Quantum Leap (Season 2, Ep 20): Animal Frat

Welcome back to my episode by episode recap and reaction to Quantum Leap. Spoilers ahead for the current episode.

THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:

Sam leaps into the body of a fraternity member at Meeks College in 1967. He is known to his friends as “Wild Thing.” His mission in this episode is to prevent a beautiful young anti-war activist, Elisabeth, from bombing the chemistry building in an anti-war protest where history says she accidentally kills a student who was in the building after hours.

Sam slowly wins her over and on the night of the bombing, convinces her that a bomb she planted will likely kill someone. Sam and Elisabeth – with the help of Al – defuse the bomb and then a surprise second bomb which had also been planted by Elisabeth’s activist group’s leader.

Sam is finally allowed to leap after completing a fraternity house ritual of jumping into a swimming pool from a great height.

THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:

Sam narrates that Quantum Leaping is always a rewarding experience. He leaps into a college aged student at what appears to be a raucous fraternity party. That appearance is confirmed. Sam is at a Tau Kappa Beta fraternity party, wearing a Dick Butkus Chicago Bears jersey. One of the frat brothers vomits on his shoes.

“Oh boy.”

Sam’s is at Meeks College in 1967. We find out through Sam’s narration that the real Sam never joined a fraternity. The person he is occupying is known to his friends as “Wild Thing.” Upon returning to Knut ‘Wild Thing’ Wileton’s dorm room, Sam finds that the place is a mess. He also finds two girls in his bed.

[In the background, from the party still going on through the rest of the house, we hear The Beach Boys singing ♫two girls for every boy♫ as he makes this discovery.]

Sam escapes from the two coeds and exits the room

in the next scene we see Sam talking quietly with Al while his fraternity brother launch projectiles at people outside of their fraternity house.

Sam: I’m trapped in the body of a troglodyte.

Ziggy believes Sam has arrived at this college in 1967 to prevent a campus bombing. A campus activist named Elisabeth Spokane plants said bomb in a chemistry building at night as a form of protest. Al tells us that the bomb was intended to go off in an empty building. However, a student had sneaked into the building to work on a project and was killed by accident. According to Ziggy, she spends the rest of her life on the run from authorities.

As luck or timing would have it, Elisabeth is outside Sam’s fraternity house window being pelted by objects at the moment Sam learns this information about her. He runs outside and asks if he can talk with her. She – having recently been pelted – is not impressed. She directs him to “Duck.” Sam starts talking with Duck and tells him that he shares their interest in ending the (Vietnam) war.

Ducks tells Sam that he sees through him. Duck apparently believes that “Wild Thing” wants to help in order to get to Elisabeth. He tells Sam that he will be watching him to make certain that he does not get near Elisabeth. Al sums the situation up.

Oh great, that’s good. Now you’ve got to figure out how to get on Elisabeth’s good side. You’ve also got to be on the lookout for that nozzle.

Later, Sam is sitting in a science class. Elisabeth is in the same class. During the “any questions” portion of the lecture, she asks the professor how he justifies the department’s participation in “a homicidal and illegal” war. The professor says that her question is better asked in the philosophy department.

Sam chimes in and asks “what do the South Vietnamese want? Are we trying to help a friend in need or are we trying to impose our will upon a weaker country?” He seems to have won a considering look from Elisabeth after his classroom interjection.

After class, Sam tries to talk to Elisabeth. She tells him that she is going to a meeting. He asks if he can come along. Just then, they are interrupted by Fraternity pledge, “Scooter” who is wearing his underwear outside of his pants. When Sam asks who told him to do that, we learn that “Your Royal Wildness” told him to do it. Sam gives him permission not to do it anymore.

Elisabeth tells Sam that this pledge stuff is stupid. He tries to defend it to her by describing it as a leftover from primitive times. “It’s like a rite of passage.” She is amused by his defense of fraternity pledge practices. He attends Duck’s meeting with her.

