Welcome to my recap of and reaction to Quantum Leap. This post is not so much an episode recap and reaction as it is a reaction post for Season 3 as a whole. Yes, there will be spoilers ahead for the entirety of Season 3. If you would like to read individual episode recaps, please click HERE:
Quantum Leap’s third season was strong, overall, and built upon the strong momentum for the show established during its second season. However, the third season lacked many of the high moments of the previous year as it largely stalled on the character growth of its two protagonists. That’s not to say there were not any good episodes. There just wasn’t anything from the third season which matched the high point established during Season 2’s “M.I.A.” That’s okay, though, as that was an impossible bar to reach.
Season 2’s Sam became increasingly focused on leaping home. He achieved that goal in the Season 3 premiere, but not in the way he or the audience imagined. When Season 3 begins, Sam leaps into the body of his sixteen year old self and tries to prevent his father’s eventual heart attack, his brother’s eventual death in Vietnam, and his sister’s eventual marriage to an abusive alcoholic. Despite his best efforts, he is unable to succeed. However, Al helps Sam to appreciate the opportunity to see his family again, even if he cannot change anything. Sam’s hope for his brother does not end when he leaps, though. In the second episode of the season, Sam leaps into the body of Herbert “Magic” Williams, a Navy SEAL in his brother Tom’s squad, on the day before history says that Tom is slated to die in Vietnam. With Al’s help, Sam is able to prevent the ambush from succeeding and he saves his brother Tom. The squad fails to rescue the POWs, though. After saving Tom, Sam learns that one of the POWs who was not rescued was Al. He further learns that hologram Al sacrrified his own rescue to save Tom. Once the clock strikes midnight on the day that Tom dies in history, with Tom now remaining safe, Sam leaps away.
From here, through the end of the season, Sam’s larger arc stalls. The topic of leaping home stops being a recurring theme of individual episodes. Without a larger arc in play, the episodes leaned on the episodic nature of its premise. Now in QL’s third season, the formula is well-honed, however, the emotional impact is lessened without the “home” theme being addressed. I think it is safe to assume that the writers were planning for a relatively long run for the show and they were hoping to stretch out the longer plot arc.
Al’s situation is similar to Sam’s. The first two episodes pick up the themes from the end of season 2, but for the most part, those themes go untouched after Season 3’s second episode. Al’s backstory remains tragic and unchanged. We learn that his first wife Beth still left him before he made it home from Vietnam. His long years as a prisoner of war does not change. He still ends up with five wives. Season 3 leaves those larger Al arcs untouched.
The Mechanics of Leaping
If Season 3 has a theme, or a larger plot arc, then that theme relates to the nature of Leaping itself. Ziggy malfunctions and information delays throughout the season are a constant source of trouble for the success of the Leaps (most notably in the finale, which I will get to in a moment.) Season 3 establishes the paradoxical origin of Sam’s idea for Quantum Leap. During a Leap (“Future Boy”) he gives the basic idea to a science based kids’ TV host. That host in turns gives the idea for Quantum Leap to a very young Sam Beckett during a broadcast. During the season’s Halloween episode (“The Boogieman”) Quantum Leap introduces the devil as an actual opponent to the Quantum Leap project. In the episode, the devil commits a few murders while impersonating Al, until he is finally discovered. Once that occurs, he – through Al – physically attacks Sam, nearly killing him, and also in the process resetting Sam again to the beginning of the Leap.
The conceit of the devil’s appearance is that it was made possible by an unknown malfunction to the equipment they use for the leaps. The real Al could not appear, until near the episode’s end, and that allowed the imposter to take his place. The end result of this episode is that a viewer probably needs to consider that Ziggy malfunctions could be related to supernatural interference.
We learn in the finale that a significant electric shock to Sam, during a Leap, can interfere with the brain waves based technology that allow him to communicate with Al. The shock also effected Sam’s mind, to the point that he ceased knowing for long stretches who he is, thinking instead that he was people he has previously leaped into during the run of the series. The issue is not fully resolved as the episode ends. The Season 4 teaser shows us that after Sam’s last Leap, Al is now present, in his physical body, and Sam is a hologram.
Favorite episode of Season 3: The Boogieman. Dean Stockwell was genuinely frightening as the devil. I think this is a fun twist to a time-travel show. The things we as the audience sees might not be what we think they are, whether that’s the other characters in the Leap and the explanations for equipment failure on missions. If you have to have an in-universe antagonist, the devil is as good as it gets.
Worst episode of Season 3: This is actually tough because I don’t think any of the episodes from Season 3 were bad. That’s not a small accomplishment considering the number of episodes and the 40+ minute runtime for each episode. If I do have to pick one, though, I’ll go with “Last Dance Before an Executioner” because I thought 1) it tried too hard to moralize, and 2) Sam plays only a small role in the success of the Leap.
Overall, despite the fact that I did not think anything from Season 3 quite matched the high of “M.I.A.” from Season 2, this was a very strong third season of Quantum Leap. I look forward to seeing where it goes from here, whether that be equipment issues, supernatural opposition, or even just the meat and potatoes emotional punch of Sam and Al’s hopes and dreams.