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 Herbert “Magic” Williams, a Navy SEAL in his brother Tom’s squad, on the day before history says that Tom is slated to die in Vietnam. Sam learns that Tom’s squad is slated to attack a village and rescue two or three American POWs, but before they can do that, he learns that the Vietnamese guide they are relying on is actually leading them into an ambush.
With Al’s help, Sam is able to prevent the ambush from succeeding and he saves his brother Tom. The squad fails to rescue the POWs, though. After saving Tom, Sam learns that one of the POWs who was not rescued was Al. Once the clock strikes midnight on the day that Tom dies in history, with Tom now remaining safe, Sam leaps away.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
For the first time in the series, Sam has leaped outside of the continental United States. He is in Vietnam on April 7, 1970. A reporter is interviewing an officer named Col. Deke Grimwald and he tells a story about his father, General Max Grimwald. She notes aloud that he has big shoes to fill. He jokes that his shoes are a size and a half bigger, causing her to laugh. The story he is telling is how, as a three year old, a base photographer caught him saluting, and thought that it was so cute that the picture was put in the base newspaper. He explains that his picture was taken in 1938 and notes that twenty-five years later another three year old did the same thing. [Note: This is a reference to JFK Jr. after the assassination of his father.]
Grimwald says that it never seemed fair to him as when he did it, it only got coverage from the base newspaper, while when John-John did it, it made the cover of Life Magazine.
Sam narrates that in the space of one leap, he has gone from the depths of despair to the summit of hope, because now his brother Tom is alive, and nearby enough that Sam might be able to save him. Sam is on a helicopter and his host is known as “Magic,” a man with a reputation for keeping his comrades alive against impossible odds. The men in Sam’s helicopter notice the beautiful blonde haired reporter on the ground below, as she interviews Grimwald, and begin to hoot and holler at her. The flirtation becomes mutual after they land and we learn her name is Maggie Dawson.
Grimwald informs Tom, Sam’s brother, that his men are supposed to escort Maggie Dawson on a special op. Maggie buys the men a round of warm beer and banters with them as Sam watches on and tries to get his bearings. Al appears and walks Sam through what he must do in taking care of his gun. Hologram Al gets sight of Maggie and joins the men in saying suggestive things about her. Sam and his squad go to take a shower and Sam uses the somewhat more isolated situation to have a conversation with Al, where he notes that he is in his brother’s squad. Al tells Sam that today’s date is April 7, the day before Tom is slated to die in the original timeline.
Sometime later, Al explains to Sam that as a SEAL, if he wants to look authentic, he needs both to never wear underwear and to leave the top button of his shorts unfastened. Sam says that he will do whatever it takes to save his brother’s life and Al replies that technically Sam is not here to save his brother.
Sam: Don’t give me that c*** Al.
Al: What, you want me to lie to you? I tell you the truth so at least you know what you’re up against.
Al tells Sam that his host is signalman second class, Herbert Williams, but that his buddies all call him “Magic.” Sam asks why and Al explains that during his squad’s first month in Vietnam, everything went wrong, and the entire group thought that they were jinxed. However, when Sam’s host joined the squadron, When “Magic” landed in Vietnam, a Charlie shelled the helicopter right after he stepped off. Everything within fifty meters of the helicopter blew up, except for Magic, who did not even get a scratch. The next day in the jungle, Sam’s host tripped a booby trap in the jungle and it did not even go off. At this point, the other men started calling him Magic.
Al tells Sam that the group has not suffered a casualty since “Magic” came aboard, but Sam adds “until tomorrow” and Al confirms that tomorrow Dempsey and Shamo are wounded and that Sam’s brother Tom is killed. Sam is surprised that he is not here to change that, but Al responds that Ziggy says Sam is only here to make certain that the group’s mission succeeds.
Sam: What’s the difference?
Al: Well, some guys get killed on successful missions, Sam.
Sam tells him that this will not happen on this mission and he asks Al what he is supposed to do. Al replies that he does not know. He explains that all Ziggy knows so far is a codename, Operation Lazarus, along with the casualty lists. Al explains that he does not even know the team’s objective because the SEAL missions were all classified top secret and they took place over twenty-five years ago. Sam pushes back that Al has top secret clearance but Al explains that all of the old battle records are buried in an old Pentagon computer that Ziggy is struggling to interface with. Sam tells Al that Ziggy better figure it out, or else he will shoot his brother in the leg if it means sending him to the hospital and away from the battle the next day. Al reminds him that Tom could die in the slick on the way to the hospital and adds that until they know how Tom dies, they will not know how to save him.
