Good Night, Dear Heart: This one's a bit of a contradiction, simultaneously a traditional sort of story and one with an ethereal, gonzo look towards the future. Sam's a mortician in New England in 1957, and there's a dead blonde in his parlor whom everyone believes ended her own life. Sam, after finding a strange wound on her head, is convinced she was shot and it was a murder before proceeding to go into full murder mystery detective mode. When you put it down on paper like that, it sounds pretty straightforward with nothing seeming out of the ordinary. There's one strange choice that stuck with me, though, and it along with some other themes and mysteries revealed over the other gave me an odd, if maybe inaccurate comparison point.
It's Twin Peaks, okay? It's David Lynch's Twin Peaks, that's what this episode made me think of. I haven't really seen Twin Peaks, but I know the basic gist of it being a murder mystery with a bizarre cast of small-town folks with secrets, and that things get Lynchian and gonzo very quickly. Okay, so clearly this episode is taking inspiration from another hit show of the time and doing a little riff of its own. One small problem with that. This episode aired a month before Twin Peaks debuted. So no, not a direct riff on Twin Peaks as it didn't exist yet, but there's some kind of vibe here all the same. Sam almost has a kind of obsession with proving that the girl, Hilla, was killed instead of taking her own life. He's haranguing the sheriff to dredge the lake where she was found for a gun to prove his theory, he's insisting on holding off on burying her until he has his proof, he's accusing the big businessman in town and his son/mourning lover of conspiratorial deeds involving Hilla being pregnant... There's something more driving him than just wanting to change the story so that Hilla's killer comes to justice.
That the townsfolk of the time react to this with "let it go, she ended her own life, bury the girl and move on" is one thing. We expect that kind of opposition from them. That Al agrees is something odder entirely. I mean like... come on, Al. You have all the knowledge of the premise of the show that we do. You've done this song and dance 25 times or more now, do you seriously think this leap is suddenly so cut and dry as to be "oh well, she ended her own life, nothing nefarious here to bring to justice, let it go Sam"? Then there are those random jump cuts to Hilla in the field. They're never explained, and I like this a lot. It gives the episode this strange ambiguity. Quantum flashes? Hilla's spirit imposing upon Sam to solve her murder? I don't know. Whatever it is, it's striking and it invites you to make up your own mind.
Then there's the murderer, and the truth of what happened, and it's... again, I'm not sure. It was Hilla's best friend Stephanie, a professional photographer. All the clues come together, like the diary mentioning a July 4th fling but the mourning lover having been out of town at the time, and a home movie reel of Hilla. Part of it was shot by an amateur, but the July 4th part was shot by a professional who knew what they were doing with a camera. There's your big twist. Stephanie was in love with Hilla, and Hilla breaking things off on the 4th plus her getting pregnant with her lover's child... and so, she killed her friend by driving a stiletto heel into her head, hence the wound Sam found. Hmm, I dunno. I kind of don't like the vibe of outing someone in 1957 to expose their crime. It leaves a funny taste in my mouth. At least the ending is a little poignant. Among other things, Hilla loved Mark Twain, and before leaping Sam reads a poem by Twain at her grave called "Warm Summer Sun", which ends with the titular "good night, dear heart". That rapid cut flash of Hilla comes back, sticking on her as she thanks Sam and then he leaps. So yeah. That was an interesting episode, to say the least! Let the editors off their leash more, it gives me richer material to yammer on about.
Pool Hall Blues: Well, it's another episode centered on the stories of black people, so you know I went into it with a little apprehension. Yes, that word is said again, but at least it's by an actual person of color this time so it's their word to say. We'll get to that scene, though. It's 1954 and Sam is an elderly black man who's also a living legend at... you guessed it, playing pool. He's here to help his granddaughter Violet, who's played by Shari Headley. As an aside, that woman's name is lodged into my brain specifically because of Eddie Murphy mentioning working with her on Coming To America in his story about how John Landis was a piece of shit. Anyway she's the owner of this blues club but she owes a bunch of money to this seedy loan shark named Eddie, and he's going to take possession of the club if they don't get the money. Hence, Sam has to save it.
Now obviously in an episode about a pool-playing legend you can infer what special skill will be used in the climax of the episode to change the future for the better, but Sam initially fights it because it's once again a honed special skill that he lacks because he's a leaper. So he takes Violet to the bank to try and get a loan, to avoid having to play pool. This is an odd scene. It has no bearing on the plot other than something Sam tries and fails to do to resolve the situation early, so the significance beyond padding out the script must lie deeper in what's said. At first the white tellers try to shoo away this old black man and his granddaughter, but after Sam insists they send them over to the one black teller at the bank. In the back, because this is 1954.
