Quantum Leap (Season 1, Ep 5): How the Tess Was Won

The episode begins with narrator Sam telling us that “the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” As just like that, we find Sam in a new body, standing in a muddy pig pen, holding a squealing piglet up in the air.

Not far away, we hear a father arguing with his adult daughter that she needs to get married. She says he is treating her like a brood mare. He says he raised a cowboy who doesn’t know how to be a woman.

“I won’t breed with inferior stock! The man I marry has to be more of a man than I am!”

So we’re off to a preposterous start. Daughter (Tess) tells father that if there’s a man on the ranch who can keep up with her for a week, she will marry him. Tess gets to pick a man on the ranch to keep up with her – and she picks Sam (who is apparently the ranch vet.) So they tell Sam the terms of the bet (he has to out-cowboy her) and he says “you’re kidding, right?”

“This is Texas, son. We don’t kid about our land, our women, or our livestock.”

Father Rancher Guy asks Sam what’s wrong with the pig. Sam tries to hedge, but the Father (really need a name for him soon) guesses that it’s pig cholera. Before Sam can say that’s right, Father calls over the other ranch hands to shoot and burn the entire pen of pigs. Sam holds them off by saying he has not made a diagnosis, yet.

Sam then grabs said pig, gets in a car, and says “I’ll take the pig, you keep the daughter” and drives away. How did he know which car belonged to his new host body? Where exactly is he going without a visit from Al?

Either way, I know the dad’s name now. “It’s Doc or nothin’, Chance.” So she calls her dad by his first name. Another of the ranch hands walks up and tells her “Doc’s a fool.”

As Sam is driving away, August 5, 1956 flashes up on the screen.

We cut to someone new playing a guitar and singing a song to a goat. He looks a little bit like Buddy Holly.

Sam narrates that every time he leaps, he does a song and dance to figure out who he is and where he lives. Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s easy. Driving down the road he sees a sign for Daniel Young D.V.M. (doctor of veterinary medicine.) So now we know Sam’s name, at least. Our Buddy Holly character is still singing “all he does is bah at me.” Sam narrates that figuring out the names of people he is supposed to know is more difficult. He gets through this interaction by calling our guitar player, “pard.” He says out loud to the sky (presumably to God) after Buddy Holly leaves, “couldn’t you just give out name tags?”

Then Al appears with a cigar in his mouth. He starts talking about Tina having her name on a private part of her body and he becomes weirdly paranoid that Sam has seen the tattoo. Sam has to remind him that he does not even remember Tina.

“You’re hiding behind your swiss cheese brain.”

Apparently Tina is cheating on Al – who regularly also cheats on her. These side interludes with Al talking about his dysfunctional personal life just feels like time-filler. It’s more uncomfortable than funny. At least to me in the year 2020.

We find out there is a 72% chance that Sam is in this new body to cure the pig. There is a 49% chance he is there to marry Tess. And we find out that animals can actually see hologram Al.

Sam finds Doc’s diary. Doc is clearly in love with Tess. So Al whips his handy-dandy “why is Sam here” device back out and he learns that there is a 97% chance that Sam leaped to this place because someone who writes Tess love letters is supposed to marry her.

“Don’t fight it Sam. You’re here to marry this cowboy. Uh, boygirl. Cowgirl. Girl.”

We got ourselves a gender roles episode.

The next day, Sam shows back up at the ranch, tells Chance that he does not know what’s wrong with “Piggy,” and he tells Tess that he is going to take her on.

Sam, possessing a veterinarian, struggles to put a bit in a horse’s mouth. He gets bucked off seconds later. Apparently he tried to ride “Widow Maker” – a horse only friendly to Tess. One of the ranch hands – who appears to have a thing for Tess himself – was playing a joke on Sam in trying to get him to ride that particular horse. The same ranch hand also gives Sam bad advice on some hog roping. But *somehow* Sam knows this is bad advice and pretends to get the thumb injury that the ranch hand had planned for him. After said “helper” came to check on him, and what appears to now be a missing thumb, Sam sticks the thumb up and pretends he grew it back. I guess turnabout is fair play. But it’s not clear how Sam knows anything about ranching. Nevertheless, he is taking to it relatively well.

