Quantum Leap (Season 3, Ep 53): Shock Theater

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.


Sam leaps into an electric shock patient in 1954. Shortly after he arrives, an abusive orderly gives him an almost lethal shock, without proper supervision, and it damages Sam’s connection to the Quantum Leap project and it also damages Sam’s brain, such that he keeps flashing in and out of the personalities of past leapees.

Al realizes that their mission is to teach a fellow patient the ABCs. Al is able to do this on his own, as the patient can see and hear Al. From there, Al has to convince Sam’s current personality to request the same almost lethal shock he had previously as the Quantum Leap lab doctors thing that will be necessary to fix the problem with the technology and to help Sam leap away. Sam, as Jimmy, finally convinces a nurse to give him this shock, unauthorized, and Sam leaps away.


via https://quantumleap.fandom.com/wiki/Shock_Theater

October 3, 1954: In this episode Sam leaps into a patient in a psychiatric hospital at the moment that a crooked orderly who mistreats patients is about to give him an unauthorized electro shock treatment for punitive reasons. Sam is given a dangerously high voltage shock which wreaks havok with his brain.

When Sam awakens he begins channeling the personalities of people he has lept into over the past three years, including Samantha StormerJesse TylerHerbert “Magic” WilliamsJimmy LaMotta,Tom Stratton, and Clarence “Kid” Cody which the doctors interpret as signs of multiple personality disorder. Al tries to help Sam get ahold of himself so the doctors will leave him alone so they can complete his mission, teaching another patient who was born with a mild case of Down’s Syndrome how to read. Sam, however, believes Al to be an hallucination and refuses to listen to him. Al then takes it upon himself to teach the other patient, who can see Al along with almost every other patient in the hospital, his ABC’s with the help of a clever rap song he and Sam programmed into Ziggy as a joke.

After the mission is completed Ziggy theorizes that the only way to get Sam’s mind back into a condition that will allow him to leap is to give him a second electro shock treatment equal in voltage to the first. Sam, still in a state of emotional shock from the first treatment, is reticent to comply but is successful in getting the doctors to prep him for a treatment.

Sam, in tears of fear, convinces a nurse to zap him with the same dangerously high voltage which almost killed him the first time and leaps, however a lightning bolt from the storm strikes both Al and Sam. The two suddenly find themselves in the middle of a town square, with Sam returned to normal. They theorize that Al leaped with Sam, but it’s clear all is not right… Sam is still wearing his hospital gown while Al is wearing an Army uniform and the handlink is no longer working. They then find out the truth that Al is no longer a hologram while Sam suddenly is the hologram guide, as Al has leaped into 1945, and Sam is back in 1999, in the Imaging chamber!


Oh boy.

Well, we finished Season 3 of Quantum Leap. The finale had a lot to live up to, as the Season 2 finisher was one of the best episodes of television I’ve ever seen. This episode swung for the fences but unfortunately, it struck out for me. My guess though is that it was a huge hit for other people. Sometimes you can tell when the thing you’re watching will be divisive and this episode definitely feels like it was/is divisive.

The premise of this episode is that the electroshock administered to Sam’s leapee, right after Sam leaps in, damaged the link between Dr. Beckett and the QL Lab, in the future. The other premise is that the shock damaged Sam’s own brain, such that he was adopting the personalities of his prior leaps from inside the psych ward where the current leapee is being treated. (This causes the psych ward doctors to think the leapee has developed multiple personality disorder.) I think the premise was relatively solid. It’s well-established that the technology at work on Sam’s leaps is not impeccable. It’s also well-established that Sam has a swiss cheese memory. We started off with not just a good idea, but a novel one for the series. What happens to Sam if there is a serious problem with the tech?

The reason this episode falls so flat is that it is, as the youths would say, cringe. I assume the goal here with the season finale is to give Scott Bakula – who is a great actor – material to work with and hopefully with which he can garner an Emmy nomination. Lat season’s finale gave Dean Stockwell that type of opportunity. It makes sense that Scott Bakula gets an opportunity, too, as he *is* the star of the show. The problem is that the episode felt to me like it was trying way too hard.

Scott Bakula, a middle aged white man, dons the voice and physical affectations of 1) a woman, 2) an elderly black man, and 3) a teenager with Down Syndrome. When Sam leaped into those people the first time, we (the audience and Al) saw “Sam” and not the person he was inhabiting. He was just wearing the other person’s clothes. Here, we see Scott Bakula impersonating those people. It just didn’t work for me, to the point that I think a not insubstantial percentage of modern audiences would call the performance “problematic.” Even assuming you’re the kind of person who is generally not culturally sensitive, this episode still felt like the television version of Leonardo DiCaprio’s increasingly dramatic roles while he was chasing an Oscar win. Drama has diminishing returns, at a certain point, and this was too much for me. To add insult to the “trying way too hard” injury, we also were blessed with a scene were Dean Stockwell’s Al teaches a young black man, with a disability, the ABCs in the form of a rap song. No, I am not joking.

I mean.. what? I admire the creative approach to education. If the kid learns well through music, then use music. However, this was just too, too much. I almost cringed to death.

There is a secondary part of the story of this episode that I found to be fascinating. An orderly nearly kills Sam, as the episode opens, after he punitively administers electric shock way beyond the allowed amount, and without a doctor’s supervision. That causes the problem for everyone in the episode. The nurse at the end does the same thing, also without proper supervision, because the clearly brain addled patient (Sam), who is at that point talking to her as though he has Down Syndrome, begs her to shock him like he was shocked previously. She actually does it.

I want to know how this scene resolves after Sam leaped out of there. Did she fix this guy? Kill him? Does she get fired? Does she go to her grave not knowing that she did the right thing? WHAT HAPPENS?!

Anyway… Season 4 will be starting in an interesting new place. Sam is now the hologram and Al is the leaper. That’s an interesting development, though I suspect it will not last for longer than one ore two episodes. Does that mean Sam returns to his own body? Did he go to Al’s body? If he returns to his own body, does that mean Dr. Beckett’s body has been there to whole time, essentially comatose?

I guess we’ll find out.

2 thoughts on “Quantum Leap (Season 3, Ep 53): Shock Theater

  1. Apropos of nothing really but I’m re-watching Enterprise and I think one of the many factors in that show not being great is how grumpy and emotional Captain Archer is – I think people like their Bakula to be more of a good-natured aw-shucks boy scout

    1. Yeah. I’d guess that going the other direction was a Bakula desire / request to avoid typecasting.

      IMO, though, if you’re really good at something, it’s usually better to embrace it than to run away from it.

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