Quantum Leap (Season 2, Ep 11): The Americanization of Machiko

Welcome back to Quantum Leap, Season 2. We are continuing our episode-by-episode recap and reaction here. Spoilers ahead.

QUICK & CLEAN SUMMARY:

Sam leaps into the body of a man returning home from overseas in the Navy, in 1953. Unbeknownst to Sam, his host, Charlie Mckenzie has married a Japanese woman while serving. As a result, Sam left his young wife at the bus station. While she waits there, she meets a townsperson with a psychopathic hatred of Japanese people.

Machiko eventually finds her way safely to the Mckenzie family farm. The episode centers around her repeated attempts – and failures – to win over Charlie’s mother. Sam’s mission is to help her succeed. As the tension between the women crescendos, Machiko finds herself kicked out of the family shelter during a storm. The psychopath with a vendetta against the Japanese kidnaps her during the storm while she walks alone on teh street. Sam rescues her from him, but she is injured badly in the fight.

As the episode ends, the Mckenzie mother does an abrupt about-face and accepts her new daughter-in-law shortly before Machiko and her son complete their American wedding ceremony.

THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP & REACTION:

New Intro… Sam is still describing the process of leaping, but he no longer tells us that things went a little caca.

Sam’s narration describes how good he has become at figuring out new names, locations, etc., after a leap. In this episode, he learns quickly that he is Charlie Mackenzie, a Navy vet returning from overseas, on August 4, 1953. As he gets into a car, with a man who seems to be his father, and rides away, the camera focuses on a suddenly alarmed Japanese woman left behind holding a pair of suitcases. Though it went unsaid on the show… “oh boy.”

While Sam is listening to Charlie’s father update him on life in the hometown, the now abandoned Japanese woman, wearing a traditional-looking Japanese dress (a kimono, I believe), is drawing a crowd of unfriendly locals. (In 1953, eight years removed from WW2, the Japanese might not yet be fully welcomed in American society.) Fortunately for her, though her English is limited, she is able to speak the name Mackenzie clearly and a police officer helps to take her where she needs to go.

In the next scene, we see Lenore and another woman on a front porch. Lenore seems to be Charlie’s mother. The “other woman” lets us know that Charlie mentioned a “big surprise” to his mother – and she has guessed that Charlie is planning to propose to her. Lenore expresses doubt about that and further states she does not believe getting married right away would be a good idea for Charlie.

Charlie and what I am still assuming is his dad arrive at the house and meet the two women. Lenore gives him a big hug. The younger woman, “done up” with red lip stick and a polka dotted dress, gives Charlie a big kiss on the mouth, asks if she looks different, then informs him “I’m a brunette now, Charlie.”

The brunette, Naomi, is about to make more moves on Sam/Charlie when Lenore rescues Sam/Charlie by asking her to help in the kitchen.

When Sam is alone on the porch of his parents’ home, Al arrives. Unlike Sam, Al is not a lover of farms. He prefers Las Vegas. He notes that Naomi would be “perfect” for Las Vegas. Ziggy thinks that there is a 97% chance that Sam’s mission is simply to prevent Charlie from marrying Naomi. Easy peasy.

At that moment, a police car approaches honking its horn. A policeman exists the car and informs the now gathered crowd that he found “this woman wandering on Main Street and she claims that she is married to your son.”

The young Japanese woman, smiling broadly, gets out of the car and introduces herself to “the family of my husband.” With everyone staring at him, and Naomi in particular glaring at him, Sam sheepishly says, “surprise!”

Inside the home, Machiko Mackenzie offers gifts to her new husband’s parents. Lenore rejects the gift of a dress, because “I already have a bathrobe.” Al’s information is now better than 3 minutes ago. The new and more fully fleshed out mission is to get Charlie’s family to accept Machiko. The reason Charlie married Naomi had been precisely because his American family did not accept his Japanese wife. So… if Sam can get them to accept Machiko, he can prevent Charlie’s marriage to Naomi.

Charlie’s dad seems like he will be the easy sell where Machiko is concerned. She offers to wash his feet (a Japanese custom where she lives), and he accepts, before Lenore refuses to allow it on the grounds that “we are not in Japan.” Charlie’s father also offers Machiko the spare room – against Lenore’s wishes – insisting that the room is “not a shrine.” The former occupant of that room was the late Eileen, Charlie’s sister who died while he was overseas. Lenore does not want to share the room.

As soon as Lenore and Charlie are alone, Lenore confronts Sam/Charlie. “How could you? You just waltz in here with that Japanese bride and expect me to take her in? That woman will NEVER be part of my family, you hear? Never!” So, Sam/Charlie has some work to do with his mother. Machiko clearly heard and understood what his mother said.

