Sometimes, one of your favorite shows goes off the rails, but you keep watching anyway hoping it’ll find its way back. Well, I’m happy to report that this week, that was the case for Quantum Leap. Episode 210, “The Family Treasure,” is one of this season’s most fun episodes yet, full of adventure, mystery, thrills, and, of course, the show’s signature heart.
This time, Ben leaps into the (mercifully Hannah-free) life of Nadia, a 17-year-old Lebanese American girl in the 1950s. Ben and Nadia’s two older siblings (an eldest sister and a middle sibling who is obviously trans masc, yet whose identity / pronouns aren’t clarified till nearly the end) receive items from their recently deceased father, presented by the father’s lawyer and personal friend. The father was obsessed with discovering an ancient hidden treasure, to the extent of ignoring his family, and it doesn’t take long for the siblings to discover that each item contains a piece of a map.
In the original timeline, the middle sibling, Dean, went off alone to find the treasure and never made it back. So Ben insists that he and the eldest sister, Sarah, go with them and make it a family affair. Sarah is reluctant at first; she and Dean are polar opposites in many ways, and the two can’t stop bickering. In many ways, it’s a classic rivalry: The traditional “good girl” versus the rebellious non-conforming sibling.
But eventually the three wind up in Mexico, following their dad’s map. What follows is a classic treasure-hunt story, complete with enigmatic text clues, dark tunnels, and nefarious villains. The plot is a bit compressed given the show’s runtime (and need to make room for its signature conversations about the characters’ feelings), but remains entertaining despite feeling rushed. And one can’t help but feel warm and fuzzy about the sibling reconciliation that’s Ben’s true purpose in this leap.
While the show’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is admirable — hooray for women of color and trans folks in 1950s America! — the execution can be a bit ham-fisted. In this case, using Dean to explain what “non-binary” means feels a bit too didactic and does a disservice to the character. For a few moments, they’re no longer a person, but a walking, talking dictionary definition meant to educate the audience. Perhaps that’s necessary, considering Quantum Leap still airs on network TV and older viewers might need the clarification. Still, I feel like there must have been a smoother way to showcase Dean’s identity without having them literally explain it. The show did a much better job of bringing up trans issues in last season’s “Let Them Play.”
Anyway, all in all, it felt good to see Quantum Leap return to the kind of fun yet heartfelt adventure that made me love the show in the first place, where the focus is on the mission of putting right what once went wrong.
Meanwhile, back at HQ, some bombshells get dropped. First, Addison and Tom are getting married, much to the team’s surprise (though they’re plenty polite about congratulating her). And second, Rachel’s mysterious boss, the person pulling the strings of Quantum Leap after providing a vital component to restart the program, finally shows up.
I must admit to being less than invested in the sci-fi thriller-ish contemporary storyline. Not only because it’s been so fragmented, it’s hard to keep track of, but because the stakes aren’t entirely clear. Okay, so Ian made a deal with the devil, if you will, to get Quantum Leap back, and that devil is now getting data from the accelerator. So…? The fact of the threat is often reiterated, but the why of it is muddy.
Season 1 had the advantage of having an obvious mystery in need of resolving: Why did Ben leap? Season 2 is a lot murkier, and so the whole thing with Rachel’s boss feels more like a distraction than a story arc. But we’ve still got some episodes to go, so maybe it’ll all come together in the end.
The very concept of this current iteration of Quantum Leap came with a host of writing challenges. It tries to have things both ways: The episodic structure of the original, and the season-arc structure that’s currently in vogue in sci-fi/fantasy television. Basically, two shows smashed into one. The results are mixed, but this week’s episode shows that it can be done. We get our (albeit rushed) adventure in the past, and we get our (albeit vague) contemporary thriller. Not bad for 40 minutes of screen time.
Here’s hoping they can keep up the balance in the coming weeks.