Friday, 5 August 2022

A Quantum Microcosm, Adrift On The Sea Of History: Part 2 (Quantum Leap Season 2) [2.4]

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.

Brief aside before that, while we're talking about odd synchronicity: despite the opening of this project being me slagging off tentpole sci-fi for its flaws, I have been dabbling. A routine I've started recently has been to fire up episodes of Star Trek Voyager while having dinner. This is not the place for critique of that show, but what's wild is that I fire up this episode and who should be playing the mourning lover of the dead woman but Robert Duncan McNeil, aka Tom Paris from Voyager. Weird. Okay, bear with me here. We have, as I said, a dead blonde lady as the central mystery of this episode. We've got a small town with a handful of people who are harboring secrets of their own about the dead girl. Sam, at one point, finds her secret diary and learns of some of the secrets she took to her grave. Oh, and at multiple points the editor decides to do a series of rapid cuts towards an image of the girl in a grassy field, in a choice I can't decipher which makes everything seem that much stranger.

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.
Okay, went on a tangent there. Getting good at pool. Pool, when you think about it, is just a combo of geometry and hand-eye coordination. Hit the ball just right and let physics and angles take care of the rest. Al basically turns the real life pool table into a video game, adding in a laser guide that shows Sam the perfect angle to hit the cue ball to sink the other balls every time. All Sam has to do is apply the right amount of force, and he's good at that part. In a cute move, the pool cue Sam is using is named Alberta, so whenever he's talking to Al and going OKAY AL HELP ME SINK THE SHOT HERE, everyone thinks he's talking to the pool cue. This being a high-stakes pool game where there needs to be tension, we need some mishaps to try and screw Sam up. Of course you know that laser guide is going to fizzle out eventually, but the reason for it? The Pentagon is siphoning power from the Quantum Leap project. I'm reminded of the tension from the beginning of the season, where the government couldn't give less of a shit about Sam making individual lives better and want him to go back in time and win the Cold War. God only knows what they're using the power for, but it's clear the priority is not "help a black lady in the 50's keep her club".

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.

That brings us to the other conflict of the story, which is Sam's own internal cross to bear. Sam Beckett, you see, is afraid of heights. Hanging off of a trapeze 50 feet in the air by just his legs is not a prospect he takes to easily because of this. It takes a lot of coaching from both Al and Eva to get Sam to push out of his comfort zone a little and actually try to do the trapeze thing to learn how to catch Eva well enough to change the future. I like it when the show does things like this, not only improving the lives of the people close to the leapee but Sam's life as well. Yeah, of course he catches Eva in the big circus act at the end. He regains the trust of Victor's father, making him proud of his talented acrobat son. More than that, though, he faces his fear head-on and eventually powers through it enough to do the right thing and change the story. Certainly, Sam will still be apprehensive about heights, but facing the thing and overcoming it in this instance is a good thing. This might be the shortest I've ever had to say about one of these, mostly because I go wild with what happens, but yeah. That's all I've got. Acrobat makes family trust him and Sam overcomes fear of heights a little. Good episode. Not bad for watching it on vacation in an upstairs room in the middle of a heat wave. Speaking of, what else did I watch there? 

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?

I mentioned the concept of utopic tension back in "Freedom", fittingly, and it also applies here. Bunny has a habit of fibbing here and there about things and the episode raises the possibility that Bunny's story about Reed, the baby's father who stole her from her birth mother, is all a lie. That Bunny is not committing a second wrong to make a right, but that this is just an initial wrong and Sam has been hoodwinked into being her accomplice. Al and Ziggy seem to think this is the case and Al urges Sam to turn themselves in and take the baby back. There's your tension and uncertainty. Is Bunny telling the truth and saving a baby, or is she a malicious liarface just stealing Reed's child to get back at him? Sam believes Bunny, and Al does not. One of these positions has to win out, and which one wins out will affect how I see the show as a whole. That's what I call utopic tension.

