It’s 1692 – the furthest back any leaper has gone to date and Ben finds himself in the body of Elizabeth, a handmaiden to Bridget ‘Goody’ Smith, widow of the local preacher. The location is a town just outside Salem where the fervour surrounding bad luck and possible witchcraft is leading to the most dangerous paranoia. Ben is here to save Bridget from a mob that history says will see them burned at the stake – but can modern technology, better-informed pharmacy and talking to unseen holograms help or hinder Ben, when they seem like further proof of magic to the townsfolk eager to follow a local Magistrate’s edict and fiery solutions?
The Salem Witch Trails are often an easy punctuation point in history – a graphic example of intolerance and the power of rumours and ignorance over common-sense and civil behaviour. But there are a lot of urban myths about the details that have become de facto elements… ones that simply aren’t true and unfortunately, Quantum Leap jumps headlong into such with an overly-simplistic tale with far too many monologues and far too little fact-checking. One doesn’t expect an hour-long primetime show to be a slave to exact details and even the most diligent time-travel show is likely to take liberties for the sake of brevity and entertainment, but there’s so much stereotyping and paper-thin development on show here that it comes across as cheap filler and just lazy. Which is a shame… because there’s potential here for more.
Where to start? While it’s all too true that many unfortunates were more often than not targeted as blame for others misfortune and any talents with early medicinal techniques, the traditional image of people being burned at the stake if even vaguely suspected of dark, devilish deeds is completely incorrect with almost no example of it outside Europe. It’s little solace, but those put to death for supposed witchcraft – often on the most spurious evidence – were hanged. Here we have the fictionally traditional pyre being built for the burning and which is bizarrely lit long before the womenfolk are even in sight, which makes one wonder exactly what the Magistrate’s plan would be… to throw them into the flames?
Paper-thin characters behave as the template demands or plot dictates, casting suspicious glances at each other or as a rent-a-mob ready to burn everything in sight. Brian Van Holt as Magistrate Bloodborne (seriously?) is given nothing to work with but growling contempt and his oppressed son William (Michael Provost) sways one way or another as help and hinderance. 1883’s Amanda Jaros as Irish herbalist Morgan McKenna threatens to be interesting and then vanishes off on a horse.
The stories concerning the team back at the Project also continue to feel much like plate-spinners and placeholders, with only minor developments: lip-service paid to circumventing the rogue microchip, Magic’s return (and for an episode with this title, Ernie Hudson is criminally underused) and finding a way for Addison to return to her role as the holographic observer. Ian attempting a seance in the middle of the Project is just… well, laughable.
There’s several other cringeworthy monologues in which Ben or supporting characters say words that might work on the printed page but come across as trite, stilted scripting and can’t simply be excused by the exposition needed to make some of the plot-points work. After their lucky escape and ready to Leap again, Ben’s decision to step away from the ensured Leap exit and to turn around and go back to help Morgan may be altruistic, but it’s also non-sensical. Ben/Elizabeth returning to town would likely be no more than a suicide run and only works because primetime tv might demands a more complete and feelgood victory where full justice is done and a valuable lesson learned. We’re left with a fortunate cloudburst (because an eclipse would have been too tropey?) and the fickle crowd forgiving each other like Rudolph and his fellow reindeer. There’s a “Let’s do the show right here!” resolution for the community. We end with a conversation with Addison about wanting to try and create a new working, platonic relationship is awkward for the wrong reasons. (I appreciate star-crossed relationships are the grist of on-screen drama, but I can’t be the only viewer thinking “Don’t get a room!, Just move on!” by this point…).
Next week’s entry, the last of the pre-strike filmed episodes, sees Ben in Egypt and was filmed on location near the real pyramids, the first time the show has ever lensed on location outside the US. We’ll see if it works better, or whether everyone is still in de-Nile…
- Production Design / VFX7