Review of Quantum Leap Ep6 “What a Disaster!”

quantum leap

Scene from the Quantum Leap episode “What a Disaster”

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I just finished watching Quantum Leap Season 1, Episode 6 What a Disaster!. Ben leaps into John Harvey in San Francisco just seconds before the October 17,1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. But that’s not where the episode starts.

Oh, spoiler alert!

It starts at the end of Ben’s last leap in the old west when he is confronted by another leaper who knows who Ben is and threatens Ben if he doesn’t stop following him. Then Ben leaps into John. He is at a bar and his wife Naomi (Jewel Staite) asks “John” for a divorce. Ben sees the World Series on TV, sees the clock, and realizes what’s going to happen. He warns everyone to get outside just as the initial quake hits.

Meanwhile, at the Project, everyone is obsessed with the person Ian calls “Leaper X” (which Magic squashes). Jenn says there are three possibilities, all involving another Quantum Leap machine. Either another government has one, a private company, or someone is using their own project in the future.

In the past, Ben finds out Naomi is a doctor as she starts helping the injured. Ben finds an ambulance and tells them where the injured are.

Addison finds Ben but her hand link is acting up (she actually hits it the way Al used to) and she doesn’t know why he leapt into John. At the project, Ian gives her an older link which doesn’t really look like Al’s.

Ben and Naomi make it home but their young teenage son Jason (Everett Andres) has disappeared. Ben sees that he’s ripped up a bunch of family photos and thinks Jason ran away because he found out about the divorce. That’s later confirmed when Naomi realizes that Jason could have overheard her conversation with a lawyer that morning.

In the middle of all this, Ben’s memories of his own Mom (Mihye Jung) start returning. Addison tells Ben he never had a relationship with his Dad and his Mom raised him in New York after arriving from South Korea. He remembers the smells of her cooking and how safe she made him feel. Addison also seems to have a complicated backstory but thankfully she doesn’t share it this episode.


Scene from the Quantum Leap episode “What a Disaster”

She finally figures out Ben’s there to save Jason. The family used to live in Oakland but moved when Naomi got a good hospital job in the San Francisco.

I used to live in the Bay Area and plenty of people commute into the City everyday, many from places a lot farther away than Oakland. Why did they have to move? John didn’t want to move and neither did Jason. Like most kids, he didn’t want to be separated from his friends and his school. Good thing this kid didn’t live in a military family. When I was young, my Dad was in the Air Force and we moved around with some regularity.

John and Naomi have to get to Oakland during a disaster. I may have missed this part, but I think Addison told him they could walk through a tunnel that parallel’s the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) tunnel under the Bay. I get the feeling that even if it were intact. Police and other responders wouldn’t let them, but they magically make it to Oakland anyway. I wonder how Jason managed it alone as a kid barely old enough to be in high school?

At the Project, Jenn pulls a photo of the mystery leaper from the imaging chamber. Apparently anyone in the imaging chamber sees leapers as they truly are. Addison sees Ben as Ben so the photo Jenn has is of the leaper’s true appearance.


Scene from the Quantum Leap episode “What Price Gloria?”

In Sam’s first leap into a woman (What Price Gloria? – October 16, 1961), we discover that Al sees Sam as whoever he’s leapt into. We found this out when Sam as a beautiful woman was getting ready to take a bath in Al’s presence. I guess this is another change Ben made in the technology.

Ian runs the face through various security databases saying it could take a week to get a hit if this person exists. The hit comes in just a few moments and IDs a Marine Sgt. named Richard Martinez (played by Walter Perez) stationed at Camp Pendleton. Magic says that’s right down the road.

The original project was located at Stallion’s Gate New Mexico in the middle of the desert. It was a deliberately isolated spot since leaping causes an enormous energy discharge that’s visible outside the project. Where the heck are they in Southern California where, given the population density, it would be hard to conceal a secret time travel experiment?