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 wedding?
So yeah, Sam is here to stop the wedding and get Phillip back with the bride, Catherine. Phillip and Catherine used to be married, but Phillip was marooned on Bora Bora for three years and Catherine's dad had the marriage annulled. Now Catherine is set to marry a criminal mob boss type, and the only other person who wants to see Sam woo Catherine again is Catherine's little sister who helps Sam scheme up ways to woo Catherine and win her back. Catherine has the same level of hot and cold as, say, Dana in "Her Charm" but I don't feel that fun bounce of charisma between her and Sam like I did in that other episode. I just feel like I'm watching a stock romcom that happens to have Scott Bakula talking to his imaginary friend.

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.
That doesn't mean Fate or God or whatever can be totally unkind. Sam doesn't leap out after saving that shitty cop, but it's not because he has unfinished business; it's because Al does. Al has to face his lost flame, and properly say goodbye and let go so he can begin to heal. It's an absolutely wonderful scene where the pair share one last dance to their song, even if Beth can't see Al in this instance. There's some connection there, though. Beth is probably saying goodbye to Al in her own way before moving on and going out with the lawyer. She's letting go one way or another, like Al's story says... but this time, at least, Al can let go along with her and the two can amicably part. It's beautiful and it's sad, and it ends with Al giving her a forehead smooch before he leaps away, to worlds and seasons unknown along with Sam.

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...?


Thursday, 4 August 2022

A Quantum Microcosm, Adrift On The Sea Of History: Part 2 (Quantum Leap Season 2) [2.3]

Animal Frat: That paragraph was running long so I made a little cliffhanger for the next part here. At first I assumed that this was some production order shuffling due to Season 1 only being 9 episodes, like how the Machiko episode dovetailed back into Jesse Tyler. It seemed weird that we were still doing that halfway into Season 2, but whatever, I can wait a day to see the next leap. It turns out, if the Quantum Leap wiki is to be believed, that they did this because the next week's broadcasted episode was a rerun of "Camikazi Kid". I wonder if anyone's tried to make it canon, like the canon nerds try to do for the repeat of one of Patrick Troughton's Dalek stories in 1960s Doctor Who. Right, then. Basically used a paragraph talking about weird production issues. I may or may not be dodging trying to talk about this episode. In a way, it's a lot like "Jimmy": It has its heart in the right place with a moral about a serious real-world issue, but it also is very messy and does a bunch of shit that does not fly today. It manages to do this without saying a single slur, too. That's either an accomplishment or horrifying. Or both. Let's dive in!

Given the title, the setting and inspiration are obvious: Sam is a meathead frat boy nicknamed "Wild Thing" in 1967, the type of guy who only thinks about beer, sex, and football. We're in Animal House. Or any number of raunchy collegiate-age comedies made in the late 70's and early 80's. Immediately I was on high alert, because that kind of boys-will-be-boys "humor" has putrefied into what it always was: bigoted, sexist, misogynistic problematic bullshit. Read a plot summary of Revenge Of The Nerds sometime and try not to vomit. To its credit, the episode only skirts the line of these badlands. It will toe that line once or twice to horrifying effect, and I will call it like I see it, but there's an actual poignant plot here and it deals with that year. 1967. This is a story about protesting the Vietnam War, and about what the right way to protest such a thing is.

No way in hell am I using any problematic
screencaps for this one, of which there are many.
Sam has to save an anti-war activist named Elizabeth from a terrible mistake wherein, to protest the university's support of the war, she plants a bomb in what she and her activists think is an empty chemistry building but end up killing someone with it. Immediately Sam meets resistance because he's in the body of a beer-swilling dinosaur, and Elizabeth doesn't believe he has pure intentions. Neither does her activist pal, a man named Duck who's far more radical. They all just assume that Wild Thing is seeing a pretty girl and attempting to use anti-war support as kindness coins to put in the machine until sex comes out. We get several passionate speeches about how the war is wrong, but it would also be unhelpful to devolve into radical activism, and... hmm. This is a bit of a thorny issue in and of itself.

Sam's argument later in the episode will basically boil down to "the pen is mightier than the sword". That violent activism in protest of violent war will only perpetuate the cycle of violence, and peaceful and thoughtful protest will be what ends the war in Vietnam. See, this is not only said from a position of privilege, but one of having advance knowledge of the future. Sam knows how the history book's written, how this shit ends in April of 1975. It's almost easy for him to tell someone living in the moment to just sit back and coast along on cruise control until then because this shit's sorted. There's more personal investment than that for him, I'll grant, and I'll get to that... but from Elizabeth and even Duck's perspective, they can't just sit back and let it happen because a history book says that's how it's got to go. They believe in this better future, and they have to fight for it at every chance they get. They can't just let the status quo win.