We cut to a scene in town where a buyer is negotiating a deal for one of the ranch’s prize bulls. There is not much negotiation before we see Sam, the ranch hand, and Tess playing poker.

Suddenly Al appears again talking about Tina – the woman he cheats on who may also be cheating on him. He seems wistful.

Al advises Sam that Wayne the ranch hand (the one giving him the bad advice earlier) is cheating at poker. Sam accuses him of it. When Wayne flips his cards… Al was wrong. Oops. But Tess calls Wayne over for a side conversation. We find out she was the one holding the aces and 8s that Sam though Wayne held for himself. Sam figures this out and thinks that Tess encouraged Wayne to help her out. “So that’s how she’s gonna play it.”

Get excited. In our next scene, we have shirtless Scott Bakula using posthole diggers. You know that shirtless Scott Bakula is why you’re here. He’s apparently beating Tess with relative ease on this task. He tries to convince Tess to get in out of the heat before she has heat stroke. When she’s refusing water, he opines that “there are some things that men can do better than women. And some things that women can do better than a man – like having babies.”

When she starts loudly insisting that she ain’t havin’ no babies, she passes out. So Sam throws her over his shoulder and runs to get her help. I guess he’s probably going to be the one to help her.

We see a thunderstorm moving in while Al appears in a white suit on horseback. He does nothing and says nothing. He’s just there on horseback for about 2 seconds. Like a creepy guardian angel.

We jump back to Buddy Holly (?) playing guitar at the vet’s office. Sam pulls up in a hurry with Tess, runs around the truck, throws her back over his shoulder, and runs her into the office barking out instructions for what he needs. Then he throws her onto the vet office couch (she’s being thrown a lot) and starts stripping off her clothes. She wakes up enough to start sipping some salt water that Buddy Holly made for her. We hear the storm moving in outside and getting louder. We still don’t actually know Buddy’s real name. Tess says she doesn’t mind if “the boy” heads home on account of the storm. But Sam tells her she is not allowed to leave for at least an hour because she’s too big a risk to pass out again.

A little while later, she wakes up, gets dressed and finds Sam with Piggy. Sam tells her that the pig has allergies. She says he can keep the pig as payment for taking care of her. The storm continues to get worse. Tess is scared of the thunderstorm.

Sam asks Tess to dance. Cold Cold Heart by Hanks Williams is playing on the radio. And as they dance – despite Tess saying she does not dance – it appears her cold cold heart starts to melt.

Alarmed by her own thawing, Tess decides to tally the marriage bet to this point. She has bested Sam in ropin’, wranglin’, and drinkin’. He’s beaten her in poker, post hole diggin’, and dancin’. But she reminds him that he doesn’t win in the case of a tie.

His one last test is to ride Widow Maker. Sam hesitates and she says “that’s what I thought” before leaving. Did she want him to win?

We get about a 3 second scene of Tess driving back home from the vet’s office… crying.

Sunday morning, with Tess and Chance about to head off for church, they see Sam leading Widow Maker out from the stable. Al appears and is telling more stories about what Tina and the guy she’s seeing are up to. The plan appears to be for Al to help Sam. We established earlier in the episode that animals can see Al. I’m not clear how this might keep Sam on the horse, though.

Then Al abruptly leaves because he says he has a call from Tina? He tells Sam to stay right where he is. Sam is understandably baffled. And at that moment, Widow Maker starts trying to buck Sam off again while Chance, Tess, and the other ranch hands watch.

Sam rides Widow Maker successfully. Somehow. Because of course he does. After he does it, and after Chance welcomes him to the family, Sam fires off this line: “Thanks, but no thanks. I just wanted to see if I could ride him. [Looking at the horse.] Not her. [Looks at Tess.]” Then he gets in his car and drives off.

Tess is crying. Her dad advises her to chase after him.

She walks into the vet’s office while Sam is talking to himself. Sam tries to convince her that he isn’t as interested in the ranch as he is in her. So he gives her Doc’s diary. Sam narrates that leaping isn’t fair, he gets too attached, and that if Tess falls for Doc he wants to leap out as soon as possible. She asks him to dance. She admits that she’s worried about the ranch hands lookin’ to Doc instead of her, once they’re married. Sam suggests they run it together. She seems happy with that. But… Sam does not leap away.

