It’s 1992. Ben finds himself Leaping into Daniel Park the son of a shoe salesman in Los Angeles. The already struggling store is about to face disaster as the full impact of the Rodney King trial verdict ripples across Los Angeles and brings anger, violence and recrimination as furious citizens of the area find themselves fighting the police and each other. Ben isn’t here to stop those riots, but he may be able to stop a smaller tragedy unfolding as the area becomes a battlefield and prevent the elder salesman’s death in the original timeline. With Addison keeping her distance from Ben, it’s Magic that steps into the Imaging Chamber to assist, but his own past experiences may mean that he feels this Leap as deeply as Ben – and with recent events also taking their toll on him, can Magic find the inner strength to deal with them – with a little help from his friends.
Meanwhile, One Night in Koreatown, starts to see the bullets fly…
It’s been noted many times in the past that one of Quantum Leap‘s strengths of format is that it can change tone from week to week. Last’s week’s entry was a fairly lightweight entry with Tim Matheson as a past-his-prime star looking for love, but this week’s story goes to far darker elements.
For those too young to remember it, the Rodney King trial (and verdict) was a shameful time in modern US history – when King, a petty-criminal was savagely beaten by several police-officers, the assault being caught on video and became infamous around the world. Given the proof of the office’s conduct and overreach, members of the black community in and around Los Angeles were finally expecting some action on the long-standing accusations of police brutality and were enraged when all the officers were somehow found not-guilty and walked free. It ignited not only anger, but riots that would light up the city with many areas not only seeing demonstrations but violence and damage to properties as those frustrations leaked into wider grievances and communities imploded and turned against each other. While there were looters and opportunists in the mix, it was another genuine turning point in Americans’ wider view of justice denied – though some may argue that with similar cases like George Floyd in 2020, not enough has changed. In some ways, this week’s is prime Quantum Leap territory, putting Ben (and in the original series Sam Beckett) in the middle of an important time or place and having him there not to necessarily change the big event, but the limit the more corrosive ripples: essentially helping the under-dog and experiencing drive-by kisses with history. Here Ben isn’t here to stop the riots themselves, that would be too big an ask, but to influence the fates of a family caught up in them, steering them to a better future. There’s a template at work – there’s never any real doubt that Ben’s presence will ultimately lead to the senior Korean character (Daniel’s father Jin – played by C.S. Lee) somehow overcoming his prejudice of a black kid he’s branded a hoodlum, that the presence of a customer who is also a nurse will come in useful and that there will be parallels between what’s happening in 1992 and problems back at the Project… but it’s all delivered with strong acting and actors bringing their A-game to proceedings.
It’s also true that Quantum Leap has always looked at fluctuating moral quandaries and been at the forefront of diversity – the current Project boasts male, female, white, black, Asian, disabled and gender-fluid characters, so it’s often at its best when pivoting on how history has been a battlefield for equal rights and representations. But there’s almost an argument to be made that there’s actually too many ‘serious’ aspects in this episode’s mix, almost as if the episode is ticking off controversies and causes – when it feels like those elements, that might have made decent subjects in and of themselves, are all crowding together for space. The Rodney King riots feel a valid and weighty enough subject-matter to cover, but beyond that we also have Magic relating a memory of how his younger self was also profiled, intimidated and beaten by police-officers in 1967 – several years before he’d serve in Vietnam and be one of the people Sam would Leap into there. (It’s a telling and sobering reality and interesting how much such aspects of racial-profiling are now being discussed in primetime – this week’s The Irrational also noted the genuine differences between being pulled over if you’re black or white). We also have Magic revealing that in the three years Ben was presumed dead, he became involved with Beth Calavicci (Susan Diol reprising the role) and also began to have a drinking problem. (In some ways the first of those developments seems the more interesting and I’m sure there will be some who feel that Al’s widow moving on is a surprise development). The latter, alcoholic development is good dramatic fodder to which actor Ernie Hudson really gives his all in well-written scenes. The situation has been only vaguely hinted at in these second season episodes to date and hopefully will not just sorted by the ‘I admit my problem and I’m going to an AA meeting‘ at the end as a ‘problem of the week’ rather than an ongoing struggle. Throw in references to Addison stepping back from her hologrammatic role as Observer and there’s enough angst in the episode to fuel a fission reactor.
There’s also an interesting epilogue, where we glimpse the start of Ben’s new Leap (Secret History to be broadcast in two weeks’ time) and see what appears to be the death of a professor (is it Professor Yates at Princeton as referenced in Closure Encounters?) who has been shot and warns that someone is after the ‘formula‘… and in his dying words seems to call him ‘Ben‘ and says ‘to find her‘? In the ‘Coming soon’ trailer it also looks to be Eliza Taylor returning as Hannah Carson.
Curiouser and curiouser…
- Production Design / VFX8