Quantum Leap Episode 10 Review: “Paging Dr. Song” Embraces the Chaos
Since the mini-reveal of one of Ben’s motivating factors behind his initial leap through time, Quantum Leap‘s bifurcated narrative has been at a bit of an impasse. Needing to play off Ben’s reveal as both major and incremental while also still dedicating 3/4 of each episode to Ben’s misadventures in the past, is no easy balancing act – and for the first time in a few episodes, that strain can be a seen a bit in “Paging Dr. Song”, where the one-off plot about a Seattle hospital completely overshadows any of the plot developments in 2023. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – “Paging Dr. Song” is mostly another terrific episode of Quantum Leap – but the treadmilling in the present is certainly giving me some Can We Get The Fuck On-itis.
Thankfully, Ben’s (seemingly structured?) tumble through time is still providing a surprising amount of pathos for Quantum Leap to ground itself in – and this week, even extends itself to include Addison in the emotional proceedings, a welcome wrinkle that leads to one of the season’s best scenes. This week, he’s in a Seattle hospital in 1994 – which is more fitting as an ER analogy than what it initially suggests when Addison reminds Ben it’s the “height of the grunge era” (technically, it was went grunge really went mainstream… I swear, I’m not old!). When a train crash floods the hospital Ben is staying in, he’s tasked with saving three different lives – throwing a welcome twist into the now-solidified Leap of the Week formula.
It adds another dimension to the AI-assisted puzzle solving at the core of Quantum Leap‘s weekly mystery box; and given how unsatisfying Janis’ first visit with Magic and the gang is, some narrative intrigue here goes a really long way. Even more impressively is how QL ties the stories of Kimberly, Lewis, and Eli together, an intricate (and slightly ludicrous) tale of family conflict, medical malpractice, and heartbreak typically resolved for long-running hospital procedurals looking to challenge themselves a little bit.
There’s an intricacy to these stories I really appreciate, showing a willingness to experiment a bit with form (one that makes me really excited for the next episode… more on that below). Hell, the story of Lewis Tan losing his wife alone would be enough to anchor this episode; how that story connects to Kim’s, and provides a runway for Eli and Sandra’s reconciliation, is rather elegantly constructed – to the point it can cover up some of the script’s blemishes, like the numerous “profit over practice” speeches that have become increasingly commonplace on modern hospital dramas.
The Lewis story, of course, is the highlight: anchored by Francois Chou’s almost-wordless performance as a grieving (and grievously injured) husband, Lewis’s story provides a fantastic opportunity for Quantum Leap to give Caitlin Bassett a little room to expand Addison’s character – which she embraces, nailing a monologue with such restrained, focused emotion, it elevates scene, plot, and episode in one fell swoop. Though it’s something I wish the episode (and series) would embrace more wholeheartedly, the scene where she talks about how to give the worst news you can give someone is palpable in its reflective sadness; there’s a contention with a certain loss of innocence that really propels the story for all three characters, an important bit of pathos the rest of the episode really benefits from.
It really is the key to the episode; while the other plots in 1994 Seattle are entertaining enough, their perfunctory developments from the second to third act were a little more traditional, stifled a bit by the time limitation of being a one-off episode. As I talked about in last week’s review, however, this is a byproduct of the show’s format; given it is trying to execute a trio of plots from start to finish in the course of 40 minutes, I’m willing to offer a bit of leeway in terms of how often Quantum Leap is afforded the luxury of subtlety.
Maybe it works a little too well, to the point I felt deflated each time we cut back to 2023 (maybe part of that was Ian’s absence in this episode… after being such a focal point in the first four episodes, they’ve mostly faded into the background, which has been a bit of a letdown). Everything in 2023 right now is held by Janis, who is keeping her mouth shut while she plays with the Quantum Leap team (think Ben being captured in LOST season 2): the plot can’t progress until she gives us some insight into what Ben’s doing, which she is decidedly not interested in doing here.
It’s a bit of a letdown, especially when we get the much-anticipated first salvo between Addison and Janis, the most critical variables in Ben’s decision to jump through time. But with Janis strictly making allusions to plot developments clearly being held for later episodes, there’s not a lot for this scene to accomplish besides some peacocking; which, coming on the heels of similar scenes with Magic and Jenn, don’t really provide a whole lot of intrigue.
But perhaps Quantum Leap has figured this out already; after all, moments like Ben instinctively reaching out for Addison’s hand are already so emotionally potent, they would overshadow any Big Conspiracy or Evil Corporation story sitting at the heart of 2023’s mysteries. However, at some point Quantum Leap is going to attempt to justify and resolve this mystery – and quite frankly, as long as the time leaps are this good and continue to be part of the formula, I could care less if this story ever does justify itself.
After all, this mystery is really only meaningful right now for Addison as a character; until Quantum Leap finds a more engaging thoroughline for the other QL team members to connect themselves to (hell, even Janis has a more emotional connection to this journey), these twists and turns are always going to kind of just flutter in the proverbial wind. If anything, these scenes could just be better utilized to move something forward; Janis does a whole lot of talking, but not a lot happens, which is the worst kind of mystery box television to watch.
Thankfully, it’s only a small portion of an episode with a surprisingly effective emotional arc, and some wonderfully divergent moments of humor (“It’s called underwire”) – which is what I’m really here for, and what Quantum Leap continues to nail, week in and week out. Everybody’s got growing pains – QL‘s may be the kind that just become inherent flaws, but given how much the show’s already usurped my expectations, I’m not
- Ok, I usually don’t talk about teasers, but the teaser for the next Quantum Leap episode made me fucking squeal. Could be a real moment for the series, if they can pull it off.
- Yes, this episode underplays the fact Ben is embodying Alexandra Tomkinson, a black women in 1994 questioning her superiors. We’ll let it slide – better to not engage with something it would most likely embarrass itself trying to explore.
- Special shoutout to episode director Tessa Blake, who makes great use of close-ups and negative space to drive the emotions of this episode in subtle, but really effective ways.
- “Telling the truth… wherever it comes from” is another hint towards an existentialistic side, one I hope Quantum Leap continues to occasionally explore. Faith, whether in Ben, technology, or God, is an important part of this story, and something I hope this show embraces as its overarching plot gets larger (and inevitably louder).