At that moment, Wayne shows up outside the vet’s office and confesses his love for Tess. Wayne tells Tess that she can keep the ranch. He does not want it. (Edge: Wayne) He wants her. He even hands her love letters that he’s written to her over the years but never given to her. Edge Sam/Doc here, inasmuch as Sam pulled this trick first.

So now we’ve got two men who need a tie-breaker. She asks to dance with Wayne to see how it feels.

Sam begins narrating about how poorly Wayne is dancing. But he lets us know that Tess picked Wayne.

Sometime later, Al shows back up. We hear “Buddy Holly” playing guitar in the background. Al says he knew Sam would be fine on Widow Maker. And he lets us know that if he had not taken the phone call, he would have lost Tina forever. Al also points Sam toward a mirror. Sam has apparently somehow not looked into one this entire time. Sam and the audience find out that he had “a lot to overcome.” And it at least appears that Al knew Sam was not going to win Tess all along.

Sam and Al go outside. Ziggy thinks that if Tess agrees to marry Wayne, Sam will be able to leap out of where he is. He starts calling for Piggy and “Buddy Holly” begins to sing “Piggy Sooie.” Sam and Al figure out why they are there… finally. Sam advises Buddy to try singing it as “Peggy Sue.” As Sam laughs to himself at the absurdity of this particular leap.. we see him leap again. I guess the writers teased us with this outcome at the beginning of the episode when Sam narrates about the difficulty of learning the names of the people he meets after each leap.


I don’t know, y’all. This was a rough episode.

Al is once again terrible at his job. Presumably a time-travel assistant would be *great* at his job. He would have been hired with that in mind. I understand the need for levity but I am having some difficulty suspending my disbelief.

The continuity of the show does not make sense to me, either. Sam seems to know things he should not know. That did not happen in earlier episodes. So… how? I realize he is supposed to essentially be a super-genius. But that does not mean he should know how to ride a bucking horse. He did that without any help from Al. None of the other men on the ranch – men who had worked their entire lives with horses – had ever accomplished what Sam learned to do in a couple days. And we are supposed to believe that Ziggy did not figure out that Sam was working with the actual Buddy Holly?

I also have not managed to care yet about any of the Al relationship side plot drama. I do not think I am supposed to care. But it takes up a lot of the dialogue on this show.

Looking at it in the big picture, “Quantum Leap” makes a lot more sense if Sam is dead and is in some kind of purgatory to learn lessons. Al makes more sense as a quirky angel helping him along.


“Bonanza was never like this.”

“She ran out on me Sam. She took my second most favorite organ and stomped it to death with her four inch spiked heels.”

“There’s no sin in being afraid.”
“There is in Texas.”

Cast Notes:

Scott Fults played Buddy Holly. Despite the character being referred to as “boy” a lot within the episode, Fults was 30 years old when it was filmed. He had a pretty active career between 1988 and 1992, with other notable guest starring roles on Growing Pains, Highway to Heaven, Beverly Hills, 90210, and Saved by the Bell.

Although his character Chance did not get a lot of screen time in this episode, Lance LeGault had a long and interesting career. He got his start as a stunt double for Elvis Presley. But his acting credits include “Catch My Soul,” “The Gambler,” and “Stripes.” He also had recurring roles on “The A-Team,” “Magnum P.I.,” “Gunsmoke,” “Wonder Woman,” and many, many others.

Kari Lizer played Tess. She has been more active as an Executive Producer in recent years (“The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “Will & Grace” among others) but you might also remember her role as Connie in “Will & Grace,” a recurring role on the series “Wierd Science,” and she played multiple characters in the series “Matlock” during its run.

Wayne was played by Marshall R. Teague. He might remember him as Jimmy Reno in the movie “Road House.” I’ll post the rest directly from his IMDB page to summarize: “From there (Road House) he went on to work in The Rock with Sean Connery and Armageddon with Bruce Willis to name a few. He was also reoccurring star on TV series like Walker Tx. Ranger, American Heiress, and Babylon 5. Marshall holds an industry record of 103 deaths on screen.” That’s a pretty cool thing for which to be known.