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To be honest, I was dreading watching and reviewing the most recent Quantum Leap episode Let Them Play. In fact I avoided watching the episode for at least a day so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. I’m not one to take things at face value just because someone tells me something, so I didn’t know how I was going to receive the content of the episode, especially given the expectation that it be seen as overwhelmingly positive.
I knew it would be highly pro-trans. In fact, there was a significant marketing uptick for this episode, probably more so than any of the other previous 11 episodes of the show. There was a specific target of presenting trans kids in a highly positive light, and as far as I could tell, everyone involved in the show from the directors, to the writers, to the actors was dedicated to make that happen.
Okay, first the brief synopsis from IMDb:
Ben finds himself in the body of a high school basketball coach, whose daughter is trans, on his team, and faces prejudice from the community.
Ben leaps into Carlos Mendez, the male coach of a girl’s high school basketball team. It’s during a game and it’s a good thing Ben likes basketball, because he’s automatically a competent coach. One of the players Amanda (Lucy Loken) is injured so Ben (Carlos) puts in number 23, not realizing that Gia (Josielyn Aguilera) is not only his daughter, but a trans girl. Gia has been warming a bench all season and this is her first chance to play. Naturally, she plays brilliantly and they win the game.
However, there’s some fallout. Some guys boo Gia from the stand saying it’s not fair. Principal Krager (Crystal Coney) reads Carlos the riot act for opening the school up to political and social commentary, supposedly backed up by the Assistant Principal Giffin (David Chan).
There’s a scene where Gia has to change in the janitor’s closet because she can’t change with the rest of the girls in their locker room.
Oh, Amanda’s Mom Margie (Collette Wolfe) is pretty highly annoyed as well. Even Amanda tells her fellow teammates that she’s kind of put out both because Gia made her shot and that Gia’s trans. The latter is probably meant to insinuate that as a trans girl, Gia can generally outclass non-trans girls because Gia was born and initially developed as male.
These events are taking place in 2012 which is within Ian’s lifetime. Ian tells Addison that he knew of Gia as a kid and remembers her disappearing. He also says something about being at a game and watching Gia play, but it’s unclear of when this would have happened.
Ian defines an ally as someone sitting in the bleachers waving a flag and an “accomplice” as someone actually getting involved.
Also in the present, Jenn pulled a photo from a security camera from a bar dated March 13, 2022. A trans woman named Dottie (Quantum Leap writer and director Shakina) was seen to be talking to Ben. Dottie is probably the name of the person Janis (or Janice) gave to Addison.
Magic and Jenn confront Dottie who denies the whole thing, that is until they tell her the date of the photo. Then she acts shocked and invites the pair back for a poetry slam the next evening.
In 2012, Carlos’ wife Miriam (Brigitte Kali Canales) also reads him the riot act for exposing Gia to more publicity when all she’s been trying to do is protect their daughter. She thinks Carlos just wanted to win a game. It is also revealed that Gia came out as trans in the 5th grade, that is, when she was about 10.
Addison admits to Ben that when there was a trans ban in the military, she didn’t speak out against it. She knew it was wrong and overnight thousands of military personnel were discharged. She registers guilt and regret wishing she had spoken out.
According to Ian and Ziggy, in the original timeline, Gia runs away and is never heard from again. Later they learn she dies alone. When Ben put Gia in the game, it accelerated everything and Ben’s overarching mission is to keep Gia from running and dying.
The next day in the past, Ben takes Gia to her trans support group held in a church. It is facilitated by Kate (Trace Lysette) who is an older trans woman. The group is for trans kids just like Gia and the scene is crafted so that all of the kids are comfortable with each other, very playful, and interactive. Again, written in a very positive light.
Remembering the casting call from last November, quite a number of trans and non-conforming kids and adults (but mainly kids) were featured in this episode.
The parents are also super supportive and have a group of their own where they can talk about how tough it is to raise a trans kid when the rest of the world wants to tear their children down.
Addison finds Ian sitting on the floor somewhere while they watch the scene on a tablet. Normally Ian is the nurturer of the group, but this time, it’s Addison’s turn. Ian says that trans kids are absolute magic and then when you let them, they light up a room. Ian is very wistful in this scene.
As an aside, I don’t doubt Ian is talking with Mason Alexander Park’s voice and if I could, I’d ask them why or how trans kids light up a room differently from any other group of kids. I suppose I could do so on twitter, but I think I’ll spare them that. Park doesn’t owe me an explanation for anything and most likely, they are speaking from a very personal and subjective place.