This guy can't help them, but before he raises his voice and dismisses them he whispers his sympathies and explains his own side: how he had to fight tooth and nail to keep this position at the bank, how he's had to ignore the indignities and racial jokes (and he doesn't say racial jokes, he says N-word jokes, that's where we drop the word) to get here. Anyway then Sam leaves, but not before angrily accusing this guy of basically pulling the ladder up from behind him? Like he acknowledges that the guy worked hard, twice as hard as a white person would have had to, so he should be more considerate of helping out the people trying to climb out with him? Uhhh y'all I don't know if white guy Sam Beckett is... allowed to make that value judgment on this guy? It's a very strange scene that seems to be saying something about not letting success get to your head and giving people the opportunities you got, but I don't know if Scott Bakula is the one who should be saying it.
Well, okay, fine. If they can't get a loan, there's no avoiding it. Sam will have to play a high-stakes game of pool with Eddie in order to settle the debt and save the club. How does our hero get good at pool overnight, though? That's where Al comes in. In the first place, there's a neat connection between Al and the leapee, where Al ran away from his orphanage as a child and ran into this pool legend, who took him in for a bit and showed him a thing or two about pool while he was at it. There's a nice little bit of full circle going on here where Al was helped by him as a child, and now Al is returning the favor and solving his problem for the better. Hey, maybe that's supposed to contrast with the bank teller scene! If you get out of a bad situation and gain a better life, pay it forward and help other disenfranchised people out. That's not a bad message, in and of itself.
|They use this clip in the opening of Season 3.|
That means you get to see it too.
The second mishap comes in the form of Eddie, who has his hired muscle lure a pal of Sam's out into the alley so he can steal Alberta the pool cue and break it over his knee. HA HA HA OLD MAN YOU CAN'T WIN WITHOUT YOUR LUCKY POOL CUE. It's funny because this muscle walks off, saying "now don't you try anything, old man", thinking that an old guy can't do shit to him. Anyway Sam beats him over the head with half a pool cue and lays this fucker out in the alley. It doesn't deter him that much, as he just borrows another pool cue and is still killing it thanks to Al's guidance. Oh no, but then it fades again right on the final shot and Sam has to make it normally! Oh no, I wonder what will happen! Of course he makes it and saves the day and wins the club back, creating a better future. This one's not bad. The bank teller thing's a little... off-putting, but the rest of the episode has this nice blues-y vibe and the high-stakes pool game stuff is entertaining. I did enjoy my time here.
Leaping In Without A Net: This one's got a relatively simple premise, but it's just a nice little story that has redemption for not only the people Sam is helping but for Sam himself as well. It's 1958 and Sam has leapt into Victor Panzini, an acrobat who's part of an acrobat family and working at a circus. Victor's sister Eva wants to do a super risky triple-spinning acrobat maneuver for her next show, and wants Victor to be the one who catches her while he swings on a trapeze. Their father is adamant that he be the one to catch Eva and not Victor, for reasons we'll get into in a moment. Said father's old and has a bad arm now, though, so if he goes on as the catcher for the big show then Eva will plummet to her doom. Make a better future, perform in the circus, catch the show. Another high-stakes special interest that Sam has to quickly learn. There are just a few problems with that.
Of course there are, because if there weren't this would be a five-minute affair. No, part of making that better future is also getting the acrobat father out of his stubborn ways. Simply put, he's both overprotective and untrusting of his kids to various degrees. He doesn't like the idea of the triple and he really objects to Victor being the catcher up there. His reasons for this are tragic, if not blinkered; the matriarch of the family died trying to do the triple, and it was Victor who failed to catch her a year prior. Now his dad trusts Victor about as far as he can throw him, and has demoted him to handling the net because of this. Maybe Victor would have stayed too meek and remorseful to truly stand up for himself to prove to his father that he's worth redemption. Sam's not Victor, though, and we've seen time and time again that he'll stand up for what's right. He'll stand up for himself and push back against this untrusting nature to prove himself... even if he's not all that confident himself.
Maybe Baby: This was a very interesting first watch of a show. I can't tell you how it works on a rewatch when you know everything because I've only seen it the one time, but it's an episode that kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat, so to speak. It's 1963 in Texas and Sam is helping a stripper named Bunny steal a baby so that the kid can be taken back to her rightful mother in New Mexico and out of the hands of the guy who stole the baby in the first place. Nothing like a bit of crime in service of doing the right thing, that's what "Freedom" was half about. There's just one teensy little problem with all of this that complicates matters and makes for a stressful watch: is Sam really doing the right thing?
