Quantum Leap (Season 1, Ep 8): Camikazi Kid

June 6, 1961

Sam leaps into the body of a guy who is driving a car at very fast speeds. He’s got a cigarette hanging form his lips while doing so. But when Sam stops the car (before crashing) and looks in the side view mirror, he sees the face of a young guy with braces.

Sam leaped into the body of 17 year old Cam Wilson.

Sam drives to a drive-in burger joint (something like an early days Sonic) and is recognized by some other kids who begin mocking him for the abrupt stop Sam made after leaping into Cam’s body. [You might recognize one of Sam’s tormentors as a young Jason Priestley.]

Sam runs into Cam’s sister Cheryl as he pulls in. She lets him know that she and her fiance got into the Peace Corps and are heading to Tonga. Sam ends up bullied, disrobed, and tossed into a dumpter.

While in the dumpster, Al shows up. He’s wearing some futuristic clothes from the 1990s – a shiny silver jacket, a red long sleeved shirt, and matching red-tinted sunglasses. Seeing Sam without his clothes, Al relays how this reminds him of a particular stripper he knows in Las Vegas.

A girl who did not leave with the bullies – she apparently has a crush on Cam/Sam – sees Cam/Sam in the trash can and brings his clothes over from the street to where they had been tossed.

Al lets Sam know, while he chows down on a burger, that Cheryl never makes it to the Peace Corps. Her husband-to-be apparently abuses her. Sam’s real life sister apparently had a similar relationship. So Sam decides that his mission is to prevent Cheryl from marrying Bob.

Sam/Cam go by the house. His dad is in a wife beater but seems friendly. Cam’s mom is “on the warpath” because their housemaid found a playboy in Cam’s room. She actually did not seem to mind that too much.

Cam/Sam ends up talking to his sister. She lets him know that the girl we met earlier (the one who brought Sam/Cam his clothes in the dumpster) has a crush on him. He tells her that she’ll do a great job in the Peace Corps. We find out that Bob won’t go to the Peace Corps unless they get married first. Sam tries to talk her into postponing the wedding until after she goes to the Peace Corps. Cheryl is… hostile to that idea.

Sam and the aforementioned girl who likes him (Jill) are working on a car engine together for some reason.

Sam goes into the house and finds Al. We (the audience) find out that Al showed up to Cheryl’s lingerie party and watched her try on said lingerie. Then Al left. That’s it. That’s the scene. Kind of a weird side plot for an episode otherwise dedicated to opposing abuse of women.

Cheryl comes into the living room and is upset. Sam sees bruises on Cheryl’s neck and finds out that Bob did it. Then Bob shows up with flowers. Sam/Cam confronts Bob about the bruises. Our bad-guy-of-the-week shrugs the accusation off, tosses the bouquet at Sam, and tells him to let Cheryl know that he will pick her up at 6 for the dress rehearsal.

At the wedding rehearsal, Bob’s dad comes in late, boisterous, and maybe a little drunk? Later in the evening, he gives a definitely inebriated toast. Bob gives a toast and a wedding gift at the rehearsal (a color TV.) Sam gives a toast. It’s very heartfelt – and I wonder if it is also pretty out of character for Cam in general. He also points out to Bob that since there is no electricity on Tonga that he will be watching the color TV until they get back.

Al reappears. Sam starts talking to Al. While he is talking to a hologram that only he can see, Jason Priestley notices that he is “talking to himself.” So the future star of Beverly Hills 90210 flings food across the room and right into his face. Sadly no food fight ensued.

A young black boy catches him “talking to Al” in the bathroom and… a dance off is the result? Set to Rockin’ Robin, no less.

After this somewhat bizarre dance-off, Bob and his dad go into the restroom where Sam is conversing with a hologram. Sam hides. We find out that Bob has agreed to work at a used car dealership with his Dad. He does not plan to tell Cheryl about this until after the wedding, nor does he plan to tell her that this means they will not be going to the Peace Corps.

So Sam/Cam tell Cheryl. Bob denies that he took the job. Cheryl decides to believe Bob. So Sam – after being given advice by Al – challenges Bob to a car race. Al believes they have a time traveler edge in as much as nobody in 1961 would know about using nitrous oxide to aid engine performance. Of course, Al mentions belatedly that if they use too much the car will blow up.

The next day we find Sam/Cam and Jill working on his car. We even get a scene of the two of them laughing over a gas leak.

When we get to the starting line scene, Bob initially plans to have Cheryl ride in the car with him. Sam asks him if he’s too chicken to race alone? This appears to light a “I’m gonna commit murder” fire inside of Bob because he icily tells Cheryl to get out of the car and the show’s musical score gets… ominous.

Ready. Set. Go.

Al appears in the car with Sam. Sam wins the race. Bob decides to try to actually murder Cam with his car. He misses hitting Sam – who jumps out of the way at the last minute – with his car by an inch. Then he tries to manhandle Cheryl to leave with him. Sam hood slides across his car, punches Bob in the face, and Bob calls on his henchmen to “get him.”

Jason Priestley, cig hanging from his mouth, has seen enough. He refuses Bob saying, “that was definitely an uncool move.” Yeah. Attempted vehicular homicide was just a little bit too much. [I really wanted the 90210 theme to start playing right after he said that.] Sam, Cheryl, and Jill leave together.

Sam does not immediately leap away. Later, we see Sam/Cam dropping Cheryl off at the airport to leave for the Peace Corps.

After dropping her off at the airport, Sam runs into Al. He has a photograph of a girl in a bikini, laying atop a nice car. “Guess what I picked up this morning?” Oh, Al.

Al lets Sam know that the reason he hasn’t leaped yet is probably related to Cam not making a move on his lady mechanic friend. So Sam/Cam kisses Jill… and he leaps.

He finds himself in a new body, holding a gun, standing over the body of someone who has been shot. “Oh boy.”

Reaction:

I guess if “The Color of Truth” was Quantum Leap’s anti-racism episode, then “Camikazi Kid” is its episode to stand against domestic violence.

I never really felt a lot of dramatic tension in this episode. I never felt like there was a twist coming, re: Sam’s self-appointed mission with Cheryl. I never worried that he would fail to break up their marriage. I could see the “you have to kiss the girl who helped you before you can leap” snag coming. Did that make this a bad episode? No, not by itself. Did that keep it from being a good episode? Yeah. At least for me. Among other issues I’ll get to. I suppose Al could have introduced some moral gray area at the end of the episode by telling us that Cheryl died of malaria a few months after arriving to Tonga. But instead she spent a happy career in the Peace Corps instead.

It was a bad choice for Quantum Leap to tackle domestic violence… AND have a throw away scene of Al spying on Cheryl changing into lingerie. How did that serve the story? It was also a bad choice to have Al holding up a picture of a bikini clad woman on the hood of a car at the end of the episode. Again.. why? I understand that the Al character is who is he is. He’s flawed. He objectifies women. We are beginning to learn some of the reasons why he is flawed. But from the POV of the writers, this felt like severely mixed messaging.

I guess the surprise for me in this episode was Bob’s buddies turning on him at the end of the episode. But… I mean he did just try to murder Cam. That shouldn’t have been surprising. That’s a plausible bridge-too-far for most bad guys that don’t want to graduate to being evil guys. Are we supposed to think that everyone just walked away from that and that no charges were filed? I think so.

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