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 the body of his sixteen year old self and tries to prevent his father’s eventual heart attack, his brother’s eventual death in Vietnam, and his sister’s eventual marriage to an abusive alcoholic. Despite his best efforts, he is unable to succeed. However, Al helps Sam to appreciate the opportunity to see his family again, even if he cannot change anything.
Sam’s mission is to help his high school basketball team win a game against their rival, a mission at which they succeed. Sam’s efforts with his family are not over, though, because as the episode ends, Sam leaps into a soldier’s body, during a fire fight in Vietnam, and he sees that his brother Tom is alive and nearby.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
[Note: Is it possible to not look cool standing in a blue-tinged smoke while holding your arms out wide? Maybe. What exactly is the wardrobe here?]
Sam finds himself somewhere familiar – in a cornfield – and he sees a group of people he knows, including girls named Sibby and Lisa. When Sibby, who knows him as “Sam” asks if he is taking anyone to the Gobbler Hop after the game. Sam responds to this by saying “oh boy” and running back into the cornfield. On the other side of the cornfield, he sees the house he grew up in from a distance. In a glass reflection on the front door, he sees himself – but much younger. His mother opens the door to see him standing there, dumbstruck.
November 25, 1969
Sam’s mom calls out to his father John that supper is ready. She tells Sam, who is still standing next to her, that his father has gone deaf from all of the years on the tractor and that he could give stubborn lessons to a mule. Sam hugs her abruptly and when she asks him what is wrong, he does it again and says nothing. He then says he will go get his dad.
Sam finds his father in the barn, and John tells Sam to wipe Aggie down and hook her up. [John is also being played by Scott Bakula.] Sam leans down next to a cow as his father asks if he stayed after school to shoot baskets. Sam adlibs that he did and his father tells him that while he admires the dedication, he also has to do his chores. His father tells him that he is only sixteen and that he cannot expect to play as well as his brother did during his brother’s senior year. Sam whispers, as if remembering, that Tom was all-state. His father hears him and answers that Tom was 18 and that Sam is still growing.
John pats a cow, Harriet, and tells her that she used to do a lot better but then adds that he guesses they are all getting old.
Sam: You’re not old dad. You look just the way I remember you.
John: What, since you left for school this morning?
Sam: I love you, dad.
Sam hugs his dad, who looks surprised, just as his sister Katie finds them to say that if they do not come to supper right now that their mother has promised to feed it to the hogs. Sam runs to hug her. She addresses his hug, to their father, and says that Sam wants Tom’s bedroom. Katie argues that their mother said she could have the room, as girls need more space, but John interjects to ask if she can wait until next fall to have the room, when Sam leaves himself for college. Sam interjects to the surprise of both Katie and John that Katie can have Tom’s room because she is his little sister. John looks thoughtfully, and a little concerned, at this interaction just before Sam picks Katie up and runs her back toward their house.
Later at dinner, the family stares at Sam as he eats voraciously. His father speaks up to say that Sam’s basketball coach plans to use a combination zone defense this year and Sam replies that his coach did use it and that they almost beat Bentleyville. He realizes his mistake when everyone stares at him and corrects himself by saying that last year they almost beat Bentleyville by playing man to man. Just as John begins saying that the key to the game will be stopping a Bentleyville played named “No Nose” Pruett, Al finally appears. He asks Sam how tall Pruett is and Sam answers him, to the confusion of everyone at the table. He again has to cover by acting as though he forgot to complete the rest of the sentence out loud. Sam’s mother asks if the boy has a nose and John answers that the tip of it was cut off in a reaping accident.
Katie interjects that she heard “No Nose” wants to kill Sam on Friday because he is sweet on a girl named Lisa Parsons. Katie then tells their parents that Lisa asked Sam to take her to the dance after the game on Friday and that Sam ran away after she did. Sam – finally starting to fit back into the shoes of an annoyed older brother – says Katie’s name admonishingly. Sam excuses by saying he needs to do his chores, so that he can talk to Al. His mother promises to save him a piece of cobbler and after he goes, his mother tells John that she has a funny feeling.