See, one of the things Bunny reveals is that she's a victim of abuse. When Sam gets a little angry because Bunny lied about the baby being hers, she shrinks back and begs for Sam not to hit her. If Al were correct, and this were all a ruse to get Sam to believe her so she could complete her malicious scheme of stealing this baby, then think about what kind of message that would be sending. Naive idealist Sam Beckett trusting and believing a woman who confides in physical abuse to him, only to have been fooled by a big lying liarface who lied about everything. Who lied about being abused and cried crocodile tears to tug on Sam's heartstrings. We should have been cynical and believed Al, and not trusted a woman like that, even if she seemed like she was telling the truth. If Quantum Leap pulled something like that, it would be sending a terrible message about not trusting vulnerable women in need, about being cynical and keeping them at arm's length because they can't be trusted. I would have to get very angry in this writeup indeed.
I do not have to get very angry in this writeup. I had to watch 45 minutes of television to deflate the tension. I can deflate it with a few keystrokes that type out words you read. Bunny is telling the truth, and Reed is the liar. Reed absolutely stole that baby from her birth mother in New Mexico, and is also a wanted felon in that state as well for all sorts of fraud and other crimes. There's that old adage about believing someone when they show you their true colors. We've seen over the episode that Bunny's true colors are caring and kind, if not vulnerable and a little scatterbrained. By contrast we have Reed in the climax, who literally tries to shoot Sam and Bunny as they escape him and the police. Little to no regard for the safety of his fucking baby in mind, just GRRR I REALLY WANT TO KILL THEM. Then he carjacks people to chase down Bunny and Sam. By contrast, they've taken a parked police car to coast over the state lines. Idiot Reed's so determined to kill that he crosses state lines and is immediately recognized by the first cop who comes upon Reed and Sam holding each other at gunpoint, and is arrested.
It's a tearful goodbye for Bunny and the baby, but she is a good person who did the right thing. As for why Al thought Bunny was a liarface? Hahah whoops Ziggy's wires got crossed. It's technobabble and you know it. The real reason was to create that utopic tension and uncertainty over Bunny and her story. I am glad that this show got on the right path. It's interesting to think of the show so far in terms of all that "betrayal" stuff I waffled about in the opening. Quantum Leap is a very different beast from tentpole sci-fi I'm used to, and its success and failure states are entirely different. Where it excels in changing the future and doing the right thing, it has faltered in terms of Inspiring A History... and then there's the matter of race, which is prickly of its time stuff that bristles to a modern lens. If nothing else, though, I can say this episode got on the right side in the end. Only two left. Let's power on through.
Sea Bride: Unfortunately I really bounced off of this one. It's not especially prickly or problematic in anything it depicts, nor does it doesn't betray any fundamental principle of the show that I hold dear. I think my lack of interest is twofold: it is a pretty standard "rekindle a romance" plot played relatively straight, and the most interesting glimmers of social commentary it does have are left to glimmer under the surface of a tale I otherwise found pretty boilerplate. Sam leaps into the life of Phillip Dumont, on the ocean liner Queen Mary outside New York in 1954, and immediately finds himself accosted by an angry lady in white slapping him and telling him to stay away from her and not to ruin her wedding. A procession of people come to the befuddled Sam to tell him to keep the hell away from this lady and not ruin her wedding, including her dad and some florists.
|Isn't it bad luck to see the bride before|
The one thing I do want to bring up, though, involves said imaginary friend. It's not even pertinent to this episode, beyond being a platitude to motivate Sam. Al has some thoughts on true love, you see, and when Sam asks what the hell a womanizer like Al knows about true love, Al mentions he found it once. Please put a pin in that... but for the next episode. Also wanting to put a pin in things: Catherine's fiancee. And by that I mean he very much would like to kill Sam and get him out of the way. He's not a very nice man, but Catherine is being pressured to marry him because her father's business is in jeopardy and this guy's money would put it back in the black. This is where the episode flirts with a theme I wish it did more with; the regrets of women who married for practicality instead of true love. Catherine is obviously about to go through with a practical marriage, but her mother also broke off things with her true love because her family didn't approve. She says she wouldn't change things, but the way she cries earlier when her husband brings that subject up says otherwise. I do wish they focused more on this plotline! It's interesting and gives the women of the story agency!
