[personal profile] wingedbeast
Quantum Leap, for those not yet born in 1993, is the story of Samuel Beckett (no relation to the playwright) who invented and tested a time machine. It was a partial success in that it did send him back in time, but only into the lives of those in the past. And, he couldn't get back. All he could do was stay in one setting long enough to complete an unspecified but important task or "put right what once went wrong". Then, he would "leap" into another life at another point in history and geography.

Unlike some shows I've subjected to The Case, Quantum Leap made some fairly good use of its potential for its time.

For its time is an important caveat. Quantum Leap existed in the late '80s and early '90s. That gave it two binds that held it back from fully exploring its potential.

The first bind was that of self-contained episodes. In a time before the internet and when video cassettes were a thing, but not so readily available or inexpensive that an audience could use them to catch up with a show. A show needed to be accessible to new viewers or ones who had missed episodes.

For a show that traveled in time and explored matters of racism, sexism, anti-gay bigotry, treatment of war-wounded, and treatment of the aneurotypical, that was a stiff bind. Any such exploration would have, at most, an hour in a new setting before moving onto a different setting. When an issue could only get that short exploration with a need for victory and wrap-up at the end of the episode before leaving the characters entirely, you only have the opportunity for a barest, confined glimpse into the issue, which fed well into the other bind.

To understand the second bind, you have to understand that the late '80s and early '90s were a time of, to use a term I coined previously, getting it less wrong*. At the time, I was moderately liberal, very privileged as a white, straight, male, just starting into my teens in the early '90s, and thinking that we had, for the most part, got it right. These issues would be solved by such things as "being colorblind" and those problems of racism would stay safely contained in the past.

Add onto that the matter of the fact that, while Sam Beckett may have taken a "leap" into the body and life of an African American or a woman, but was still the white guy on screen solving racism and sexism.

So, for the time, good, but the time had its limits. It's a good practice to remember that today, also, has its limits. Give it twenty years time, and I wonder what we where we're still wrong.

That said, we can open this premise up and really test it out.

Within the show, there was a limit to how far back one could go into the past. Samuel Beckett could travel within his own lifetime. This was a conceit to keep things fairly contained, limit the kinds of sets necessary, maintain that this is an exploration of, primarily, the recent history.

Let's swap that limitation out for another. This kind of show has an opportunity to explore not just the past, but how history works. It's not just isolated snapshots of "this was back then" with the sins of the past being nothing more than mistakes we ought not repeat. Past is prologue. History is backstory.

Instead of making the limitation traveling within his own timeline, make the limitation that the farther back he goes, the less time he has and the less change he can make. Any time Beckett changes so much that it endangers the Quantum Leap project within the universe, time itself resolves the paradox by "forgetting" that he ever leapt into a particular time. It leaves Beckett with the memories, but knowing that all his good intentions meant precisely nothing.

In this way, a Sam Beckett that leaps into the life of a black man in the '90s can also leap into a context way back in the early 1500s. This will deny him the opportunity to change anything, but allow him to hear much. By leaping back and forth, you can see the connections between points in time. As William Faulkner said (I know that only because I googled the line to be sure) "The past is never dead. ... Actually, it's not even past."

In the case of race, we can see how a divide and conquer method in the past, to keep poor whites and poor blacks from combining forces against the wealthy, turns into the justifications and excuses for treatment of slaves in the 1800s, to turn into a general bias more recently... that still kills people.

Another matter is that, regardless of who it is you put in place of show's white, straight, male protagonist, whether another same or someone else, eventually you'll run into the same basic problem. Someone comes in and solves a problem that isn't there's to understand, let alone solve. One thing that will have to be both a rule in writing, and perhaps a rule in our alternate limitation, is that the protagonist can't be the one to solve big issues.

When Beckett, Samuel, Samantha, Samutran, leaps in, he becomes, in part, the side character. Another character has to be the hero for Sam to assist. This is similar to my advice for writing the Immortal In Modern Day**. Sam Beckett is allowed to be the hero of his own story, but other people must be the heroes of their own.

With these changes, I think we can have a Quantum Leap that is at once more compelling and, with a more connected story-arc, better able to show history as for the ongoing narrative that continues to this day.

* http://wingedbeast.dreamwidth.org/9261.html
** https://wingedbeast.dreamwidth.org/17638.html
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