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 a 1950s biker, the newest member of a dangerous gang. His purpose on this leap is to keep the lone woman in the gang, Becky, from being murdered. After saving her, but failing to convince the Kerouac fan Becky to stop living on the road, Sam finds Jack Kerouac himself not far away. The famous author succeeds where Sam has been failing.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
Episode summary via quantumleap.fandom.com:
Sam leaps into Shane “Funny Bone” Thomas (the leapee is played by Kristopher Logan) as he is riding with his motorcycle club, Cobras MC. Sam, not having ridden a motorcycle before, veers wildly (almost hitting fellow bikers) before crashing. The club members assume that it was a joke and one of them – Mad Dog (Mark Boone Junior) – gets angry and wants a fight. The Cobras leader’s girlfriend, Becky (played by Josie Bissett) convinces Dillon (Diedrich Bader) to stop Mad Dog from hurting Sam but Mad Dog still cuts Sam’s fuel line. The bikers drive off to a nearby diner and tell Sam to meet them there.
Al shows up and teaches Sam enough to get by on a motorcycle. Sam is annoyed to have leapt into someone that he considers to be useless and eventually makes it to the restaurant where he finds out that Becky is destined to be stabbed to death in the next few hours. He tries to talk her out of staying with the club because of how dangerous it is but she refuses to because her home life wasn’t great and she is an aspiring writer, inspired by Jack Kerouac, who said that you had to really live and travel the road to become a great writer.
Sam attempts to prevent Becky from riding off with Dillon and the other bikers but gets left behind. Ernie Tyler (Teddy Wilson), the owner of the café, can tell that Sam isn’t like the other disrespectful bikers and can’t understand why he rides with them. His son has been MIA in Korea even though the war is long over and he refuses to face the truth that he is dead. He makes the mistake of mentioning the cherry bike he saved for his son and the bikers lust over it. Still at the diner, Sam learns that the Cobras headed over to the spot where Becky was killed and races after them.
Becky upsets Dillon and the bikers demand to know if he’s going to let her get away with it. She is nearly raped before Sam shows up and she narrowly escapes on the back of his bike. Dillon decides that they must both die and the bikers look for the pair back at Ernie’s. Ernie is angry at them for sending Sam to steal his son’s bike and the bikers head after Sam in the direction Ernie pointed them in. It is revealed that this is a ruse and that Sam and Becky are still at the diner.
Sam figures that this means that Becky will leave this dangerous lifestyle but Becky insists that Dillon just had a bad day and was drunk and the next day things will be fine. She says that she can’t leave him and feel deeply sympathetic by how tortured he is of his own time in Korea. Ernie believes she is being a fool but agrees to let the pair stay the night and hopes that she will come to her senses by morning.
Al arrives and attempts to explain how influential Jack Kerouac is in the conformist fifties but Sam was too young to have remembered what that was like. Fortunately, Kerouac was at a cabin not far away from them and so Sam rides down to beg the writer to talk some sense into Becky. Kerouac hears Sam out but he cannot bring himself to tell Becky not to follow his advice. He doesn’t feel he should be responsible for people making bad decisions and he’s just trying to inspire people. Disheartened, Sam returns to the diner to find that Dillon and The Cobras have returned and the jig is up.
Dillon is especially angry because he believes that Becky and Sam slept together and they all head outside. Sam tries to protest his innocence but Dillon isn’t interested. He is given the chance to fight Mad Dog but the other biker is armed with a knife. Sam still manages to defeat him. Dillon wants his turn next and Becky tries to tell him not to fight back because Dillon can’t do anything (even sleep with her) without some form of resistance and Dillon smacks her for revealing that. Sam is temporarily blinded in the fight but with instructions from Al, manages to beat Dillon, too.
The police come and arrest the bikers but Becky is still determined to live her dangerous lifestyle despite Ernie offering to let her work there with him. Sam is ultimately unable to save her but Jack Kerouac himself arrives then, having had a change of heart, and tells Becky that while what he wrote was absolutely true, there are stories to be found in all sorts of things and he didn’t literally mean she had to be on a road the entire time.
Becky is willing to listen to her idol and agrees to stay and work for Ernie. She becomes a famous novelist in the future and helps Ernie through the news of his son’s death in two years so that he is still alive in the present instead of dying a few weeks after losing hope.
This was a great episode, largely because the guest stars were excellent.
Experiencing a young Diedrich Bader as the dangerous leader of a 1950s biker gang was a lot of fun. So much of his later career is comedy that it was delightful to see him doing some serious acting as a tortured and menacing vet-turned-biker. He sold me, too.
Teddy Wilson was outstanding as Ernie. His performance as a father who refuses to believe that his son is dead, despite five years Missing in Action in Korea, drove the emotional beats of the episode. This was actually Wilson’s second appearance on the show. He also played Jimmy Grady in “Pool Hall Blues” during season 2.
A young Josie Bissett delivered a solid performance as Becky – the damaged and way too idealistic aspiring novelist / Kerouac fan. She largely ends up functioning within the story as a damsel in distress, who insists on living in distress, but she does it well. I thought the weakness of the episode is capturing the emotional mood undergirding the Beatnik movement. It was probably too big an ask for a network TV show to conjure up and channel that sentiment in the 2nd half of one episode of television. It might have landed better for me three decades ago when the episode first aired and the 1950s still existed more closely in the cultural memory.
Kerouac showing up at the end of the episode and talking (rhyming) Becky into living less dangerously was extremely corny, but somehow it worked? I cannot explain how or why it worked, but for some reason it did. Improbably it was an episode highlight for me.
I should mention that the musical score of the episode from beginning to end really elevated the story. The 1950s had incredible music and we hear a lot of it here.
Overall, if I were looking for an episode to point someone toward, with a goal of illustrating what Quantum Leap is, “Rebel Without a Clue” would be high on my list.