Dammit, Jim, Ben’s a doctor, not a doctor! As in someone with a doctorate, rather than a medical doctor. In the tradition of the original Quantum Leap, whichever higher power is leaping Ben around sure has a twisted sense of humor. In dropping him in the body of a first-year resident in 1994 Seattle, the algorithm or God or whoever could’ve had him appear in the locker room after delivering a baby in the street… but where’s the fun in that?
After witnessing the miracle of life first-hand (literally), Ben returns to the hospital and learns from Addison that he’s here to save the lives of three patients… who haven’t been admitted yet. That soon changes as the victims of a commuter train crash flood the ER. Cue lots of rushing around with gurneys and barking of medical orders and actual paging. Ben even gets to yell “CLEAR!”
Say what you like about ER, but that series knew how to put on a drama, and in “Paging Dr. Song,” the 10th episode in the new Quantum Leap‘s inaugural season, the show gives us a worthy homage. There’s high stakes — a 17-year-old girl is in critical condition and might die because of a risky new anesthetic that Big Pharma has pushed onto the hospital’s board of director. There’s a finicky operation — a man is so worried about his wife that he can’t stay calm even though one slip by his doctor could kill him. And of course there’s interpersonal conflict — an older man is diagnosed with a brain tumor but refuses treatment because he feels he has nothing to live for… and of course his estranged daughter is the friend of the doctor Ben leaped into.
Ben’s mission is to save all three of these people, but it’s not just a matter of using some futuristic or esoteric knowledge that the original timeline didn’t have. Though Addison feeds him plenty of information, it isn’t enough when the people around him have agency of their own.
Having recently rewatched a lot of the original Quantum Leap, I did find it striking how many episodes were resolved with some form of “Sam’s genius ex machina,” where Sam solves the problem by pulling some random skill or piece of knowledge out of his enormous brain (or by magically learning a new skill that the original person in the timeline didn’t possess… looking at you, flying trapeze episode!). The new show has so far avoided that, which gives each episode more tension than the original and often makes the resolution more satisfying.
I really appreciated how the three disparate individuals Ben was meant to save ended up tying together, and how the medical drama captured the excitement of ER. And though the team back at Quantum Leap headquarters is still trying to solve the sci-fi mystery behind why Ben leaped in the first place, both Ben and Addison are fully dedicated to the situation at hand (I’m still feeling burned by some of those earlier episodes where they — and the show as a result — seemed distracted by the mystery, but I’m really like the balance of these latest episodes).
The show seems to be slowing down its reveals around the “why did Ben leap” part, which in my opinion, is a good thing. In the 6- to 10-episode streaming era, where every episode drops a giant bombshell, it’s nice to experience a slow burn. Getting to stew in a tiny clue each week makes the mystery feel bigger in comparison to when the answers came too quickly… and perhaps felt too easy as a result.
All in all, “Paging Dr. Song” was another solid episode, and worthy of any good medical drama.