In the next scene, as we hear the rooster crowing outside, Lenore finds Machiko in the kitchen. She has cleaned the kitchen floor. Of course, Lenore takes needless offense and replies “my kitchen is clean enough for anyone who wears shoes.” Yikes. Machiko also made rice because she “wanted to help make breakfast” and Lenore is not happy with that, either. AND SHE DUMPS IT IN THE TRASH!

Sam and his dad enter the kitchen shortly after Machiko left. Sam goes to see her after finding out she was “out back pouting.” While they are gone, Lenore tells Charlie’s father that there is something different about Charlie and “she did it to him.” [I guess it did not occur to Lenore than a time-traveler from the future has possessed her son’s body.]

Outside, Sam is trying to explain culture differences to a downtrodden Machiko. He tells her that she will have to learn that she is not a servant. He explains that in the U.S., a man could hypothetically stay home to take care of the house while his wife worked. She laughs at this idea. But then she catches on. “Charlie-san, if a wife and husband have equal rights, then a husband’s money is wife’s money, too, yes?” She wants to dress more like an American. Sam/Charlie suggests that they drive into town to get some new clothes, and she exclaims, “Charlie-san, you teach me to drive a car?”

And so he did. She droves haltingly into town. However, along the way, we got a scene where she abruptly stopped to pick flowers from the side of the road.

Americanizing Machiko seemed like the best way to get Lenore to accept her. But she had an inner beauty uniquely Japanese that I hoped she would never have to lose in order to blend in with all the other daisies.

Once the two are in town, Sam tries to teach Machiko to walk next to her husband instead of behind him. While that instruction occurs, we meet an angry towns person, Rusty, who was present earlier in the episode when the police officer rescued Machiko. The man at the clothing store told the two not to worry about him because “he is still fighting world war two.”

Machiko eventually leaves the store with new clothes. Rusty is still outside the clothing store, staring murderous daggers at her and Charlie, as they leave and she clumsily tries out high heels for the first time.

Back home at the farm, Charlie is moving hay bales. [Note: Gratuitous shirtless Scott Bakula scene.] Naomi arrives at the barn and makes an, uh, extremely aggressive pass at him – despite his protestations about being married!

At that moment, Al arrives to chastise Sam for what he is seeing. He has a point. Sam is not exactly doing a great job of peeling Naomi off of him. In fact, when he pushes her off, he puts himself right back on top of her. I join Al in my absolute disgust and indignation on behalf of Machiko.

HOWEVER…. apparently Machiko is shirtless, outside, doing laundry. Al notices and warns Sam loudly “we have a problem.” Sam reacts by moving quickly, which in turn leads to falling off the hayloft to the floor with Naomi in tow. Machiko hears the fall and runs, shirtless, to check on him. Wouldn’t you know it, Lenore and the church pastor happen to pull up to the farm, in the car, just in time to see Lenore’s new daughter-in-law run topless across the yard. Machiko finds Naomi on top of Charlie in a very compromised-appearing situation just in time for a commercial break.

When we come back, Sam/Charlie is explaining everything to his parents and the pastor. The men seem to brush the incident off as a “live and learn” type of event. Lenore… not so much. Apparently there is supposed to be some kind of community picnic the following day and she does not want to attend anymore. “I will not be gawked at.”

When everyone else has left, Sam/Charlie asks Naomi to stay away from him for a while. She responds by asking if he loves Machiko.

Read my lips: Charlie Mackenzie loves Machiko.

The two continue talking, with Naomi stating the case for herself, and we find out that Charlie’s sister Eileen committed suicide. Naomi seems to believe that her intervention delayed the act. Sam again pushes Naomi’s romantic efforts away.

The next day, at the aforementioned picnic, we see Naomi giving Machiko advice on how to greet people. We also see Rusty, the angry Japanese hating townsperson from earlier in the episode. Naomi has taught Machiko to tell people that they are “very, very fat” when she greets them.

After seeing the shocked faces of people the first time she says that to someone, Machiko confronts Naomi, calls her out for lying about American customs, and says she does not think Naomi is a nice person. She then asks Sam/Charlie to take her home because she has “shamed” him. Sam helps her to feel better.

In the next scene, we see Machiko and Charlie’s dad watching Sam play a baseball game. Machiko has a firm grasp on the game of baseball and impresses Charlie’s dad. Rusty is pitching at this community picnic baseball game and he throws a ball toward Sam/Charlie’s head. With Al coaching him along, Sam hits a pitch deep and starts rounding the bases. Rusty tries to tackle Sam while he’s rounding the bases but misses. Sam asks “what is your problem?” the two men stare at each other… and nothing really comes of any of this.

