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 Reginald Pearson on Christmas Even of 1962. His job is to convince Pearson’s boss, wealthy real estate developer Michael Blake, not to tear down a Salvation Army, and in the process, to save his soul. In order to do this, Sam and Al attempt to “Scrooge” him by arranging for him to experience his own past, present, and what will be his future.
Blake is able to see Al, due to his brain waves being similar to Sam’s brain waves. Sam and Al use this to convince Blake that Al is a ghost. As Al warns Blake about his terrible future, he breaks down, and vows to live a better life. Just before Sam leaps, Blake begins a romantic relationship with the woman who is Captain of the Salvation Army he had planned to tear down.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
Episode summary via quantumleap.fandom.com:
December 24, 1962: Christmas Eve, Sam leaps into Reginald Pearson who is the valet to business tycoon Michael Blake (played by Charles Rocket). Michael is a thoroughly unpleasant man (though he is opposed to firing Sam despite his incompetence as a valet and his meddling in Michael’s personal life) who is planning on tearing down a salvation army building in order to build Blake Plaza. He also just happens to have very similar brainwaves to Sam and so is able to see Al until Al changes the frequency slightly so that Michael can no longer see him. Sam is sympathetic to the Salvation Army and so promises Captain Laura Downey (played by Melinda McGraw) that he will find a way to save the building… with her help, of course. Although Sam believes his task is to save the Salvation Army building, Al points out he’s also there to save Michael from himself.
When Sam is ordered to sort through Michael’s suits to find which ones to save and which to give away (with heavy input from Al as Sam knows nothing about clothes), he finds a box of memories in the closet which reveal that Michael changed his name and used to be a poor orphan living on the same street as Blake Plaza is to be built on and that he’s trying to show the world just how far he has come by building the tower there. Due to Michael’s resemblance to Scrooge character-wise, Sam and Al decide to draw inspiration from “A Christmas Carol” to make him change his ways.
First comes “Christmas Past”, and Sam convinces the chauffer to let Sam drive Michael to his meeting and ends up taking him to the Salvation Army building. He stops the car and one of the local kids comes over and lets the air out of one of the tires to give them an excuse to stop. When Michael gets out (after wondering how Sam thought this was a good route to get to the meeting he had) he is assaulted by memories of the past, aided by several children playing and calling someone by Michael’s original name. Captain Downey appears and denies having seen the boys. Caught up in nostalgia and charmed by Downey, Michael happily tells her about growing up here.
When they stop to buy chestnuts, Michael recognizes the vender as Max Wushinski, an old friend that he had lost touch with. The two reminisce for a bit and then Michael asks what happened to his old best friend Charlie. Max is forced to tell them that Charlie became an alcoholic and killed himself 4 years earlier by throwing himself in front of a bus, this after losing his job when the plant became automated earlier, leaving behind his wife and five kids in the process. As Michael made his money off of laying off workers like this, he is deeply upset. He tries to pay extra for the chestnuts but Max just tells him to go.
Michael storms off and then sits in his apartment getting drunk and so Sam thinks that he’s failed. Al believes that this is actually a good sign and that Michael is thinking about what he is doing and so they put phase two of their plan into action… Christmas Present. Sam tells Michael that he feels sorry for him because, for all of his wealth and power, he’s still missing something from his life. Michael angrily asks how he would know and Sam bets a month’s rent that he can prove it.
Sam takes Michael back down to the site of the future Blake Plaza and has him put his hand on the side of the building, telling him that that path is just cold and Michael retorts that he’s had people who loved him but they all either died or left him and this building and his empire won’t. Before they can leave, though, they hear singing coming from the salvation army building and come in. Michael is once again caught up in nostalgia as he joins the festivities and really starts to open up to Downey.
Unfortunately, a little boy comes over to give Michael a Christmas present and Michael recognizes him as one of the children from earlier and realizes that this is an elaborate charade to make him change his mind. Furious, he storms out and tell Sam that he had better hope he didn’t still want to fire him in the morning.
Sam is discouraged but then he remembers that Michael can see Al and sends him in as ‘Christmas Future’. Al chooses to go all out and dresses up as Jacob Marley, which Michael calls him on. Because Michael saw him earlier, he doesn’t initially believe that Al is a ghost and keeps insulting him. Eventually, he tries to punch Al and falls right through him. After that, it doesn’t take long to convince Michael that Al is really a ghost. Michael calls for Sam to get rid of Al but Sam pretends he cannot see him.
