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‘Quantum Leap’ goes nuclear (literally) with an explosive time loop adventure
How many leaps does it take to get the center of a nuclear explosion?
Ben leaps into a 1960s science experiment and the team stumbles upon a massive government coverup in one of the most ambitious — and clever — installments yet for NBC’s revival of the beloved sci-fi classic.
**SPOILER WARNING! Spoilers ahead for “Leap. Die. Repeat.,” the latest episode of NBC’s Quantum Leap revival, which airs new episodes Monday nights!**
This week’s episode of Quantum Leap drops Ben into an elevator headed down to see a cutting edge nuclear reactor receive its first test run. Well, cutting edge for Sept. 12, 1963 at least. But while Ziggy and the team try to figure out what Ben is supposed to set right, they realize everyone in the room with Ben (the body he’s inhabiting included) all allegedly die in mysteriously weird and random ways right around the time of this nuclear test.
What’s that mean? A classic 1960s government cover-up. As we quickly learn, they were covering up the fact that the experiment goes horribly wrong, with the reactor exploding and killing everyone in the room. Ben included. Back in the present day, we see Ben’s vitals flatline as Addison and the team meltdown (no pun intended) and grieve his shocking death. But then Ben’s vitals pop back online about a minute later, as Ben drops into another person in the elevator and realizes this leap is repeating itself — and always ending with the reactor exploding.
This sets up a compelling mystery and unique spin on the Quantum Leap formula, as Ben has the opportunity to revisit the leap from each person’s perspective, bringing with him the information and insights he learned on his prior leaps to keep peeling back the onion. Is it the reporter trying to crack a big scoop? The general who wants the facility for weapons research? The sci-fi fan janitor? The program director? Or the young physicist working on the project?
Ben’s seemingly limitless Groundhog Day clock starts to run out when the team realizes this is a finite time loop, not an infinite one, and when Ben runs out of people to leap into in that elevator he dies for real. It takes resident prisoner and time loop expert Janis Calavicci to help figure that out — which means Ben only has one leap left to set things right.
Turns out the culprit was the young physicist all along, who realized the government was going to repurpose the project to create weapons, so he sets a bomb down in the coolant equipment to cause the explosion and derail the project. His hope is that stopping this project will stop the government from looking into nuclear weapons. Obviously, that doesn’t really work, all he really accomplishes is just killing those innocent people at the test. In a fun twist, Ben accidentally set off the bomb himself when he leapt into the physicist, as the trigger was hidden in his pen (and Ben popped it out to try and do some emergency math).
Though he might’ve been the bad guy, the physicist bomber does make a compelling point that resonates with Ben: Much like their nuclear reactor, great technology will always eventually fall into the wrong hands. As Ben tries to unravel what’s happening with Leaper X, and why he seemingly is trying to reach the future to save Addison, it raises a valid question about the Quantum Leap project. Sure, the goal is altruistic with Magic in charge, but what about 10 or 20 years down the line? Will it be used for more nefarious purposes? And is that what’s causing these problems now?
As OG Quantum Leap fans will know, the original series dabbled a bit in this question with the “Evil Leapers,” a group of folks who sometimes ran leap operations opposite of Sam Beckett’s missions. We never really learned definitively if they were from the future, an alternate reality, or just a parallel time travel project, but this is definitely a theme the franchise hasn’t been afraid to explore for decades.
As for the cliffhanger ending, that moment comes thanks to Janis, after she spends most of the episode helping the present day team unravel what’s happening with Ben’s time loop leap. Despite telling Addison that Ben shouldn’t trust anyone, Janis comes to trust Addison just a little bit — and offers her up an olive branch of intel. What is it? The name of who told Ben he needed to leap in the first place.
We don’t actually get to hear the name (le sigh), but we have some theories. Perhaps it was future Addison who told him to leap (that’d explain why he kept her out of the loop), or a future member of the team like Magic sending a message back in time to Ben. Getting a bit wild, who knows, maybe even the long-lost Sam Beckett somehow crossed paths with Ben and set him on this path? It’s not likely, considering Scott Bakula has declined an offer to return, but there are creative ways to roll him into the narrative if they want to go that route.