They confess to Addison that when they were not quite 13, they almost committed suicide. They had a loving family and a support group but felt so alone, a bit of gray floating in a world where everyone else was black and white.
Ian actually shows the statistics about trans people and suicide on his tablet to the screen so we the audience could see. They said one in five trans kids commits suicide.
Frankly, this part of the show got really preachy. I know they were trying to make a point, but they made it a little too hard.
The original Quantum Leap dealt with a lot of social issues relevant to the 1990s, but I don’t recall them being quite this heavy handed. Selling a social point to an audience usually works best when the audience doesn’t quite know what you’re up to, kind of like stage magic. It happens right before your eyes, but misdirection and showmanship play a big part in hiding the secret behind the message. The audience absorbs what you are saying without realizing what’s happening. That’s not how this episode worked.
In 2012, Carlos takes Gia to the fundraising carwash. Ben and Miriam hang back in their car just to make sure everything goes okay. It doesn’t. Some guys roll up and egg the car the girls are washing to harass Gia. As they pull away, Gia grabs a squeegee and throws it after them. Unfortunately, she hits and breaks the windshield of “evil” Margie Brandis’ car, continuing to make her mad at Gia.
Gia loses it and splits.
Back at home, Ben gets word that the Principal wants a meeting between he, Miriam, and Brandis to discuss with Gia and Brandis’s daughter Amanda waiting outside. This is where things get worse. Gia walks into the meeting just in time to hear that her parents originally made a deal to keep Gia on the sidelines indefinitely as a condition of her being on the team. Gia is outraged and really runs off this time. Addison says if she makes it out of the city, she’s gone for good.
I should say that Margie makes the point about how girls had to fight for the right to have their own sports teams and references Title IX. This is another argument against trans girls playing in girls sports, that they are taking an exclusively girl space away from girls by including trans girls.
In the present, Jenn and Magic attend Dottie’s poetry slam. I’ll be honest, I’m not much into classic poetry let alone what is considered progressive and subversive poetry today. The poetry really didn’t “do it” for me. For Dottie’s last poem, she describes a sort of dual identity, a different face in the mirror. I took it as an expression of being trans but apparently Magic had other ideas.
In the past, Ben, remembering his conversation with Kate, realizes that’s where Gia must have gone.
We have another revealing conversation between Gia and Kate. Kate won’t give money to Gia so she can leave and explains the generational differences between Gia being trans in 2012 and what it was like for Kate way back in the day. This is meant to communicate the evolution of the struggle trans people have had. It was another one of those moments when the audience (me) realized this point was deliberately inserted and those moments usually yank me out of the story’s narrative.
Kate admits that she’s already talked with Gia’s parents and they’re on their way. Sure enough, Ben and Miriam roll up in a taxi (why didn’t they take their car?) and have a tearful reunion with their daughter.
In the original timeline Carlos gets fired for defending Gia, and it could still happen, but Ben won’t let this go.
Back at school before the big game that could send their team to the regionals, Gia has the total support of her teammates, all of them. All of the girls, Gia included, go into the girls locker room to change and absolutely no one raises an objection. Gia is treated just like “one of the girls” and no one even blinks. The scene cuts away, so we never see exactly now this issue is managed. It’s simply glossed over because the plot required it.
Most of the rest of the episode is a standard underdog team comes back fighting and wins the game, with, of course, Gia being the big star. We’ve seen this in a million sports TV shows and movies. Cue We Are the Champions.
There are a few rocky moments when there are some protestors in the bleachers, but Ben shows Gia how many more supporters there are. He also delivers, yet again, one of Ben’s famous inspirational speeches. I swear this seems to be the default setting for Quantum Leap about how Ben solves any problem that’s thrown at him. He just gives it an inspirational speech and talks it to death.
Fortunately, in this week’s episode, what he says is totally consistent with the context (unlike other episodes such as the one last week). In fact it’s a little too consistent since nothing he says raises any eyebrows, as if he’s really channeling the actual Carlos.
While everyone else in the QL project is watching the game on their monitors, Addison invites Ian into the imaging chamber so they can see the action first hand. Ian calls Addison an “accomplice.” Ian is delighted and is cheering Gia on but this begs the previous question as to which of Gia’s games did younger Ian attend. If it was this one, older Ian should be able to see younger Ian, which would be mind-blowing.
