Quantum Leap (Season 2, Ep 18): Catch a Falling Star

Welcome back to Season 2 of Quantum Leap. I am about to spoil this episode for you by writing a detailed recap and reaction. I recommend finding this on the NBC app and meeting me back here in an hour if you think that my spoilers will bother you. For everyone else, let’s proceed as planned.

THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:

Sam leaps into the body of Ray Hutton, an understudy for John O’Malley in a Syracuse performance of Man of La Macha. His mission is to prevent the star of the show from breaking his leg when he falls off a set of stage stairs.

The mission is complicated by the appearance of Sam’s “real life” piano teacher Nicole. He struggles within himself about completing the mission and leaving or ignoring the mission and thereby staying. At the last moment, he decides to save the star of the show from injury and complete the mission.

———————————————-

THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:

Pre-game music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhxF9Qg5mOU

You need to at least keep listening until they hit that crazy saxophone solo.

Sam leaps into the body of a man, Ray, moments before he takes the stage for a musical. Oh boy!

Just as Sam is about to take the stage, we learn that he will not have to. “Ray” is the understudy to someone else and that someone else finally arrived. He is a bit inebriated, but he is ready to sing.

Al has now also arrived. He LOVES the theater. Al got out of the orphanage via acting.

Acting is the world’s second oldest profression. Maybe the first. Eh, prostitution can be considered kind of a performance. In fact, there’s a lot of acting that goes…

Sam is in the body of Ray Hutton. Al tells Sam that Ray never breaks through. Ray is currently an understudy in Man of La Mancha. Al tells us that Sam and Al’s “song” was Man of La Mancha and that it was the only disk he ever played while they were building the Quantum Leap machine. Al tells Sam (and the audience) that in three days, the lead of this play falls down stair steps, breaking his leg, shattering his hip, and ending his career. Sam asks how he can get the man to dry out in three days. Al suggests that Sam get him so drunk that he cannot go on. Sam points out that if the lead does not go on, then he will have to. Al seems fine with that plan.

Just then, Sam notices that one of the women on the stage is his real-life piano teacher, Nicole. He describes her as the first woman he ever loved He tells Al that he was fifteen when she left for New York. When Nicole smiles at “Ray,” Sam says that he believes she recognizes him.

She was too old for me then. She’s not now.

Oh no. Did we fall into a Season 1 episode by accident?

Sam approaches Nicole after the performance ends and she gives him a big ole kiss. He asks her:

S: How did you ever know it was me?
N: Do you think I could ever forget you, Ray?

We learn a few things after this – other than that Sam is an endless source of me groaning while watching TV. Ray and Nicole attended Juilliard together. They were together in some capacity for two years after school. Nicole wrote Ray letters. And at some point, Ray stopped replying to her letters. Sam tells her that he has been leaping around. “You know how the road is.” In any case, Sam gets another big ole kiss from his old piano teacher after that shared information.

Nicole tells Sam/Ray that she was just cast in this production. She hopes that they might get to perform together.

Just then, John O’Malley, the inebriated lead, approaches Nicole and asks her name. Sam/Ray is quick to point out to him that she is an old friend. Nicole, in turn, tells Mr. O’Malley that he is an inspiration to her. Given his positive reaction to her, she seems to be, uh, inspiring him in return. O’Malley invites her to their opening night party where “there promises to be merriment and… misadventure.”

Later, at the party, Inebriated O’Malley approaches a beautiful young woman and introduces her to the new Dulcinea. As he walks away, she asks “does that mean I’m the old Dulcinea?” The old Dulcinea drapes herself around Sam/Ray and tells Nicole that she hopes Nicole likes Sunday Matinees. She suggestively says while still draped around Sam/Ray, that she is usually not worn down until then.

Alone on the couch with O’Malley, Nicole asks him if Sam/Ray and The Old Dulcinea are dating. He says “one could call it that. I don’t think they’ve ever made it out of the hotel.” At the bar, getting drinks for O’Malley we learn The Old Dulcinea’s name is Michelle. She lives up to O’Malley’s description by asking Sam/Ray if they can go upstairs.

By the time Sam returns with drinks, O’Malley is laying on Nicole’s lap near the point of passing out. Sam refuses to give him anything else to drink. O’Malley calls out for someone and this other woman leads him away upstairs. He sings his own exit music.

Alone with Nicole again, Sam toasts her and they stare longingly into each other’s eyes. Then he narrates:

Al might call it puppy love but I knew it had been something more. You get over puppy love.

Later, at Nicole’s place, Sam/Ray sees a photo of Nicole’s piano students. He sees himself as a fifteen year old in the picture. She tells him they had a recital a few months ago. Sam sits down at her piano and plays a warm-up routine. She tells him that someone she knows used to warm up with that routine. He asks if it was one of her students and she says that she supposes. “I’ve had so many [students] over the years.”

She comes over and sits next to Sam on the piano bench. Sam confesses that he had a crush on his piano teacher. She tells him that it sounds like he has a thing for piano teachers. More kissing.

At rehearsal, we learn that John O’Malley does not rehearse. Sam/Ray is going to perform with Nicole. Unfortunately, the guy with the 200+ IQ either did not learn his lines or he cannot hold his thoughts together while staring at Nicole. Fortunately, Al finally arrives to fed Sam his lines.

O’Malley arrives during rehearsal and praises Sam/Ray’s performance. He then asks the director if he can hear Nicole sing, “What Does He Want of Me?” As she is singing, Al notes Sam’s expression.

Al: I’ve seen that look before, Sam.
Sam: What look?
Al: That “last night the earth moved” look.

