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 Harry, a poor night club magician known as The Great Spontini, who is raising his twelve year old daughter Jamie alone. Soon after the episode starts, Harry’s estranged wife, Maggie, returns after being gone for three years, with her fiancé lawyer in tow. She announces that she wants a divorce and that she intends to get full custody of their daughter Jamie.
Al warns Sam that if Maggie gets custody, Jamie runs away from her new home and eventually ends up on the streets. Sam decides to help Harry keep custody of Jamie by putting his family back together. His efforts largely fail initially. Then during a court proceeding, Al warns Sam that Jamie is at the night club, attempting a dangerous magic trick on her own, and that she is in danger. Sam leaves the proceeding and Maggie follows. Together they get to Jamie and rescue her just in time. In the aftermath of this, Maggie decides that it is a mistake to take Jamie from Harry. Sam decides to kiss Maggie and this renews their romance.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
Episode summary via quantumleap.fandom.com:
May 9. 1974: Sam leaps into a travelling magician named Harry Spontini (the leapee Harry is played by Dan Birch), known to his fans as “The Great Spontini”, a magician who often and usually performs in cheap nightclubs. His assistant is his precocious 12-year-old daughter Jamie (Lauren Woodland) who has great hopes for the act. His estranged wife Maggie (Amy Steel), who left Harry three years before, suddenly reappears with her attorney Steve Slater (Erich Anderson) announcing her engagement to Steve and asking for a divorce. As Dr. Samuel Beckett leaps into Harry, he must try to find a way to keep Jamie from being taken by her mother, who was gone for three years. To do that, Sam has to attempt a deadly magic trick in order to get the money for a permanent home for them.
Sam, whom, at first, like Al, believed that Maggie was simply looking to obtain spousal support from Harry. Harry is summoned to meet with Maggie, her attorney Steve Slater in the chambers of a one Judge Mulhearn (Michael Fairman), the presiding judge over the divorce case, concerning as to whom would have custody of young Jamie, who is ultimately placed temporarily into the Maggie’s custody until Judge Mulhearn could come to a final decision; Jamie was to be dropped off at her mother’s house within 2 hours.
Sam feels that he’s there to reunite the family, as he also believes that Maggie is still in love with Harry, as he says to Al that he “could see it in her eyes”, but has to re-think this idea when he learns – in Judge Mulhearn’s chambers – that she’s actually out to get custody of Jamie instead of just a divorce, declining to seek alimony, much to the chagrin of Steve, who tries to persuade Maggie to also seek, but is willing to settle just for Jamie’s custody and partial visitation rights for Harry. Al tells him that unless he can change what originally happened, within several years, Jamie will become a runaway living on the street.
Sam, convinced that he is right in trying to get the warring Spontinis, that being Harry and Maggie, to reconcile, tries his hardest to show to the judge that Harry is a good parent but Al’s trouble soliciting more info on the situation when then handlink begins to malfunction doesn’t lend much help in the matter.
While Sam and Maggie are at the custody hearing, Jamie tries out the dreaded “Table of Death” trick. “The Table of Death” is an optical illusion trick that her and her father have been trying to master so that they can get to appear on TV and win enough money for a magic shop so that they can settle down and stop living on the road. But “The Table of Death” has got its name from that people have died on it whist performing the illusion and it is, now, as, according to Ziggy, as Al warns Sam at the custody hearing, in the now changed timeline of events, also going to kill Jamie.
Meanwhile, Back at the hearing, Maggie’s fiancé and attorney Steve attempts to pull out all of the stops in trying to put all the blame of what happened to Sam/Harry not being a fit parent. Maggie then, to Steve’s chagrin, blames herself as Jamie was in her care at the time as she then drops her divorce and custody lawsuit. Steve tells her she is making a big mistake, but Maggie gives back the engagement ring he gave her, ending their relationship as well.
Al tells Sam what is happening and what is going to happen to Jamie. Sam and Maggie arrive in time to save Jamie, as that harrowing situation works to reconcile the situation concering Maggie and Harry, as within a year reconciles with Harry, as the Spontini’s are an act—and a family—once again.
This was just an okay episode in my opinion. I think that these types of stories work better if there is more time to develop the character drama. Since one episode of TV does not provide that much time, the story had to cheat in some spots to advance the character and plot arcs.
“The Great Spontini” is something of a “male rights” episode. The story makes a point of letting the audience know that women have the upper hand in divorce and custody proceedings and it not so subtly tells the audience that maybe this should not be the way things work. On the other hand, Harry Spontini is not exactly presented as an example of single parent success (he lets his young daughter work with him at a sketchy nightclub, they live in an RV, she switches schools constantly, etc.) On the other, other, hand, Jamie’s mother left them for three years, did not maintain contact, showed up with an awful love interest in tow, and took her daughter away from her father when Jamie clearly preferred living with her father.
It’s a little fun to put myself in the robe of the judge for this one, but it was also a relief ultimately that it was not necessary.
A lot of the drama of the first court proceeding was driven by Ziggy not working. Sam could not answer the judge’s very basic questions about his daughter and their lives because Al could not feed him the answers. As a result he looked like a much worse father than he really was. We know that prior to the Leap, Harry loses custody anyway, but it felt like Sam and Al actually made things worse here. That’s an unusual feeling to have as a viewer. (I suppose making things worse was necessary because it led to the big rescue at the end.)
The drama of the second court proceeding is driven by how well Ziggy works. Sam runs out of the courtroom, after an urgent warning from Al, while the judge is questioning him. Maggie trusts Harry’s gut feeling and leaves with him. This was as much a cheat as the first proceeding but this obviously has a massive impact on Maggie’s belief that Harry is a good father. That belief ultimately gets Harry custody of Jamie and helps Sam put their family back together.
The highlight of this episode was how absolutely hate-able Maggie’s lawyer fiancé was. It did not really make any sense that he was so awful (Maggie is presented as a good, kind person who would presumably not go for someone like him.) However, his punchable face helped to provide an explanation for why Maggie left him for Harry as the episode ends. Steve the lawyer seemed angrier about losing the court proceeding than losing Maggie. Jamie calling him a butthead as he leaves was pleasantly cathartic.
Overall, this is an okay episode, but the admittedly necessary story-telling shortcuts limit the opportunities for great character moments and as a result, keep the episode itself from being great.