Quantum Leap (Season 2, Ep 17): Jimmy

Welcome back to my episode-by-episode recap of and reaction to Quantum Leap. The spoilers ahead are only through this episode. I provide a short summary at the top, a long and much more thorough recap below that, and a reaction section at the bottom.

My previous episode recaps can be found HERE.

NOTE: In a full spirit of sensitivity, I want to advise anyone reading this that this episode first aired in 1989. At that time, use of the word “retarded” was still commonly used as a medical term to describe people with slowed or limited intellectual development. Sam’s leap this week is into a young man with Down’s Syndrome and he is described throughout the episode as retarded. Proceed to the recap with that in mind.


Sam leaps into Jimmy, a young man with Down’s Syndrome. Jimmy’s brother Frank has just taken him in despite concerns from his wife Connie. He has also set Jimmy up with a job opportunity at a shipping yard dock.

Sam’s mission is to help Jimmy obtain and then keep the job while also getting acceptance from his co-workers and his family. After struggling with the situation for most of the episode, Sam finally wins over everyone when he rescues Frank’s young son Corey by giving him CPR after he nearly drowns in the water adjacent to the docks.


Sam leaps into the body of what appears to be a boy based on how he is dressed. Another little boy comes into the room and shoots him with a toy gun. Sam plays along and pretends to die. A few moments later, the father of Sam’s host body comes in and tells “Jimmy” (Sam) that he needs to get ready for a job interview. He advises Sam/Jimmy that if the interviewer asks him, he is not retarded, he is just slow.

Sam has arrived to October 16, 1964.

The person who I mistakenly believed was Jimmy’s father is actually Jimmy’s older brother, Frank. Jimmy has apparently only been living with his brother for two weeks. Frank’s wife Connie seems to view those as a long and interminable two weeks.

Frank is pushing for Sam/Jimmy to have a job. He also treats him like a kid. When asking Jimmy what he wants for breakfast, Frank and his young son, Corey, (the one who shot Sam/Jimmy with a toy gun earlier in the episode) sing a song about coco puffs that appears to be part of their routine.

Frank is reading a newspaper and Sam pulls a section to read also. Sam now knows when and where he is. Oakland, CA, 1964. However, Frank is confused because Jimmy usually just looks at the comics. As they hurry to leave for Sam/Jimmy’s interview, Sam accidentally breaks a glass from which he had been drinking milk.

Al finally arrives. He explains to Sam that Jimmy has the IQ of a 12 year old. As a result, all he has to do to *be* Jimmy is just act natural. Jimmy can read, write, hold a job, go to a play, etc. Connie is listening to “Jimmy” have this conversation with Al from the kitchen window. Al tells Sam that his mission is to “mainstream” Jimmy – which is not how the mentally disabled were typically treated in 1964. Al tells Sam that he really needs to get the job.

At the job site, one of the workers refers to Sam/Jimmy as “Ricky Retardo.” Frank advises Sam to ignore them. When the worker continues, Sam restrains Frank and tells him to ignore the man. Inside Frank again gives Sam advice. Call the interviewer “sir,” show him a doctor’s note that clears Jimmy to work, and Frank tells him that no matter how it goes, he will love him.

Sam does a good job at the interview and he gets the job. He is working at a shipping dock.

Al reappears to Sam who is pushing a flatbed crate. He tells Sam that his job is become friends with his co-workers so that Jimmy can *keep* the job. He has to win over his co-workers and get them behind him. Al analogizes Sam’s situation with that of Jackie Robinson. It is not enough to do the job. He has to get the people around him to buy in to the idea that he can do the job so that they support him. Sam seems concerned that he might be Jimmy for a long, long time while he wins over those around him.

Sam is eating lunch with Frank. We learn some of Jimmy’s backstory at lunch. Frank tells Sam that their dad would be really proud of him. He also tells him that the only time he ever saw their father cry was when he had to place Jimmy in Wayside. Frank apologizes to Jimmy for not getting him out of Wayside sooner. As the two of them are eating, Sam/Jimmy accidentally knocks Frank’s thermos off of their dockside lunch station and into the water down below them. Frank seems upset for just a moment. He tells Sam that the thermos was a Christmas present from Connie. Then he tells Sam/Jimmy that it’s not a problem and then reiterates it again.

