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 Butchie, a 13 year old on a road trip with his family. His mission is to prevent his mom Emma from leaving their family.
During the Leap, Sam initially thinks that Emma runs away with a high school friend that they keep running into during the trip. He believes this in part because Emma and Hank are having a significant marital conflict over the idea of Emma returning to college. However, Al eventually figures out that Emma actually dies by falling off a cliff and notes that her remains were not found until many years later. At the last moment, with the information from Al, Sam guides Butchie’s father Hank to where Emma is dangling, by her hands, and then Sam and Hank rescue her.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
Episode summary via quantumleap.fandom.com:
July 4, 1964: In this episode, Sam leaps into a thirteen-year-old boy named Butchie Rickett (Frank Borin), who is on an across-country trip from their home state Florida to the Wyoming mountains, with his controlling father Hank (Sherman Howard), desperate mother Emma (Sandy Faison), and bullying older sister Alexandra (Ami Foster). He is told that the mother is going to disappear and he and Al assumes that she will run off with a one Billy McCann (Joseph Hacker), a man that she and Hank both knew in high school that she winds up reuniting with on the trip. A widower himself, Billy is accompanied by his 14-year-old daughter Beth McCann (Amber Susa), who seems to take a liking to Butchie, as she asks him wryly, ‘”What grade are you in?”.
If Emma, who seems to be quite friendly, if not smitten with old classmate Billy, runs of with him, as feared by the family, it would ultimately destroy the family, as it had did in the original timeline of events before Sam’s leap into Butchie, and cause Butchie to not graduate high school and his sister to get pregnant at sixteen.
Sam does his best to keep the pair, Billy and Emma, apart but they just keep running into each other and eventually, Hank becomes jealous and his controlling nature gets worse. Turns out that Hank had went off to college himself on a football scholarship but he got injured and dropped out of college. He’s very proud of owning his own poultry factory and is intimidated by the old suitor’s doctorate and more prestigious career. Sam is having difficulty getting anyone to listen to him because of his age and the sister just will not stop harassing him.
Eventually, after a fight, Emma escapes off to the forest to try to collect herself as Sam follows her. Sam, as leapee Butchie, then learns how desperately unsatisfied she is in life after having to give up on her dream of going to college and being a doctor when she got pregnant and he manages to convince her to go back to school. Her husband is against this plan, however, because he feels that it’s his job to support the family and so she runs off again. Sam discovers that she did not run out on the family after all when Al comes across records of skeletal remains being found at the bottom of a nearby cliff thirty years later.
Sam leads Butchie’s father Hank and sister (as well as the Billy and his young daughter) to the cliff that the mother has somehow gotten stuck on. In a desperate situation, the Billy asks the old suitor for help rescuing Emma, but he panics and takes his daughter to go find an authority figure to aid. The family tries to lower a rope down but the mother is frozen so Sam has to be lowered down to personally lift her back up to the top. Billy has a lot of difficulty with the rope and it almost completely snaps but ultimately Sam and the mother reach the top safely. Sam finds out that father eventually retires and the mother goes on to get her doctorate. Sam decides there’s still one more thing to do before he leaps, and dangles Alexandra in a well to stop her from torturing Butchie in the future, earning her grudging respect.
This was a relatively boring episode about the women’s rights movement until the dramatic ending – which was tense and fantastic. That’s not to say that the topic of women’s rights is boring. I just didn’t really engage with the presentation here.
I might be overreacting in the moment, but I was more annoyed than usual with Sam’s intellectual interjections throughout this episode. We’re in the middle of Season 3. Shouldn’t he be past the point where he cannot help but comment on things his leapee doesn’t even plausibly know about? Thirteen year old Butchie talking to his mom about The Feminine Mystique made me roll my eyes all the way to the back of my head. He kept it up, too, later in the episode, talking about how women in the 1960s will return to college in big numbers, despite the fact that it’s only 1964 and “Butchie” could not possibly know that.
This episode adds a layer to Al’s fascinating backstory but as QL often does, they spread those Al arc nuggets out to maximize a payoff later. Al has a lot of pent up pain over his own mother. We did not spend a lot of time on it in the episode but it is there.
This episode was not helped much by Butchie’s dad, Hank. He just isn’t likeable, to the point that you kind of want Butchie’s mom to leave him for the majority of the episode. He’s a macho man who cannot fathom that his wife might want to go back to school or get a job or do something other than sit at home all day by herself. I think in hindsight, we’re supposed to view their marriage through the prism of Hank just being insecure or maybe complacent, but he was mean and borderline abusive. I think the episode needed a couple of additional lines of backstory dialogue to help explain and humanize his behavior and we needed to see some evidence, earlier in the episode, that he loves his wife beneath his bluster. Failing to properly humanize Hank made it hard for me to buy the conclusion. Maybe almost losing Emma, and the miracle of saving her life, helped him see more clearly. It just felt too easy. I will just be stuck with a head canon that the reality of the subsequent years for that family were probably not quite the smooth sailing that Ziggy’s futurecast stated.
On the other hand, I loved Butchie’s big sister, Alex (played by Ami Foster – who you might remember as Punky Brewster’s frienemy Margaux.) She was the purple-nurple giving comic relief. Sam’s reaction to being bullied was a lot of fun. He *hates* it. We don’t often get to see Sam in a situation like that one. Alex was a joy to behold as the sister-bully. That said… did Sam take things too far by dangling Alex over a well in order to extort promises that she will leave him alone in the future? As someone who did not have a big sister, is it a right of passage for a younger brother to eventually establish physical dominance (if he can) over a sister-bully? I don’t know. It felt like he went a little too far, or at least that it was out of character for Sam. Either way, Ami Foster’s Alex saves the scene for me, in the aftermath, by perfectly playing the whole thing off like she has a new respect now for her little twerp brother.
[From what I can tell from IMDB, Ami Foster gave up acting after childhood. She was *really* good before moving on to other things.]
The ending scene, of the whole family saving Emma, was extremely well done. Hank’s manly-man strength, and Sam’s brain, worked really well together. Alex’s screaming and crying were pitch perfect. The bangs and blasts of the fireworks had me jumpy. The tension of watching that rope fraying had me on the edge of my seat. I mean, I knew they were going to make it, because, duh, but it was TENSE I’m telling you.
All things considered then, factoring in the ending scene, this ended up being a good episode that could have been really good with just a few tweaks.