A few moments later, Tom and Col. Grimwald enter the room where Sam has been alone speaking with Al. Tom is arguing with the Colonel about bringing the reporter on the mission with them. Maggie then stands in the doorway and says that if he has to take a reporter, a female one is the best kind. Tom answers that he does not have to take one and that not even colonels from MACV-SoG can change that. She lists of a number of missions she has participated in, many of them dangerous, and says she can take it. Tom laughs and agrees that she can take it, but he says the SEALs cannot. Finally Maggie agrees to not attend but requests as a consolation that she be allowed to stay in the camp and take pictures. Tom approves and she asks where she will bunk. Tom tells “Magic” to fix Maggie a spot in the communications bunk.
Sam goes to leave as Al explains to him what he should look for to identify the bunker. The Colonel also tells Magic that they have a chieu hoi that needs to speak with him, next to the helicopter. Al explains that a chieu hoi is a VC guerilla who joined the American side of the conflict. Sam learns that the chieu hoi is a woman. Maggie then follows Sam out of the room. After she is gone, the Colornel tells Tom that Maggie wants to go on the mission so badly that until they leave, she will be making a dog in heat look like a nun.
Al stays behind to listen to the Colonel tell Tom about Operation Lazarus. He says their target is ten clicks up the river. Just then, the Vietnamese woman enters the room with Tom and the Colonel and the Colonel tells Tom that she will be leading them to the village the next day.
At a party with the SEALs sometime later that night, Al shows up with more intel from Ziggy. He explains that sometime that night, around midnight, sappers will attack the camp and they will get the Colonel’s helicopter just before it is able to take off. Ziggy thinks that there is a fifty-two percent chance that preventing this incident is why Sam is here.
Al: But if that’s true, right after the attack you’re gonna leap out, and you won’t be around tomorrow to save Tom.
Sam tells one of the other men that sappers are attacking from the river at midnight. The other men believe him instantly and when Maggie asks the commanding officer how he could know, he tells her that this is why they call him “Magic.” Elsewhere in the cabin where the colonel, Tom, and the Vietnamese woman are talking, we see that she warns them that they will not be able to get too close to the village the following day because the commanding officer there is vigilant. Just then, some of the men come in to tell the colonel and Tom that sappers are coming in around midnight.
The colonel asks how he could know that and Tom immediately says that Magic has a sixth sense and needs to be trusted on this. Sam watches on as Tom prepares an ambush for their would-be ambushers. We watch as the men wait, and Al announces that the sappers should be coming in at any minute. They wait for a long while but no attack ever comes. Eventually the group decides nothing is out there except Magic’s imagination.
Al cannot believe this. Sam is happy, though, because he believes that he has changed history without leaping. As a result, he believes he will be present to help save Tom’s life the following day. Al is troubled though as to how this happened. Sam enters the bunk where the Vietnamese woman is with Maggie the reporter and attempts to communicate with command. The Vietnamese woman leaves but Maggie remains behind and changes for bed while Sam is on the communications device. Al becomes highly distracted watching her undress – clearly an attempt to seduce “Magic.” Al notices that Sam is unable to communicate because he is on the wrong frequency. After making the change, Sam makes contact. After he relays that they are securing battle stations, Maggie – in pajamas – gives him a stiff drink.
Maggie: To those poor magnificent b******* you’re going after.
Al is upset that she knows anything about the mission and says the colonel should be court martialed. Sam asks her if the colonel briefed her, causing her to laugh and say that her briefing was from someone higher up. She seductively tells Magic that he needs to tell Lt. Beckett that he has a magic feeling bout letting her travel with them the following day. She begins to kiss Sam vigorously. To Al’s great astonishment, Sam agrees. A little while later, Al chastises Sam for thinking with his glands, but Sam explains that if Maggie goes on the mission, she will be able to write a newspaper article on what happens, and thus Ziggy will be able to provide them with more details that might be useful.
Later Magic tells Tom that Maggie needs to go with them, and after he explains that he cannot say why he knows she needs to be with them, Tom tells him that he reminds him of his brother who also has feelings about the future he cannot explain. Tom tells Magic that his little brother, last Thanksgiving, made him promise to crawl into a deep dark hole on April 8 – which he notes is today. Tom adds that the problem with Vietnam is that any hole deeper than three feet fills with water and he has a mission to lead. Tom asks Magic/Sam again if he is sure about Maggie, and Sam replies that he would stake his life on it. Tom tells him that he is staking his life on it – his life and their entire crew.