Back at work, Sam is not having a good day. The other workers are giving him a hard time. We see a crate being unloaded. They throw two bags down for Sam to catch instead of just one, which guarantees that he will drop one. Then he is told to clean it up. Sam/Jimmy says that the guys who tossed him two bags at once should clean it up. One of the dockworkers, named Blue, starts pushing and shoving Sam/Jimmy until Sam fights back. The whistle blows signaling the end of the work day.

Frank wants to sign Jimmy out of work but Sam/Jimmy insists that he can do it himself. Sam does not get it done properly and Frank has to take him to get another form.

At the house, Connie is singing “My Guy” to Corey. Frank and Sam/Jimmy come home. Frank wants to celebrate Jimmy getting the job. Connie says she could make a roast but that it will take a while to thaw out. Sam/Jimmy suggest putting it in the microwave.

What’s a microwave?

Corey unwittingly covers for the slip up by saying it’s like something from a movie he has seen. Corey asks his dad to play catch with him and Frank suggests that he play with Uncle Jimmy instead. After Sam/Jimmy and Corey go outside, we hear Connie tell Frank that she does not like Frank encouraging her son to play with Jimmy. Frank tries to sell Connie on the uh, advantages, of being alone in the house while Corey and Jimmy are outside for an hour.

Unfortunately, football does not go well outside. Sam throws the ball to Corey and it lands in a neighbor’s yard. A neighbor kid begins picking on Corey and Sam/Jimmy. The neighbor kid calls Jimmy a dummy. Corey retaliates by hitting the kid, and then pretty soon the neighbor kid is beating up Corey. Sam/Jimmy pull the somewhat older kid off of Corey. The older kid’s mom then runs outside with a broom and begins swinging it at Sam/Jimmy. She threatens the now also outside Frank and Connie about keeping “this monster” away from her son.

Back inside, Corey explains to Connie and Frank what happened. Connie reacts pretty negatively and blames Jimmy.

It’s never his fault. It’s always somebody else’s. We have to watch him every second. It’s like having a big giant child around. I’m getting sick of it.

Sam narrates that he cannot understand the depth of Frank’s devotion. The two talk about the incident while washing Frank’s truck. Frank notices that Sam is scratching the paint and stops him. He then tries to take the garden hose from Sam to finish rinsing the truck. Sam resists and insists that he can do it. He ends up spraying Frank with water.

Later that night, Jimmy is alone setting the dinner table. Al appears and asks him how things are going. He startles Sam and Sam nearly drops the dinner plates. A moment later, Connie startles Sam coming into the kitchen and he drops her Grandmother’s platter. For about the tenth time in this episode so far, Sam apologizes. This time he goes outside after.

Outside, Al tells Sam that he needs to keep trying. He then gives some more biographical information about himself. Al’s younger sister was named Trudy. She was also “retarded” with an IQ even lower than Jimmy’s IQ. Al speculates that his mother could not handle this and that is why she left them. Al says his father tried to keep their family together. However, his father was a construction worker that traveled with his work. When Al’s father ended up working in the Middle East, Al was sent to an orphanage and Trudy was placed in an institution. She eventually died while institutionalized. Al is quite emotional while telling this story and he concludes with:

Al: We’re not going to lose Jimmy! Right?
Sam: Right.

That night, Corey asks to read with Sam. They divert from the book and end up talking. Corey says to Sam that he does not understand why most people are mean to him. Sam points out that not everyone is mean to him and he explains that people just do not know him. Sam then decides to tell Corey a story instead of reading one to him. He tells him about Star Wars.

The next day at work, Jimmy is cleaning the floor and unintentionally ends up interacting with Blue again (the guy who shoved him earlier in the episode.) There appears to be something wrong with Blue. He picks up the wrong crate with the forklift and then he crashes the forklift. He blames Sam/Jimmy for the crash which causes Jimmy to be fired. Frank is angry about his brother being fired so he quits.

In the parking lot, Frank finally snaps and blames Sam/Jimmy for the accident at work. He tells Jimmy that he just cannot watch him all the time. Sam says that he did not cause the accident. Frank asks “how do you know?” and Sam says “I know.” Frank tells him that he knows nothing. At home, Frank tells Connie that he quit.

