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I just finished watching the new Quantum Leap season 1, episode 8 Stand by Ben. I suppose that’s a play on the title of the 1986 film Stand by Me starring Wil Wheaton and River Phoenix. This episode certainly milked a lot of teenage angst films from the 1980s.
Except Ben leaps into July 10, 1996 into a 16-year-old kid named Ben “Klepto” Winters as he and three other teens steal a car and escape a juvenile detention boot camp. The kids are happily planning what they’re going to do with their futures when there’s a blowout and the car tumbles down a ravine. Miraculously, they’re all okay, but this is just the beginning.
Oh, Spoiler Alert!
Addison shows up and explains that in the original timeline, the kids are reported missing on a school nature hike and die of heat exhaustion. The real story in the timeline is the kids walk away from the car wreck, split up to go their separate ways and die of the same death. The school covers it up, and the head of the school Sullivan (Eric Lee Huffman) files an insurance claim for his wrecked vehicle. So much for the kids.
What? After the kids boosted the car in front of everyone, the school couldn’t have called the cops and have the car pulled over? That’s the first thing I’d do, especially since each of these kids is identified as a juvenile criminal. Of course there could have been other reasons as outlined below.
If the kids split up, they die. If they try to walk cross-country, they die. But they can’t go back either. Ben eventually learns the school is a hellhole where kids are put by parents who don’t want them and don’t care anymore. It even employs a “box,” kind of like the “hole” you see in movies about World War Two Japanese POW camps where kids are put for a week in hundred degree temperature as punishment.
Ben tells Addison that he saw Janice (or Janis) Calavicci as a hologram and she tried to warn him. He didn’t hear about what since he leaped. The team look for energy signatures for the time Ben said he saw Janice and finds her imaging chamber in a warehouse just a few miles away.
How to these high-energy power plants exist in secret in one of the country’s most heavily populated areas?
Jenn has been ignoring phone calls from her Dad which just reeks of “tragic backstory.” She’s in the elevator with Magic (who’s back after being absent for all of last week’s episode) when an emergency System Lockdown is triggered, as if the Project were under attack. The elevator stops, everyone is locked in their section of the Project, and Ian is freaking out trying to monitor Ben’s leap and satisfy a bunch of highly upset and trapped people.
This, of course, is a contrived situation, since Magic happens to mention to Jenn that her Dad reached out to him. She’s trapped with Magic and has to listen to him trying to convince her to contact Dad. We know about Jenn’s criminal past, and now we learn that Dad is a gambling addict and a con man. Jenn doesn’t know if she can face another disappointment again.
In the past, Ben is determined to keep the kids alive and is depending on Addison to prevent them from getting lost like in the original timeline. He learns about the kids from her and Ziggy.
Roy (Anthony Turpel) is an only child, highly intelligent, but bored and neglected. He gets into drugs and cutting but Addison says the last event may have been a suicide attempt.
Stacy (Raquel Justice) is a born leader. Mom died in a car accident when she was in high school. Ben mentions she was a little younger than he was when he lost his Mom. Dad’s an alcoholic and she’s sitting on a ton of rage. She tried to burn her own house down.
Leah (Ciara Riley Wilson) is a genius and also a lesbian. Her parents are (presumed to be) fundamentalist Christians who believe she’s going to Hell for being gay. She’s depressed and a self-cutter.
For what it’s worth, Ben leapt into a kid who is an introvert, diagnosed with Asperger’s, and channels all that into being a pretty good thief.
It must have been funny for Raymond Lee at age 35 to have to interact with actors who were pretending to be teenagers (Turpel is 22, Justice is 18, and Wilson is 21). Of course, he doesn’t really act like a kid and does try to “adult” them, but unlike Lee who is the Dad of two kids, Ben has never parented.
Stacy has a map and almost a fantasy of a cabin being five miles distant. Addison tells Ben that Ziggy can’t find a cabin anywhere within a dozen miles or so.
Against Stacy’s demands, the group breaks for the night. They have no food and only a single bottle of water, which Roy was swigging at pretty heavily. At least someone was able to make a fire (they had a bunch of stuff in their backpacks so including matches isn’t a stretch). Then the impossible happens and I mean that literally.
I couldn’t tell if they were supposed to be wolves or coyotes, but a pack starts approaching the camp growling. I’ve known people who have worked with wolves and hunted coyotes professionally and under no circumstances will they openly approach people…ever. They’d have to be either sick or feel threatened to do so and there was no sign of either circumstance. The writers dropped the ball big time on this one.
Leah comes up with the bright idea of making them all seem like bigger, badder predators to scare off the wolves/coyotes. The kids raise their arms and start yelling and growling. It was kind of funny but also ridiculous.
I’ve only heard of this happening once and it was with my brother. For decades, he’s been a shark diver. He has a bucket list of species he wants to dive with. In most situations, there is little danger and he knows what he’s doing.
A dozen years ago, he was doing a wreck dive and his line got caught on a spar. In freeing it, there was some friction and it made a noise that to sharks sounds like prey. He was swimming back to his boat when he looked down. A large female shark flanked by two smaller males were pacing him from below. The female suddenly turned upward, opened her mouth and approached my brother. There was nowhere for him to go and the only thing he could do was make eye contact with the shark. Predators don’t expect prey to make eye contact and at the last second, she broke off. They still followed my brother, who realized he’d lost track of where his boat was (it’s not a good idea to hyperventilate underwater when you’re under pressure). He finally figured out where his boat was and the sharks left.