When the sun has risen a few hours later, Sam is on a helicopter narrating that he had expected Al to appear with Maggie’s newspaper article on their mission. He adds that though that was his expectation, at this point, there is no sign of Al and he is now starting to sweat. Tom gives everyone their responsibility on the mission before finally telling them what they are attempting to retrieve.
Tom: Two, maybe three American POWs.
Al finally appears and tells Sam that the POWs were never rescued and that Maggie’s story was never filed because she dies on this mission. Al sees the look on Sam’s face and warns him that he cannot say anything now because if he does, Tom will get Doc to sedate him and he adds they will leave him behind.
Al: Just remember you’ve got an ace in the hole. Me.
Maggie begs the colonel to land the helicopter so that she can go to the bathroom. Against his better judgement, he lands and lets her off of the helicopter. As the SEALs move through the swamp on foot, we see that Maggie has not returned to the helicopter. An officer on board the chopper tells the Colonel that they need to make their next insertion and he adds that she’s not coming back. They fly away, leaving her behind.
The SEALS on the ground move into position as we see Maggie, running along on foot, with a camera now in hand.
Maggie: This is stupid Maggie, stupid, but it’s how you win a Pulitzer.
Al finds Sam, alone, and tells him that he found the POWs, adding that the VC are leading them down a trail some distance away. Sam sees his communication device is tuned to frequency 47.3 and he tells Al that the radio in the bunker, when it was not working, was tuned to the same frequency. Al realizes that the chieu hoi is leading the SEALs into an ambush.
Sam: Al. Help me.
We see Maggie taking pictures of the VC leading the American POWs down a trail. She has tears in her eyes.
Al leads Sam and Doc down a path that leads them to their village target ahead of the rest of their squad. He tells Sam that Charlies are waiting for them on this side of the river and in the village. He tells Sam to get on the horn to the colonel because they will need the cavalry. As the firefight commences, Sam manages to get to Tom just before the Vietnamese woman leading them into the village can kill him. Sam kills her first. The squad then run, with Sam guiding them over a trip wire booby trap – thanks to Al – but a running Maggie trailing them from behind trips it herself and sets it off. When Sam returns to her, she is very badly injured. Near death, she seems to see Al, and then she mutters “Pulitzer” just before she dies.
That night, the men on the team celebrate as Tom consoles Magic.
Tom: You didn’t kill her, Magic.
Sam/Magic: She sure as h*** didn’t die the first time April the 8th, 1970 rolled around.
Tom: What are you talking about?
Al tries to console Sam by arguing that he was the one who led him back to save his brother. He adds that if anyone is responsible, it is himself. The men discuss that she wanted to win a Pulitzer and Al tells Sam that she did win one – posthumously – for her last photograph. Sam grabs a copy of her last photo from his brother and looks at it, and to his astonishment, he sees that Al is one of the POWs in her picture.
Sam cannot believe that Al guided him back to his brother rather than guiding Sam to rescue himself.
Al: What the h***. I get repatriated in five years.
Sam: You could have been free.
Al: I was free. [pointing at his head] Up here, I was always free.
Tom announces to the room that it is midnight, April 9th, and that he is still alive.
Tom: [arm around Sam] Thanks to you, little brother.
Sam looks at him in shock as he leaps away.
I’m not crying. You’re crying.
Sam saves his brother. Al – knowing Sam could have saved him instead – helps Sam to do it. This is an excellent installment of television.
Visually the set for this episode looked great. The fighting – from the helicopter down to the guns and explosions – were also really well executed for a TV budget.
I was glad that this leap did not require Sam to pretend to be a SEAL for very long. I think they pushed just about the outermost extreme of getting him to pass as one without taking me out of the episode.
This episode did not really grab me from the beginning, as much as part 1 did, but it provided a tremendous emotional wallop at the end. Did Al know the entire time that he was the intended rescue target of Tom’s squad? He certainly knew by the time that he directs Sam away from completing the mission to save Tom. Maybe Al hoped secretly that Sam couldn’t leap until he was rescued, too, and the mission completed. As it turns out, though, Sam leaps once Tom is safe.
I kind of knew that Maggie was a goner pretty early on. All of her behavior felt like a set-up to soften the blow of her death (you instinctively feel a bit worse for a careful person who dies tragically than a wildly reckless person.) That said, her death is still impactful because it brings home the consequences of what Sam is doing. As he points out, he traded one life for another.
Dean Stockwell is so good on this show. The non-verbal communication between Al and Sam, as Sam realizes the extent of the sacrifice Al just made, is powerful. Al communicates so much while saying so little. Whew.
Season 3 is off to an outstanding start. There is no place for this series to go from here, except down. Let’s buckle up for the descent.