Alone in the barn, Al chides Sam for not taking advantage of his situation with Lisa. As Al begins to tell Sam the date, Sam already knows it, because as he explains, his school always opens their basketball season against Bentleyville the day after Thanksgiving. Al tells him that the game with Bentleyville is why he is here. He explains that Ziggy says the game was a turning point in the lives of a lot of people.
Al: If you guys could have beat Bentleyville, you would have gone on to win the state championship.
Al explains that if their high school would have won the state championship, his coach would ave accepted an offer to be the head coach at the University of Iowa, and from there, would have wound up in the NBA. Al adds that two of Sam’s teammates, Moslick and Lonegro got college basketball scholarships and ended up as doctors. Sam says that the last he knew of either of those two, one was a bank teller and the other worked for John Deere. Al tells Sam that if he wins the basketball game, he will be gone by Friday.
Sam answers that he does not want to leap and that he wants to help his dad avoid the heart attack that claims his life in three years, that he wants to help his younger sister to avoid her eventual disastrous marriage, and to help his brother Tom survive Vietnam.
Al: I don’t think so, Sam. You can’t change something that isn’t meant to be changed.
Sam: I can try.
Al: Like I did with Beth?
Al: Even though we tried, Beth still married that stupid lawyer and I came home to an empty house. It wasn’t meant to be.
Sam says that this is different and Al replies that the only thing different is that this time it effects Sam. Sam tells Al that he thinks he is being rewarded for the work he has been doing over the years, leaping from person to person, and setting things right. Al tells Sam that might be true, and starts to tell him what Ziggy says, but Sam talks over him saying he does not care what Ziggy says. He asks Al what he would do if he were in Sam’s shoes and Al does not respond.
John coughs his way into a room with Sam, the following morning, looking for cigarettes. He asks Sam if he has seen them and then shows him where he keeps an extra pack but they are gone. John calls to Thelma asking if she has seen them, and she tells him that they are in the place where he is now looking. Sam asks John if he wants breakfast, and his dad tells him he wants only coffee. His father mentions chores, but Sam replies that he has already done all of them. John is suspicious about this and asks when he got up, causing Sam to answer vaguely that it was early. Thelma enters the room and asks if he has found the cigarettes yet and John tells her no.
Sam gives his father coffee and he asks what Sam has just served him. When Sam tells him that it is decaffeinated coffee, John laughs and says old ladies drink decaffeinated coffee. Sam tells him that people who need to lower their caffeine intake also drink decaf.
John: I like my caffeine intake. It gets my heart started. So do my cigarettes.
Thelma says that she did not know they even owned decaf and Sam says he found it in the back of the pantry. She tells Sam that it belonged to his aunt and that it has been in there since she died. John adds that it tastes like it, too. Thelma tells John she will make him a fresh pot, but Sam stops her to say that regular coffee is not good for his dad.
John: Since when?
Sam: Too much caffeine elevates the blood pressure.
Thelma: Doesn’t he sound like a doctor?
John: No doctor I wanna have.
John notes that since all of the chores are done, he might as well sit down for breakfast. When he gets to the table, Sam points out all of the healthy and well-balanced food offerings that he has prepared for his father. John tells him that this is good for a hippy but that for himself, breakfast is eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, but Sam jumps in to say that those things have a zillion milligrams of cholesterol to clog his arteries. John ignores him and says breakfast also includes a cigarette and regular coffee. Sam, more forcefully, tells his father that he is going to have to eat better. His dad answers Sam if they are supposed to not eat the foods that they raise. Sam answers no, as Thelma and Katie are now having a separate argument over something Katie is wearing that says “make love, not war.” Katie protests that lots of kids are wearing them but Thelma says her daughter will not. John exclaims to Thelma that their own son is anti-dairy, causing Sam to say he is not anti-dairy, but that his interest is saving him. He catches himself about to say too much ad says he just wants John to be healthy. John tells Sam that he is healthy and that he has not had a cold in years.
Thelma tells Katie to take off the shirt she is wearing, just as John tells Sam that he is healthy because he works hard, sleeps well, and eats dairy products.
John: Did you know that a person can thrive on nothing but whole milk? Not survive, but thrive.
