The first season finale of NBC’s reboot-continuation of “Quantum Leap” has aired, and it greatly expands the mythology of the show by breaking some of its earlier rules (sometimes the best way to fix something is to break it, right?). In a clever nod to “Back to the Future Part 2” (the dark-horse chapter of Rob Zemeckis’s lighthearted time-travel trilogy), Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee) finds himself taking an unprecedented leap forward in time to a dark, nuclear-winter future of 2051, and then back to his own recent past, to his very first date with future-fiancée, Addison Augustine (Caitlin Bassett).
One of the great strengths of this sequel series has been its switch from a ‘dynamic duo’ (original series characters Dr. Sam Beckett and Al Calavicci) to a larger, more colorful ensemble cast. In the new Quantum Leap format, the standalone adventures in the past (which the original series already did four seasons of) have been upgraded to include a present-day conspiracy/mystery tying it all together. Making all of that work, while adding new twists, as well, is a tall order. Fortunately, the show’s first season finale “Judgment Day” (another time travel movie nod) does exactly that, with the aid of a very deft script by Margarita Matthews and nimble direction by Chris Grismer…
Quantum Leap: “Judgment Day”
The opening sees Ben Song (Raymond Lee) leaping into the bombed-out ruins of what used to be Project Quantum Leap Headquarters in Los Angeles, with ash falling from the sky. Wondering aloud what happened, Ben hears a familiar voice answering, “Nuclear winter,” from a gray-haired, bespectacled person nearby. It’s his colleague, Dr. Ian Wright (Mason Alexander Park). This is an older, grayer, less-glamorous Ian—humbled by great tragedy and the passage of almost 30 years; “I have been waiting a very long time,” Ian adds.
Note: The age makeup on actor Mason Alexander Park is very interesting; the glasses at the edge of the nose, the gray fallout cape, and the almost ghostly overall appearance (drained of all their former color) suggests a character out of Dickens. It’s a great performance.
Ben is shocked, as he fights to prevent himself from quantum-leaping yet again—his body being randomly tugged by the glowing energy of the accelerator. Ian tells him that the still-intact quantum accelerator of the past is trying to pull him back, since it wasn’t designed to send him into his own future. Ian explains that the project was destroyed when time-travel was weaponized, and later made a scapegoat for all the ills of society. This also explains “Leaper X,” aka Martinez, the counter-leaper who’s been sabotaging the Project, and even attempted to murder Ben in previous leaps. Martinez is part of this radicalized faction. Project Quantum Leap (and its nuclear accelerator) will be destroyed, resulting in the current radioactive wasteland seen in 2051.
Note: This marks the first time in either incarnation of “Quantum Leap” where we ever see a character leap into their own future. Unless, of course, original leaper Sam Beckett (who’s still MIA in the series’ canon) has already done that. At the WonderCon Quantum Leap panel last month, producer Deborah Pratt hinted that Bakula’s return to the series was not out of the question, despite the actor’s prior insistence that he will not be returning.
Meanwhile, back in 2023, Quantum Leap project leader Herbert “Magic” Williams (Ernie Hudson), Ian, Addison Augustine (Caitlin Bassett), Security Chief Jenn Chou (Nanrisa Lee), and former renegade-turned-ally Janis Calavicci (Georgina Reilly), daughter of the late Admiral Al Calavicci, await Ben’s return, but are disappointed when they lose track of him. Ian has a weak, intermittent track on Ben’s exact location, but Janis has determined that Ben’s leaped into the future—something Project Quantum Leap was never designed to do.
In 2051, Ben fights to prevent himself from quantum-leaping again—his body being randomly tugged by the glowing energies of the accelerator. Ian tells him that the still-intact quantum accelerator of the past is trying to pull him back, since it wasn’t designed to send him into his own future. Knowing that Ben will soon lose this tug-of-war with the accelerator, Ian tries to impart valuable information to him, specifically a complex code, which they need Ben to memorize before he returns to 2023 (or earlier). Committing Ian’s code to his eidetic memory, Ben begins to leap again. Ian’s final words to Ben on stopping Martinez; “Remember that we need each other! It takes two!”
