The Salem Witch Trials are a point in history that everyone has at least heard of. Margarita Matthews brings it to our screens in Quantum Leap.
You’ve heard of the Salem Witch Trials. Even if you don’t know the details, you’ll know the basics. It was a persecution against (mostly) women, going after those who didn’t really fit in society at the time. This wasn’t about weeding out witches, but about finding a way to get rid of those the town didn’t like or viewed had done them wrong in some way.
There have been many takes on the Salem Witch Trials through various TV shows. Quantum Leap now has the chance, but with a twist. Ben is in the body of a young girl on trial, and he needs to find a way to save her. Ziggy isn’t going to be as much help with this one since there isn’t that much in the history books except the common details that we know.
We talked to Margarita Matthews, who wrote the episode of Quantum Leap. What was it like bringing this story to life, and how fun was it to have the team not be able to rely on Ziggy for an epsiode?
Margarita Matthews talks bringing Salem to life in Quantum Leap
Hidden Remote: The Salem Witch Trials is one of my favorite history periods to learn about. There’s so much going on, but not much information out there. What did you do to start researching this time period to be able to bring something different to the show than what we usually see?
Margarita Matthews: I definitely did research for this episode, but I already came in with some factual research. I read books that were creative interpretations of the time and some that are about the impact on the descendants of those affected by the trials.
I also have a holistic king of understanding of the witch trials. It’s in my blood at this point. There’s an understanding and love for the subject for so many different reasons. I was just so eager to do this episode. I was really excited that we were going to be able to do it, and the fact that we got to do all the things we did with it was honestly a dream come true.
HR: How did you manage to make it fresh? I remember watching Timeless and they did a witch trials episode. Other shows have done it. The Quantum Leap episode doesn’t have quite the same feeling, so how did you go about to write it that way?
MM: The honest way to answer that, and for any episode, is that it’s channeled through the writer. All I can really ever do is be as honest as I can on the page, so for this, I went with any instinct and any sort of humorous whim that I had. I put it all on the page.
Also, making any episode of television is an extremely collaborative experience. Writers are just one part. You add the actors, the directors, the editing process, and visual effects. All these things come together for the end production. It’s like a village coming together. I think it’s a combination of all that.
HR: In most episodes, Ziggy helps with all the information to guide Ben on how to save the person he’s leaped into. The team doesn’t have that. There’s so little of the victims actually documented. What was it like to have the team be sort of in the dark for this?
MM: It was a really fun opportunity. I love seeing the headquarters team, but they pull it all from the internet. This was a great opportunity to see something new and different. They have books from the library, star charts, things that we’ll probably not see again.
At the end of the day, we don’t need to know 100% what happens. Here’s a story about something [the Witch Trials of 1692] that can’t be changed, but there’s hopefully some sort of healing in that.
HR: Language has changed so much since 1692, but Ben still has the way he speaks. What was it like to blend the older English and newer English together?
MM: That was a lot of fun. It’s a balancing act, because you have to have something authentic to the time period. A concern for me and a challenge was that this is for network television. The average person needs to be able to turn on the episode and understand what’s happening. We don’t want people thinking they’re on the wrong channel and lose our audience.
We also want people to lean in and say ‘what was that?’ or ‘what did they say?’ You know, the little things. There’s a point a villager calls a cat a Mouser as opposed to a cat, because that’s what they said then. While this is entertainment, it’s education.
HR: It’s a great chance to Google the phrases to find out what they meant.
HR: Is there any sort of meaning that you’d like people to take away from this episode?
MM: I’d like people to be moved to communicate with the people in their lives. Have discussions where you listen to each other and talk to each other. It’s so important in this divided world. And as technology advances more, we don’t look each other in the eye as much.
I think the more we can come to have empathy and understanding for one another, hopefully, that leads to something great. That’s why this episode starts in the completely opposite space of that, where people are talking about each other and whispering about each other.
Quantum Leap airs on Wednesdays at 8/7c on NBC. Catch up the following day on Peacock.