When everyone returns to the farm from the picnic, a thunderstorm is forming. Sam/Charlie and his father get the chickens inside the barn. Lenore tells Machiko to get in the storm shelter. The phone rings. With a storm blowing through town, someone named Delores called Lenore to let her know that Machiko called her fat. We did not hear how the conversation went, but I am pretty sure it went something like: “In case we die in the storm, Lenore, I want you to know that Machiko called me fat.” Lenore stormed down into the shelter to berate her daughter-in-law about her mistakes. Machiko runs out of the shelter and down the road. Guess who picked her up? Rusty! That can’t be good.

When Sam/Charlie and his dad go down into the storm shelter, Lenore tells them that Machiko ran out. As Sam leaves the safety of the shelter to go search for his wife, it seems to have not occurred to Lenore, until that moment, that Sam would go look for her.

We cut back to a very menacing Rusty driving Machiko down the road. She seems afraid. He is drinking some form of alcohol from a bottle inside a brown paper bag while driving. That also does not bode well for his state of mind.

Sam is driving around looking for Machiko when hologram Al appears in the middle of the road to tell him where his wife is.

Rusty bares his dark soul to Machiko. He is angry that he spent four years fighting in WW2 instead of playing major league baseball. He then implies that he might cut off her arm!

Sam arrives just in time. He and Rusty fight. Machiko was injured badly during their fight. Sam had to injure Rusty, badly, to get away from him long enough to drive Machiko to the hospital.

Some time later, Sam and his parents are all at the hospital. Sam/Charlie tells his mother to see Machiko in her room.

Sam: Walk into that room and let Machiko know that you care whether she lives or dies.
Lenore: I can’t.
Sam: Why not?
Lenore: I won’t do for her what I couldn’t do for Eileen.

Lenore has been a terrible person throughout this episode because she feels guilty about how she handled the death of her own daughter. That does not make complete sense, but okay.

Good news! Machiko recovers. She and Sam are having their wedding ceremony! And… Lenore arrives late to the wedding, wearing a kimono, and she bows down in a Japanese fashion after her dramatic entrance at the church.

Sayonara, Sam. And he leaps away.

REACTION:

Sometimes writing about an episode helps to clarify how I feel about it. This is one such episode.

Naomi was just a bad person all around and she neither had a redemption nor a comeuppance. That was unsatisfying.

Rusty was an evil person. And the source of *his* anger felt… too limited? “I lost a family member to the Japanese in WW2” is one thing. “I was tortured by the Japanese in WW2” is another thing. But we got “I missed out on major league baseball so I am going to literally torture you for it” instead. Sometimes real people act out in evil ways for reasons that are just as shallow. But I was hoping for more depth from this character and he just did not have it. We also have no idea what happened with him after his fight with Sam/Charlie. Did he die? Was he arrested? Did he continue to torment the Mackenzies for years to come?

Lenore was the focus of this episode. We spent the first 40+ minutes not knowing *exactly* why she was so mean to Machiko – especially in light of the fact that most of the rest of Charlie’s family and community were not mean. We just knew that in order for Sam to leap, Lenore’s heart needed to change. The explanation given for her meanness is a suicide that happened a year prior and off screen? Okay. However, the writers did not give us more than the bare bones of that earlier incident. Lenore’s hospital dialogue near the end of this episode did not do enough (for me at least) to connect her emotions re: Machiko to her emotions regarding her daughter, Eileen. WORST OF ALL… whatever happened to finally soften her heart, after the hospital conversation, again happened off camera. She went from “I can’t do for you what I couldn’t do for Eileen” to “I am going to make a grand entrance, in a kimono, be gawked at, and bow”? We did not get to see the change! We did not even see her wrestling internally with the change. The hospital scene set her up to have an internal struggle. But we skipped over her actual arc and went straight to the end. It was a story-telling cheat.

Machiko was not treated well by this episode, either. She tried to win over her mother-in-law. She failed. Then, abruptly, through no additional action or conversation, she succeeded. The writers did throw Machiko one small bone. One of her story subplots was learning to embrace some measure of autonomy. We saw her do that by requesting to go shopping? Meh. However, we also saw her do that by telling Naomi that she was a bad person. The latter was satisfying.

Al was good again in this episode. He was highly competent at his job AND “in character” as a womanizer.

Sam was… Sam. He is a morally clear romantic with a heart of gold. His core character was not challenged in this episode. Unlike the previous episode, Sam was not tempted to violate his personal honor code with Naomi. Even the hayloft wrasslin scene with Naomi was not a challenge to his moral center as much as it was an opportunity for the writers to catch their boy scout in a situation where he looked much less like a boy scout. Similarly, he never had to face any temptation / expectation to sleep with Charlie’s wife Machiko.

I was not entirely clear how I felt about this episode when it ended, but writing all of this down clarifies for me that I did not like it much. There were no big structural annoyances. Time travel issues were not ignored. Neither of the two main characters acted out-of-character. The core cast was fine if unchallenged. But the core mission of the episode, with Lenore, was a miss for me.

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