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This week’s episode (number 13) of Quantum Leap is called Family Style. Here’s the IMDb summary:
When Ben leaps into an Indian family to try and prevent their beloved family restaurant from burning down, he finds an emotional connection with their matriarch through memories of his own. Magic and Jenn share a surprising revelation with Ian.
Ben leaps into the eldest daughter of an Indian family who owns a restaurant in Portland, Oregon in 2009 (Given that the same basic technology and lifestyles existed then as now, this is less time travel and more “I mysteriously injected myself into someone’s family”). He (again) has absolutely no issues being in a woman’s body (no awkwardness with breasts, no periods, no nothing). In fact the only difference is that he has a nose piercing. He also has mad cutting skills and apparently always wanted to be a chef. I think this is an effect of the writers of the show rather than how a guy would really react (see Sam Beckett/Scott Bakula in the original show).
I’m sorry, but if I woke up one morning with breasts and no penis, I’d lose it.
My wife worked in a professional kitchen for over twenty years and listening to all of her stories, I can confidently say, that Ben suddenly performing well in such a kitchen is bullshit. Being a good “Betty Crocker” in a kitchen at home is light years from working in a restaurant.
The other story is Magic telling Ian and the QL team about Ian being the leaper from the future. This totally floors Ian. They’re highly upset that he could be capable of turning the world of all the people they love completely upside down (Still editing…this pronouns thing kicks my butt).
They get so obsessed with trying to figure it out that Magic orders them to take a day. Without a specific place to go, Magic suggests they find a “who.”
Meanwhile in the past, Ben finds the Dad of the family died a year ago and he was the glue that held the family and the restaurant together. Mom or Padmini Kumar (Meera Simhan) is trying to take it all on together. She’s afraid to make any changes, but the other daughter Manisha Prashad (Anisha Jagannathan) wants to be a chef someday and serve Americans authentic regional dishes (this is Portland, not Emmett, Idaho so it would work in 2009). Lots of family tension.
While Ben is taking out the trash and talking with Addison, he (she) is attacked by a man with a gun. With the man is Kathy Tanner (Laura Niemi), the person who owns the building and who says they owe her $30,000. She gets paid tonight or they are evicted (that wouldn’t happen legally because they’d have to go to court). The suggestion is that Kathy will force them out through violence.
Ben manages to bluff her and she backs off for one more night. When Ben tells Mom, she blows him (her) off saying that Dad always got extensions on the debt.
Not anymore. Addison finds out the restaurant is going to burn down tonight. Insurance Fraud and Ben has to stop it. Mom will have a heart attack and the entire family will disintegrate.
Mom is obsessed with being in control, alienates Manisha so that she leaves, and their hired help all find reasons to bail.
Ben remembers that Group On exists in 2009 and offering a 2 for 1 sale, attracts 300 customers. But the two of them will have to service them alone. On top of that, Mom has repetitive motion injuries and refuses to wear her brace.
This part is for real. My wife has the same sort of injury in her wrists and for the same reason. She can’t put a new roll of toilet paper on a spring loaded holder because of it, so the QL writers got this one right.
Mom ends up cutting her hand on top of it and passes out from the blood loss.
Ben flashes back to his own mother’s death and is totally useless. The wound must be bad if she passes out, but damn, he does absolutely nothing about it. If she had hit a blood vessel, she could have bled out while Ben’s having his “Mommy issues.”
Fortunately, Addison didn’t panic and talks Ben through it. In this case, Ben was a terrible time traveler, because when you are launched into one unexpected situation after another, either you adapt or you don’t. On the one hand Ben adapts with almost supernatural ease (to fulfill the needs of the writers), but he also falls apart under stress (which I would too, but I also would be a bad time traveler).
This whole scenario reminds him of his Mom, a single Mom trying to bring up her son alone in a foreign country. She wanted to have a restaurant too but used her money instead for Ben’s education. He’s reeking with guilt.
