Stop me if you've heard this one before: A priest walks into a house, ready to do battle. He's been summoned by a terrified mother to confront a demon that has possessed her helpless daughter. The catch this time? The priest is not actually a priest; he's a time-traveling quantum physicist who doesn't believe in God.
What hope does an atheist have in the face of a demon?
In an episode titled “O Ye of Little Faith,” the Quantum Leap “legasequel” series goes there, offering fans a provocative take on the old battle of faith against science. By employing classic horror movie settings and tropes, writer Margarita Matthews delivers a parable of the possibility not just for coexistence, but harmony.
This is not new territory for Quantum Leap. The original series, which aired from 1989-1993, featured quantum physicist Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), whose time-travel experiment left him trapped in time, “leaping from life to life, putting right what once went wrong.” The sequel series features a team led by Herbert “Magic” Williams (Ernie Hudson), who was saved in the Vietnam War when Sam leaped into him. Magic has assembled a new team of geniuses headed by Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee). Their mission: to relaunch project Quantum Leap and discover the fate of Dr. Beckett.
Originally, Ben's fiancé Addison Augustine (Caitlin Bassett) was to be the project's leaper. But on the night of their engagement party, Ben makes an unauthorized leap and becomes trapped in the past. Now Addison is his holographic companion, helping Ben navigate his “swiss-cheesed memory” and change history for the better— each time hoping his next leap will bring him home.
In “O Ye of Little Faith,” Magic peruses the Pentagon’s secret files on the first Quantum Leap project and discovers that Beckett always believed that God was controlling his leaps. It makes a certain sense. Core to the series was the notion that Beckett was not leaping for his own benefit. He was “putting right what once went wrong.” There's a moral framework built into the very concept of Quantum Leap. What is right? What is wrong? Who decides such things?
In an episode from the original series, Sam leaped into a Black man named Jessie in the Jim Crow South, where he broke the law to advocate for Jessie and save Black lives. In the new series’ pilot episode, after a man turns to robbery to pay for his wife’s health care, Ben works to keep the man out of prison. In both cases, the show's moral perspective judges the laws of the land to be inadequate. Systems fail vulnerable populations such as Americans of color and the poor. Such a perspective aligns well with the God whom Beckett imagines might be behind his—and now Ben's—leaping. Both the original series and the new Quantum Leap echo Amos' condemnation of those who exploit the vulnerable. But can this same God really have sent an atheist to perform an exorcism?
There's a moral framework built into the very concept of Quantum Leap.
In the Exorcist-inspired “O Ye of Little Faith,” Ben leaps into Father James Davenport, an elderly priest in the 1930s who has been summoned to exorcise Daisy (Kerri Medders). Fairly quickly, Ben is deprived of his supernatural powers; something cuts off Addison from being able to speak to Ben in the past. He's on his own. He soon experiences visions he can't explain. Without Addison to steady him, he can't help but wonder: are demons real?
While something nefarious is at work, we eventually learn that it's not demonic. Daisy's mother has conspired to poison her—and Ben!—with hallucinogens, hoping to stage a possession and kill Daisy so she can steal Daisy’s inheritance. There's no demon, just human greed, an evil as old as time itself (or at least as old as humanity).
But is it that simple? Once all is well and Ben is prepared to leap, Daisy looks at him and says, “You know, I still believe God sent you here.” And it's hard to argue with her. After all, in the original timeline, Daisy died, as the real Father Davenport failed to unravel her mother’s scheme. A skeptic was required to save Daisy—someone who could not accept a demonic explanation until every other option had been exhausted.
Quantum Leap, then, offers a world in which faith and science can coexist. Our world is wondrous and full of mystery; part of Jesus' command to love God well is to love God with all our minds. That means embracing science as a tool to know the cosmos. Science helps us to know creation (and therefore our Creator) better. Faith guides us in the implementation of the tools science offers.
Time will tell if his encounters with human evil will open Ben to the possibility that God is working through him to put the world right. As we watch, however, we can be confident that we don't have to leap through time to be the hands and feet of Christ. There's a whole world waiting just outside our door.