Review of Quantum Leap Ep5: “Salvation or Bust”


QUANTUM LEAP — “Salvation or Bust” Episode 105 — Pictured: (l-r) Yaani King Mondschein as Frankie, Raymond Lee as Dr. Ben Song, Nicole Alvarez as Valentina — (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

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This week, Ben Song takes his biggest leap ever, back to 1879 in the old west. specifically to a town called Salvation. He finds himself as an old Mexican gunslinger named Diego De La Cruz (Alberto Manquero) whose granddaughter Valentina (Natalia del Riego) has called him out of his retirement in San Francisco to come back and defend their town.

Diego had left Salvation after his wife and son (who was the first mayor of Salvation) were killed. Salvation is a unique town in the west relative to the 21st century because it’s more progressive and inclusive than most cities in the first world are today. But, in this case, true to many western TV and film tropes, the evil railroad company wants to drive the population out and take their land. Actually, the episode is loaded with old western tropes. Oddly though, although the bad guys are all white, they don’t hurl even a single racist or sexist insult to the townspeople, which is pretty strange.

The railroad has hired wanted gunman Josiah McDonough (William Mark McCullough) and his gang of violent miscreants to “convince” the inhabitants to clear out. Ben has leapt into the body of the aging and alcoholic Diego his granddaughter believes can defend the town. The only problem is that Ben is a total pacifist and hates guns and violence (which didn’t seem to bother him in the episode Somebody Up There Likes Ben when he had to beat a boxer to unconsciousness, but never mind that…character traits and personal histories appear out of nowhere in this episode).

The initial “leap” part of the episode instantly cuts into a conversation between Magic and Addison. I mean there was no transition at all. I thought something went wrong with the streaming. Magic, who had previously been against trying to jog Ben’s memory, tells Addison he’s kind of glad Ben remembered his relationship with her. They need all the intel they can get since they still (amazingly) can’t get Janice out of Ziggy.

Ben finds out that what makes Salvation so special is that its inhabitants are almost entirely people of color. The woman who runs the local saloon (and brothel) is black. So’s the blacksmith. The “doctor” is Chinese. The sheriff is white, but don’t worry, he gets killed trying to defend the town in the first few minutes of the episode, so only the bad guys are white after that. The town is the 21st century representation of inclusion and representation in the late 19th century. In other words, it couldn’t have possibly existed.

Ian quips that the “old west” was an overly romanticized and idealized period of American history, which oddly enough adds to the anachronism of Ben’s experience. It also adds to the “progressivism” of this episode and the show in general, which is kind of a disappointment for “escapism” entertainment.


Scene from Quantum Leap episode “Salvation or Bust”

When Addison first appears to Ben, she tries to have a sense of humor but to me as the audience, it falls flat. Ben reveals that he’s not only a pacifist who hates guns, but is a hopeless romantic who wants to know about his and Addison’s first date, even though he’s in a situation involving deadly danger. There’s a trope from Back to the Future III when Ben and his granddaughter are in the saloon. The bartender Frankie (Yaani King Mondschein) offers him whiskey but Ben prefers water. They give him water the color of dirt which is a total send up to BTTF 3. Cute.

I guess I should say that the gold mine that originally funded this town played out long ago and people had been leaving anyway. Another western trope. After the sheriff is shot, the deputies, all but one, leave. Ben’s idea that McDonough and his gang being wanted men who could be turned in for the reward evaporates.

Back in the future, Jenn tells Ian and Addison to cool the “shop talk” because Congresswoman Kavita Adani (Farah Merani) has come for an unannounced visit. She’s on the congressional oversight committee for Project Quantum Leap investigating the mysterious power surges reported by the Pentagon. Oh boy.

She wants to interview each member of the senior staff individually starting with Ben. Magic makes some lame excuse about Ben being called away on a family emergency and no one is sure when he’s coming back. Really. In an operation that critical, even in an emergency, the absolute scientific head of the project would have left his cell phone number. Who wouldn’t be suspicious?

