Persistence of Fission: ‘Quantum’ Leaps into a nuclear Groundhog Day…

Is Ben a ghost in the spin-cycle machine when he keeps Leaping into a Ground Zero disaster..?

It’s 12th September, 1962 and at Rice University, President John F. Kennedy is giving a speech about his intention to send a man to the moon and back by the end of the decade. At the same time, in a different place, another cosmic gambit is working itself out as Ben leaps into a crowded elevator and soon realises its occupants and its location are not your run-of-the-mill situation. He’s in a top-secret facility, visiting what appears to be a cutting-edge nuclear reactor with an elite group of people who all have different reasons for being there.

But as Ben and Addison try to work out why he’s there and what ‘wrong’ he has to put ‘right’, it becomes clear that the sheer secrecy of this underground facility and project isn’t going to make such investigations easy. Addison’s own research back at Project Quantum Leap start to make no sense… according to the history books everyone in that nuclear facility will die in a slew of random and separate accidents in the next week back in 1962. Obviously, there’s been some sort of cover-up and as Addison races back to Ben things start to escalate. The reactor starts to go online, the readings in the nuclear facility go off the chart. Something is very wrong.

Unable to stop the cascading error, the reactor goes critical and Ben and all the gathered personnel at ground zero are killed. Ben’s signal back in 2023 flatlines. He’s dead.

And then things get complicated…



Isn’t that typical – you don’t have Quantum Leap on for weeks and then a whole slew of them come along at once? In an offbeat episode, Leap-Die-Repeat, Ben (Raymond Lee) finds himself leaping into the same situation time and time again, caught in a Groundhog Day-type scenario (or is it more Rashōmon?) involving a misfiring nuclear reactor and a dilemma that just can’t help acting on impulse.  In the later runs of the original Quantum Leap there’d be the occasional offbeat episode that wouldn’t so much break the established rules but would certainly bend and contort them to fit a high-concept idea for that week’s chapter. The reboot has sailed close to the wind on the matter, but this is perhaps the first time that a whole episode has been devoted to such a ‘stunt’ or ‘hook’.

Somewhat unexpectedly given the premise, there’s a levity here that’s at odds to the severity of the situation.  Though Caitlin Bassett completely sells the initial belief that the man she loves has been killed and she’s lost him forever, crumpling to the floor in a heap… before having prayers answered when all his life-signs return and the reality of the problem becomes apparent… what follows feels much lighter. Dramatic as it all could and should be throughout, Ben subsequently goes through one suspect after another in the earlier incarnations, having to simply shrug and hope for the best next time as he gains grains of new info. It’s later, with one Leap left in the facility that things finally fall into place.

The very concept of time-travel does bring to mind the various ways to play out ideas within that concept and so if we choose to be gracious, this repeating time-loop gameplay isn’t too far outside of the norm, though it also requires equal amounts of forgiveness as the connective tiusse raises more questions than it chooses to answer. In this case, it largely throws Georgina Reilly’s Janis Calavicci into the hand-wavery explanation mix and hopes you’re having too good a time to wonder about the logic of any of it working as it does.

Thern, narratively, it’s Nanrisa Lee’s Jen who speaks to the undeniable metatextual-side of things – because, she notes, isn’t it mighty convenient that Janis is revealed as the author of a cutting-edge paper on time-loops who has just been brought to the building as a suspect and who is now their best chance of unlocking the time-loop in which Ben is caught? Very much just convenience as it turns out as Janis’s main role here seems to be to deliver a bit of technobabble and then be granted casual access to the heart of the facility she’s being trying to infiltrate. Her theory is that Ben has a finite number of Leaps within the nuclear facility before he dies for real, running out of bodies to Leap into. Working within a worse-case scenario is sensible, but it seems as if that hypothesis is taken as a cold hard fact thereafter when there’s nothing to back it up. Quite why she’s so sure of that isn’t quite made clear, but it cranks up the urgency as we head into the last act and Ernie Hudson’s Magic has to decide whether to turn off the Quantum Accelerator or allow the mission to continue. (Which raises another irksome point – wouldn’t that, at best, strand Ben in a limbo forever or, at worst, actually kill him anyway? And if the turn on/turn off option is even remotely on the table, why hasn’t it been tried already and regularly when time’s a bigger factor than usual? It works to sort out 50% of the troubles on my desktop!).

The claustrophobic environment is a nice way to crank up the tension, but the disparate collection of the 1962 suspects doesn’t really work that well. Having a journalist in the mix seems unlikely to begin with, but that pales in comparison to having a janitor walking freely around a control room during a top-secret test. That being said, the actual way in which Ben works out the real threat to the reactor and who is behind it, is a decent bit of narrative weaving and you may kick yourself for not spotting some of the repeating tells along the way. On the guest-star level, it’s always good to see Robert Picardo. He is best known as the Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager (and he recently turned up in a rather brief, thankless role kick-starting the big NCIS franchise shows crossover) but he was also a regular in another set of sf shows Stargate: SG1 and Stargate: Atlantis where he played Richard Woolsey and one can’t help wonder if his character here Edwin Woolsey is either a distant relative or at least named with an eye to the die-hard genre fans.

Linking themes in both 1962 and 2023, the episode does make Ben wonder about the danger of how technology can be used for less altruistic reasons than intended and he ponders whether the other ‘Leaper’, who seems to be from the future, may have a good reason for doing so and that it’s too easy to see themselves as the ‘heroes’ of the story when events may turn a different way – and can that be changed? As is so often the case, the final scene drops another bread-crumb into the mythology to keep you coming back. Janis says she’s willing to give up the name of the person that gave Ben the information that set him off on his Leaps… which still feels like it’s another tiny drip-drip of information to fake real momentum from the writers’ room and a complete contradiction of Janis not revealing anything so as to preserve the timeline. Is it a third option that she’s GOT to reveal the identity at this time to keep things in line and why do I get the feeling that we’re setting up Janis being a bonafide member of the team in the near future (or possibly altered past given some heavy foreshadowing?)




'Quantum Leap  S01 EP11 - 'Leap, Die, Repeat'   (NBC Review)
'Quantum Leap S01 EP11 - 'Leap, Die, Repeat' (NBC Review)
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