Sam: Dad, all I’m saying is that you’ve spent your entire life eating food high in cholesterol and that promotes cardiovascular disease. Now look, you can reverse the damage you’ve done if you stop smoking and start on a low cholesterol, low fat diet, and start exercising.
John laughs and asks Sam what he thinks he does all day. Sam concedes to his dad that he works hard, but he explains that his father’s work is anaerobic and he argues that his father needs to be on an aerobic exercise program that’ll help your cardiovascular system get back into shape. Thelma whispers to John that Sam is going to be a doctor. John tells Sam that he knows he means well, but he tells Sam that aside from the cigarettes he is about as healthy as an American can be. Sam, with his head down, just says to his dad that he is wrong. He tells his dad that after a lifetime of high cholesterol foods and cigarettes that his arteries are as clogged as the water pipes in their house (which are at that moment making a fair amount of noise in the background.) John tells Sam that he is going into town to buy cigarettes.
After John goes, Thelma tells Sam that was a horrible thing to say to his father. Sam says that he knows, but that he was trying to shock his dad into taking care of himself so that he will live longer.
Thelma: What makes you think he won’t?
Katie: Grandpa Beckett died when he was 57.
Thelma returns her attention to Katie and tells her that she needs to take off the shirt she is wearing. After Katie goes, Thelma asks Sam where the cigarettes are and Sam admits to burning them with the trash. She tells him that was a waste of money. She promises to start cutting back on the fat in their meals, after Thanksgiving, but tells Sam that she does not want to hear anymore about how young his grandpa was when he died. Sam agrees.
Al appears Sam asks if he heard and he tells Al that he is going to change his family’s future. Al only says that he hopes so before adding that Sam needs to be at basketball practice in thirty minutes. Sam needs to be talked into even attending basketball practice. He tells Al that he will not be playing in the game on Friday because he does not want to leap.
Al: Then you don’t really believe that you’re here to help your family?
Sam: Of course I do.
Al: Then why are you worried about leaping if you win the game?
Al leaves and Sam goes to basketball practice. At said practice, Sam’s coach – in order to prepare his team for facing “No Nose” Pruett – has recruited a large stand-in wearing a gorilla mask to help them prepare. Sam thinks he knows who the gorilla mask wearing player is but he is not certain. Just then Al arrives, notices the cheerleaders watching practice, and speculate aloud that Lisa is the one with the cute pom-poms. Sam says that they do not have pom-poms but as he says it, he gets Al’s real meaning.
After the gorilla steams the ball from Sam, and then dunks on the other end of the court, Sam asks him for a hint about who he is. As an answer, the gorilla taps Sam on the head with the ball, and Sam suddenly knows that the gorilla is his brother, Tom. He then takes the mask off and says hello. Sam then hugs him fiercely.
Sometime later, Sam and Tom are walking through a cornfield, holding guns, so I guess they’re pheasant hunting. Tom tells Sam about training. Sam tells him that he does not want him to go to Vietnam.
Tom: Don’t tell me, my little brother’s a dove?
Sam: Not exactly, no.
Tom: I’d hate to think of you as a hippy, burning your draft card, shouting “h*** no, we won’t go!”
Sam says he would never do that, but Tom replies he has to admit that it’s a catchy slogan. Sam tells Tom that he thinks Vietnam will go on a few more years and that once the Americans leave, the north will swallow up the south. Tom asks if he would be okay with him going if he thought they were going to win and Sam replies that if he’s going to risk his life it should mean something.
Tom: You don’t think I’m coming back, do you.
Sam: [looking down] That’s a possibility.
Tom: Yeah, I guess it is, but I didn’t join the SEALs to miss out on the action.
Tom shouts at Sam and asks him what is happening to him. He says Sam used to be the flag, apple pie, and the Fourth of July. Sam tells him that he still is, but he says he doe snot want to see his brother die in a lost cause. Tom tells Sam that the cause in Vietnam might be knowing America’s limits. Sam asks if that is enough to die for and an irritated Tom tells him that neither of them can see into the future. Sam, reluctantly, tells Tom that he can see into the future. To prove his point, he tells Tom that he will flush two birds up ahead, hit the first, and miss the second. A few moments later, that exact scenario occurs.