Addison pulls her way out of the imaging chamber for her interview and we learn that not only was she in the Army, but the Congresswoman addresses her as Captain. We find out that cybersecurity chief Jenn was a cybercriminal who Magic recruited out of prison. We don’t find out anything new about Ian except he’s wearing a necklace and black dress (I mean a full on dress) that would probably have looked good on my Mom in 1958. Ian is not my Mom. Oh, normally Jenn is dressed typically for the modern era, but for this episode she has on some sort of bizarre costume. Don’t people dress for work in regular clothes anymore?

Ziggy tells Addison who tells Ben that the odds are high that he will have to duel McDonough in order to save the town and the people. Ben is practically phobic about guns and violence and Addison reveals this is one of the sticking points between her and him. She’s a military officer and believes there are times when you just have to fight and be prepared to kill. What the hell attracted these two polar opposites to each other again?

After Addison is called away, the one deputy left, Henry (Marquise Vilson), a black man who never “fit in” anywhere until he came to Salvation, tries to teach Ben to shoot. Henry is a crack shot and I wondered why he didn’t duel McDonough. He’d probably win. Ben is so bad with guns that not only does he miss, but a ricochet hits him in the shoulder.

Fortunately, the town “doctor” Ming (Eddie Park) is able to treat it. His father Wei (Harry Yi) is a man deafened by working demolition for the railroad but he makes the best Won Ton Soup Ben has ever tasted. He thanks Wei in Cantonese (how many old, retired Mexican gunslingers speak Cantonese, even in San Francisco?).

In the original history, Diego and his granddaughter leave the town before the gunfight and go to San Francisco, leaving Salvation to it’s dismal fate. Diego dies of liver failure in 1886 and that’s that. Ben, feeling like a total failure, wants to go with the original history, forgetting that he’ll never leap unless he does what he’s supposed to do.

After the blacksmith’s forge is blown up by McDonough’s gang, more people leave town and everything seems hopeless. Ben keeps trying to tell people that he can’t possibly win and even Valentina gives up on him. So much so that she steals Ben’s guns and goes to kill McDonough herself, even though she’s about seventeen or so. It doesn’t work. McDonough and his thugs bring her back and he tells Ben if he kills him, the people in the town will give up and leave. They’re to have a gunfight the next day. If Ben wins, McDonough will let the town be. Otherwise, the railroad wins.

Ben agrees and the town rejoices. Later Ben tells everyone he can’t win, but with Addison’s encouragement, he convinces the town to pull together all of their skill sets to fight off McDonough.

I tried to find a western movie that mapped to this, but neither High Noon (1952) or Rio Bravo (1959) which was made in direct response to “High Noon” seemed to fit. The closest I could come was the Mel Brooks western comedy Blazing Saddles (1974) which is one of my all time favorite movies (which would probably make me the enemy to the “spirit” of this episode).

Ben organizes the town to set up a collection of traps for the gang. If they can capture them alive, then they can turn them in for the $10,000 reward.

In the present, Jenn digs up some dirt on the Congresswoman and gives it to Magic. He’s reluctant to blackmail her but it may be the only way to keep the Project going.


Scene from the Quantum Leap episode “Salvation or Bust”

Yes, she figures it out. She wasn’t sure until she interviewed everyone, but now she knows Ben made an unauthorized leap and she’s going to report it. If the Project is shut down, Ben will be abandoned in time forever, just like Sam. Magic plays his hole card but not the way you think. Ten years ago, the Congresswoman and her brother were in a car accident in which her brother was killed. Everyone thinks he was driving but she was. Instead of blackmailing her, Magic says that the Project works. They can go back and change the past, which is true. He says that when they can, they’ll send Ben back in time ten years to prevent the accident. She takes the bait and now the Project has her on their side.

Ian says that the technology won’t let a person go to a specific place and date in time. That’s absolutely untrue. If we believe the events in Mirror Image, Sam Beckett’s leaps were never truly random. In fact, in the original episodes The Leap Home Part 1 and Part 2, Sam leapt into himself in the first part and into Magic in the second part, specifically to save his brother Tom from dying in Vietnam. There are numerous other examples of Sam leaping into people to change his own and Al’s futures, so Ian doesn’t get it. Saving the Congresswoman’s brother is totally possible and even likely.