Before the big win, the Assistant Principal says the Principal wants Ben to pull Gia from the game. Ben refuses. Turns out Assistant Principal is cool with Gia and is also the union rep, so if Carlos gets fired, he has his back.
Big winning scenes complete with rousing pop music accompaniment. As the team wins, Ben leaps.
In the present, Magic meets with Dottie who has doffed her wig and is now bald. Magic admits there is a government conspiracy. Dottie has admitted to losing an entire week of her life, convincing Magic that a time traveler leapt into her. Dottie can’t stop drawing pictures of the leaper and shows them to Magic. It’s (presumably future) Ian. Ian is the person who caused Ben to originally leap in order to save Addison.
I’m extrapolating, but imagine this. Addison dies at some future point. Ian leaps back in time into Dottie and contacts Ben to tell him how to save her (more or less). We know Ben approaches Janice, not the other way around, so future Ian has to be the causal factor.
Maybe in the future, a leap can be targeted so future Ian knew when and where to leap to find Ben. Problem, if that’s true, why couldn’t future Ian leap into a person and situation where they could directly save Addison?
Back to the review.
Once I realized that Ben’s mission was to keep Gia from running away and dying, everything else became pretty predictable. As I mentioned, the girls locker room issue was glossed over rather than addressed. In spite of the antagonists, largely the vast majority of people were very pro Gia and pro trans.
The other issues whether or not trans girls, because they had been born and developed originally as males, are always going to be able to outperform their “born-girl” (I don’t know how else to say it) counterparts was all but completely ignored.
At the very end of the episode, after we see where Ben leaps next, the number for a trans suicide lifeline is flashed on the screen.
Let’s talk representation. There was a ton. That was one of the major purposes of the show in general and the aforementioned casting call in particular. Most of those cast did not have speaking roles but their presence was significant.
Representation gives members of marginalized groups a chance to see themselves on the screen when otherwise they would be absent. How does that work when you’re not a member of that group? If you are an ally or, as Ian suggests, an accomplice, you are already supportive of that marginalized group so you’re in by definition.
What about everyone else? Everyone else isn’t automatically a “hater.” They can also be people who just want to understand more and who, quite frankly, want to see the other side of the coin. More accurately, they are people like me, who want to examine all sides of an issue, especially one that is as emotionally, socially, and politically loaded as this one. What does representation do for us?
I think the intent, especially the way this episode was crafted, was to convince people like me, to pull me into accepting the story and its message as is.
Did it work?
I can’t speak for the rest of the audience, but when only one side of the coin or one face of a die is shown to me, I’m not going to reflexively accept everything I’m told. I’m going to have questions. This episode isn’t going to address any of that. In fact, citing Ian’s statistics, one interpretation is that if I even ask any questions or express any doubts, I’m contributing to those suicide statistics. No, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve heard that direct argument made before.
I did come prepared with a number of other resources intending to take this review in several different directions, but I’m not going to go there. I think what I’ve written is sufficient. While the episode succeeded in presenting trans kids as kids and “humanizing” (it’s terrible to put this way, but I think that was one of the goals) those children and their parents, it didn’t directly respond to any of the concerns about trans girls/women in sports. There may be a resolution to all that, but that resolution is outside of tacit acceptance without a tangible response (Gia in the girls locker room with the rest of the girls and then cutting away for instance).
I know the expectation, even before the episode aired, was a total and complete acceptance of everything in the episode resulting in absolutely rave reviews. Basically, I was (I think) expected to “review” the episode before I ever saw it, and to give it five stars, two thumbs up, triple-A rating.
But that’s not how I review. Like the old time umpires said, “I calls ’em as I sees ’em.”
The best I can say is mission not quite accomplished.
Next leap, please.
4 thoughts on “Review of Quantum Leap Ep 12 “Let Them Play””
Human nature is such that from the highest to the lowest, no one has lived, does live, or ever will live in other than a glass house. Just because you can say something, even if it’s true, doesn’t mean that you should, and the greater your urge to speak, the more skeptical you should be of its politic. Always be prudent, both in word and deed, and show some taste – if you have any.
Do I detect a rebuke, Jerry?
Absolutely not. My apologies, I meant the comment for the Campbell Award/Ng kerfuffle.
Okay. It’s sometimes hard to tell intent in a text-only communications platform. No worries, then.