Sam complains to Al about not being able to live his own life. All that he does is live other people’s lives. “Right their wrongs, fight their fights, geez, sometimes I feel like I’m Don Quixote.” Al tells Sam that he cannot stay here with Nicole and he asks why not. Al replies that its not up to Sam, it’s up to Him.

[Suddenly those lyrics, “What Does He Want Of Me?” reflect Sam’s relationship with the Almighty.]

O’Malley asks the director if “the local girl” (Nicole) can do the performance on Wednesday. The director agrees. It seems clear that O’Malley has more on his mind that just Nicole’s stage performance, based on the way he is leering at her.

At the bar, Michelle (the Old Dulcinea) is complaining to Manny about O’Malley giving her part to “Miss Amateur Hour.” Sam/Ray walk in. He asks Michelle where Nicole is and Michelle tells him that “she’ll be down soon.” She gives him the impression that Nicole is in O’Malley’s hotel room. Sam leaves. Michelle then tells Manny to tell Nicole that Sam/Ray has gone up to her hotel room with her. Michelle then tells Manny that he can come up to her hotel room after he gives this false information to Nicole.

Sam knocks on O’Malley’s door and goes inside. They hear a woman singing from the shower in the other room. O’Malley offers Sam/Ray a gin. He refuses and then leaves. Not surprisingly, a moment later, a different woman exits O’Malley’s shower.

Sometime later, Sam/Ray is at a piano paying “The Impossible Dream.” Al appears and learns that Nicole “rehearsed” with O’Malley the previous night in his hotel room. Al pontificates that women simply do not understand the double standard. He encourages Sam to save O’Malley from falling so that they can get out of there. Sam says he is going to let O’Malley break his neck. Al asks him:

A: You don’t want to hang around here being Ray, do you?
S: …
A: Do you?
S: …

While Nicole is getting hair and make-up done for her performance, the hairdresser lets her know that Michelle spent the previous night with Manny. Nicole is surprised having believed that she had been with Ray. She approaches Sam moments before curtains open and ask if they can see each other after the show. He tells her that he is not planning to be around after the show.

O’Malley arrives moments before it appears Sam/Ray might get to perform. The talented drunkard continues to let Sam/Ray believe that he spent the night with Nicole. Sam tells him to “break a leg.” The audience watches O’Malley teeter near the top of a stage staircase. At the last moment, as he begins to fall, Sam runs over and catches him. O’Malley – out of gratitude for what Sam/Ray has just done – decides not to perform after all.

Seconds before Sam/Ray takes the stage, Manny decides to let Sam know that Nicole did not “rehearse” with John the night before.

Sam performs Man of La Mancha. The TV audience is treated to a montage of his solos. He exits the stage, side-by-side with Al, and leaps away.

Where does he leap to? A dark and stormy night, in a cemetery, beside a beautiful woman dressed all in white. Oh boy.

REACTION:

Sometimes I find myself pretty annoyed with Sam. When he saw one of his great loves in the second episode of the series, he was willing to destroy his mission, the timeline, and anything else necessary to repair his former relationship. In this episode, he did not risk the timeline of history. However, he really struggled with whether or not he actually wanted to complete the mission. I believe this is the first time we have seen Sam consider the idea of ignoring the mission in a hope that he will avoid a leap.

“Puppy love” felt like an insufficient justification for making such a dramatic choice. However, as the episode went on, we learned that puppy love was only one of the factors motivating his inner struggle. Sam’s other driving force was loneliness. This outwardly expressed loneliness is a character development for him. Two seasons into this show, Dr. Beckett is beginning to miss having a life, deep relationships with other people, his own love, etc.

I actually like this change in Sam because it makes complete sense. We do not get a lot of big picture “I regret not being able to go home” from Sam. This episode marks a significant change. The pilot episode gave us a glimpse of that potential regret in Sam. He called his real life father under false pretenses and talked to him. Here, we have that pilot episode sentiment bubbling over more broadly. His complaint about not living his own life felt sudden, because he has not mentioned it since that pilot episode, but that sudden complaint also felt real.

Does that make his choice to use time travel as a mechanism to live out the lurid fantasies of his fifteen year old self an okay choice? Absolutely not. Nicole did not knowingly sleep with Sam. She thought she was sleeping with Ray. But will someone do something terrible because of feelings of desperate loneliness? Of course. Just do not confuse understanding Sam’s choice with justification.

Imagine being a teacher and having a bright pupil. That kid grows up, invents a time machine, travels back in time to when you were the age at which he was your student, he hi-jacks the body of someone else you do love, and then he uses that body to sleep with you. You’d be mortified, right? Of course you would. I mean… I would have to look through case law about the history of sex under false identity pretenses but this episode comes very close to rape if it does not get all the way there.

[Some of you are probably wishing I would just let you enjoy the episode without paying attention to its details. I hear you. Moving on.]

It seems unrealistic that Nicole would not remember Sam the piano student. When Sam played Sam’s piano warm-up, she claimed that she could not remember whose routine it was. Right. How often as a piano teacher do you teach a famous teenage super genius?

Al was great in this episode. Of course he loves the theater. He has a very theatrical personality. I also liked the maybe not-so-subtle comparison during the episode of Don Quixote / Sancho Panza and Sam / Al. It makes a lot of sense. To that end, in this episode, Al was a terrific Sancho Panza to Sam.

Ending on an upbeat note, apparently Scott Bakula did all of his own singing in this episode. He is, not surprisingly, very good. He also looked great in that mustache he wore throughout the episode. Hopefully we get more mustache leaps in the future.

Thank you for reading. I will see you after the next leap.

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