Ben finds himself leaped back into his own body, but in the year 2018—five years before his own present. The hairstyles are a little different, but his old colleagues are all there, and planning a get together for trivia night. Magic has some fine contraband Cuban cigars (courtesy of Jenn) he wants he wants to give to his old buddy “Al,” who’s still alive in this time, though not seen onscreen. Newly-arrived Ben has to pretend he’s part of this time. Fortunately, Addison from 2023 has located Ben, and is once again acting as his holographic observer. Ben immediately gives her 2051-Ian’s code to pass onto 2023-Ian, who has no idea what to make of it. She then has to remind Ben that this was also the day of their first date. With some prodding from 2023-Addison, Ben is reminded that he has to ask 2018-Addison out first, which he does, though not very gracefully. Overhearing Ben’s awkward dinner proposal, the gossipy Quantum Leap gang erupt into mock disappointment over Ben breaking their trivia night ritual…
Note: While Al Calavicci is still alive in 2018, I’m glad we don’t see some tacky attempt to artificially insert the late Dean Stockwell (1936-2021) into the episode somehow. It’s enough just knowing that Al is still alive—there’s no need to artificially resurrect the actor via computer-imagery and voice manipulation. This episode shows remarkable (and tasteful) restraint.
We later see Addison and Ben’s first date—with 2023’s holographic Addison inserting herself into the night out, to coach the partially-amnesiac Ben on what he has to say and do. At a posh Chinese restaurant, Ben fumbles over menu choices, and struggles to remember exactly what he said/did, which he tries to pass off as nervousness. Trouble soon arises when 2023-Addison reveals that Leaper X, aka Martinez (Walter Perez), has also leaped into this time, and is not far away. Before the date can progress, Ben decides that saving 2018-Addison’s life is more important than even their romantic future together, so he disrupts their timeline by leaving the restaurant early. Making things worse, Ben also tells 2018-Addison that he is a leaper from the future, and that they should return to Quantum Leap HQ, which will (no doubt) be Martinez’s next target. Choosing her safety over his, Ben sends 2018-Addison on ahead, while he goes on foot. 2018-Addison thinks her new beau is insane, while 2023-Addison is worried about the disruptive effects Ben has created with their own personal timeline…
Note: Once again taking a cue from “Back to the Future 2” (from which this episode subtly homages at various points), the digital duplication of two Addisons having dinner with a single Ben is flawlessly executed; no doubt made easier without the time-consuming issues of BTTF2’s 1989-era optical visual effects.
Ben returns to Quantum Leap HQ with 2023-Addison at his side. Cornered at gunpoint by 2018-Addison–who is worried that her crazy date might be a saboteur–Ben tells her she won’t shoot him; he mentions the theory of ‘quantum entanglement’ and how they’re destined for each other in every timeline. As Ben tries to point her gun away, 2018-Addison fires, but misses—hitting a fire extinguisher, instead (which provides Ben with momentary cover, allowing him to escape). Ben then finds that 2023’s Jenn has temporarily ejected 2023-Addison from the imagining chamber, and is now acting as holographic-observer in order to help him get past the Project’s security systems (which she knows inside and out). Unfortunately, Martinez arrives at Quantum Leap after leaping into the perfect body—that of Project Leader Magic, the embodiment of everyone’s trust.
Ben is then placed in a holding cell by ’Magic’-Martinez, leaving him temporarily powerless to stop the renegade leaper. With Ben ‘safely’ locked up, Martinez offers to give 2018-Addison time to relax. As she reaches for her gun, Martinez tells her she should leave her gun with him. Convincing her faux-boss that she’s not emotionally involved, she’s allowed to take her weapon…
Note: Walter Perez, as Leaper X/Martinez, makes one hell of a menacing bad guy. Perez has a cool and smooth yet lethal quality not unlike a young Al Pacino in the original “Godfather” movies.