Connie: I don’t know who’s dumber, him or you!

Connie foresees Jimmy following Frank to each new job and causing him to lose each of those jobs. She tries to convince Frank to take Jimmy back to Wayside.

In the front yard, Sam repairs Corey’s bike. Al shows up. Frank congratulates Sam/Jimmy on repairing the boke. Then he gives Sam the news about sending Jimmy to Wayside. Sam/Jimmy insists he can get another job. Al tells Sam that if he goes to Wayside, Ziggy says Jimmy does not get out.

Abruptly, Sam/Jimmy gets into Frank’s truck, announces that he is going to get his job back, and then he drives away. The real Jimmy cannot drive so this alarms Frank and Connie. Corey takes off after his Uncle Jimmy on his bicycle. Jimmy arrives safely and talks to the dock master. He says that the reason Blue picked up the wrong crate earlier and the reason he crashed the forklift is because he found out Blue’s secret. Blue is dyslexic.

Blue: What’d you call me?!

The dock master tests Blue by asking him to read off some numbers. He realizes that Sam/Jimmy is telling the truth. He then thanks Sam/Jimmy for telling him the truth and says that he and his brother can have their jobs back. Blue attempts to retaliate against Sam by hitting him with the forklift. Sam and his boss jump out of the way but the forklift crashes into the pile of sacks from which Corey has been watching events unfold. Corey falls off sacks and off the dock all the way down into the water.

Frank and Connie are here now and they see it happen. Frank jumps into the water. He finds Corey but the boy is not breathing. Sam gives Corey mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. After a harrowing minute, it finally works. Sam asks Al if his mission had been to save Corey. Al says that his mission was to see that Jimmy was accepted and that he has succeeded.

Connie tells Jimmy thank you and God bless you. Frank gives Jimmy a hug and Sam leaps.

Sam is now standing next to an African American woman, in a court room, and we hear a judge telling the woman that she is accused of murder.


This was a hard-hitting episode. I will start with the basics.

How does it work when Sam leaps into the body of Jimmy? Sam’s cognitive ability is unimpaired by the leap. This makes sense. He was not blind in the body of a blind man. His brain is not slowed by leaping into a person with Down’s Syndrome. However, it seems that Sam’s physical ability is limited to the physical abilities of Jimmy. As a result, while capable for most activities, most of the time, Sam still frequently finds himself knocking things over and breaking things by accident. He probably apologized ten times in this episode, at least. It began wearing on my soul to see him hanging his head and saying he was sorry.

I thought Scott Bakula did a really good job of being both Dr. Beckett AND Jimmy. His physical affectations were Jimmy. His mind and his mounting emotional frustration was Sam. This might have been his best performance on the show to date.

I also really enjoyed getting some more backstory about Al – despite how tragic the details of Al’s life were once revealed. He mentioned offhandedly in Season 1 that he grew up in an orphanage despite having a living father. Now we know why. We did not know – or at least I do not think we knew – that Al had a younger sister. We have seen Al care about the circumstances Sam finds himself in, before, but I do not remember seeing Al quite so emotional. This was probably Dean Stockewell’s best performance on the show so far, too.

As for the story? I struggled with getting through this episode. I did not struggle because the content was bad. It was good. I struggled because the content was painful. It was painful to see Jimmy treated so badly for 40+ minutes. It was painful to watch Frank try so hard and eventually break. It was painful to see the workplace situation with Blue and Jimmy play out.

I wonder, though, how things will go for the real Jimmy when he returns. Sam has done things his host did not know how to do before. But I do not remember him doing something his host did not know how to do in such a public fashion. I guess we will never know. Maybe the real Jimmy also knew CPR. Or maybe he gets to somehow learn about all of this in the waiting chamber before returning to his own body. Will Corey be confused when Jimmy does not remember Star Wars anymore?

It was interesting to see a big name guest star in a relatively small role. Michael Madsen played Blue. His long and illustrious career includes films such as Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2, Species, and The Hateful Eight. But before he started having major film success in the early 1990s, he did a lot of guest-starring work on a lot of TV shows in the 1980s (St. Elsewhere, Miami Vice, Cagney & Lacey, and Quantum Leap to name a few.)