Quantum Leap (Season 2, Ep 26): Pool Hall Blues

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.

THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:

Sam leaps into Charlie “Black Magic” Walters, an aging black pool legends from the 1950s. He has to win a pool match against Eddie – a young pool shark who owns the mortgage on his granddaughter Violet’s Blues Club- to save her blues club.

Using some coaching from Al – and Al’s handheld device which provides a laser guide that display son the pool table where to hit the ball and where it should roll – Sam is able to win the match and save the club.

THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:

Have I mentioned that I love this narration intro? Because I love it. This lady is allowed to describe me doing literally anything.

Dusty awoke to find himself in the present, facing fatigue and a face that is getting old. Fortunately, contact with the outside world is maintained through internet transmissions via Mark, the Facebook oligarch, who appears in the form of a hologram in Dusty’s room reminding him to register to vote…

Sam appears in a pool hall, facing a double or nothing shot, surrounded by a bunch of young black American men who keep referring to him as old man. Sam finally lines up to take the shot and his misses. “Oh boy.”

September 4, 1954

Sam has leaped into Charlie “Black Magic” Walters. His apparent friend introduces him to someone else as “the greatest pool player in the world.” While introductions are occurring, a young attractive black woman is singing from a nearby stage. When she finishes, she walks over to Sam/Charlie and tells him to give the other man back his money. Sam tells her “I haven’t really taken it yet.”

Sam talks to the guy his host Charlie was in the process of hustling. The younger man and Charlie’s friend talk about games of pool that Charlie has won in the past and Sam tries to pretend that he remembers the games to which they refer. The younger man, Lester, tells Sam (“Mr. Magic”) that it was a real pleasure to meet him, while the singing woman from earlier watches their exchange with a smile.

After Lester leaves, another man, named Eddie joins the conversation. He tells the woman that everyone gambles now and then. Sam says he is thinking of giving it up and Eddie gets upset. The woman, Violet, tells Eddie to beat it and he reminds her that he owns the mortgage on the pool hall and the payment is due in two days.

Eddie: Or have you forgotten?
Violet: How could I forget with you hanging over my shoulder to remind me every five minutes?

Eddie congratulates Violet on turning the pool hall into “a real uptown spot” and he tells her it will be a pleasure to own it. He laughs and leaves. Violet ask Sam (Poppy) how his eyes are and says that they look different. Charlie’s friend agrees.

Al appears and says “that’s Alberta.” Sam repeats the name Alberta and his friend hear him and takes the pool stick from Sam, saying he will put her to bed. Al tells Sam that the stick is as big a legend as he is. Sam wants to talk to Al in the men’s room and Al complains that everytime they leap in they have to talk in the men’s room.

Al: It’s disgusting.
Sam: Can you think of a better place to talk.

Al tells Sam that he knows Charlie “Black Magic” Walters and he says that he is one of the few people in the world who have ever been allowed to touch his pool stick, Alberta. Al tells the story of how they met. When he was ten years old, he ran away from his orphanage. He was so cold and hungry that he tried to pick Black Magic’s pocket. Instead of turning Al into the police, Charlie told Al that children should not be in orphanages and kept Al with him long enough for Al to spend some time traveling with him while they looked for a family for him. Al tells Sam that Charlie eventually got into trouble for shooting people in a “white’s only” pool hall and he was sent back to the orphanage. He tells Sam that those few months were very important in his life. He credits them with giving him a better outlook.

Al explains their situation. Violet took out a loan from a loan shark to turn the pool hall into a blue’s club. Eddie, a pool shark, bought her mark and that is what he is using to make the match with Magic. Previously, Magic was unwilling to play pool against Eddie because he does not play against “trash.” Sam notes that this is an expensive way to get a pool game. Al tells Sam that Eddie knows Magic’s eyesight is gone. He does not believe he will lose. However, Al also notes that Eddie does not know Sam can see just fine.

Sam: My eyes may be fine but I couldn’t shoot a game of pool with a shotgun.

Al tells Sam that he will have to learn. If he doesn’t learn, and beat Eddie, then Magic will never forgive himself for not coming through for his granddaughter, Violet, and Al says that he will never forgive himself for not coming through for Magic.

The next day, Sam finds Violet working in the club. He offers to give her some assistance. His friend, who we now know to be named Grady, enters a few moments later. Grady sees Violet replacing a lamp in the club and he tries to stop her. Sam/Magic concedes that the lamp is pretty beat up. However, Grady points out that one dent is from a cue during a memorable game of pool from years ago. Violet tells Grady that the lamp is old, worn out, and that it needs to go.

