It’s 5th August 1971 and after barely surviving his previous Leap, Ben is now in the body of Lois Mitchell, an air stewardess on Transglobal Airlines Flight 349, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. History recalls that the flight disappeared from radar with minimal wreckage and no clear idea of the reasons.
The Project team have shut down Ziggy after Janis revealed that the super-computer itself is the ‘mole’ that has apparently being feeding Martinez (or ‘Leaper X’, details of Ben’s status and location… and that means their research has been slowed down while they look for who was on the doomed flight and how that might have played out. Ben/Lois must not only try to decipher what is about to happen on the aircraft but also contend with the sexism and agendas of various people aboard. Can the crew be trusted, does the young son of the aircraft company have an agenda and who has poisoned the pilot?
As Ben struggles with matters of trust, time is ticking away, not just for the crew of 349, but for Ben who has one more fateful Leap to make himself…
The penultimate episode of Quantum Leap‘s first season is something of a mixed bag. On one hand the Leap itself speaks to QL basics with a decent dilemma and some nice character moments and – on the other – it pulls the old trick of making the audience want to come back by offering up an intriguing tease for what’s to come next. But in many ways, despite being entertaining it doesn’t actually feel like a drum-roll build-up to the finale until the last few seconds…
The story – penned by Alex Berger (who admits that he actually wrote the episode on a number of flights he was taking after the show-runners indicated that they wanted to take advantage of a plane-interior set for a story) delivers a chapter that emulates a lot of the aircraft dramas of the 1970s and 1980s, offering up an assortment of characters and suspects within a confined space full of agendas and questionable attitudes. (Airline service TGA also featured in 1975’s Airport). A plane-in-a-bottle episode, if you will. While some of the fashion helps place the story in the 1970s, it’s the abject sexism of the time – when hard-working female flight attendants were treated as little more than decorative trolley dollies – that reveals just as much of the era with passengers and even the crew on the flight-deck treating them as such.
Ben once again leaps into a woman. That’s far less an ‘event’ episode’ than it would have been in the original run, but the show has almost gone completely the other way and occasionally it would still make sense for Ben to feel more practically awkward in women’s clothing if he’s not drawn that way. Here, it’s the impracticality of the stewardess ensemble that really gets the only nod. On a darker note, it’s worth remembering that the instantaneous nature of Ben’s Leaps means that he gets very little real rest, so despite acting okay on the surface, the fact that he might be suffering some sort of collective exhaustion and PTSD from the events of the previous Leap (where he nearly died after being stabbed by Martinez) is a real psychological possibility. It’s one that Addison catches early on when Ben doesn’t actively take the usual chances to act proactively. It’s actually one of the overt ‘life-lesson’ elements that Quantum Leap sometimes conveniently offers-up… this time that it’s okay to trust people to help, but equally okay to rely on your instincts. In both ways, this Leap could have ended up differently if Ben had reacted to ‘trust’ issues in different ways at different times. To be fair, ‘trust’ has been an ongoing motif from the start and through the entire season with different people wondering how much they can trust others with key information.
You’d think that working with Ziggy offline as a security precaution (hands up if you expected a shot of ‘her’ still ‘listening’) would likely cripple the Project for a while but though it slows the research down, it’s perhaps not that surprising that the basic internet and good old-fashioned history books actually provide a lot of the basic info to help Ben, or at least get him started. That’s another of the differences between the classic series and now – in this day and age, everyone’s an amateur expert with a world of minutiae-level theories and confirmation-bias info at their finger-tips. Essentially, Ziggy would usually narrow down the possibilities, but with the dilemma being a literally contained on a historically-missing plane, some basics are assumed and the Project team can pitch reasonable ideas from what was known before it took off.
There’s a few broad-strokes holding everything together, most of which speak to time-saving or even potentially cut scenes: Convenient exposition about why Addison’s com-link works without Ziggy online is covered by Addison saying Ian told her why off-screen, though she adds that didn’t really understand the specifics) and Ian himself has a one-liner explaining how he ran a ‘patch’ to support two holograms working in Imaging Chamber at the same time (Which seems strange and redundant since there are no subsequent scenes with Addison simultaneously observing Cory’s very important bypass efforts. (The next time we see Cory he’s safely back in his seat). The hijackers talking about diverting from New York City to Havana suggests the plane has impressive amounts of fuel for a 70s jet-liner and two of the assistant hijackers appear from nowhere and don’t even get names. It all feels like there was a longer cut and some explanatory scenes got chopped out.
There’s a number of other obvious frustrations. After Janis’ nobody-saw-that-coming revelation at the end of last week’s episode (ZIGGY is the mole?), Genevieve O’Reilly is completely absent from proceedings – not even referenced, except in the ‘Previously on…‘ intro – and after taking all her precautions about keeping the secret of the Project’s mole from unwanted ears, the team now feel fine talking about their computer’s possible duplicity inside the actual building. Perhaps they’re saving up O’Reilly for a more prominent role in next week’s season finale because it seems impossible they’re going to resolve so many storylines (as promised) without her. Yet it still seems like a major disconnect, emphasising that the show often feels good but still abstractly compartmentalised.
Apart from his technobabble exposition, it’s Mason Alexander Park’s Ian who often features in the episode’s best scenes. It’s hard to realise that Friendly Skies is the first time that the two characters have shared the same scene since the pilot and it immediately slips back into an easy vibe. It also brings some of the humour with the chief programmer delighted that Ben quickly remembers more (now Jen owes Ian $10!) and engaging in some cockpit banter in moments of crisis, noting that seeing Ben in women’s clothing is kind of ironic given Ian’s own non-binary status. The banter works well and I hope we’ll see more of it given the show’s early renewal (the production is already filming the fourth episode of the next run ahead of a possible writers’ strike).
Yet again, the show saves its major moment for the final scene and in this case, it’s quite the doozy – though one technically dictated since early in the run. Ben appears to Leap back to the Project (possibly as himself?) but it’s in the future amid a ruined Project and with ‘snow’ that’s actually a nuclear winter. And there’s someone waiting for him. It’s a much older Ian… and it’s clear something has gone terribly wrong.
Quite how the show is going to tie up its major first season arc isn’t clear. It would seem that it must tie-in to revisting scenes from the original (where Ben knew he had to leap despite the risks because of something hugely important) perhaps now with added context. Perhaps Ubuntu, the African word coined by Ian in this episode and defined as “I am because of who we all are… ” (and in Zulu the phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu…” literally means that a person is a person through other people) may offer a clue. Previews of the finale show Martinez/Leaper X, Addison and Ben seemingly interacting, in the hallway leading to the Imaging Chamber and Addison is shot. Are we talking multiversal aspects and dueling (but not necessarily black and white) agendas and timelines? And will we get any major resolution given the show has to continue into a new season?
Only time will tell…
- Production Design / VFX8