Throughout the episode, Ben again manages to channel the person he occupies so completely that no one notices the difference. But if that’s possible, why does he have to be there at all? It’s more like the writers didn’t want to add the change in personality, much less the change in gender. Ben fits just as well into one body as another regardless of age, size, or sex. That’s pretty unreasonable.
In a rare moment of reality for the show, Ben is really terrible in the kitchen and Mom has to do everything, not just because she’s a control freak, but because he has no idea what he’s doing.
Oh, and then a bunch of cousins show up with a gift of food, but Mom blows them off. She feels they’re looking down on them and doesn’t want to give them the pleasure. It becomes clear to Ben and Addison that one of Mom’s big problems is pride. She doesn’t want to give up control, even when they offered their help. She doesn’t know what else to do without her husband. It makes her very human. She’s afraid, and whether anyone likes it or not, different cultures have different roles and expectations based on being male and female.
Meanwhile, Ian finds themselves outside a business “and just happens” to meet their ex-partner Rachel (Alice Kremelberg). They broke up five years ago and Ian has refused any contact since, but they still have the nerve to contact her. They invite her to coffee, but it doesn’t end well. They broke up because Ian joined Project Quantum Leap and not only did they pour all of themselves into their work, but to do that, they shut Rachel out. They want her to understand, but how the heck is she going to help? She has a meeting to attend and leaves.
Addison finds out that an investor buys the property in a few weeks after the place burns down and Ben gets the idea to call the investor now. Ziggy tells Addison that if he invests tonight, there’s only a 2% chance of the building burning down. Ben calls him and convinces him, using one of his patented Ben speeches, to come for a meal.
In yet another “Ben speech,” he convinces Mom that they can’t do this without Manisha, so they have to go out and find her.
Now picture this. Up until this moment, Ben and Mom were frantically working in the kitchen, probably in the afternoon, preparing for 300 patrons. This isn’t like making a ham and cheese sandwich for a group of Cub Scouts. Not only do you need to have all of the ingredients at hand (which Manisha brought, but they were all what she wanted to make, not Mom) but you have to have many of the dishes, if not pre-made, at least in a state where you don’t have to make them from scratch AFTER the customer placed their order.
Instead, Ben and Mom leave the restaurant completely empty and find Manisha at a pizza joint they used to frequent (the story didn’t explain how they knew she’d be there). They have a nice reunion and Manisha agrees to come back. Mom even bends and says she’ll let her make one traditional dish.
Guess what? The restaurant is completely engulfed in flames and explodes. Ben confronts Kathy accusing her of arson which she denies, but in a way that says “Yeah, I did it.” She’ll collect on the insurance but still expects her $30,000. Yeah, white Americans are evil.
Ben has another of his brilliant ideas, finding an outdoor venue where they can cook. He sends Mom and Manisha home to get all the food they can and he’ll call them to say where to show up.
Back in the present, Ian, in full stalker mode, is still waiting for Rachel when she comes back out of the building. They don’t break security, but do tell her that they’re afraid that they might be capable of hurting the people they love, even if it might be for a good reason. After all, they hurt her.
She’s amazingly chill for an ex and comforts Ian.
Really, the whole relationship is another example of wish fulfillment. I can’t figure out the attraction, not that it’s not possible, but the story completely ignores the stark differences between Ian and Rachel. She seems like a total stereotypical cis-hetero business woman and Ian is Ian. I’m sure this is my ignorance, but it’s not what I would have imagined.
Also, that she’s willing to forgive Ian who totally ignored her for five years and is swayed because he let her in just a little, is beyond credibility.
It’s enough for Ian and he heads back to the project.
Oh, by the way, where the heck is Janice (or Janis)? Without Ian, Jenn’s finding it tough to work with Ziggy. Janice is an expert in AI and Magic has relied on her before. Janice did right by the project so why didn’t Magic call her in now (except that the story required Ian to show up when they did and not bring Janice in…funny how that works out)?
Ben finds an outdoor wedding complete with lights, decorations, and massive canopy, and with cooking equipment, and convinces the bridal party to forego their “after party” in exchange for the most amazing meal ever. Google must have been terrific in 2009.
Mom not only brings Manisha and the food, but the cousins.
