The following contains spoilers from Monday’s episode of Quantum Leap. Proceed accordingly.
This week’s Quantum Leap, titled “Let Them Play,” placed Ben in the body of a high school basketball coach named Carlos Mendéz, whose trans daughter hoped to play with the team. When Gia (played by Josielyn Aguilera) finally got that opportunity on the court, she was met with opposition from other parents and the school administration, as well as bullying from her fellow students.
When Ben (as Carlos) opened up about his “friend” Ben’s experience with feeling different as the Korean kid at school, Gia explained why that’s not the same as what she was going through. “I have to fight every day just to be who I know I am while everyone else around me tells me I’m someone else — even my own reflection,” she shared.
For Shakina Nayfack, who wrote, directed, and appeared in the episode as Dottie, that moment signified how much both characters have in common. “Every episode, he’s in someone else’s body trying to get back to his own life but seeing someone else’s reflection in the mirror and knowing that he needs to be in service to their life instead. There is a really interesting parallel, which is what Quantum Leap does every week, [and that’s] put us inside someone else’s experience.”
So when Gia explained that no one can be inside her experience, that was Nayfack’s way of making a “universal understanding around what our series lead is going through and what this young trans girl is going through.”
Read on for the rest of TVLine’s interview with Nayfack, who shared the scene that made her cry and what she hoped viewers took away from the episode.
On the scene outside the principal’s office in which Gia asked her friend Amanda how she would feel if Gia got scouted over her…
“That scene is pulled from a real-life experience of mine, and just a really painful moment of feeling the most disempowered as a young trans person. I remember before we shot that scene, talking with Josielyn about what it’s like when no one understands. We all know parents just don’t understand, but as a trans kid, there’s literally no one who understands. Josielyn was like, ‘You don’t understand, this episode is my life. I came out in high school. I transitioned in high school.’ I just started crying right there on set, and she was crying because we were transforming our pain into something really inspirational and hopeful for the world. And that makes living through it worth it.”
On Dottie’s eccentric spoken word performance…
“I love spoken word, but I also think it’s ridiculous. I knew that we were having this really heavy emotional episode, and I just wanted to have some comic relief and create a little bit of a clown that would help us ease out of it and not take ourselves too seriously. But this poem, which is in a lot of ways tongue-in-cheek, is also basically my thesis on humanity — that ultimately, we are all one. And so there is a trans allegory and a Quantum Leap allegory to the nonsense spoken word that Dottie’s giving you in the episode.”
On exploring more of Ian’s backstory…
“Our show is about Ben and Addison — it’s a love story through time — but we have this incredible series regular cast [and] we’re always trying to find cool things for them to do. And then in particular, you know, I’m always in the writers’ room like, ‘What about Ian?’ We got to break a lot of conventions in this episode, and that not only frees up Mason the actor and Ian the character, but it also frees up all the writers to lean into those conventions that we break in [Episode 12] so that all the episodes that follow become, in other ways, more adventurous and queerer.”
On what she hoped viewers took away from the episode…
“I hope that trans kids and their families get to see themselves on screen in a way that reflects their reality and gives them hope and support. That’s super important to me. The other thing is that I hope that people who don’t have a lot of experience with trans people or maybe have conflicted feelings about trans people and trans kids have a heart-opening experience and feel a little more compassion and understanding where maybe in the past they had some fear and ignorance.”