Sam narrates that there is something spooky about Duck though he also concedes that perhaps Thomas Jefferson seemed spooky in his own time. We hear Duck saying that “violence is the only language that the bloated ruling class can understand” as Al appears next to Sam. Sam asks Al what someone like Elisabeth sees in Duck. Al theorizes that the kids in the meeting come from comfortable backgrounds. They can afford to attend college and they are not in Vietnam. “Sometimes that breeds guilt.” Al lets us know that Elisabeth’s family is “loaded.”

After, Sam approaches Elisabeth and tells her that Duck is a great speaker though he has issues with Duck’s call for taking up arms. When she asks if he followed her to this meeting to bug her, Sam invites her to a fraternity Luau. She rolls her eyes as though he has just confirmed her suspicion of his intentions. While Sam is arguing to her that even Lenin needed to take a break, occasionally, Duck finally notices that Sam is in the room. As she walks away from her, Sam “bock bocks” like a chicken. He then offers to pass out flyers with her if she attends with him.

E: Whoa, wait, what would the Young Republicans think?
S: I don’t care.

She agrees to meet him at the party at 8. When she leaves Sam, she talks to Duck.

You two seem pretty cozy.

She tells Duck that Sam invited her to the Luau. When he asks, “you’re not going, are you” she says “no way.”

After the meeting, Sam confesses to Al that he does not know how to enjoy fraternity life. Al reminds him that growing up a super-genius, Sam’s idea of fun was doing quantum physics. Sam decides that he can survive for one more day.

In the fraternity house, the members are studying. It becomes clear that Sam knows the answers and the other members want to come up with a system to cheat off of him. When Sam says that he will not help them, they announce an intention to do something stupid and pointless to lift spirits before their impending massacre. We next see a fraternity brother setting a ladder in front of a window. He climbs up and through the now open window. Three more fraternity brothers and then Sam follow through the window. They appear to be in a women’s dormitory. We soon see a young woman changing clothes while the fraternity members watch. When she turns away from view, the group of men run into and hide inside the sorority bathroom.

BOY OH BOY! THIS GETS THE ADRENALINE PUMPING.

Al arrives and announces that he is enjoying events. The mission tonight appears to be lighting and igniting a cherry bomb in the girls’ toilets. They succeed and flee back out through the window and down the ladder. Sam is last through the window and Elisabeth emerges from her room, and sees him, before he falls from the ladder.

The next day at the library, Sam tries to talk to Elisabeth. They again discuss the war and Sam tries to talk her into the idea that violence is not the way to stop the war. When she repeats Duck’s line from the seminar about violence being the only language the ruling class understands, Sam tells her she needs to use something more powerful than violence.

Enter Duck.

Duck: God seems to be sitting this one out.
Sam: I wouldn’t be too sure about that.

Sam tries to sell both Elisabeth and Duck on the idea of publicity over violence. He encourages Elisabeth to fight “with the pen.” Duck accuses Sam of not actually caring. Sam shoves Duck into a bunch of books and tells him that he lost a brother in Vietnam. “Don’t tell me that I don’t care.”

Duck: Then maybe you should have cared about him more before he went.

Elisabeth intervenes before Sam pounds Duck’s head with some library books. She tells him that she is really sorry. She asks what she is supposed to wear to a Luau.

At the party, we learn some more about Elisabeth’s parents. Her dad makes a lot of money. Her mom spends a lot of money. She gets lost in between. She tells him that she now agrees with him that publicity is the key stopping the war.

We are going to do to the chemistry department what they have been doing all over Vietnam. We’re going to bomb it.

Sam calls campus security to report the bomb. However, they believe that he is pranking them. They hang up on him. Sam finds out that Scooter is at the chemistry department and he gets Elisabeth to tell him where the bomb is located.

After Sam leaves, we see Scooter return to the frat house. Al shouts that Ziggy now says that he and Elisabeth are the people who die in the explosion. Sam does not hear. The fraternity brothers – believing that Sam is working to protect to honor of Tau Kappa Beta – chase after him.

Al catches up with Sam and explains and Sam replies “what happens if someone else comes by here?” Sam gets the locker combination form Elisabeth and finds the bomb.

“Oh boy.”

