If the appeal of the original Quantum Leap was seeing a character we love, Sam Beckett, travel through time to fix history for the better, then the sixth episode of the 2022 sequel seems to have missed the memo. Last week, I wrote about how the show seems to be falling into some kind of peak TV / streaming wars trap of needing a binge-able season mystery, whereas the original was designed to be episodic, and as a result, it often feels like we’re watching two shows at once. This week’s episode feels like it made its decision: 2022 is what matters, and the history to be fixed is merely an obstacle.
“What a Disaster!” (I’ll resist snarking about the title) opens with the last few moments of the previous episode, “Salvation or Bust,” where we were introduced to yet another mystery element from 2022 (because it’s spoiler free, I won’t say exactly what it is in case anyone reading hasn’t caught up on the season yet). And it becomes clear from the get-go that the episode will be focusing on the present-day Quantum Leap team dealing with said mystery.
Ben then leaps into 1989 San Francisco, in the moments before the infamous earthquake. This time, he is… a guy having marital problems. That’s pretty much the extent of what we learn about the man he’s leaped into. Poor Ben comes to just as the man’s wife, Naomi (played by a most excellent Jewel Staite) is talking through their issues, leading up to the request for a divorce. And then the earthquake strikes. And then Ben goes looking for the couple’s son, who’s missing in the aftermath of the disaster.
That’s it. That’s the fixing-history adventure. There’s really nothing to spoil when it comes to that part, because frankly, nothing much happens other than a lot of disaster-movie-style stunts.
Even Ben doesn’t seem too concerned with what’s going on in 1989. His attention is focused on scattered flashbacks of his mother, which leads to some great emotional moments with Addison, but really drive home the feeling that the whole earthquake thing is just background noise.
The episode’s attention, meanwhile, is fixed on the 2022 Quantum Leap team following clues to untangle what the heck happened at the end of “Salvation or Bust” (again, trying not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it). A lot of theories are floated around, a lot of high tech sci-fi equipment is used.
The show has done a great job of introducing an interesting cast of regulars, characters you can really care about. The problem is they draw so much focus, especially with the great season mystery looming, that it’s really hard to become emotionally invested in the guest stars. Despite a powerhouse performance from Staite, it was difficult to see her character as, at best, a prop for Ben to deal with his own familial issues, and, at worst, background noise.
“What a Disaster!” does make a gallant attempt at retaining the heart and soul of Quantum Leap, the bright-eyed optimism and do-gooder attitude that’s so comforting to watch and makes you believe the world could be a better place. There’s just too much going on around it.
The show is still pretty early in its run, so it’s possible it will figure out a better balance between past and present in upcoming episodes. Or maybe it will fully lean into the sci-fi mystery element, the element it seems more interested in, and the adventures in the past will simply become backdrops. In which case, would it still be Quantum Leap?