It’s 2nd May, 1989 and Ben finds himself Leaping into the body of Commander Rossi, a man serving aboard a Navy vessel, taking part in a military training exercise somewhere in the China Sea.
However the ‘war games’ factor becomes far too real when Addison, arriving in hologram form, begins to understand just which ship Ben has landed on. It’s the U.S.S. Montana, the ship on which her father was serving as XO at the time. Addison knows that a garbled message is about to come in which her father apparently decides to ignore, not realising it’s a distress message from the USS Tampa which is sinking – and which history recalls cost many lives.
Ben seems here to stop that decision being made, but it may not be easy given that the most senior officer, Captain Bill Drake, seems determined to not fall foul of Chinese ‘tricks’. Equally, Ben is aware that if he successfully alters the timeline, will that impact Addison’s imperfect childhood for the better or worse?
Of all the episodes thus far in the Quantum Leap reboot, S.O.S., is arguably one of the more ambitious and yet somehow traditional entries, reminiscent of the original show doing one of its more personal missions – those that had a deeper, more direct link to one of the regular characters, something that makes the Leap feel particularly consequential and urgent. And, of course, throwing a potential outbreak of WWIII into the mix probably doesn’t hurt. In all those ways, even grading on a curve, it’s one of the best episodes of this incarnation we’ve seen.
Raymond Lee as Ben is in an unfamiliar environment, a complete stranger to the kind of formalities and protocols that govern a warship but making it up as he goes along trying to find ways to circumvent the events that originally transpired. It’s also easy to forget that playing Quantum Leap‘s Addison Augustine is actually Caitlin Bassett’s first real acting role and she’s being doing pretty well in a position that – in the original incarnation of Quantum Leap – was, of course, played by a seasoned veteran, Dean Stockwell. Bassett also had a first career in the military, serving serious time in the Middle East, and this is an episode that allows her to bring that type of real-life service and stance into a formal setting. (For reference the USS Montana scenes were actually shot on the USS Iowa, dry-docked as a museum in Los Angeles).
Brandon Routh (Superman Returns), as Addison’s father, makes a solid impact in an important guest-role, giving us a military man caught between overtly loyal to his mentor and yet realising that Captain Drake’s actions may be putting others in peril. Routh gives the man a certain humanity and conscience but still remains convincing as a man who owes everything he has to the service through which he has risen. Veteran actor Alex Carter also does well as the troubled Captain, clearly a man not to be trifled with, one who commands and demands respect and can’t see what his own personal demons are driving him towards.
Back at the Project, the team scramble to help Ben, though it’s Magic that perceives a way to get the information they need about the Chinese fleet’s maneuvers by talking to one of his old counterparts about an event they perceive as being over thirty years beyond needing to be classified. Once again, though, Janis Calavicci is nowhere to be seen, a supporting player who really should be there all the time but for which the narrative needs her to be ‘elsewhere’ if she would provide too many answers (though one suspects after this week, we may have to see a lot more of her if any answers are to be forthcoming).
It’s not all perfect. It’s likely that Ben/Rossi’s uncannily accurate decision-making in the face of more immediate conclusions would seem more suspicious than prescient or lucky in the cold light of day and Alexander Augustine opening up so much to his subordinate is convenient for the plot rather than realistic and wouldn’t the Captain be the person held responsible for the mistake rather than his XO… but these are minor narrative niggles. Despite the use of the word ‘consequential’ to describe S.O.S., we really don’t know the full implications of changing history. On a global level, there are tens of survivors of the Tampa now alive after a previously serious maritime disaster and on a personal level, there seems little doubt that the timeline would have had Addison’s father be somewhat changed by events and so would his distant relationship with his baby daughter. Neither of these are discussed or expanded upon at the end as we get ready to leap out of there. The show can’t really seem to settle on the degree of impacts that Leaps make – in some cases we know it’s fundamental but here it’s shrugged off as unlikely to be consequential – with Ian suggesting (counter-intuitively to the show itself) that many ‘personal’ changes to the past don’t fundamentally change history in big ways. Instead, there’s a sudden twist coming – the Minnesota-born radio-controller that Ben/Rossi has been liaising with all episode comes up to thank him and we realise that it’s none other than ‘Leaper X’, Richard Martinez (Walter Perez), though looking much older. It’s all a bit confusing as Martinez notes that the QL Project members must have already found his ‘younger self’ but that he wouldn’t have had anything to tell them and that Ben’s confusion would be exactly why Martinex would ‘win’.
It adds to the show’s complex mythology (multiple time-lines, perhaps?) and with only four episodes left in this run, one wonders how many answers will come or whether there’s been a decision made to hold over some key elements to the already confirmed second season?
- Production Design / VFX8