Meanwhile, Ben and company come face to face with the bad guy. It starts like the aforementioned BTTF 3 when Marty faces Biff with the now famous line “I thought we could settle this like men.” From then on it follows the Clint Eastwood spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars (1964) with the whole bulletproof vest thing (for Marty, not for Ben).

In Ben’s case, they have put together a Rube Goldberg machine set of traps. Henry, who should have just met with McDonough and outdrew him, gets to shoot someone, but with a rifle and from a rooftop. McDonough himself gets trapped in a cage, but when he aims his gun at Ben, Henry shows up ready to shoot him.

Amazingly, no one gets hurt and Ben had already sent a telegram to the Marshall, who is on his way to take the gang into custody and to deliver the reward.

I don’t know how long that took, but Ben doesn’t leap. The Marshall comes and goes, the money is in the town’s hands, but Ben doesn’t leap. Someone brings up the fact that ten grand won’t last forever and Addison tells Ben about a copper deposit just a few miles from town that will become valuable as the invention of the telephone gets traction.

Bell patented the invention in 1876 so I wonder how everyone was so aware of the thing when Ben mentioned it three years later.

The “money shot” of the episode happens as Ben is having a “romantic” moment with his holographic girlfriend. Someone (Walter Perez as the mysterious Leaper) grabs Ben from behind and calls him “Ben.” He says he knows he’s Ben Song from the year 2022 and threatens to hurt Ben unless he stops following him. Then Ben leaps.

We don’t see who Ben leaps into for the next episode as we normally would (or would have in the original show). This brings up a big question. Up until now, the fan base including me have assumed that Ben’s and Janice’s mission was to have Ben leap in an attempt to find Sam Beckett. But now we know there’s another leaper. Could he be the person they’re really looking for? Who is the leaper and why is he traveling through time? Why would Ben and Janice want to stop him  (I thought that Janice might be the leaper but then why threaten Ben when she’s the one who sent him back in time?)?

Speaking of Janice, there’s no mention of her in the episode except for a reference that she’s still inside Ziggy.

I’ve been watching selected episodes of the original Quantum Leap and enjoying it thoroughly. I’ve been enjoying the original show much more than this extension and I can’t figure out why. You might say it’s because of nostalgia, except I never watched the original show when it was on the air. I rented the DVD set at my local public library a few years ago and watched most but not all of the episodes. It’s not nostalgia.

The actors in the current show are good and I can tell everyone involved is trying to make an entertaining and engaging show. But compared to the original, everyone (yes, even Ian) sort of comes out a little flat. Sam and Al had so much chemistry plus, in Sam’s (Scott Bakula) case charm and in Al’s (Dean Stockwell) case, off-the-wallness, that it made the show, even when some episodes were rather lackluster.

I can’t figure it out. I don’t want to disrespect the people involved in the current show, but so far, the magic (no pun intended) isn’t there. I love the mystery and the new leaper was a total surprise, but when I watch Sam and Al during a leap, it’s like watching sorcery. When I watch Ben and Addison, it’s like watching a TV show. Yes, it’s an interesting show and it’s entertaining, but the “specialness” just isn’t there.


Promotional image for the television show Quantum Leap

I feel like I owe the current cast of the show an apology. Really, I can’t fault you. But something’s wrong and I don’t know what it is.

Ben is a total pacifist which makes it harder for him to be an action hero. The show is being made in the 21st century by the modern “entertainment” industry, so improbable western towns like “Salvation” are going to pop up. Ian, who is gender fluid, is going to attend a critical meeting with a hostile Congresswoman dressed as a 1950s diva, especially when they work as a programmer for a top secret government program and know better.

I know fiction and particularly science fiction is improbable, but you still have to make the audience believe that the improbable is not only possible but likely. Unfortunately 21st century politics and social requirements make a once classic television series increasingly improbable, even given the above necessities. There’s only so much “woke” you can shove into a TV show or movie before the audience has had enough. I think we’ve seen that in the recent She-Hulk show.

I’m sorry Ben and Addison. You’ll never be Sam and Al.


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