You don’t know how happy I am to be able to say I have but minor complaints about this week’s episode of Quantum Leap: “A Decent Proposal.”
There’s a belief I’m told is held by some studio executives and showrunners – that a new show doesn’t hit its stride – really become the show it is until the 3rd or 4th episode. I’m not sure how true it is, but several of the folks “in the know” who teach TV writing classes, like former Spelling executive Jen Grisanti, for example, who even recommends that you try writing as if it’s the fourth episode. Or try imagining what the fourth episode is.
Does it work in practice? Sometimes. It did for Seinfeld. Cheers, while a fantastic pilot, only survived due to the support of Brandon Tartikoff. Vince Gilligan often points out in interviews that the 2007-8 Writer’s Strike is what saved Breaking Bad because the season was cut off and gave them time to better figure out the show.
It’s rarer now, in the streaming, drop-everything-at-once serialized episodic world of today. But thankfully, Quantum Leap is a network show. As limiting as that is, it gave them time, after finishing a pilot that NBC rejected, to write a new first episode and shift the Lillien and Wynbrandt penned storyline later in the season (reportedly it will be episode 6).
But all that to say – “A Decent Proposal” knocked it out of the park. It’s easily the most classic-ish Quantum Leap episode of the continuation we’ve seen so far.
Ziggy, Center Me in the Writer’s Room!
My minor complaint – and it IS minor, is that we’re not seeing one of the classic tropes of the original show. And, if it was just in this episode, I could write it off for story reasons – the OG Quantum Leap purposely skipped it sometimes too, when the story was better without it. But the fact we’re 4 episodes in and it hasn’t been used (and I know it wasn’t used in the original pilot script either), makes me think it’s probably just an oversight for the writers.
I’m referring, of course, to using Ziggy and the computing power of the imaging chamber to help the leaper succeed in their mission. It didn’t happen every episode, but quite often, when Sam was trying to find a bad guy or rescue someone, or just needed to find a way out, Al would shout, “Ziggy, center me on…”
Again, they didn’t use it every episode – one big exception to the trope was in “The Curse of Ptah-Hotep” when the curse of the mummy was seemingly affecting Ziggy and she couldn’t get a lock on Sam or others.
And again, in this episode, it’s excusable – there are plenty of writerly reasons to not have Addison help Ben/Eva and Justin Hartley’s Jake locate the bad guys. Not the least of which is to engage the audience as they try to figure out what’s happening at the same time as Ben. But it would be nice to see, at some point. It doesn’t have to be every episode, but it’s a nice nod to the classic show and Dean Stockwell’s earnestness in helping his best friend.
What They Did Right
This is my favorite part – I’ll repeat again, after proverbially raking the writers of the show over the coals for the past couple of weeks (whether they saw it or cared, I don’t know), this is easily the episode that’s most like the show so many of us fell in love with in the late 80s/early 90s.
I caught a video essay by the muppety avatar of Shawn Ryan (no, not the Timeless co-creator) on his worries about Quantum Leap. Along with a few of points similar to mine, he mentioned that the original show almost always put Sam in a leap where it wasn’t changing history as much as it was vitally important to the person and relationships of the individual in the leaps.
The theft of the Hope Diamond, Atlantis on a mission to build the International Space Station – the plots of the first two episodes of the continuation were more history-making than focused on the individual – the Stratton connection notwithstanding.
As I pointed out last week, “Someone Up There Likes Ben” was a strong move back into that story conceit. We got to see how the relationship mattered and was shaped and healed by Ben leaping in. And the emotional beats were the best part of that episode.
“A Decent Proposal” repeats that – and manages to do what the first episodes also excelled at – the beats of the back home story reflecting and influencing the leap and vice versa. Thematic pulses and echoes are like brain candy to me – anytime you can work them in, it’s a good episode.
I’m publishing this later than usual – after the West Coast has already aired the show, cause I hate spoilers and I really, really want to talk about some doozies this week. Let me tell you, there were some awesome reveals in this episode that made it work SO well.