Alone in his cell, Ben is met by the real Magic–in holographic observer form–who gives his resigned friend a much-needed pep talk. However, that’s not the point of Magic’s visit; he’s there to give Ben a specific and vital piece of instruction from 2023’s Jenn; write “Turtle Time” on his cell wall. Ben tells Magic he doesn’t have a pen. Magic tells him he always keeps a pen in his jacket breast pocket. Magic disappears, as Martinez comes to Ben’s cell to gloat. Knowing that his cell is being watched, Martinez restrains himself. Ben reminds Martinez that if the accelerator is destroyed, he can’t return, either. Martinez, a former soldier, doesn’t care. He states that his mission is to destroy the accelerator and all members of the project, so that no trace of it can survive. Ben lunges at him, feigning anger, but actually steals the pen from his breast pocket—per real Magic’s instructions. Knowing he’s being watched, Ben writes (in large print) “Turtle Time” on the cell wall, which 2018’s Jenn instantly recognizes (from her favorite “Real Housewives” TV show). It’s Jenn’s top-secret password, which convinces Jenn and the others Ben’s telling the truth.
With the 2018 Quantum Leap team on his side, Ben is released from detention. Meanwhile, the armed 2018-Addison—who’s former military herself—is going hunting for Martinez, whom she’s now convinced is not their boss. Cornering him in the corridor on his way to sabotage the accelerator, Ben arrives and shoves Martinez against a wall, which causes him to fire the pistol in his hand and shoot Addison in the shoulder–a nasty wound, but not fatal.
Note: The previews of this episode really played up the quick clip of Addison getting shot in the shoulder, which made it appear that her aforementioned murder was going to happen anyway, regardless of Ben’s actions.
With the injured Addison unable to stop them, the two leapers fight their way back into the accelerator chamber, with soldier Martinez clearly having the upper hand. Ben takes quite a beating as the two are literally fighting in an arena at the edge of infinity. The dueling leapers then lunge at each other, just as the accelerator sends both combatants back through time…
Note: As much as I loved the older series, it was never quite this cool or exciting; even its “Evil Leaper” episodes had nowhere near this level of high-stakes action.
The two men arrive at the chamber-of-horrors sanitarium (seen in the recent episode “Ben, Interrupted”), where a confused Martinez asks what’s going on. Ben says that it appears they’re regressing through their past few leaps together. They continue their battle, to the shock of the other inmates. Martinez continues to pummel the clearly-outmatched Ben, who tries to remember some of his boxing training from an earlier leap (“Someone Up There Likes Ben”). This allows Ben to dish out a little of what he’s been taking—long enough to keep alive, at least—against his combat-trained opponent.
Meanwhile, 2023 Ian now recognizes the code given to them earlier from their 2051-self. It’s a cheat code for a challenging video game they used to play; this code allowed them to bypass a difficult-to-play section in order to win. Finally, it dawns on them—they can create a similar ‘cheat code’ to return Ben to his 2018 arrival, in order to reset the timeline!
Regressing through their leaps together, Ben and Martinez arrive on a familiar naval vessel (“S.O.S”), where they resume their struggle. When neither man is clearly defeated, they leap together once again. We now see them standing on a balcony above a street in the Old West town of “Salvation” (“Salvation or Bust”), where Ben once leaped into an old gunfighter who saved the town from marauders hired by greedy developers. Back in that role, Ben sees Martinez standing over him. The two of them resume their fight. During their struggle, the superior-combatant Martinez manages to get his hand on Ben’s pistol. With Ben unable to stop him, Martinez takes a moment to relish his defeat of Quantum Leap, until…
Note: Martinez pauses just long enough for someone or something else to stop him–the fatal mistake of so many movie/TV villains; the need to gloat and monologue their way into defeat (see: much of the James Bond cinematic canon).
