedy wasn’t the only storyline this episode. While he was dodging debris and leaping into collapsing buildings (no pun intended), the team was dealing with the mystery presented last episode. There’s a second Leaper out there (if not more). It’s entirely possible this second person is why Ben Leaped in the first place. But who is he? Why is he Leaping? Where did he come from? And, perhaps more important, how is he doing this?
There’s no a lot of answers, to this point. Just a lot of questions. Ones that only time travel can truly inspire. Is the bad guy from this time period, using parallel technology? Or could he be from the future, using the team’s technology to Leap? And is it also possible that Ben is trying to leap into the future to stop it?
I’m with Magic (Ernie Hudson). Just thinking about it gives me a headache. But there are also questions that didn’t (yet) get addressed. Such as…if Ben’s whole purpose is to Leap into the future to stop this second Leaper, how did he know it was necessary? How did he know someone else was 1) Leaping, and 2) doing so from the future? More than that, if he discovered all this from Ziggy…somehow…how did he know and Ian (Mason Alexander Park) didn’t? And why did he keep it secret from the team?
The truth is, part of me wished that Magic and Jenn (Nanrisa Lee) would just invite Leaper Martinez (Walter Perez) to join their team. He’s definitely a True Believer. He seems like a good guy. And, theoretically, that would mean he wouldn’t later go working for a separate shadow organization. If that is actually what he’s doing. But the (as-of-yet unverbalized) question when it comes to time travel always comes down to one of cause and effect. They could invite him to join them, but what if that what actually sets off the sequence of events that they eventually have to stop? They don’t even know what’s going on or why they’re trying to stop it just yet! Which of course leads to the inevitable paradox: If inviting Martinez to join their team to prevent him from becoming a Leaper is what would prompt him to become a Leaper, how did he become a Leaper in the first place?
Yeah. Quantum Leap 1×06 “What a Disaster” was good, but thinking about the wibbly wobbly timey wimey nature of it all is causing my head to hurt. I’m going to leave these kinds of questions to Ian for now. Man, I can’t wait for next week’s episode.
Oh, and don’t forget to call your mother.
Quantum Leap airs Mondays on NBC and is available for streaming on the Peacock app.