Grady: I’m old and worn out. Does that mean I need to go too?

Sam tells Violet that maybe they should keep the lamp. She agrees and Grady is pleased. He says he cannot wait to see Charlie/Sam shoot Eddie’s eyes out. Violet tells Grady that Sam says they will save the club without shooting pool.

Sam: It’s simple. We go to the bank, get a loan, and buy back your mark from Eddie.

Al rolls his eyes. Violet tells him they already tried the bank while Al is telling him to forget about it because it is 1954 and Violet is a single, black woman. Despite everyone looking at him like he is crazy, Sam continues to insist that all he sees is a business person who needs a loan. Sam says that the only thing crazy is to risk everything on a game of pool. Violet asks him if his eyes are worse. He says no and asks where the bank is located.

In the next scene, they enter the bank. Sam tells the white female receptionist that they would like to see someone about a business loan. She replies sourly, “a business loan?” and tells them that the bank’s loan officers are busy. Sam looks around and notes that nobody is busy at the moment, suggest that his eyesight is going, and asks her to look again. She tells him he should talk to Mr. Griffin in the back.

Mr. Griffin is a black. He tells them that the bank does not view pool halls as a sound investment and he asks why they need the loan. Violet starts to tell him that they need it to pay off a loan shark but she changes mid-sentence to say it is to pay back the money she borrowed to convert the pool hall into the club.

Mr. Griffin: You want a loan to pay off a loan?

Violet explains that she borrowed the money from a loan shark because bankers like him would not trust her. Sam concedes that borrowing from a loan shark was not the best way to get the money but then he states that it was the only way to get the money. Mr. Griffin tells them that he would like to help. He then explains the hardships and racism he endured to even get into a position where he can work as a loan officer at this bank. He then tells them that he cannot see how he can recommend the loan to his bosses at the bank. Violet storms out. Sam stays behind to lecture. Sam/Charlie tells Mr. Griffin that he made it and the fact that he made it means he has some responsibility for those trying to make it behind him.

Outside, Sam tells Violet that they will try another bank. She says that if they cannot get a loan from a negro banker, what hope do they have of getting a loan from someone else before tomorrow. Sam says there must be another way and Violet says that there is. She says she needs to give Eddie what he has been after since she was thirteen.

Violet: The club is my dream. If I’ve got to get a little tarnished keeping it, well, that’s life in the big city.

That night, we see Eddie playing pool in Violet’s club. She walks in wearing a tight-fitting pink dress. She asks if it’s hot tonight and he said that depends on what game he is playing. She says the one she has in mind is pretty old. Grady watches all of this occurs and runs out to get Sam/Magic. Sam barges in and pushes Eddie away from Violet. Violet tells Sam that he cannot play Eddie because his eyes are bad.

Eddie: Is that true, Magic?
Sam: There’s only one way to find out.

Sam tells him they will play tomorrow. Before Sam and Violet can leave, Eddie demonstrates some of his pool prowess.

Sometime later, we see Sam trying to play. Al appears and tries to teach him to play. Sam notes the oddity of someone who was taught by Magic, teaching Magic how to play. After a while, Violet, who is singing and playing piano, asks who he is talking to and he tells her he is talking to Alberta. She asks him to take a break and sit beside her.

Sam starts playing the piano and singing next to Violet. She seems surprised and pleased.

After, Sam returns to Al and they discuss that playing pool is geometry. However, once you learn the geometry, Al notes that then one needs to learn where to hit the cue ball and how hard. Sam notes that it probably takes years to learn that well. Al configures his hand-held device to project what loos like lasers onto the pool table. He tells Sam to hit the spot where the laser is on the cue ball smoothly. Sam finally sinks a ball.

Sam: Pythagoras. We are going to shoot some pool!

The next day, the game arrives. Sam tells Eddie that they are playing 9 Ball. Grady racks the balls. Al uses the laser from his hand-held device again and Sam breaks. With Al’s help, Sam plays Eddie better than could have been expected. We see a montage of their games go by and Sam is winning. Suddenly though, Al’s device stops working. He tells Sam that there is an energy drain and that the Pentagon is usurping their energy supply. He tells Sam that they need to stall.

Sam announces that he needs to take a break. Eddie allows it and says that as hot as he is shooting, maybe it is better if it takes a break. He then sends a henchman to take care of Alberta.

Eddie: What is King Arthur without his Excalibur?