Side note: Where the heck did they find enough food for 300 people? More on that in a minute.
Again, picture this. Mysteriously, the 300 people who made reservations through Group On somehow managed to find this makeshift outdoor venue within a few hours of the fiery disaster. In real life, most of them would have already gone somewhere else, but the story implies they all showed up. Nice and happy, but that’s not how people work.
Happy cooking, happy eating. Mom puts Manisha in charge and she performs magnificently. All is well. It’s like a Hallmark movie.
Except the investor never shows. He gets food poisoning according to Addison. But if he were contacted in mid-afternoon by Ben and was expecting to have dinner, what the heck did he eat and when?
The cousins, and there are a lot of them, all volunteer to chip in to pay for their debt. For one or two people, 30 Gs would be tough, but with a big enough family, it would be possible. On top of that, they’d need to chip in a lot more to find a new place for a restaurant. We’re talking a total of $60,000 minimum but more like $100,000. Wow.
Addison says Kathy gets arrested next week for fraud and the family stays together making their new restaurant a total success. Mom never has her heart attack and learns to let go and trust her kids.
Ben uses that moment to say “I love you, Mom” which “heals” him of his guilt enough for him to leap.
In a lot of ways, this show put the “dysfunctional” back in “dysfunctional family.” I didn’t think it was bad, but it was probably more stressful than many of the previous shows including episode 12. Families are tough. We all have them and they’re all sometimes hard to live inside of. It had the problems I’ve already cited, but television does that. It never gets it quite right, even in situations that are so humanly common.
The sequence with Ian was at once emotional and heartwarming as well as hard to relate to. We had a moment, more than in Let Them Play, to see who Ian is outside of the Project, outside of their quirky, nerdy personality, outside of them being the nurturer of the group, and I felt we were cheated.
Of course, the story would need more time to develop the dynamics of Ian and a past partner, and there just wasn’t any. I know the writers tried, but the connection between Ian and Rachel didn’t seem…well, if not credible, certainly undeveloped. Maybe the point was to do more with them later.
Earlier in the day, I came across mentions of the episode on twitter including the Quantum Leap Writer’s Room. I thought someone mentioned a child abuse angle, but I must have gotten it wrong. I kept waiting for that to pop up and it never did.
I did find out that the restaurant fire was a late addition. My understanding is that the writers wanted to throw the audience off before the “happy ending” reveal.
It also emphasized that even Ziggy can’t predict just how awful people can be (the aforementioned evil white woman).
There were a very few people who tweeted that after episode 12, they’d never watch the show again. I wanted to see how the writers would follow up. I expected more of a “standard leap” which in fact, this one was. The bigger “curve ball” was Ian and Rachel, but as I said, that didn’t ring very “real” to me.
I’m a writer, not for television, and my actual professional credits are in the area of technical, computer support, and computer networking textbook writing, so my attention to detail has to be pretty good (I’ve worked for some pretty big publishers). Additionally, I’m an indie SciFi and Fantasy writer, and have loved those genres since I was a kid (call it the past sixty years).
Many times, science fiction has been about sending a message, but at the end of the day, as the late Lester Del Rey said, it’s always about having fun. When the message overrides having fun, then the narrative doesn’t work, at least for me. I’m hanging in there with the show until the end of season one. It has its high and low points. I hope to find more high than low.
Oh, I’ll say that if any version of Star Trek, especially the original, had been judged on social media episode by episode, it might have not looked so well. I suppose it’s why I don’t watch season 3 of Star Trek: Picard. I want to remember The Next Generation going out on a high note.
Someday we’ll see how I remember Quantum Leap.
Addendum – March 2, 2023: Well this is embarrassing. After my comments regarding Ian (Mason Alexander Park) and Rachel (Alice Kremelberg) above, I find out that Park and Kremelberg are dating in real life. Of course I have no idea if their actual relationship is anything like how Ian and Rachel were portrayed. Also, in the linked article, Park is revealed to be both trans and gay, so I’m not sure how all that works together. Still, I am now dining on a healthy serving of “humble pie.” My apologies.