Al talks Sam through defusing the bomb. They defuse it. Enter Duck. We learn that there were two bombs. Sam tries to make Duck tell him where the other bomb is but he does not want to do so. They have a brawl in the chemistry lab. Sam’s fraternity brothers show up to cheer him on as he pummels Duck. Sam finally gets him to say where the bomb is hidden. Sam and his fraternity brothers slingshot the bomb out of the chemistry lab window in the same manner that they had earlier in the episode been slinging water balloons at people who passed by their frat house.

The bomb explodes in the air and well out of harm’s way for anyone.

*cue up some episode music*

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

After the explosion, everyone returns to the Luau party. Sam talks to Elisabeth about everything and speculates with her that maybe she got carried away with her anti-war effort because she is trying to get her parents to notice her. She seems open to that notion.

Al tells Sam that Elisabeth ends up being a major player in stopping the war.

Sam: But why aren’t I leaping?
Al: Maybe you’re here for something else.

Sam is carried away by his fraternity brothers. They summon “the god of the Luau” in a mock ritual that looks vaguely from the Pacific Islands. Sam is dressed and painted like a would-be tribal god. Ziggy thinks Sam has to jump into a swimming pool from a tribal throne that has been constructed for him. It’s, uh, high up. The real Knut apparently broke his neck attempting this leap.

If you want to leap, you’ve got to leap.

Sam succeeds. As he shouts “TKB is the life for me,” Sam leaps. It looks like Sam will be a woman again next time.

I’m a mommy!

REACTION:

There are two stories being told by this episode.

The first is a story about campus anti-war culture gone wrong. The second is the story of loner Sam’s reluctant acceptance of fraternal brotherhood.

With respect to the first story, campus violence was somewhat common on American college campuses during the 1960s. Among the more well-known groups of violent anti-war radicals, in that era, were the Weather Underground, a group that came back into public awareness in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama. Obama was then accused by factions within the American and British press of having ties with former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers.

Quantum Leap, in this episode, does not present its audience with anything that is more well organized than just a small local group. However, the memory of the 1960s radical era would have been in the minds of its viewers who lived through that era.

We are not told much about Duck, how he came to be radical, whether his beliefs were strictly limited to opposition to war, or whether they are more far-reaching ideologically. We do not learn what happened to him after the incident at the end of the episode, either. To some extent that felt like a missed opportunity. He comes across as possessive of Elisabeth to some extent, though. In any case, the show presents a compelling message for peaceful protest. The “law of unintended consequences” rears its head in unforgivable ways when violence is intentionally introduced. Elisabeth had good intentions. Nevertheless, before Sam’s Quantum Leap intervention, she accidentally killed someone, did not achieve anything that aided her cause, and wasted her life’s potential trying to escape from her past (and from the police.) We also get a sense that engaging in violence creates animosity with the people violent protesters are – in theory – attempting to persuade. Duck is not painted in a sympathetic way by the show’s writers. That is intentional.

The show itself seems to come down against the Vietnam War but it largely does so for what seems like practical reasons. As Sam mentions early in the episode, in his chemistry class, if the South Vietnamese lose the will to fight, it does not matter what American forces do or whether their aims are virtuous. They cannot win under those circumstances. This appears to be the feeling of Sam – and maybe through him the writers.

The other major story of this episode was the story of Sam’s immersion in fraternity culture. The real Dr. Beckett is a super-genius who was too young to be in a fraternity during his college days. As a result, the show shows us a picture of a Dr. Beckett who is perhaps somewhat uncomfortable with the types of hi-jinks that ensue around large groups of young men. Inasmuch as Sam gave a defense of fraternity culture to Elisabeth early in the episode, he lives out that defense throughout the episode. His immersion in this group serves as something of a rite of passage for himself, culminating in his leap into the swimming pool.

I actually found the dynamic of Sam’s gradual comfort with fraternity life more interesting than the perhaps timely-for-2020 discussion on political violence. That probably relates to the fact that I will be with Sam again in the next episode. I suspect the show will not revisit Elisabeth again. Sam’s character arc is harder to find within the format of this show but episodes like this one give a glimpse into how Quantum Leaping is changing him along the way.

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