In this episode, Dr. Beckett decides that romantically pursuing a young Teri Hatcher is worth risking his project and the timeline itself.
Actually, I do not really understand the time-travel rules in this episode but I will get back to that some more later.
Hey! Scott Bakula is doing the intro / explanation of the show this week.
“It all started when a time travel experiment I was conducting went a little caca. In the blink of a cosmic clock I went from quantum physicist to Air Force test pilot – which would have been fun if I knew how to fly. Fortunately I had help, an observer from the project named Al. Unfortunately Al is a hologram so all he could lend is moral support. Anyway, here I am, putting things right that once went wrong. Sort of like a time traveling Lone Ranger, with Al as my Tonto, and I don’t even need a mask.”
Is the show a time travel comedy? A drama? Do the people making it know as of episode 2? Also, Sam is down-playing Al’s role in the pilot episode quite a bit. He definitely dies in a plane crash without Al showing him what to do.
After leaping into (and out of) a fighter pilot, and then a baseball player, Dr. Sam Beckett now jumps into the body of a lecherous old unattractive English Lit professor, Dr. Gerald Bryant, at Lawrence College, in 1972. When he arrives in his new host body, he finds himself in front of a classroom of beautiful young women. His leap apparently interrupted a discussion of Wuthering Heights. Somewhere in the midst of acquiring six PhD’s, Sam missed a good study of this book. But it’s alright ’cause he’s saved by the bell.
We soon learn from Al the hologram helper that Ziggy the A.I. believes that Sam’s mission is to prevent Dr. Bryant from knocking up and marrying one of his students, Jamie Lee. Easy peasy. Just don’t knock her up. However, that is not a particularly compelling episode of television. So the mission becomes complicated when Sam sees Donna Eleese (played by a young Teri Hatcher) on campus. We the viewer soon find out via a conversation between Sam and Al that Donna meets the real life Dr. Beckett twelve years from “now.” So… quick math… 1984. Beckett and Donna eventually date, fall in love, and then… she leaves him at the alter. Huh. Maybe that’s why he invented time travel? Would a super-genius invent time-travel to undo getting left at the alter by Teri Hatcher? Maybe?
Anyway, instead of completing his mission with Jamie Lee, Dr. Beckett completely loses his mind and assigns himself the new mission of “fixing” that part of Donna Eleese that gives her trouble with commitment. “Maybe now we will get married and she won’t leave me!”
Al shows up to warn Sam that the time travel committee wants to pull the plug on his project. Al has also been warned that *he* might be pulled off the project for breaking information-sharing rules. Sam does not care.
As Sam begins the process of getting to know Donna Eleese in his new body, the actual mission keeps interrupting him. We find out that Dr. Bryant and a football player named Oscar have something of a rivalry for Jamie Lee. So Sam tries to coach Oscar (stereotypical football player meathead) into wooing her away from himself with love poetry. The first time Oscar attempts this, it does not work. Poetry discussing one’s horniness does not win the girl. The poetry’s failure leads Oscar to punch Sam in the face.
When he is not chasing after Donna and coaching Oscar, Sam further continues to be intruded upon by Jamie Lee, herself, with Sam having increasing difficulty putting her off. From Jamie Lee’s perspective, it makes some sense. We find out that Sam’s host (Dr Bryant) and Jamie Lee are into some “kinky” role play sex with literature themed costumes. This apparently occurred as recently as the night before Sam leaped into Dr. Bryant. Nevertheless, the flighty Jamie Lee is open to the idea of dating Oscar when Sam tells her that she would be better off with Oscar. Is that a plot convenience? Is that how college girls were/are? I will leave that to your interpretation.
Eventually Sam wins Donna Eleese over, a little bit, by talking to her about science. It should not surprise viewers that the love interest of “the next Einstein” cares a lot more about science than English Lit. Given his reputation, Donna is justifiably concerned about “Dr. Bryant’s” interest in her. So she insists that the two talk in public places. Sam uses his personal knowledge of her to pry out a conversation about her father’s role in her life. With a little help from Al, that appears to also get Al fired (we see his hologram dragged off screen by invisible people,) Sam then concocts a plan to reunite Donna with her long lost father. Wouldn’t you know it, he calls the man and finds out that he is shipping out to Vietnam *tomorrow.*
Sam, Donna, Jamie Lee, and Oscar (who come along, too, as chaperones and so that Sam can help them fall for each other) load up into a car, drive all night to Washington D.C., and sneak into the Watergate Hotel to meet Donna’s father before he leaves the following morning.
Donna resolves her issues with her father, after no contact for many years, with the remarkable ease of a network television TV script. She thanks Sam for the reunion and the two have a “if I were a little younger, if I were a little older” conversation. And at just that moment, Oscar and Jamie Lee kiss – sending Sam leaping into the body of a professional boxer, in the ring, right as he is getting punched in the face.
I guess Ziggy was right about the mission. Sam was able to complete his side-project mission while finishing up his primary objective. All is well that ends well?
So not only do we have a handsome genius protagonist with six PhDs, he also has the heart of a romantic? I guess they’re trying to introduce some character flaws for our protagonist but those flaws are “cute” flaws.
“Aww, he is willing to watch the world burn… for love!”
But in all seriousness, what actually happens if he changes his own timeline by changing hers? It’s a paradox. Let’s say he succeeds in changing/healing her psyche and let’s further assume the two (Donna and Sam) get married as a result. Does Sam even build the time machine? How much of the work to build it was fueled by his own emotional loss? Assuming he does build the time machine, despite being happily married, is he the one who uses it initially? Would a happily married Sam be the one who risks everything for science? If he is the one who uses it initially, does he know that there is a need to reunite Donna with her father to “fix” her commitment issues? Happily Married Sam does not know she had commitment issues which needed to be fixed because unhappily jilted Sam altered the timeline. Is there some kind of residual memory which could cross between timelines? If happily married to Donna Sam does not “fix” her commitment issues with her dad, then doesn’t she leave him at the alter?
Aren’t we now stuck in a loop? Will this matter in future episodes? But maybe none of those existential questions are worth asking when a young Teri Hatcher is involved.
I will keep an eye on this as a plot element going forward. Sam also played with his own timeline by calling his dad at the end of the pilot episode.
Which of Sam’s PhD’s do we know about so far? Medicine, Quantum Physics, and Ancient Languages. I wish a little bit more of “über-nerd” Sam could peak through in the show. So far, he is primarily smart as a deus ex machina to solve problems and advance the plot forward.
In the pilot, Al the hologram helper was only partially interested in the project. Given the nature of what they were doing in this project, his demeanor was bizarre. He was more focused on, uh, attracting women in his own time than focusing on his role in actual time travel. In this episode, a little bit of that womanizer-above-all persona lingers, but for the most part Al is playing the “take things seriously” voice of reason role in their duo. The voice of reason role feels like a better fit.
Overall I was so-so on this episode. Time travel stories are difficult enough without injecting blatant disregard for consequences, too. But maybe the show will eventually address some of that.
When I was reading about Teri Hatcher after watching this episode, I learned that the Donna character she was playing in this episode is not as far from her real life background as I had imagined. Her real life mom, Esther, was a computer programmer for Lockheed Martin, her dad, Owen, was a nuclear physicist and an electrical engineer, and Teri herself studied math and engineering before she began her career in acting. Shame on me for underestimating her.
Michael McGrady played Oscar. He’s had a long successful career. He is currently on the CBS show “FBI,” and has previous credits on “Ray Donovan,” “Southland,” “24,” “JAG,” and a lot of others going back thirty years.