Al takes Michael to the Salvation Army building and shows him the future. Michael is delighted at the picture of the finished Blake Plaza but then he sees a news report from 1975 featuring him as older and bitter, declaring bankruptcy. He sees that his tower has been renamed “Union Plaza”, after the name of the creditors who took ownership of it when he lost in a battle in the courts at the time, and that he eventually committed suicide by jumpinh from the top of it on into oncoming traffic. Michael is horrified and breaks down sobbing.
Sam convinces Michael that it’s not too late to change his ways as a bright star leads Michael back to the Salvation Army’s door, as Capt. Downey lets him in. Al reveals that the two of them fall in love and marry within six months and eventually have three kids together. Michael still builds the Blake Plaza tower, but, this time, he gives the entire first floor to the Salvation Army mission. Sam wonders if Michael would have knocked on the door if Al hadn’t put the star there… but Al says that he didn’t. The two wish each other a Merry Christmas, as Sam then leaps.
I guess it makes sense that a few episodes after Quantum Leap provides a Halloween story, we should also be given a Quantum Leap Christmas. This episode did not hit the high mark of its spooky counterpart from earlier in the season, but it definitely had some good moments.
This is another Quantum Leap episode with recognizable guest stars. Michael Blake – the Scrooge character – was played by the late SNL alum Charles Rocket. You might recognize him as the antagonist from Dumb and Dumber, or as the dad from Hocus Pocus. I thought his performance here was just… okay. The way he played Blake was very Hallmark movie-ish. He was a one dimensional when he was talking about destroying the Salvation Army mission and he seemed to transition into a real human being a little too quickly in the face of Sam and Al’s attempts to Scrooge him. I don’t think the story really gave him much opportunity to bridge the two sides of the character very well, or it might have just been the approach the director wanted. However we got there, the end result was that I didn’t connect emotionally with the character in the way that I wanted.
Melinda McGraw played Captain Downey of the Salvation Army. I recognized her first from her role as Commissioner Gordon’s wife in The Dark Knight but she has appeared in a bunch of other roles, including Mad Men and The West Wing. She was great, but her story was… weird. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Just as The Boogieman introduced the Devil into the Quantum Leap universe, this episode seems to introduce – passively – God. How? First, there is the miracle of Michael Blake being able to see Al (precisely when Sam and Al needed something supernatural to help Blake out.) The show gives a very brief explanation for this by saying that Blake and Sam’s brain waves are remarkably similar. Sam’s brain waves are what enable him to see Al. Therefore… Blake can see Al too. Convenient or miraculous? The other passive participation from God in this episode is the star and light near the end. Sam thinks Al set up a hologram star to shine a light to guide Blake to Captain Downey’s door. Al says he did not do it. We are left assuming then that a higher power did it.
Okay, so let’s get into the story. Sam is charged with changing the heart of Blake. He immediately decides that he and Al need to Scrooge him. They get Captain Downey in on it and she agrees and fully participates without any hesitation whatsoever. She even recruits children to help her manipulate Blake. Maybe it’s just me, but while I have only a little issue with a ghost inflicting a certain amount of mental torture on a person, in order to change his or her heart for the better, something about the way that Sam, Al, and Capt. Downey manipulated Blake felt wrong. This was particularly weird in Downey’s case because it was obvious from the moment she and Blake made eye contact initially that they were going to fall in love. Isn’t it weird to have “she manipulated me, primarily by using children to playact my childhood trauma, but it made me a better man” as the foundation of their love story?
The redeeming / most entertaining part of the manipulation story was Al’s role. He really hammed it up as the Ghost of Christmas Future. The performance was silly and fun despite the horrible nature of the information he was relaying to Blake. “You’re going to lose everything! You’re going to commit suicide! Hahahah!” It’s a weird thing to say about this part of the episode, especially given his role in it, but Dean Stockwell’s menacing ghost added some much needed fun and energy into the episode when it really needed that from him.
- The opening scene, where Sam’s character is dressing Blake, is extremely weird. What exactly was the job of Sam’s host? He drives Blake around sometimes. He pulls his underwear on sometimes. I mean… what? Oh boy, indeed. Is this the sort of thing a valet usually does? I’m very confused. If any of you do this job, I hope you’re being paid well and that your work is voluntary.
Overall, this was a good but not great episode – not too much unlike a holiday movie on Hallmark. It adds a little bit to the lore of the Quantum Leap universe and it gave Dean Stockwell an opportunity to really chew up some scenery as a Christmas ghost.