Quantum Leap 1×13 “Family Style” deals with two (often conflicting) issues: how we perceive – and are perceived by – family, and how we perceive ourselves. To that extent, it was both cathartic and a little frustrating. But, then, isn’t that often the case when we’re dealing with family?
Honoring the Past
Ben (Raymond Lee) carries a lot of familial baggage and guilt, as we learned back in episode 6 of the series. He has regrets about things he wish he’d said to his mother before her death. At the end of that episode, it was almost cruel that he leaped just when it seemed he might get the chance for that much-needed closure.
That earlier denial made this week’s episode all the more cathartic, as Ben helped another family avoid making the same mistakes. It may not be quite the same thing as if he’d had the chance to talk to his own mom. But a big part of this kind of journey is the self-realization of both the things you wish you’d said, as well realizing and accepting why others made the choices they did.
It’s about acceptance, as well as understanding. And that’s the journey Ben took this week, as he helped Sonali (Nandini Minocha) and her daughters save their family restaurant. Of course, the real issue wasn’t the restaurant itself. It was the family unit, which originally broke and drifted apart after its loss.
Families are complicated in the best of times. And as anyone who carries a cultural expectation of “family before anything” can tell you, that expectation adds complications of its own. Because “family before everything” – while admirable in many ways – also means putting everything second to the family. Including, at times, one’s own desires and goals.
This is the dynamic Ben has to navigate this week. Sonali is struggling to keep her family’s restaurant alive, but that means doing things as they were always done by her deceased husband. It means not rocking the boat, not changing the menu, not doing things in a different way. Her daughters – including the one Ben is currently inhabiting – want to do just that. It’s a difference in perspective of how to honor tradition and family, whether doing so requires everything remain exactly the same, or whether honoring the past can (and maybe even should) mean embracing the future.
If there’s any question as to whether Ben manages to help Sonali and her daughters, they don’t know Quantum Leap. But as he does so, he has to face some of his own trauma and regret. Particularly when Sonali pushes herself too hard and collapses, reminding him of his own mother’s premature death. (By the way, as someone who’s been in a similar situation to Ben in that moment? The nuance in Lee’s acting in that scene hurt. I’m tearing up now, just thinking about it.) He has to face his own regrets, but in so doing, he helps Sonali to let go of her need to hold quite so tightly to the past, to see that her daughters are capable of carrying the torch – and the family’s legacy – into the future.
He also helps her set aside her pride, to ask for help. Because we all need help sometimes. Even the most capable among us.
Facing the Future
It’s strange to think, but each of us really has at least two versions of ourselves that exist in the world. There’s the person (or people) others see in us, and there’s the person we perceive ourselves to be. Those versions of ourselves aren’t always the same, for better or for worse.
Quantum Leap‘s Ian (Mason Alexander Park) ran face-first into that conflicting dichotomy this week, after Magic (Ernie Hudson) and Jenn (Nanrisa Lee) broke the news that they will be the one who set this entire chain of events off in the future. As we discovered last episode, they will one day Leap into the past/present (tenses when you to warn Ben about whatever danger is to come.
Now, I’m of the mind that there are two kinds of Quantum Leap fans: those who love Ian, and those who are wrong. So for me, there really was no question that Ian’s choice to Leap would be the right one. They wouldn’t make such a drastic decision – knowing it might put the project and their friends in jeopardy – without good reason. (I mean, if I sit and think about it, I get wrapped in that whole time travel paradox that it can’t really put the project in jeopardy since the current project is part of future Ian’s past. They need to be able to Leap in the future, so they can’t cause the closure of the project in the past. Otherwise, they don’t Leap in the future, so the shutdown of the project in the present/their past wouldn’t happen. But…look…I’ve mentioned these things give me a headache.)
Where was I before I broke my brain? Oh, right. Ian being too good and pure to be suspected of willfully taking an action that would hurt their friends without good cause. Doing so would be such a wild departure for their character, it’s not even worth questioning. As a viewer, this made Ian’s questioning of that very thing a little frustrating – if not downright baffling. At least at first.
I take Ian’s goodness as such a given that I was genuinely thrown when they doubted themselves. I mean, I didn’t even see that reaction coming, that’s how much I perceive them to be a character who would never put their friends in danger unless they had absolutely no other choice.
But, again, there’s two at least different versions of ourselves in the world. That viewers – or even Ian’s friends – would have such faith in them is something of a given to me. But, as I stepped back from my initial reaction (which was to want to shake some sense into Ian) and considered how we view ourselves, their reaction made complete sense, too.
Like I discussed above with Ben, we all carry the weight of our own regrets. We all carry guilt over our own failures, real or imagined. There’s a good chance Ben’s mother never really needed to hear all the things he wanted to say to her. If the show ever revisits that plot, I have absolutely zero doubt that we – and Ben – will learn that she already knew. She knew that he loved her. She knew all the things he wished he had said. But even knowing that wouldn’t necessarily remove Ben’s guilt over not having said them.
Likewise, Ian would carry the weight of every mistake they’ve ever made and everyone they’ve ever hurt. Whether intentionally or not. As we saw in their conversation with their former partner. There’s no question they didn’t intend to hurt anyone. But they recognized that they hurt someone who loved them, all the same.
So, yeah, while others may have total faith that Ian made the best choice available, under their future circumstances, it makes total sense that they would struggle with self-doubt. At least a little. Thankfully, they came to realize what those who love them already knew: if they made the choice to put their friends in danger, it was for darn good reason. They aren’t a character who would jump to rash action without considering the consequences. Which only gives heavier weight to the danger Ben is trying to prevent. If it was a big enough deal for Ian to endanger their friends, put their project in danger, and separate Ben and Addison (Caitlin Bassett) – possibly for good? It’s a really big deal.
After Quantum Leap 1×13 “Family Style,” I’m not saying that everyone on the team should panic, once they’ve given Ian the hug they richly deserve. But I kinda feel like everyone on the team should panic. After they given Ian a hug. Because they need it.