There’s something golden about Ernie Hudson. I think he’s often taken for granted and his drama skills discounted for whatever reason. I don’t know why, but anyone who doubts his acting prowess should watch this episode – because of how seamlessly he performs. Finally sharing with Ian what the rest of the team (and the superfans) already knew – that once upon a time, Magic went on a wild ride.
Al always told Sam that the people in the Waiting Room were afflicted by the same Swiss cheese memory issues he was (never mind that they became less and less prominent with every leap). This episode affirms that – and gives us a glorious glimpse of what it was like to be spatially? Spiritually? displaced by a leaper. I felt a tiny tug, right here inside… and I let it in.
The episode is worth watching just to see Hudson doing that monologue, and Mason Alexander Park’s reaction to it.
Also, before I get into the next part – how fun was it to see Addison enjoying the beginning of the Leap, and her smirky comment to Ben, somehow reminiscent of Al's, er, provocative proclivities, while not being cringey in a post #MeToo world:
“I'm wearing things where I'm not used to wearing things.”
“Have you considered what you're missing, or… I like this leap!”
Then we get to see Ben struggling, guilty. Last episode, when he was unconscious, he had a glimpse of his past, a woman in his bed. And like all good leapers, he wants to make that right too. He’s dealing with a proposal he doesn’t know if he should accept, the guilt of making Jake feel inadequate, but not wanting to complicate his leapee’s life, and the frustration of knowing he left someone behind and she might be hurting because of it.
Of course, she is. Addison is a trooper – she was Army intelligence after all – but we’ve seen her pain. Felt her longing to tell Ben the truth, worried that she might not truly know the man she loves, faced with the fact that he’s been lying to her for the past six months at least. But she holds up – until she doesn’t have to.
Kudos to Moira Kirkland for scripting the most emotionally moving scene we’ve yet, er, seen, between Leaper and Observer. Ben and Addison. The moment of connecting the voices, the look of joy on Addison’s face, and the grace of letting them almost “touch” hands before Ben leaped out. I was actually expecting him to leap upon the realization, but God, fate, maybe time itself allowed them both the connection – which will likely make it even harder on us watching later.
Moments of Connection
The other thing this episode did right was give us much more of the leap in the past, rather than spending too much time with the ensemble cast. Again, I like all those folks, but we’re here for the Leap more than the conspiracy investigation.
We get Ian and Magic’s convo. We get some minor exposition about Janis still being connected to Ziggy – and the tantalizing idea that she’s using Ziggy to predict the Project member’s actions. Clearly she understands the AI’s capabilities more than Addison did last episode. And we have a brief conversation between Jen and Addison about the lies Ben told – which also reinforces the thematics of the leap.
Justin Hartley is perfectly cast as Jake. He’s got the tough guy physique, attitude and looks, but the vulnerability to play the disappointment and loss of the spurned proposal, when Ben gets flummoxed. No surprise to anyone who watched Hartley on six seasons of This Is Us.
Sofia Pernas is outstanding in a very Griselda Blanco-esque role, playing the not-so-innocent victim-turned-cartel leader. And character actor Mark Damon Espinoza works well as Eva’s dad, obsessed with Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding, while explaining the first rule of bounty hunting, which of course, foreshadowed Ben’s later realization.
At the end, Ben leaps into what appears to be the old west. In the original show, this was almost always a cheat, proving a moment or two into the next episode to be Sam on a TV show, or a play, or some situation that existed in his lifetime, but just appeared to be in the past.
But the rules have changed. We know now that Ben can leap beyond his own lifetime. So while it's possible he’s leaped into an actor shooting an episode of Westworld on the Universal Studios old west town backlot, there’s no reason he’s not actually in the 1800s somewhere – which makes it a leap all its own.
Quantum Leap airs Mondays at 10 pm on NBC, streaming on Peacock the following day.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Paul Rose Jr is the Editor in Chief of Wealth of Geeks & manages the Associated Press program for The Insiders network. He has worked as TV News Producer, Forensic Analyst, and Train Conductor, among many other things. He’s the former TV Editor for InfuzeMag and owns more books, DVDs, and comics than most people have seen in their lifetimes. When he’s not writing or editing on Wealth of Geeks, he exercises his creative muscle writing screenplays and acting in film and television in Los Angeles, CA.