Welcome to my recap of and reaction to Quantum Leap. This post is not so much an episode recap and reaction as it is a reaction post for Season 2 as a whole. Yes, there will be spoilers ahead for the entirety of Season 2.
I am watching Quantum Leap via the NBC app. The app is one episode short of being complete. “Disco Inferno” was the 2nd episode of Season 2 and it was not included in my reviews because I have not been able to watch it, yet. If and when I can watch it, I will review it and renumber my episode count accordingly.
My previous episode recaps can be found HERE.
Quantum Leap’s second season was streets ahead of Season 1. I am so glad I continued on with this show. I very nearly sat this down indefinitely because the first season was so hard to get through.
How did it improve?
The characters became more consistent and more enjoyable.
Dr. Sam Beckett in Season 1 had a terrible habit of falling in love, immediately, with whatever woman was his host body’s romantic interest. By the end of the season, it began to feel gross. Not only that, it occasionally distracted him from being mission-oriented.
In season 2, Sam fell in love with his host’s love interest much less often. In fact, in the Season 2 premiere, Honeymoon Express, the subplot of the episode was Sam’s effort to avoid doing honeymoonish things with his host’s new bride. I suspect that the writers led with this episode because they wanted to re-establish Sam’s moral clarity to an extent. His sleeping around in Season 1 was probably deemed a major criticism of the character’s first season. That theme continued on in The Americanization of Machiko, where the writers gave a plot-based reason for why Sam could not sleep with his new bride.
The re-centering of Sam’s morality paid off in a few later episodes. In Maybe Baby, for example, because Sam has been more morally consistent, it was easier to believe his “intuition” regarding Bunny the stripper was genuine and not directed by lust for her. The change in Sam also led to him being – usually – a lot more mission focused. Unlike Season 1, second season Sam did not go too far out of his way to change his own personal timeline. In the first season, he abandoned the actual mission to try to change his real-life ex-fiancée’s relationship with her dad in order to change his own later history with her.
There was one glaring exception from Season 2, though. In Catch A Falling Star, Sam runs into his real life former piano teacher, Nicole, while occupying the body of actor Ray Hutton. He uses the opportunity of being Ray Hutton to seduce and sleep with Nicole. Here is what I wrote at the time:
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.
Going into Season 3, we will see how Sam’s loneliness and desire to go home play into his choices while Quantum Leaping.
If the Al we met in Season 1 was my least favorite part of the show, the Al we meet in Season 2 is one of my favorite characters ever on television. He is simultaneously tragic, damaged, funny, good, and inspiring. Dean Stockwell just could not have been better and the writers absolutely landed the balance of him being real and an ideal choice for Sam’s partner on this mission.
The biggest change from the first season in Al is that he was consistently prepared for work. In season 1, he would often show up on a leap and complain about something irrelevant to the mission that he is going through in his future personal life. Once he just legitimately walked off the job. Season 2 opens with Al in his military uniform sitting in a Senate hearing. The tone of the entire show shifted in a positive way from that scene going forward.
The best part of this change is that a lot of his character flaws from the first season remained intact. Is he still a womanizer? Yes. Does that womanizing cloud his moral judgement vis a vis Sam sometimes? Yes. But Al is always at work. His unique background provides him with an array of personal experiences for Sam to draw from. Al often has more moral clarity than Sam – built around his own background – on issues that are not directly related to the libido. Even in that area, he was a voice of reason for Sam when Sam considered remaining Ray Hutton forever so that he could avoid his next leap.
Al shined throughout the season but in particular, in two memorable episodes. In Jimmy, Al tenderly and believably guided Sam through being someone with Downs Syndrome. We learn that Al’s late sister had downs and Dean Stockwell plays his helper role brilliantly. In M.I.A. Al ends up in the vicinity of his first wife Beth. Here we learn that what undergirds Al’s womanizing is anguish over the loss of his first wife. She did not die. She left him, believing him to be dead, while he languished as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Returning home to find her with another man crushed him. Dean Stockwell gives what might be the two best monologues on the run of the series in this episode.
