The original Quantum Leap with Scott Bakula always wore its heart right there on its sleeve, and one of the things I love about the current iteration with Raymond Lee is that it continues in that tradition with a bright-eyed earnestness that has (sadly, in my opinion) become rare on contemporary television. Sometimes, this earnestness can feel hopelessly, foolishly optimistic. Naive, even. And sometimes, it feels like TV shows, tripping over each other to prove themselves the savviest, end up feeling darkly cynical in their attempts to show that they know better. Like that annoying friend who shoots down your every idea by telling you how it could go wrong, thereby making themselves feel smarter.
When I realized that “Let Them Play,” while nominally historical in that it takes place in 2012, would be tackling the still-contemporary issue of trans kids in sports, I worried it might go in that direction, or end with some kind of downer, as so many “issues” stories do. Thank goodness, it did not. Perhaps the episode is unrealistically optimistic, but hey, isn’t every feel-good sports story?
“Let Them Play” opens with Ben leaping into a high school girls basketball coach with half a minute left in a game and, in the heat of the moment, sending in an alternate player after one of the starters is injured. Little does he realize that in doing so, he put a target on that girl’s back. Not only is the girl, Gia, his daughter, but she’s trans. And some people aren’t happy that she was allowed to play. Ben must help Gia take on the bigots and keep her from running away, which in the original timeline leads to her untimely death.
Meanwhile, Magic and Jenn go looking for the person who told Ben to leap in the first place: a bartender named Dottie. Except she doesn’t seem to remember doing so. And back at Quantum Leap headquarters, the current leap hits home for Ian, who has living memory of Gia’s story because they grew up in the same area and had of course heard about the trans girl who shot the winning basket at a big game.
That last part might turn out to have bigger implications than another emotional character heart-to-heart confession, which Quantum Leap isn’t shy about indulging in.
I’m really impressed with how well the show has melded its parallel storylines lately—namely, Ben’s history-fixing adventure and the contemporary sci-fi mystery element back at Quantum Leap headquarters. A big part of that success is in showing how Ben’s adventures are affecting the crew back home, and by being super efficient with the mystery-solving parts (they pack a lot of info into two or three minute-long scenes).
As someone who’s a total sucker for a feel-good sports tale, the primary storyline in “Let Them Play” was super enjoyable to watch. Yes, it’s a simplified version of reality. Yes, it heads in a cheesy, inspirational direction—it’s true to genre in that sense. But you know what? Sometimes, we need those tales, even when in the real world, things aren’t so sunny. Especially then, I’d argue.
It’s easy to feel for Gia, a girl who just wants to be like other girls. And the story deftly sidesteps the “savior” trope that many sports tales indulge in. Ben is there to help, yes, but ultimately Gia herself who pulls through.
This week’s episode is sure to incense some types, but given that it’s a show whose principal cast includes exactly zero cis-het white men yet never makes it a thing (thank goodness), those types might not have been watching in the first place. And Quantum Leap has always been on the side of equality—Sam Beckett was always standing up to misogynists and racists and other bigots in the original series. That’s another tradition I’m glad this current show has chosen to carry on with.