…he is shot in the back and killed by Frankie (Yaani King Mondschein), one of the many locals who helped Ben save their town in the previous leap. A bleeding Martinez falls from the balcony, and lies dead in the street. Ian, monitoring from 2023, now realizes the meaning of what their 2051-self told Ben: “Remember that we need each other! It takes two!” The second person, in this case, was Frankie.
Note: Smart use of callbacks, as it was his teamwork with the townspeople that saved Ben in his original leap to Salvation. “Judgment Day” is arguably the most cleverly self-referential Quantum Leap script ever written (of either series). The nods to prior episodes aren’t just fan service–they are very specifically chosen, with regards to Martinez’s involvement in them.
At that moment, 2023’s QL team loses contact with Ben, as the connection is lost. With no way to assist, Ian doesn’t know what they can do, until Addison remembers what Ben told her 2018-self about “quantum entanglement”; two (or more) beings, sharing the same quantum state (or information) across time, can be synchronized. Working with their ‘other selves’ across time, the three Ians of 2018, 2023 and 2051 unite in order to help return Ben to 2018. As the three Ians focus, Ben leaps into 2018, where he finds 2023-observer Addison waiting for him. She jokingly pretends not to recognize him, before a big smile beams across her face. She’s just teasing. The plan worked. With Martinez gone, now all Ben has to do in 2018 is ensure that his prior history resumes its normal course. Or maybe it can be improved just a bit…?
Note: The three Ians working across time through “quantum entanglement” is perhaps the weakest element of this otherwise crackling script, but one can also see it as a necessary ‘cheat code’ in order to get over this particular hurdle of the story.
With 2023-Addison’s encouragement, Ben decides to take a minor risk. Once again, he sees 2018 Addison approaching him, and instead of nervously fumbling to ask her out, he takes her in a bold embrace and kisses her square on the lips—which is immediately reciprocated. Neither time or fate could keep these two apart. This newly confident Ben helps get their first date off to a more surefooted start. The team at Quantum Leap whoop and cheer. Ben successfully leaps away from 2018…
Note: I’m not so sure that grabbing a coworker and forcefully kissing them on the lips makes for good optics in 2023, or 2018. Not to sour a moment of true love, but at this point, 2018-Addison didn’t know Ben all that well (per her 2023-self’s admission), so what may play onscreen as a triumph of romance might also be seen as a human resources nightmare, especially in 2018—a year fresh on the heels of 2017’s long overdue #MeToo movement, which sought (and still seeks) to eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace (or anywhere). This is another glitch to an otherwise solid and very enjoyable freshman season finale.
Meanwhile, back in 2023, Addison, Magic, Ian, Jenn and Janis gather around the accelerator as it energizes. A figure appears to be forming in the center of the accelerator chamber. We see an expectant closeup of Addison’s face… is it Ben returning to her? To be continued…
Note: Now that’s how you do a proper season finale—by wrapping up most of the plot threads for the season, while still ending on a note of anticipation. Sadly, the episode was somewhat spoiled by a trailer showing footage from season 2 (coming this fall) where we clearly see Ben back in new past adventures, so one can assume it’s not him in the chamber. Maybe it’s the person into whom he’s leaped… an aspect of the new show that the WonderCon Quantum Leap panelists promised we’d see more of in the coming season (which is still filming). See the bottom of this column for more details (and photos) on the Quantum Leap panel at WonderCon.
Summing It Up.
With a time-travel story that tap dances between 2018, 2023 and 2051, the show manages to resolve the arcs of deadly leaper Martinez, Addison’s near-assassination, and saves the world (maybe…?). All of this while managing to give each of its cast members a moment to shine, with the possible exception of Janis Calavicci (Georgina Reilly), whose role in the story seems to have served its purpose, though she could easily return next year as a regular.