Al: Yeah, well maybe you would if you were locked up in a tiger cage that was too small for you to stand up in and too narrow for you to sit down in. Where you had to exist on weevils and fists of rice and any rain water you can catch in your mouth. And the only thing that kept you alive is the memory of the woman you loved. And if you survived that, when you come home, you find out that your wife has run off with some other guy. There’s a devil, Sam. And he’s trying to destroy Beth’s life.
Al: Beth, I’ve missed you so much. It’s been such a long time – 25 years. Of course you haven’t changed, but I have. I’m an Admiral now – me, the ensign, that said that anyone with a rank above Lieutenant was a horse’s a**.
Al: Beth, you didn’t hear me, did you? Oh, Beth, tell me you can hear me.
Beth: [Gets up and changes the record]
Al: Look at me, Beth. Oh, Sam, why did you make me do this?
Beth: [starts moving to the music as Al dances with her.]
Al: I want you to wait for me, Beth. Don’t give up, honey. ’cause I’m alive out there. And I’m only alive… because of our love. And someday… oh, Beth – someday, I’m gonna come back home to you. [kisses her forehead and then leaps]
We end season 2 unsure of whether Al managed to change his own timeline. For whatever it’s worth, I am rooting for him.
Season 2 also brought with it some apparent clarity regarding the Quantum Leap machine. Sam and Al are in agreement now that God is personally directing where the leaps send Sam. There is still some mystery as to why the individual leaps are chosen but attributing the choices to God works.
We learn this season that small children, animals, and the pure of heart can see hologram Al. We learn that certain types of technological equipment can hear him, too (as we saw in A Portrait for Troian.)
We also learn in Season 2 that changes to the timeline are not noticed by anyone other than Sam and/or Al. During the season 2 premiere, the Senate hearing participants change while Al is sitting in the room, in the future, and Al is the only person aware of the fact that they changed. This has major implications for the show – namely that it will be impossible for Sam and Al to prove that they are making changes or that the U.S. government should continue funding the project.
In addition to M.I.A., where Al may have changed his own timeline, via Sam, Her Charm also implies that Sam may have relayed to the man he co-conceived of Quantum Leap with, decades before the machine was even built, that Sam eventually succeeds in building it.
Season 2 saw Sam leap into a woman for the first and second times. The first time he was a woman was What Price, Gloria? This was not a particularly well-executed episode. Initially Al struggles with his attraction to Sam’s host, to such a degree, that he can barely handle his role in the mission. For his part, Sam handles workplace misogyny and sexism in a stereotypical male way (i.e. with his fists.) The lesson from the writers, for women watching that episode, seems to be that their problems with men lie in not behaving more like stereotypical men. Season 2 gave us another run at Sam being a woman, though. In Another Mother, Sam takes on the role of being a single mother of three kids. This is probably the most tense episode of the series to this point – centering around the kidnapping and narrowly averted murder of Sam’s host’s son. The show retcon’s Sam’s fighting ability, from his first leap as a woman, in this episode. In Sam’s second try as a woman, we find out that real-life Sam is an expert fighter. That is how he successfully navigates hand-to-hand combat so well on the show – even when in a body nowhere near as big or strong as his own real body.
Best episode of Season 2: In my opinion, M.I.A. was the best episode of the show to date. It was probably one of the best episodes of TV, period, in its era. Another Mother was another great episode – even if it was tense beyond belief.
Worst episode of Season 2: I am tempted to say What Price, Gloria? as my answer here, but I think there was a worse offering. Freedom was an alright episode about Sam helping a Native American man to escape his nursing home, and jail, to die on tribal soil. However, the show COMPLETELY jumps off the rails near the end when Sam – finally embracing some tribal culture after pushing against it all episode – nearly SCALPS the episode’s bad guy in a fit of rage.
There is a lot of good in Season 2 that I did not mention here. Most of this season was legitimately good. Alas, I cannot cover everything. I highly recommend a re-watch.
I am taking a hiatus from the re-watch for a while but I will return to the show at some point in the not too distant future.