Eddie’s henchman approaches Grady who is taking care of Alberta. He tells Grady that Magic wants to talk to him in the alley. Grady says he thought Magic went to the bathroom. Grady takes Alberta outside to look for Magic and the henchman meets him out there. Grady suddenly understands that something is amiss. He asks the man what he wants and the man says Alberta. He begins beating up Grady to take it from him. Sam goes outside to help Grady. The henchman breaks Alberta over he knee, in front of Sam/Magic. He sees that Sam is angry as he turns to walk back inside. He tells Sam, “don’t even think about it old man.” Sam then beats him up and picks up the pieces of Alberta and goes inside with Grady.

Inside, Eddie is speculating to Violet that maybe Magic quit. She says he would never quit. Then she sees Sam/Magic and Grady hobbling back inside. Eddie asks if they had an accident and Grady tells him that his boy did.

Grady: Magic whooped him silly just like he’s gonna do you with my stick.

Sam asks Grady if his stick has a name. He tells Sam, Bathsheba. Eddie asks Sam if he is going to shoot. Sam stalls and stalks around the table. Suddenly Al’s laser lights reappear. He tells Sam that he can only get two more minutes of power. Sam sinks the next shot. They rack the balls and Sam breaks again. Sam gets to his winning shot but the laser finally goes out. Sam has to make the last shot on his own. He bounces the cue ball off of three rails before it bounces off the 9 ball. Sam makes the shot. Violet gets her marker from Eddie.

She tells him she doesn’t want to see his ugly face in her club again. Eddie is angry and Sam forces Eddie out of the door. As Violet hugs Sam, he leaps away.

He arrives to someone practicing a trapeze act. “Oh boy!”

REACTION:

Sometimes with Quantum Leap, you have to make certain allowances for suspension of disbelief. Sam learning to play pool, overnight, well enough to beat a legitimately good opponent? That’s a tough one to accept but given Sam’s innate talent for everything, I guess we can do it.

Making the allowance for Sam was only a little easier because of Al’s trick with the lasers. But to put this is some perspective, imagine that Sam learned to play darts with Al pointing the laser for him at the bullseye. It’s preposterous. It’s one thing to know exactly where to hit the ball. It’s something else to actually do it and to know how hard to do it.

Old Man Magic winning the fist fight made sense given what we know about Dr. Sam Beckett’s real life fight training.

Suspension of disbelief aside, this was a pretty straight-forward episode. Sam has to win a pool game to save a blues club. However improbably his win is… he does win. Is it suspicious that this club is owned by someone that Al personally knows? Absolutely. “God” – or whoever is directing Sam’s leaps – seems to be keenly interested in Sam’s own life. This time, Sam’s life is once again presumably impacted via a change to Al’s personal timeline. In prior episodes, Sam has interacted with the timeline of Sam’s fianc√© who left him at the alter. He inadvertently changed an Ohio U.S. Senate election result – thus changing the person who oversees his project. He has also interacted, via Leap, with the guy who helped Sam conceive of the Quantum Leap machine. Now Sam is making a slight alternation to Al’s past, too. I am very curious to see if all of this is going somewhere.

The show did a better job of dealing with the issue of race, in my opinion, than it did when Sam leaped into a black man in “The Color of Truth.” The bar was low but at least Sam did not start the Civil Rights Movement by accident in this episode. That said, there were some weak moments. It was cringe-inducing that Sam insisted to Violet that they approach the bank for a loan. Everyone – Al, Violet, and Grady – all told him the trip was pointless. But I was willing to go along with the trip under the pretense that Sam was grasping at straws to avoid being forced to play pool with so much on the line. I also understand that the writers wanted to take the audience on a tour of how unfair and unjust America was in the not-too-distant past.

HOWEVER… the episode escalated well past cringe to groan-worthy when Sam – a privileged white man from the 1990s – lectured a black loan officer from 1954 about his responsibility to help help other black people to get ahead.

<sarcasm>I’m sure you were presenting him with something he has not thought about every day, Sam.</sarcasm>

Sometimes the simple truth is that giving someone a bank loan to pay off a loan shark is not a good decision for a bank. Sam knew that when he asked the man to do it. Why dump all of that responsibility talk on him when he did what Sam should have expected him to do? And in any case, Sam did not strike me as the right person to be delivering that message anyway.

The reaction above probably makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy the episode and that would be the wrong takeaway. I definitely enjoyed it. The set and costuming were both outstanding and the music was terrific – in particular the duet that Sam sang with Violet. Playing pool is also just inherently cool. Playing pool with a stick you named even moreso – particularly when you’re so good at pool that you have the nickname “Magic.”

In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing how Sam avoids trapeze-fall death in the next episode.

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