Instead we have the fiancee try to kill Sam by throwing him into the ship's garbage dump, and Al has to guide him out while also berating the lack of ecological concern over this ship dumping garbage into the fucking ocean. Sam gets out just as Catherine refuses to go through with the wedding, the fiancee shows his true colors and tries to throw hands, and gets laid out as Sam and Catherine embrace. Happy ending, better future made. I really don't have much more on this. It didn't hook me. Like I said, the regret of women marrying for practical purposes is almost a good hook, but the episode doesn't do more with it. Beyond that it's the standard romantic setup, with grand romantic gestures. The kind of thing "Star-Crossed" was making fun of back in the first season, and if you think that's a reach then let me tell you the previous episode's leap tease was just that episode's again, implying a repeat between the two. That this was stock romance is one thing. That it would air on the heels of something that subverted it and told a more poignant story is something else. Still, there's just one left to talk about... and if you want poignant bitter romance? Have I got a humdinger for you to end this season of writeups!
M.I.A.: Goddamn, do we have a lot to talk about with this one. I'm going to call it a mixed episode, because there are some prickly bits there that I'll talk about at the top here. They exist as smokescreen for the real story of what's going on, and that real story is incredibly poignant and heartbreaking. Crucially, though, the red herring plot distracting from what's really happening could have been anything and didn't need to be this. We'd better start with the leap's tease from the previous episode. It has Sam as a woman again, so Scott Bakula is in a wig and a skirt with high heels and complaining. Oh no not again not a woman and not high heels and all that. When he looks in a cracked mirror in the alley he's leapt into, he sees a masculine face staring back at him. Immediate red flags were raised for me, wondering just what in the fuck the show was doing.
He's leapt into a man who's an undercover cop, and the undercover cop is undercover and dressed as a woman. If I had to guess, the intent here was a sort of subversion of the other leaps into women. Scott Bakula in woman's clothing looks in the mirror and sees... another guy in woman's clothing. There is no other internal logic for why this cop had to bust these criminals in a skirt and a wig. It happens because they wanted to try a meta play of going "ahah, our leading man in women's clothes has leapt into... a man in women's clothes, didn't see that coming, did you?". For obvious reasons that's just a little bit prickly and has not aged all that well. Speaking of prickly, Sam's leapt into a fucking cop. It's April 1970 in San Diego and Sam's been sent by the Lord God himself to intervene and checks notes bust hippies selling drugs to each other in the park. Yeah, so that's bad. The show thinks cops is good, but it's very bad.
What else is there to say about this smokescreen? Sam is really here to prevent his partner from getting killed in a revenge ambush by the criminals they busted in the opening of the episode. He saves the cop by extra-judicially blowing them away with a fucking shotgun, no warning, no "drop your guns and put up your hands". They have guns out and don't see Sam and he shoots first and asks questions later. Playing up his role as a fucking cop, if nothing else. That's the main reason for the leap. To save this one cop from getting killed by criminals, so he can go on and bust all those pot-smoking hippies in the park. Yeah, that sure is some better future you just made, Sam. If it seems like I'm down on the episode, I'm only getting all the venom out onto this red herring. Yes, it is the future he's here to change... but it isn't the heart and soul of this episode. Hey, what's up with Al this time around?
Al is telling Sam of a very different story that needs changing. Out in the city, there's a woman named Beth who is in need of some guidance and support right now. Her husband is currently MIA in Vietnam, a POW who won't be released for another four years. By the time he gets back, he'll find that Beth has moved on and married a lawyer; a lawyer she's about to meet today when she gets a flat tire and he offers roadside assistance to change it. To preserve this marriage and change the story so the true lovers stay together, Sam has his partner drive to the place and uses his authority as a police officer to cockblock this confused lawyer and have his partner question the guy so he can change the tire and keep these two apart.
Al has all the data on what Beth likes, and she's emotionally vulnerable on this particular weekend. All Sam has to do is woo her a little and keep her out of the arms of this jerk lawyer, and the story should be changed so she doesn't get with him. Something is off this time, though. Sam prevented the initial meetcute of Beth and the lawyer, to a degree. In another scene, Beth is watching boats in the harbor and talks with an older lady about them before she invites her to dinner with her and her son... and her son just so happens to be the lawyer. What an amazing corrective coincidence that is. Beth turns it down for now to go out with Sam, but on another day out for lunch who should be sitting at the table next to her but Mr. Lawyer? Two corrective coincidences in such short succession can't just be... well, coincidence. If I had to compare this to anything, I'd call it a fixed point in time. As if Sam is meddling with a story and some other cosmic force is editing it in real time to get the tale back on track to where it's supposed to go.