Scene from the Quantum Leap episode “What a Disaster”

Magic and Jenn go visit Martinez at his Mom’s house just to see what they can get out of him. He seems sincere and says that the Marines keep him too busy to “moonlight,” which is what Jenn suspected. Back at the project, they ran all of Martinez’s records and there’s nothing to indicate that he’s a leaper. The only conclusion is that he hasn’t become one yet so right now, he’s innocent. Ian’s worried that just the visit may have changed future history leading Martinez to becoming a leaper.

In Oakland, Ben sees a woman trapped in a car in a pool of water while a damaged electrical transformer is about to fall from a pole. If it hits the car and water, the person inside will die. Ben manages with help to shatter the windshield and get the woman out just in time. Unfortunately, Naomi is standing in the pool and is electrocuted. Her heart stops.

All of Ben’s degrees and not one of them is medical. He doesn’t even know how to perform CPR. Addison talks him through it and one sharp pound to Naomi’s chest restarts her heart. Yeah, this is a TV show alright. Leaving Naomi with EMTs, he keeps searching for Jason and he has less than an hour to save his life.

I don’t know this for sure, but I think if a live electrical cable breaks, a few seconds after the break, the power automatically shuts off to prevent anyone from getting hurt. I have no idea if that works for transformers, but I hope the writers of the episode did their homework.

As Ben is running to where Jason is supposed to be, he starts having more memories of his Mom which he eventually tells Addison about (when before he leapt, he never mentioned it). His first year in high school, he was getting sick and tired of his Mom telling him how special he is (even though he’s got a genius level IQ). He deliberately got all “Bs” on his first report card and she read him the riot act. Teenage Ben got mad and (temporarily) ran away. When he got home, his Mom was dead of a brain aneurysm. He’s overwhelmed with guilt but it changed his life.

Ben tells Addison he became obsessed with time travel and helped restart the project. I didn’t get the sense he was going to change his own history, but during this leap, he has to change Jason’s.

We find out that Ben hasn’t worked out in a long time and is out of breath from running. That shouldn’t matter since he’s using someone else’s body. It’s been established in previous episodes that Ben has the physical abilities of whoever he leaps into. Also, with time running out, Ben tells Addison his “tragic backstory” while standing completely still. Jason’s going to die, and Ben is wrapped up in his feelings again. That’s ridiculous. I know Ben is struggling to get parts of his life back, but it shouldn’t be at the risk of a kid dying.

Ben finds Jason outside the apartment complex they used to live at. One of their elderly neighbors is trapped inside. That’s what kills Jason in the original timeline. Ben goes inside rather than Jason even though Ziggy says there’s only a 30% chance he’ll come out alive.

ql 6

QUANTUM LEAP — “Pilot” Episode Pilot — Pictured: (l-r) Caitlin Bassett as Addison, Raymond Lee as Dr. Ben Seong — (Photo by: Serguei Bachlakov/NBC)

He manages to save the old man but a beam falls on Ben knocking him out. Addison tries to wake him but guess what? He’s unconscious. Jason comes in after the old man tells him his Dad is trapped. Somehow Jason’s voice wakes him up and the two of them manage to lift the beam just far enough so Ben can wiggle out.

That beam was huge and really hit Ben hard but he has absolutely no injuries. The two of them get out just before the building collapses. Ben saved Jason but doesn’t leap. He realizes that Jason is still angry at Mom for screwing up his and his Dad’s lives. Ben uses his own sense of regret to tell Jason how much his Mom loves him and that if he pushes her away now, he won’t be able to take it back.

They get to the hospital where Naomi is a patient and Jason reconciles with Mom. Addison said that did it and that Jason grows up to be a structural engineer. But Ben still doesn’t leap.

Hearing that the phones work again, Ben tries to call his Mom since it’s 1989, but he doesn’t know the number.

ben and jason

Scene from the Quantum Leap episode “What a Disaster”

Okay, first of all, Ben was born in the mid 1980s. He should be only five years old or less, so if he remembered the quake, it’s because he studied it after the fact in a history class in school. He remembered more about the quake than I do and it was part of my lived history. My family and I were living in Southern California at the time. The chandelier in the middle of the house started swaying and swimming pools up and down the street spilled water toward the fronts of the houses (everyone on the block had a pool) causing a small flood down the gutter. When we heard the quake was centered near San Francisco, we thought it might be a literal “cities falling into the Pacific” moment.

