Quantum Leap Episode 9 Review: “Fellow Travelers” Strikes a Chord

Quantum Leap Fellow Travelers

Though Quantum Leap‘s first eight episodes were certainly a surprising proof of concept – I mean, who would’ve thought that was the reboot we were talking about to close 2022 – there certainly have been some growing pains for the young procedural. Part of it is by design; by frontloading so much of the dramatic intrigue around Ben’s vague decisions to time travel before the pilot begins, Quantum Leap‘s had to both justify its existence and establish its story (and characters) at the same time, a balancing act so many shows, comedic and dramatic, have failed to do. After a forgettable pilot, Quantum Leap‘s quickly figured out how to make it all sing in harmony together, talents on full display in “Fellow Travelers”, a banger of an episode to kick off 2023 with.

The jump in “Fellow Travelers” centers around Carly Farmer, 70’s folk singer (the always welcome Deborah Ann Wohl) and her estranged sister-slash-former songwriter – but like any good leap, it serves as a visual metaphor for Ben’s experience time traveling, and how the fallout of his decisions have affected the people he loves. Ben’s choice to potentially lose himself to time (remember…. Sam Beckett never came home) to save Addison seems like a selfless decision… that is, until he remembers, and everyone realizes it was a decision he made without warning his partner she was potentially in danger, leaving his team in the dark to go rogue (with a former QL team member’s daughter, no less) and start altering history, all so he could try and break the known time-space continuum to leap forward in time and save Addison’s life.

Quantum Leap Fellow Travelers

Though Ben’s “I did it for you” was about the most obvious cliffhanger we could’ve gotten in “Stand By Ben”, how it ripples through “Fellow Travelers” is an absolute delight. What seems like a lame punchline sends real shockwaves through the team, leading them to hunt down Janis and bring her in (presumably with Magic calling in a few favors to get a hold of the one jet they can use) as a crisis of faith that spreads from Jenn to Ian to, most importantly, Addison.

Addison’s journey this season has been a mixed bag; on some level, her role as his informant/sidekick while he time travels limits her ability to come into meaningful conflict with him. Given the rapid pace – and increasing density, which I appreciate – of the one-off leaping stories, Addison has to be around to deliver a lot of exposition, meaning she has to be talking to Ben, even when she’s pissed off at him.

That’s awkward to write, because it makes emotional consistency really hard – and that’s exactly where Quantum Leap has subtly begun to figure itself out in recent episodes, as it neatly integrates her frustrations alongside Carly’s own, realizing they’ve been hoodwinked by some of the people closest to them, that they’ve confided in and opened their souls to (sisters, lovers and songwriters… the closest relationships in the world, one might say). Addison isn’t afforded room to be frustrated, because she has to be helpful – but in those moments of utility, her expressive nature turns out to be additive, rather than something that sinks the scene or causes logical incongruities.

Though Ben’s decision making still doesn’t quite make sense yet (even to him), I appreciate Quantum Leap‘s willingness to point out what a schmuck he was, hiding around with Janis to make decisions that effect the lives of everyone he knows (not to mention their jobs – what a shitass coworker!). Neither Addison or Jenn are going to take any shit, and Ian and Magic both know to stay out of their way and let them cook (also giving Ian time to do some whatsey-whosit about predicting where Janis would go after hacking them); in the 2022 scenes, “Fellow Travelers” is mostly vibing with the team dynamics – which has really popped with Jenn coming to the forefront as a character, I might add.

Quantum Leap Fellow Travelers

Back in 1979, “Fellow Travelers” definitely tries to throw in a few twists into each act with the behind-the-scenes drama of Carly’s life, it is not a particularly surprising set of circumstances, especially when it tries to repeat the “is her sister the killer?” bit for a third time in the final ten minutes. But with a strong performance from Wohl, and some well-crafted (if a bit overtly referenced) allusions to Ben and Addison’s current situation, “Fellow Travelers” and its tale of jealous songstresses and sisterly love has more than enough oomph to carry Ben for an episode – which, lest we forget, is all we need these one-off stories to do.

Maybe it’s years of watching dozens of serialized streaming series, but there’s something refreshing to Quantum Leap‘s execution of one-off plots – in a way that is more dynamic, and rewarding, than the garden variety of crime procedurals existing on most networks – like these, rich flavor text that keeps each episode of incremental macro plot movement feel appropriately live and vibrant.

Though “Fellow Travelers” is only a partial answer to the question of “does Quantum Leap know where it’s going?”, it is a rather satisfying response to the end of “Stand By Ben”, appropriately bridging the season from its first, introductory act, slowly teasing out more complex, overlapping stories of generational conflict (Janis wearing her father’s ring, Jenn’s father being mentioned again… it’s a family thang on QL, baby!) and the mystery around Ben’s actions and decisions before leaping. It isn’t revolutionary, or redefining the form, but Quantum Leap continues to show that the only limitations of procedural storytelling – much like those of the supposed rules of time travel in the QL world – are barriers of the mind itself.

Grade: B+

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Deborah Ann Wohl’s performance is wonderful, but her lip-syncing during the sound check scene is painstakingly obvious.
  • some great stock footage of urban 1970’s settings thrown in as establishing shots here, a touch that is a bit jarring visually when it cuts to more high-definition imagery, but adds a bit of texture between scenes I really like.
  • Addison reminds Ben there are limits to his good heart, and last time he trusted someone, she turned out to be a vengeful drug queen.
  • Jenn asks a great question – why did Ben go to Janis?
  • Speaking of Janis – love her hair and outfit in this episode a lot. Would be easy for Quantum to make her the generic semi-goth hacker archetype, and this upends those expectations in fun, exciting ways… plus, you know, bringing her into the belly of the beast, one of my favorite dramatic tropes “Fellow Travelers” neatly sets up for next week’s episode.

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