Each of the ensemble cast have also been given a chance to act as Ben’s hologram-observer throughout the series. Artificial intelligence-expert Ian helped Ben land a plane in “The Friendly Skies,” while former jailbird-hacker Jenn acted as legal counsel in “Ben Song for the Defense.” Both Jenn and Magic act as observers for Ben in “Judgment Day.” While we never got to know the original series characters of “Gushie” or “Tina” beyond their brief cameos, we get to know Ian, Jenn and Magic very well. Any one of the new cast members could easily lead an episode.
My biggest nit with the episode is that its ‘quantum entanglement’ resolution (telegraphed broadly in advance) seems a little too easy and convenient—just how did 2051’s post-nuclear Ian participate, anyway, without any access to functioning Quantum Leap technology? Did they just Jedi their way through it? All the same, I give this one a pass, since the original series had more than its own share of deus ex machina resolutions baked into its stories.
I appreciate that Janis and Ben’s secrecy throughout this first season make sense now, given the personal nature of his quest (saving Addison’s life) as well as the greater threat to the world at large (the accelerator’s destruction creating a nuclear holocaust). As explained by Ian, time-travel—once it goes public—will be used as a scapegoat for all the world’s ills, leading to the accelerator’s dangerous nuclear obliteration at the hands of ‘terminator’ leaper, Martinez. With that timeline (hopefully) averted, the future is, in Doc Brown’s words, “whatever you make it!”
“Quantum Leap” season one sticks the landing.
“Quantum Leap” at WonderCon 2023
At the recent WonderCon 2023 convention in Anaheim California (right across from Disneyland), I had the pleasure of attending a large venue panel for “Quantum Leap.” In attendance were stars Raymond Lee (“Ben Song”), Caitlin Bassett (“Addison”), Ernie Hudson (“Magic”), Mason Alexander Park (“Ian”), Nanrisa Lee (“Jenn”), as well as showrunner Martin Gero (who moderated the panel) and coproducers Dean Georgaris and Deborah Pratt. Pratt also coproduced the 1989-1993 original series, and she also voiced that show’s version of supercomputer/artificial intelligence “Ziggy” as well. Ziggy is an element still used in the new series, though without Pratt’s voice (so far…).
During the panel, some clips were shown from the penultimate episode of season one (“The Friendly Skies”), while the cast teased some interesting hints about how the season finale (“Judgment Day”) would wrap up some plot threads while creating all-new ones as well. Producer Pratt also seemed unerringly optimistic that, at some point, original series star Scott Bakula could return (Bakula has made no public statement committing to the new series so far, only wishing the new cast luck).
Actor Ernie Hudson (“Ghostbusters”) half-joked that his character always seems to have no idea what’s going on; a sentiment partly shared with star Raymond Lee, who prefers to be surprised with each new script as it comes in (usually dictated by an exotic new wardrobe, such as a pencil skirt…). Caitlin Bassett spoke of her US Army career, with several tours in Afghanistan and Qatar, as well as a stint in Army Intelligence (many fans thanked her for her service). With the help of a Disney new actors’ program, Bassett was able to pursue her lifelong passion for the craft (Quantum Leap is her first TV series).
Actress Nanrisa Lee remarked that she’d like to see more of her character’s hinted-at wild side, while costar Mason Alexander Park joked that they’d love for their character to be shown just having a hobby that’s not work-related (Park’s father also worked for the government, with a specialty in computers). Park also had much to say about their non-binary character’s representational importance, especially in today’s increasing hostile political climate for LGBTQ+ persons. Several fans during the Q&A (and afterward) remarked that Ian is their favorite character of the series. After the panel, most of the cast took their personalized name placeholders (a tradition at conventions), while cast members Park and Bassett graciously remained behind onstage for a few more minutes to pose for selfies with fans and sign autographs (they both signed my program as well).
It was quite a thrill.
Where To Watch
The new “Quantum Leap” can be seen on the NBC network in the US, and is available to stream on both Peacock.com and NBC.com (free, with ads).