‘Quantum Leap-ER’: Ben has to plan a triple surgical strike…

Ben's latest 'Quantum Leap' ep doctors the past but also tests viewers 'patients' regarding secrets...

It’s Chicago 1994 and Ben leaps into Dr. Alexandra Tompkinson (Chinyere Dobson), just in time to deliver a stranger’s baby in the middle of a car-park. However, dramatic as that may seem, it’s just the start of Ben/Alexandra’s latest day of trials and tribulations. Addison says that Ziggy has calculated that Ben is there to save three patients… though none of them have arrived as yet.

Trying to find out more, Ben finds himself at the forefront of a hectic ER department as patients from a train crash come in… and it seems the names Ben is looking for are casualties. But each case seems more complicated than it first appears, made all the more dangerous as Ben has almost no medical training.  As conditions deteriorate, Ben realises the answer – or at least the common problem – may have more to do with the treatment than the injuries…



As a kind of narrative Tetris, this 1994-set story (though it could be set at almost any time, bar a creaky computer system) – and it’s own version of a ‘Chicago Med‘ – is constructed well enough that Ben’s tri-fold medical dilemma paces itself out satisfactorily over the episode with no real doubt that the solution will always be found. In many ways, this is yet again the default, traditional  ‘Leap’ template transferred with a few modern bells and whistles in the telling.

Ben has three people to save this week, rather than just one… and it’s interesting that some of the obstacles in his path are not the more obvious ones. Jumping into a female body might have been a relative novelty in the original series, but here it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow and Ben takes it in his stride. (In fact, Ben takes everything in his stride a little too easily…) More noticeably, you might expect Ben’s lack of explicit medical training would be the biggest stumbling block, but again the episode disagrees and manages to have Ben either work out what’s needed in a generalistic manner or has the hologramatic Addison feed him the correct terms and techniques as each emergency situation demands. (Luckily, her army training covered it and later she offers the episode’s most emotional punch recollecting the time she had to deliver the news of a colleague’s death to his wife). Some examples are more believable than others and it seems unlikely that someone with even a middling rank in a hospital like Tompkinson could be so easily undetected when they start to react less confidently under Ben’s body-swap.

Naturally, some of the eventual answers mean an intermingling of the cases – many connected to a train crash that has brought in many patients to the facility. One patient (François Chau) has dangerously-placed shrapnel but that’s handled quickly. Sadly, by the end of proceedings we learn that his beloved wife has died in the crash, but a transplant of her heart will help in one of Ben’s other critical cases. (The fact she’s an absolute match when a search through the system hadn’t provided any suitable candidates seems more than bitter-sweetly fortuitous!).  Another patient, Eli (screen veteran Stan Shaw) is related to one of Ben/Alexandra’s colleagues at the hospital, played by Tiffany Smith, and their eventual reconciliation helps a case against Big Pharma to go forward off-screen.

It’s that dodgy drug that actually forms the narrative backbone of the episode – the time-correcting Leap allowing for it to be taken off the market before it hurts more people in the years to come. But all roads leading to that solution raise the suspension of disbelief to almost silly, impossible-to-ignore levels and shorthand. The defiant resistance to a senior surgeon (Doctor Harper, played by Eugene Byrd) and his actions at the hospital are bizarre, especially as Harper is a stereotypical jerk but actually adhering to hospital policy throughout…Ben faking Harper’s signature… defying Harper’s decisions and, to top it all off, bursting into a surgical procedure  – sans gloves and masks – to hold Harper to account, seems the stuff of sheer wish-fulfilment fiction and even on a basic level, career-ending actions on multiple levels.  But the episode gives us the kind of ending where inconveniences are glossed over, everything is mostly resolved in the shortest term and forgiven and people move forward having learned life lessons. It’s as if the episode has written its ending first and then everything contorted to fit. Even procedurals like ER, Grey’s Anatomy and The Resident rarely tie things together so much…

Elsewhere, the Janis Calavicci (Georgina Reilly) situation moves along in baby-steps and  is far less satisfying, despite her likely being exactly where she wants to be… at the heart of the Project. (What’s the bet Janis needs to be within literal arm’s length of Ziggy?) The thread featuring the rogue Calavicci plays into some time-travel continuity logic  about potential cause and effect – but feels more like a highly overt and convenient way to forestall any real movement on that front. What do we think we know at this point? As far as we know Ben made his original Leap as he had no choice, tying into events that would adversely hurt Addison in the future if he didn’t do it there and then. He previously enlisted Janis rather than his trusted team for reasons unknown but which might be that somehow team members actions led to Addison’s fate foretold. Janis admits to only two minor things in this episode, neither of them very enlightening to anyone: that a) there’s an unspoken reason for her willing to be involved and she was dragged into it all by Ben and that it’s something with far bigger repercussions than Addison’s fate and that b) she says that events MUST happen in a certain order which is why she can’t tell Magic (Ernie Hudson), Jenn (Nanrisa Lee) or Addison (Caitlin Bassett) all the details they want to know otherwise events and actions won’t unfold as they must. The much anticipated meeting between Addison and Janis could have been presumed to generate real fireworks, but instead the casual-interaction in what looks more like the canteen than a high-security facility and it fizzles somewhat as the ladies stare at each other across a table and Janis states that if Ben remembers more, he can’t tell Addison anything because of that cause and effect. It brings new meaning to ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell…‘.

(The one thing that Janis does say and which is quite chilling if accurate (and it probably is), is that the moment someone says something it’s been said and with a Project like Quantum Leap, those words can be found historically and reheard by people who would never have heard it otherwise… so the only way to keep real secrets is never to say them out loud. ..)

With Scott Bakula ruling out any appearance by Sam Beckett (whose inclusion might have been a logical reason to involve Janis, the daughter of Sam’s best friend), there’s a horrible feeling that the powers-that-be are simply spinning plates and delaying real consequence with no real endgame planned out. Paging Doctor Song isn’t awful, but it does feel lazy, templated and nothing more than a filler. If there is a plan, it needs more than the sprinkling of breadcrumbs and the threat of even those being rationed even further.

That central pillar of the concept needs to be resolved soon, even if the actual Leaps continue…

'Quantum Leap  S01  Ep10  Paging Doctor Song'  (NBC review)
'Quantum Leap S01 Ep10 Paging Doctor Song' (NBC review)
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