Quantum Leap Season 1 Episode 11 Review: “Leap. Die. Repeat.” Stays On Its Feet
An episode like “Leap. Die. Repeat.” is a honeytrap for a young series like Quantum Leap; while it provides an opportunity for what feels like really creative sci-fi storytelling, the closed structure of a time loop story really only allows for a few setups and outcomes. It’s also something that’s been done before: forget the two films referenced in the episode (Groundhog Day and smartly, Rashomon), everything from Community to Star Trek:TNG to Russian Doll have done the time loop concept, which raises the bar even higher for something like “Leap.Die.Repeat.” – itself named after a time loop movie!!! – a really tall proposition for a show’s eleventh episode.
Directed by Pamela Romanowsky (of the divisive The Adderall Diaries adaptation) and with a script credited to story editor Margarita Matthews, “Leap .Die. Repeat” is smartly less about Ben’s time conundrum, and more about the team around him, trying to keep him careening in time towards his unknown, untrustworthy destination. In a way, that almost raises the stakes even higher for the episode, as its not really relying on Ben’s leaps through time to provide the emotional propulsion – except as a catalyst, when the entire team watches him die during his first mini-leap.
With the stakes appropriately set for Ben, it’s almost perfunctory the story of journalists, scientists, and government cover-ups at the (nuclear) center of the episode’s time in 1962. What’s more important is what is around the self-contained plot; the story of the people who, as JFK speaks of, cannot be deterred from their mission on the Quantum Leap team.
One might assume that means this is a great Addison episode; strangely enough, it’s with Jenn and Magic where “Leap. Die. Repeat” really grounds itself – which is becoming a trend, as their scenes together find a harmony between the typical push-and-pull relationship of faith and science driving so much science fiction. Jenn, the pragmatist, sees the text of the situation, and reacts, demanding to know why Magic is so willing to trust shifty Janis. Their exchange is a surprisingly emotional one, as Jenn demands to know why he’s willing to put her friend at such a risk – and though Magic’s answer is laughably simple (to paraphrase, he says “bitch, it’s time travel!”), there’s a tenderness to their exchange reinforcing the bonds of Team Quantum Leap that are often left in the show’s subtext.
As for the time loop narrative, it’s not really a time loop narrative – and though I doubt it will engineer a sudden resurgence in Rashomon interest, I certainly will not complain about the twist built into the episode’s homage. When everyone realizes Ben cannot leap back into the bodies he’s already been in, it turns that homage into a really palpable little experiment – unfortunately, there’s so much time spent making film references and digging into the show’s relationships, there’s no time to layer or develop the core mystery of the episode, which makes the central plot a bit thin as Ben leaps from scientist, to general, to janitor (though admittedly, tying it all back into the pen a second time was a good move).
One can tell that Quantum Leap can see the limitations of its strict running time; as a procedural, the time loop has to be introduced, explained and resolved in short order, which leaves nascent room for detail to be built into each scene. By the second leap, those individual details are already being revealed as breadcrumbs – which makes it a very simple paint-by-numbers to engineer the episode’s very obvious ending… and yet, “Leap. Die. Repeat.” is not a bad episode, thanks to the emotional tenor it has been building into its cast.
Given the season’s extended episode order, one can imagine a world where this script acted as a season finale; I think it works better as a midseason entry because of its aforementioned weaknesses, where it can mostly exist as a fun little creative exercise, and doesn’t have to carry the weight of resolution and mystery a season finale naturally demands. As that, “Leap. Die. Repeat” is another feather in Quantum Leap‘s cap, a serviceable episode that derives its quality not from its highbrow, homage-laden premise, but from the work its put in developing the dynamics between its main characters. It’s not what I expected from the ‘quantum loop’ episode – but I’m certainly not going to complain with the results.
- The episode kind of starts to consider the idea of perspective and how it can distort someone’s idea of good and bad… but that almost feels like something tacked-on to the episode, to give it a bit of pathos and connection to whatever larger stories are still to be revealed (like who was the catalyst for Ben’s first leap, this week’s big cliffhanger?)
- We! Need! More! Ian! His continued sidelining in recent episodes has begun to stick out as an underdeveloped part of the show. There’s so much to explore with someone who has utter faith in their technology, and I hope Quantum Leap finds more space for this later in the season, and in season two.
- Love me a bullshit technology scene, so when Janis told Ian to “pull up the data”, you know I got super excited. I’m a sucker for that shit.
- Boy, this show really wants to get Scott Bakula for a cameo, huh. In its absence, I love how much the Calavicci family name has influenced characters like Janis and Magic.