Also, if Ben didn’t come to the U.S. until he was nine, then he and his Mom should still be in South Korea.

He can’t remember the number but Addison uses Ziggy to find out. Ben calls his Mom. She answers “Hello” and Ben leaps.

Oddly enough, during his first two leaps, when Sam Beckett remembered his Dad dying prematurely, he tried to phone him as well. An interesting parallel but it does draw our attention back to Ben’s connection to Sam.

Ian goes to Magic saying that the thought of a future leaper made him re-examine the course Ben is taking in his leaps. He originally believed that Ben was using “temporal gravity” to “slingshot” himself to some distant point in the past. Now he thinks that Ben may be going into the future, something they thought was impossible, at least until now.

The original show was cancelled after five seasons but if it had gotten a sixth, the alternate ending to the series finale Mirror Image suggests Al would have stepped into the acceleration chamber and gone after Sam in the future. Makes me wonder if the show isn’t using some of those elements to fuel the current mystery.

Speaking of mysteries, no mention of Janice (or Janis) in this episode at all as if Martinez leaping in time completely derailed their memories (or the plot). How do we know Janice isn’t aware of Martinez being a leaper and this is all part of the same puzzle?


Scene from the Quantum Leap episode “Somebody Up There Likes Ben”

Speaking of which, from the aforementioned “Mirror Image,” we know that the dead can leap in time to warn people of disasters, putting right what once went wrong. It’s literally what Ben did in this leap based on his own memories. He’s picking up a lot more cues from his past than I think Sam ever did.

At the project, Addison expects to be criticized by Jenn for giving Ben the phone number. Jenn surprisingly says she’d have done the same thing. They agree to go out to dinner and watch “Housewives,” which I suspect will be a running joke for a while. Jenn has to call her Mom first. This leap got to a lot of them.

Ben leaps into a Priest named Father Davenport knocking on the door of a house on Halloween night. Someone who looks like a nurse answers and says something about it getting worse. Ben goes inside and the closing door jars the numbers suspended above it changing the address 669 to 666. This is exactly the same action that happened to Sam in the episode The Boogieman – October 31, 1964. Another parallel.

Oh, I should say that there was no mention of the Evil Leapers Sam had previously encountered. Don’t these people keep records?

I’ve continued to watch selected episodes of the original show and discovered that I like it better than the current show. It’s not like I think the current show is bad, but I’m having a harder time connecting to the cast and the situations. So far, all of the characterizations seem a little flat to me.

sam and al

Promotional image for “Quantum Leap”

That’s hard to imagine since there’s a lot of drama and tension both in the leaps and at the project, but there’s just something missing.

One of my sons suggested that it was nostalgia, but I never watched the original show when it was on the air. I first saw it as a set of DVDs I checked out of my local public library. He then suggested that I might just like TV shows (and larger stories) from the 1980s and 1990s. I think he’s got a point. As I’ve noted on numerous occasions, entertainment has changed with the passage of time. Given my age and history, it’s very likely that I am more attached to stories they way I perceive they used to be told.

Good grief, pick up a Superman comic book from the 1990s vs what’s out there today and it’s like night and day.

As I was writing this, I recalled how when Ben remembered his Mom, she was speaking Korean. When Magic and Jenn were at Martinez’s house, Martinez spoke to his Mom in Spanish and at least suggested that they may not have arrived in the country legally. I think the writers were putting a more diverse set of characters into the story and show, particularly people from outside the U.S. Like the character of Ian, part of the show’s “mission” may be to “expand” certain themes into the consciousness of the audience.

I’ll continue to watch the current series, largely because of the mysteries that are being woven, but I’ll watch the older show for the sheer pleasure of it.

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