Al is insistent, though, and shares a sympathetic story of his own about how he was a POW in Vietnam and he came home to a wife that had moved on. This is a notable trick in Quantum Leap's repertoire, and one we've seen a lot over these past 30-odd episodes. Be it Sam wanting to save an abuse victim because his sister was one, or Al wanting to save Jimmy from institutionalization because of his sister, it's a good way to add depth and character to these two and show how tragedy and loss makes them fight to prevent that tragedy and loss from looming over other people. As for all that corrective editing, Al has a whopper of a concept for us: if God is the one guiding all this Quantum Leaping, the one trying to keep Beth on the path of marrying this shit lawyer can only be Satan. Now that's one hell of a theological concept for this show's mythology to grapple with, and one I can't wait to see expanded on. (INTRUSION FROM THE FUTURE: Once again I am laughing in Season 3. You'll see.)
It's total bullshit. Have you pegged it yet? I confess I didn't, because all those other Quantum Leap episodes had trained me otherwise. I don't know why the fuck the show bothered with the "subversion" of the undercover cop in the dress at the opening because this is an infinitely better use of it. Al notably does not say anything about why Beth marrying the lawyer is a bad thing. He does not say that the lawyer becomes a drunk, or an abuser, or any reprehensible bullshit like that. He just is derisive of the lawyer to begin with. If you haven't got it yet, I'll spell it out for you. Sam sees a photo of Beth's MIA husband at her home. It's Al. Al is using Sam to try and change his personal history, to rewrite his own life so he doesn't return home from Vietnam to find his marriage dissolved.
It's here we jump back to that otherwise eh Sea Bride episode, and that pin I put in about Al mentioning true love. The womanizer that is Al knew it, once... and here she is again, and this time he has the chance to try and change the future but it's remaining obstinate and refuses to change. After all Al has scolded Sam for trying to change his own future and love live (way back in "Star-Crossed" again), the shoe is on the other foot and Al understands what it's like. The womanizer Al would become was born here. Sleeping with any gal he fancies, marrying multiple times, all in an attempt to recapture the lost flame that was burned out here in the 70's. Like it or lump it, that's the rule for our pair of Quantum Leapers. They can rewrite any story... except their own.
|All my love to long ago.|
An absolutely touching and heartbreaking story about loss and letting go. Pity it had to be about the fucking cops while it was at it, but goddamn if this is good. I think I'll sum up this season in the opener to the next one. Time marches on, and so do I. We've got 66 more leaps to go before this job's done, so we'd better get to it, eh? I only hope they all can be as moving and poignant as this. Wishful thinking, I know... but after all, isn't wishful thinking what this show is all about? Wishing for something better? That's my kind of jam, and even if it's not always possible... Sam and Al have each other, and will look out for each other. I find that quite nice. That's all for this one, and that's all for Season 3. What to say about it?
On the whole, I did enjoy Quantum Leap's first full-bodied season. All of that yelling I did about history and every other episode putting on the brakes so Sam could inspire some famous person to do the thing they're famous for? Not only is that expressly ideologically challenged in the season opener, but after like... Good Morning Peoria with the Chubby Checker thing it basically vanished for a bit. (INTRUSION FROM THE FUTURE: Don't get comfy, it'll be back.) In addition to that, look at how the opener and ender mirror each other. Both times Al misleads Sam on the purpose of his leap for an ulterior motive, be it "keep the project going so we're not separated" or "I miss the only woman I ever loved, change history so I can have her back". In between we had some great episodes with important things to say. Leaps into women, musings on heavy topics like grief or death or kidnapping... I continue to have gotten exactly what I was wanting by escaping tentpole sci-fi for this.
Yes, there's continuity. Stories are informed by me knowing things about the lives of Sam and Al, and their feelings on things. Notably, the continuity doesn't exist to make my neurons activate in recognition. It exists to give added pathos to these stories. It's there to accentuate the emotional connection, which is what the show is all about. Emotional connection, delving into the material reality of the real world, and imagining changing it for the better. That's the heart and soul of Quantum Leap, and I've found a good home here. It's not perfect, as some of the language and attitudes bristle against me. I don't have to battle pedantic reference, but I do have to battle the worst of humanity. All of that's in service of this wonderful show about making a better future for people, and I think that's lovely and can't wait to see Sam Beckett and Al do more of that.
Hey, wait a minute, what's Scott Bakula doing with that monkey's paw...?
TO BE CONTINUED...