The two major elements that set this sequel series apart from its predecessor are its ensemble cast and their thoroughly nuanced backstories.
Those pieces have never shone as brightly as on Quantum Leap Season 2 Episode 5.
We’ve known since the premiere that circumstances have changed in Magic’s life, but we learn so much more about the calm and steady project leader here. It’s quite remarkable, and Ernie Hudson’s performance is riveting.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Magic would jump in as hologuide with Addison benched.
Magic has always felt responsible for Ben’s leap, even though no one except Ben and Janis knew about it before it happened. However, since Magic restarted the program, he indirectly created the circumstances that separated Ben from Addison.
Furthermore, with Al gone, Magic remains the closest connection to Sam Beckett at HQ, having hosted Sam when Sam leaped into the Vietnam War to save his brother, Tom.
But, as we learn, Magic survived more conflict than the Vietnam War.
His beating at the hands of Detroit police in the summer of 1967 is a trauma that he was lucky to survive. Already a soldier at the time, he continues to serve his country after recovering, which puts him in Vietnam in 1970 when Sam leaps into him.
Seeing that fear in Dwain’s face just took me back to that night and it reminded me that it doesn’t matter whether it’s 1967, ‘92, or even today. The sparks of injustice may bury but systemic oppression will always light the fuse and no matter how much progress we make, it seems like that will never change.
From a purely character-driven perspective, it’s a wonder to see the visible change in Ernie Hudson‘s demeanor and expression as he watches Dwain avoiding the LA cops in that alley.
This carries through in his return to HQ and the tangible desperation as he searches his office for a drink.
And here’s where the genius of the ensemble writing kicks in.
Jenn joining him could’ve torn down everything Hudson wordlessly builds into the scene.
Whatever’s triggering you, we don’t have to talk about it. We can just stay in here in silence if it helps.
Instead, she gives him space and permission to not talk but assures him that she’s there if he needs her.
It’s that kind of character-building and understanding of relationships that has turned the QL team’s interconnectedness into the bedrock of the series.
And then, Magic being Magic, he puts himself together again — long enough to see Ben through the leap — and heads back into the chaos of the 1992 LA riots.
It’s a hellscape of chaos that Ben remembers seeing in the news at the time. Being immersed in the riots only elevates his own fear for the Park family.
It being Koreatown hits even closer to home.
Although his own upbringing with his single mother didn’t resemble the shoe store legacy Jin has come to see as his entire life, Ben is empathetic to Jin’s fear of losing everything.
Sonny: The kid’s a real visionary. Just sucks that Dad refuses to see any of that.
Ben: Yeah, yeah, I know. And it’s ridiculous, but I think it’s because he’s afraid. This store is his family’s legacy. Only now, he’s got one son who’s planning to go off on his own and another who’s about to join the military and a mob who’s threatening to tear it all down. It’s like he’s about to lose everything.
After all, Ben’s recently come to accept that the future with Addison he entered the accelerator to save will never happen.
That future and all the family and legacy that would’ve followed are lost to him now.
He has a very clear idea of what Jin is thinking and feeling as they survey the store after the looters depart.
He probably even understands the anger Jin takes out on Dwain in the aftermath.
And he definitely identifies with the guilt Jin feels at shooting Sonny in a fit of panic.
The LA riots were one of the most complicated events in recent history. I mean there were so many different points of view. So much information and misinformation between the police and the media and the people on the ground. The reality of the situation shifted from moment to moment so there was really no objective truth. Just a whole lot of fear and rage and violence.
Ben sees in Jin a man whose belief in the system and whose black-and-white vision of the world has been blown apart in a matter of hours.
Ben gets that.
There’s a sense of real significance in Jin’s redemption, standing up to the LA police and defending Dwain.
Could this foreshadow some sort of reconciliation between Ben and Tom?
Could a future situation that places Addison in danger again force them to ally to save her?
A part of me cringes to think Addison will ever “need saving” again, but the parallelism has a narrative appeal.
Once the adrenaline of the police scenes fades, one notes a level of improbable luck in the light of reality.
As Magic notes in his description of growing up black in America, the likelihood of Dwain surviving a run-in with the police in the context of a riot-ridden city is slim to none.
Without the dispatcher calling the police back — both in the alley and at the ambulance — Dwain could’ve easily been a casualty of the riots.
And before Jin’s change of heart, he would’ve chalked Dwain’s death as just another punk who deserved it.
As Ben says on Quantum Leap Season 2 Episode 3, grief is a strange thing. It can provide clarity or cause tunnel vision.
It can cause a change in perspective, forcing acknowledgment of error and fallibility.
It does that for Jin. It’s starting to do that for Ben.
Ian: Everything that’s happened to Ben, to Magic, it all happened because my future self dropped this nuclear bomb that’s left this team in an emotional wasteland. We’re slowly being poisoned by the radioactive fallout.
Addison: Okay, that’s quite a metaphor.
Ian: I know. It’s not one of my best but it doesn’t mean that it’s not true. Or that I’m not consumed by guilt because of it.
But when it produces nothing but guilt, it turns inward.
Ian’s carrying a world’s worth of guilt at the moment. Sharing that with Addison lightens the load enough that they can carry on for the moment.
However, that data leak from Rachel’s boss’s chip continues to add to their burden.
I do know a little something about guilt. It’s one thing to feel it when you intended to hurt someone. But when you did your best… All guilt is going to do is keep you stuck.
It’s heartening to see the team relying on each other and on their loved ones.
Ian’s leaning on Addison and Jenn.
Addison has Tom and the rest of the HQ team, having seen her through her grief, are there for her, too.
And while it’s hard to imagine Beth allowing herself to fall in love with another Quantum Leap commander, it makes some level of illogical sense.
Hearing how she brought Magic back from the brink and seeing how concerned she is when she finds the bottle in the recycling makes it clear that she’s all-in on the relationship.
One can’t help but wonder how Janis feels about this and whether Magic has some concerns about whom she might poison next.
But she’s in Hawaii with the NSA, so either she’s too busy to pay attention, or she already knows and has already poisoned their water supply.
There is something about Jin Park’s observant nature that twigs a suspicion that he knows Daniel’s not himself throughout the riot experience.
There are the many times he chides Ben for daydreaming. And then his shock at Ben’s fluent Korean is a genuine LOL moment. (I can’t believe that doesn’t happen more often.)
Also, when Ben mentions he’s been in a hospital before, Jin shoots him a sharp look. In my mind, it all adds up to a future support group for loved ones of Leapees. Right?
Be sure to watch Quantum Leap online and decide for yourself.
Will Magic continue to be Ben’s hologuide? Or will it become a rotating duty? Does that mean Tom gets a crack at it eventually?
Hit our comments with your thoughts and theories, Fanatics! Let’s get talking!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is a lifelong fan of smart sci-fi and fantasy media, an upstanding citizen of the United Federation of Planets, and a supporter of AFC Richmond ’til she dies. Her guilty pleasures include female-led procedurals, old-school sitcoms, and Bluey. She teaches, knits, and dreams big. Follow her on X.