Long story, but it proves the unlikelihood that Ben and crew A) would have been in danger in the first place and B) that they probably couldn’t have gotten out of their situation the way the show depicted (my brother and sharks notwithstanding).
Oh, when Leah sees Ben talking to Addison, she says he’s talking to an imaginary girlfriend. That’s normal to her since she made up an imaginary family to take the place of the real ones. That becomes a running gag through the episode.
Addison says the next day, temps top out at over 100.
The kids are trudging though a field. Stacy gave Leah the last of their water ten minutes before. On the map, there’s a creek a little over a mile away. Then Leah steps into a hole and breaks her ankle.
Just after the car wreck, Ben was asking the kids if they have any head injuries, internal pain and Stacy asks if he’s a doctor. He says “no” and then “yes.” Ben correctly diagnosed Leah’s broken ankle. In What a Disaster, none of Ben’s degrees was medical and he didn’t even know basic CPR. Where did he get these skills?
Addison talks him through making a splint. Addison says Ziggy still can’t find the cabin, but the stream should be there. They find it but it’s dry. Ben’s so frustrated that he actually starts ranting about the leap out loud. Then he notices a round pipe and realizes someone has been siphoning off water from the creek. That leads them to the cabin. It’s off the grid which is why Ziggy couldn’t find it (being off the grid in 1996 doesn’t mean Ziggy couldn’t have found it in the present using Google satellite).
Turns out Stacy was right after all, but without Ben they wouldn’t have gotten that far.
The cabin is like a dream come true. Running water, plenty of food, candles, even an electric generator but they don’t fire it up. They again talk about their dreams of the future. Unlike the others, Leah says she has an Uncle in (presumably) Reno who is really cool and on the “local news.” She says this more than once and it turns out to be an important plot point.
In the cabin, Roy slowly gets close to Stacy but she runs out the door. Ben follows her giving his usual pep talk, this time about it being okay to slow down and not having to be strong all the time.
Then a van approaches. I thought at first it was whoever owned the cabin. If a cabin is off the grid, one interpretation is that it’s owned by someone who wants to escape notice, like a survivalist. In this case, it’s a van from the school and they somehow know about the place, though it doesn’t belong to them.
Sullivan and Ringer (Kurt Yaeger) show up looking for them. The kids have hidden outside but it’s only a matter of time until they’re found.
Leah sacrifices herself. She says with her broken ankle the others abandoned her five hours ago. They torture her just to make sure the ankle is really broken, then take her away. Ben realizes that helping these kids escape isn’t the leap. He can’t let any of the kids at camp suffer. He tells Stacy and Roy they have to go back to save them.
In the middle of all this, some of Ben’s memories about Janice resurface. He can see her and she says, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
The next morning, the thugs are about to put Leah in “the box” when a news van rolls up. Turns out Leah’s uncle is a television reporter. Cameras and microphones pop out and Uncle George (Andrew Hwang) starts aggressively interviewing Sullivan and Ringer.
In the present, the lockdown is finally released, but by then, Janice is long gone along with the hand link and most of the crucial equipment from her imaging chamber. She’s in the wind and they don’t know what she wanted to warn Ben about. The other leaper maybe?
Jenn finally answers Dad’s call and agrees to go out to dinner.
The whole episode was about family, disappointment, feeling trapped, and frustration.
The police are on their way in the past and Addison says that Ben changed history. This one event leads to an investigation of all similar camps in the Southwest. The kids all grow up to be fine and no matter how different their lives become, they remain friends for life.
Ben starts remembering Janice again. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Ben answers Janice, “It’s the only chance we’ve got. Promise me you’ll see this through, no matter what happens.” He tells Addison he remembers why he leapt. It was so he could save Addison.
And then he leaps.
This episode marks the mid-season break. The next episode won’t air until January 2, 2023. Actually, if Quantum Leap hadn’t been granted more episodes by NBC, this would have been the last episode period.
So the mystery of the leap is (somewhat) revealed. It’s a good cliffhanger to bring the audience back to the show in January, which is about eight weeks away.
I almost didn’t watch the episode tonight. I got the feeling it was going to suck. It didn’t, but I figured Ben would look pretty foolish trying to be sixteen again, especially when he wasn’t a kid who would end up in a place like that. I was going to say that he wasn’t a kid who wouldn’t fit in, but as a teen, he had a genius level intelligence, he lost his Mom, who knows where Dad was, and who the heck raised him anyway? I bet Ben really didn’t fit in.
However, there’s the continuing saga of how he’s not only the genius behind the Project’s code, but also the lynchpin holding everything and everyone together. Addison said she never imagined herself getting married until she met Ben. We’ve seen in his leaps that he tends to lead with his heart when trying to solve problems (although he also uses physics).
I have to admit, I can’t wait to find out why Ben felt he had to leap in order to save Addison. Was it something in her past she doesn’t remember or something in the future? Ian’s convinced that Ben’s trajectory through time will place him in the future, maybe the far future. If so, what does the mysterious destination in time have to do with saving Addison?
Also, we can’t assume it means saving her life. What if it’s saving a certain reality for her. If that were the case, why wouldn’t he just tell her about it?
The Quantum Leap writers can either weave an intriguing answer to these questions or botch it completely.