Sometime later, Tom is telling this story to an older man who points out to him that flushing two birds, with that outcome, has occurred to him often. He then tells Tom that Sam is bright and imaginative, and under a great deal of pressure. John, who is also at the table with Tom and this man, asks about this pressure. The other man reminds them that Sam is only sixteen, with scholarship offers from several universities, and reminds them that he has not made a choice about where to go, yet. John tells him that Sam has narrowed down his options to MIT and CalTech, though he thinks he is holding out hope for a basketball scholarship to Indiana State.
Tom speaks up to both older adults and tells them that he talked Sam out of the basketball idea, and he explains that an MIT professor told him that Sam has a brain that comes along once in a generation, or maybe even a couple of generations. Tom adds that he does not want to see Sam waste his brain at Indiana State. The man at the table with Tom and John, and now Thelma, says that Sam may be troubled, though he is clear in saying Sam is not crazy. He expresses a belief that Sam’s life is presenting him with difficulties and suggests that Sam has come up with a creative way to handle those difficulties. The doctor recommends that they all go along with Sam, or to at least accept that he might believe what he is telling them, and he says he thinks that after a while Sam will accept that traveling through time is nothing more than a wishful dream to help him cope with his fears.
Sometime later, we see Sam playing guitar with his sister Katie, and he is now very openly telling her about the future, including giving her tops on future slang terminology. She asks him what else he can tell her about the future and he specifically shares that in a few years, she will meet a guy named Chuck, elope with him, and that she will then find out Chuck has a drinking problem. Katie, humoring Sam, tells him that she will not go out with Chuck.
Sam is frustrated and says he knows she – like everyone else – is merely humoring him. Katie suddenly gets excited and says that if Sam is from the future, then he really knows whether or not Paul McCartney is dead. She then says that if you play the White Album backward that the Beatles are singing “Paul is dead.” He tells her Paul is not dead and that the Beatles will be splitting up pretty soon. Katie cannot believe this. Sam goes on, saying that Paul subsequently forms a group called Wings and that they come out with some great tunes. Katie asks about John, and Sam hesitates over this, and Al suddenly appears to tell Sam not to tell her. Sam changes course and tells Katie that John writes his favorite song. She demands that Sam sing it to her.
Katie: Or are you going to use that swiss cheese brain excuse you used when I asked you who’d be my first boyfriend?
Sam then plays and sings “Imagine.” Katie starts crying during the song, and Sam stops to ask her what is wrong. She says she has never heard it before and Sam replies that of course she hasn’t, because John Lennon will not write it for another couple of years. She begins crying more earnestly and tells him that she does not want to believe him, because if he does, Tommy is going to die. Thelma hears her crying and Katie runs to her, crying that she does not want her brother to die in Vietnam. John hears her to and runs out asking what happened. Al advises Sam to tell them that he made it all up. Sam tells Al he cannot do that, just as Tom tells Katie that he is not going to die. Al tells Sam forcefully that he is not changing anything, that his father still dies in 1972, that his brother still dies in Vietnam, and that Katie still marries Chuck.
Al: You’re not changing their future Sam, all you’re doing is making their present miserable.
Finally Sam tells his family that he made it up. He cries and apologizes before running off by himself into the cornfield.
Al: I know it hurts Sam, but you did the right thing.
Sam: [angry and hurt] I always do. I always do the right thing, Al. And what does it get me? Why can I save strangers and not the people I love?
Al tells him that he does not know and Sam states that he will not do it anymore. Sam shouts up at the sky, asking if whoever it is that is sending him places, can hear him. He shouts that he quits and then takes off running through the cornfield. When Sam gets to the end of the field, he falls down, and Al is there, lighting a cigarette, asking if he feels better now. Sam tells him that he does not feel better and that this is not fair.
Al: Well I think it’s d*** fair.
Al: I’d give anything to see my father and my sister for a few days.
This resonates with Sam.
Later, John is praying over Thanksgiving dinner and the entire family is at the table enjoying each other’s company.
