Monday, September 26, 2022

REVIEW: 'Quantum Leap' - Ben's Actions Threaten Everyone Aboard a Crucial Space Mission in 'Atlantis'

NBC's Quantum Leap - Episode 1.02 "Atlantis"

Ben finds himself headed into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1995. Addison confides to Ian about a discovery and finds herself at odds with Magic and Jenn.

"Atlantis" was written by Robert Hull and directed by David McWhirter

Ben must have had a good reason to embark on the Quantum Leap journey. That is the central tension of the narrative. The team is trying to figure out that mystery in order to get him home. That's what he wants as well. He has no memory of why he made this decision. As such, he doesn't know what he's suppose to be doing either. Instead, he has to live in the moment. He must maintain this journey of jumping into people's bodies in the past in order to save lives. He relies on the team for support. He recognizes the importance of them not trusting him. He is an unreliable protagonist. And yet, he's still trusted to carry out these missions that may produce unpredictable consequences for the timeline. On the latest mission, Addison details all the ways in which Ben's actions change the lives of everyone aboard the space shuttle. It's impressive when Ian pinpoints Ben to outer space. He's on the first mission to start the International Space Station. He jumps into the person destined to die. It takes a minute for the team to receive the classified briefing of what exactly happened. It's more important that Ben accesses a memory. It highlights how inspirational this astronaut was to Ben when he immigrated to the United States. Ben connects those journeys largely because he has some awareness of history. That's present in this case. This mission carries personal significance for him. That's why it should matter so deeply. His life is now one of infinite possibilities. He changes the world with everything he does. The system operates with some altruistic purpose. No one can control what happens though. The team is completely in the dark. Addison can't trust the message Ben left behind. Nor can she believe everyone else is on the same page. They must act as a team. And yet, Ben was apparently what kept them together. Now, they huddle into corners divided. Of course, Ben has to be reminded of those instincts in order to lead the mission in space. That insight is more necessary than whatever physical skills he brings to the field. Everything he needs to aid this mission is within Addison's reach. All it takes is the magical technology she wields in her hands. That is all immediately accessible. Ben is charged with making it all mean something. Mending complicated dynamics has to be just as important as saving lives. He has to do so the right way too. If a change ever becomes too drastic, then he will not leap. The future cannot be more grim than the place he initially landed in. That's the narrative burden of this storytelling. And yet, the show leaves itself plenty of space to be serious as it goes intense with its conspiracy-filled narrative. 

Addison found a flashdrive of Ben's with an encrypted password. Magic and Jenn identity Janice Calavicci as the person who helped Ben. They aren't any closer to apprehending her and questioning her about what she wants. Instead, they only receive one piece of the puzzle. It's a three-dimensional depiction of dates in time all leading to one central point. The team doesn't know what or when it is. It's simply positioned as the reason behind all of this. It was important to Ben and Janice. They had to put this plot into motion no matter how difficult it would be for the team members left behind. Addison's relationship with Ben is more fraught because they were engaged. Ben even asks her about that. He wants details of her life not knowing how important he is to her. He may infer that at some point. Right now, it's all projection from her perspective. She provides him with the tools to succeed. And yet, she can't offer him hope of returning to the present with any leap. The team doesn't have any confidence in that regard. The jumps may forever bring Ben closer to the target date he is chasing. That can only be a guess at this point. It's a mystery that needs to be solved. That's annoying because it delays satisfaction from the audience. The characters are asking the questions. The audience understands that impulse. It also takes time away from what has always been the purpose of this property. It's always been about the adventure in the past and the ways in which people have a profound impact on each other's lives. Right now, it's all about Ben landing in a situation he has no power within, learning a few key emotional details, manipulating them to his benefit and then hoping for the best outcome. He takes several risks throughout these adventures. He knows how dangerous it is to do a space walk. It's what is needed to preserve the mission. Similarly, he jumps through space hoping he can land on the Russian ship. There are no guarantees he will succeed. He prevails simply because he has to. That's not the most engaging writing. It never feels like properly achieved stakes. It's storytelling that is already going through the motions. Again, so much is derailed and lost because a lot of time has to be spent in the present with the team trying to solve the mystery. They can certainly make progress in each episode. However, they don't have to be on equal footing with what Ben endures on a daily basis. That needs to be the central design of the series. After two episodes, the creative team has its focus on a much larger story. The intimate stakes of character work that thrives in an episodic setting should be good enough. The show needs to trust that without needing to work so hard to be more serious and dramatic. The show doesn't need to do all that.