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 proprietor of a New Orleans brothel. One of the women in the establishment, Gina, is not a worker, but is in fact hiding out with her aunt from an abusive husband. Sam has to prevent her death, at the hands of said husband, slated to occur within twenty-four hours.
After other attempts to convince the husband to leave Gina fail, Sam manages to trick him into being photographed with the women of the brothel. He then threatens to send the picture to people in his hometown unless he leaves Gina. He does.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
August 4, 1961 Sam leaps into Gilbert LaBonte, the owner of a popular New Orleans brothel, during the man’s birthday celebration with his girls. Al is very excited about this leap but Sam is annoyed by the voyeurism. A man makes trouble when one of the girls, Gina (played by Georgia Emelin), does not want to go upstairs with him and the man has to be threatened with a shotgun before he will go and take his friends with him. Gina apologizes but will not elaborate. Shortly afterwards, a man who runs a school shows up looking for one of his missing students and Gina claims illness and retreats to the kitchen.
Al reports that Gina goes missing that night and a month later she’s found beaten to death. Sam tries to solve the problem by giving everyone at the brothel the night off and most of the girls go to the French Quarter. Gina is revealed to be the cousin of Marsha (played by Rita Taggart), one of the older prostitutes, and not a prostitute at all. Gina and Marsha are worried that LaBonte will find out that Marsha is essentially giving her free board and throw them both out. Marsha tries to understand what Gina is doing there and explains how very unglamorous that lifestyle is but Gina will only say that there’s nothing for her back home and she had to get away.
Sam tries to focus on Gina but Gina won’t admit to being scared of anything and asks Sam to leave so she can go to sleep. Sam is distracted by Marsha who LaBonte is apparently engaged to but Marsha doesn’t love him and only seems him as her ticket out of the life of a prostitute. Al reports that LaBonte marries someone who isn’t Marsha and when Sam resists Marsha’s advances, she is devastated and accuses him of being in love with Gina who she confesses is her cousin. Sam encourages her that it is never too late for a second chance and that she should move on to a new life…just not necessarily with him.
They hear screaming as Gina is being beaten by the school head who wants Gina to come back with him. It turns out that she was a student of his and when her mother died, he let her stay on for free. He was very nice to her and her friends and they quickly married before she could see that he would be an abusive husband. Sam arrives to save the day and beats the man up before sending him packing. Gina refuses to press charges and the sheriff (played by David Graf) points out that Gina’s husband appears to be a pillar of the community while LaBonte owns a brothel so Sam’s word against the husband’s won’t go well.
Al reports that Gina is pregnant and she left her husband after finding this out for fear of hurting the baby. She reluctantly agrees to go back and hopes that knowing of the baby will soften her husband’s rage but Al reports she’ll die anyway. There is no legal way of dealing with the husband with Gina refusing to press charges and so Sam takes matters into his own hands.
The husband shows up to take Gina home as Sam is taking a ‘graduation picture’ of the girls (the brothel dates back to the time when such establishments were given innocuous names and this is apparently a quilting academy) so the husband will have to wait for Gina to get down. One of the girls is late to the picture and stumbles while stripping and Sam takes a picture of what appears to be the husband soliciting a prostitute. The girls all swear to tell everyone that the husband tried to solicit them and Gina refuses to go with him
Al tells Sam that the husband is so paranoid of his picture being leaked to the newspaper like Sam threatened that he never goes back to the school and his rage eventually lands him in an institution where he can’t hurt anybody else. Marsha leaves with Gina who, gets a waitressing job and names her son after LaBonte.
Sam gets to play a pimp with a heart of gold. Is “pimp with a heart of gold” a TV trope? It feels like one. Anyway, the leapee was a sweetheart, too, because all of the prostitutes in his establishment loved him when Sam arrives. None of them comment that he is acting nicer than usual.
I did not really enjoy this episode very much. Al is a little bit libido-centered and some of that just exuded too much “ick” for my tastes (though him calling Sam a “prude prince” was funny.) The “solve” for the leap seemed a little too easily accomplished, too. We spent the first 95% of the episode dealing with the idea that there’s nothing anyone can really do to help poor Gina. Sam comes up with a plan off-screen. Then a lone, and only-somewhat-incriminating picture puts Gina’s murderous husband off to such an extent that he leaves her alone forever? A murderous psychopathic stalker, who roamed the streets of New Orleans from one side to the other until he tracked down his wife, gives up that easily? The last scene also featured something else that usually annoys me with TV scripts. Gina goes from “I have no other choice” in the penultimate scene to telling of her husband in the final scene, and we do not get to see any middle step in her character growth to indicate that this was coming.
“We’ve got a premise, and an ending, so we can kind of just skip the character-growth middle step if we stretch the premise far enough and just present the final scene as a surprise for the audience.“
The standout performance in this episode, for me, was from Marsha, played by Rita Taggart. We *do* see her go on the character arc journey throughout the episode, from Gilbert’s top prostitute, desperately hopeful to become his wife, to moving into another profession altogether. In many ways, this episode felt like it was as much about Martha’s change of profession / redemption as it was about her niece’s salvation.
Dan Butler also does a great job as the abusive husband, Jake. He was appropriately easy to hate for the entirety of the episode.
Southern Comforts deals with a very heavy topic. What do you do when you’re a young woman, in an abusive relationship, and that abuse becomes a threat to your own life and the life of your unborn child? Gina was willing to be beaten, it seems, but she was not willing to risk the life of her child during those beatings. She runs away and, via Marsha, establishes a reconnection with her last remaining family member and that along with Sam saves her life. I thought the writers did a good job in presenting a Gina who is too fearful to challenge her husband openly. She’s understandably afraid of the consequences of making that challenge, and then having it fail.
Obviously escaping abuse is not always that easy. I thought the show treated this topic with appropriate sensitivity, even if the story itself was unrealistic (sympathetic pimp, law enforcement willing to work with said sympathetic pimp, etc.) The rules and the right thing do not always feel like they align in real life. They certainly did not align in this story. There is an enjoyable escapism that occurs, though, when everyone in in a story does the improbable, and works together toward choosing “the right thing” over a strict adherence to the law or to social propriety.
Overall, I thought the script missed an opportunity to give Gina a needed character growth moment, the leap solution was pretty flimsy, and I thought Al was just a little bit too icky for me to really enjoy this episode. That said, it wasn’t all bad. Southern Comforts tackled a tough topic with appropriate sensitivity and delivered some enjoyable escapism for a circumstance that often does not have a happy ending.