After dinner, Sam plays basketball with Tom in the driveway. Tom is trying to teach Sam how to shoot a jump hook. Al appears and asks Sam if he had a good Thanksgiving. Tom tells Sam that he needs to beat Bentleyville to help him get revenge on the one school he was never able to beat. Sam offers to get the win in exchange for Tom doing whatever he asks for 24 hours. Tom is confused, as Al says Sam’s name warningly, but Sam proposes that if his team wins that Tom will give him a day. He tells Tom that on April 8, he needs to crawl into the deepest hole he can find and then stay in there for 24 hours. Tom gets angry and tells Sam not to start this again and Al speaks up to tell Sam his brother is right. However, Tom finally agrees to Sam’s terms and promises that on April 8, he will crawl into the thickest deepest concrete bunker in Vietnam, provided that Sam’s team wins. Sam is encouraged by this and they resume playing basketball.
At the game against Bentleyville, Al comedically argues against the calls being made by Sam’s coach. Sam helps his team overcome a three point deficit, late in the game, to win. During the scene, he gets a promise from his brother to adhere to their agreement. He also says goodbye to his father just before hitting the game-winning shot – a jump hook executed just as his brother had taught him.
During the celebration, as Sam is carried on the shoulders of his teammates, Lisa kisses him and Al tells Sam that things play out from here, just as Ziggy predicted. He asks Al about his brother and Al tells him that he is sorry. Sam leaps… right into a battle, in progress in Vietnam. He sees his brother Tom nearby.
I’ll get my confusion and criticisms out of the way first. I think this is a great episode but it was not without at least a few problems.
- If I understand the Quantum Leap machine properly, when Sam leaps into a person, that same person appears in Dr. Beckett’s body, in some kind of waiting room, in the future. So what happens when Sam leaps into Sam? Is his 16 year old self a different person? Would letting 16 year old Sam know that he eventually builds a time machine actually alter history? This all seems problematic to me.
- I genuinely do not understand how this interlude with his family would not alter their subsequent history dramatically. There is no way that Sam’s sister will not remember that he predicted the breakup of the Beatles, the formation of Wings, nor will she forget that he sang a song not-yet in existence once she hears John Lennon’s version of “Imagine” sometime a few years later. Assuming that Tom dies, she is going to remember that he predicted that, too. If you know your little brother, the super-genius, is actually a time-traveler, then do you not actually heed his advice at that point? Or at a minimum do you not change other small things based on that knowledge? This episode creates a Butterfly Effect problem with the timeline.
- I have a visceral and negative reaction to the song “Imagine” now. Thanks, Hollywood celebrities. That moment of Scott Bakula singing the song probably landed better when this first aired.
- If Sam is a once in two generations super-genius, his upbringing here feels almost too normal. However, given the way his family responds easily to his predictions about the future, maybe I should read some subtext and infer that maybe it was not as normal as the episode makes it seem.
Those things said, I really liked this episode. Of COURSE Sam would try to help his family. His anger and frustration and anxiety are palpable throughout the episode. I really liked too that he does not succeed easily (or maybe at all.) Just as “a prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family” so it stands to reason that a time traveler would struggle most to change the opinions of people who know him best. Sam probably would have been more effective, with his family, if he had leaped into Tom or his father.
I also really liked the conversation that Al has with Sam about fairness. It hits hard that Sam has not been appreciating this unbelievable gift of getting to see lost loved ones again. It’s understandable that he wants to save them, and his feelings make sense when he views his failures in terms of God being unfair to him, but it’s miraculous that he can see them at all. Once that perspective shift occurs, it makes the Thanksgiving dinner scene really emotionally potent. Nothing really happens other than the group enjoying each other’s company and the whole scene just tugs at heart strings.
The very brief goodbye to his father, during the basketball game, was a gut punch.
I don’t think Sam is done trying to save his family – as the end scene indicates. He leaps into a firefight where Tom is present. We’ll see how that goes during Part 2. I wonder if Al’s past self will become a part of the story. Lest we forget, Al tried to save his marriage to Beth in the Season 2 finale and according to Al, in this episode, that attempt fails. I’m looking forward to Part 2 of the Season 3 premiere.