If I may detour into Doctor Who talk for a moment, about two and a half years ago the Whittaker years aired an episode called "Orphan 55" which was an infamous hot mess, but ended with an impassioned plea by Doctor Who directly to camera urging us as a species that we could do something about the climate change crisis and avoid the post-apocalyptic future imagined in that episode. At the time, on our podcast, I was a booster of this belief. That the episode was calling for direct action with the pen, that we had the power to change the future for the better with sole use of the pen via voting for the right officials and other shit. In the years since, with BLM protests and the recent Roe v. Wade overturn in the US... I have to admit I was wrong. The status quo won't listen to the pen alone. The ruling class won't be unseated from their bigoted bullshit by just the pen. They hold the pen, why would they rewrite anything that diverts power and control from them? Sometimes you do have to use the sword. It's wrong that Duck's bomb is going to kill a kid, but the destruction of property in protest to make people listen is not as black and white incorrect as the episode makes it out to be.

Of course, the episode does not paint Duck in a good light. He's the antagonist, after all, the radical activist who's Gone Too Far unlike the sweet and innocent Elizabeth. Here's where Sam shows his personal investment. Remember back to "Disco Inferno". Remember that Tom Beckett was one of the many who didn't come home from Vietnam. When Sam, in a confrontation with Duck, mentions that he lost a brother in Vietnam, Duck's icy response is that Sam should have thought about protesting the war before his brother went off to die. In Duck's cold black and white world, Tom Beckett fought for the wrong ideals and deserved to die. I don't know if Tom Beckett fought in Vietnam because he thought it was right or because it was his duty. (INTRUSION FROM THE FUTURE: Once again, wait for Season 3.) Statistically, though, out of all the US soldiers who died in Vietnam? Some of them had to believe in what they were doing. For better or worse, they died fighting for their ideals. So, in the climax of the episode, when Sam has Duck in an arm hold in the chemistry building with a bomb about to go off in 30 seconds, demanding that either Duck tells him where the bomb's hidden or they all get blown to smithereens... Duck caves in. The people on the other side of his ideology, the soldiers in Vietnam, are dying for their ideals. Duck, by contrast, is not brave or willing enough to die for his when it comes down to it. 

Then there's all the troubling college bro bullshit. The members of this fraternity are absolute meatheads and I do not like them. Pulling pranks, hazing some pledge to do embarrassing bullshit, all the usual shit. Then there's the second-act low point in which they, along with Sam, sneak into the girl's dorm. At this point I was in true despair, yelling into my pillow and pounding on the table, praying in the name of God and every other deity that these fuckers weren't about to engage in "harmless monkeyshines" that amount to sex crimes. They do perv on one lady getting changed, and NO NO NO BAD BAD BAD. They're not here to panty raid or anything, though, thank God. They're just here to do the old cherry bomb in the toilets trick, and Al is even there egging Sam on, reminiscing about all the dumb boy's club shit he did as a college boy. Part of this leap is getting Sam, who was a bit of a nerdy introvert in college, to open up a little and PARTAY.

This leads to a horrific conclusion once the bomb is defused. The last thing Sam needs to do before leaping is save Wild Thing, who leapt into a pool at a luau party and broke his neck underwater and drowned. So, jump in the pool from a high height without breaking your neck. Easy. What makes this horrific is that the frat has dressed Wild Thing up as the "God Of The Luau". It's just an incredibly racist "tribal chief" costume and Sam is holding a flaming torch in one hand while talking in this deep booming voice and it just really fucking sucks y'all. I want to escape this one and watch another episode, so let's sum this up. On one hand, it is a poignant and thoughtful look at the attitude towards the Vietnam War over time which also ties into the personal for Sam. I like that this is how the show will use continuity; instead of referencing past events, it references past losses and relationships in the character's lives to show how the specifics of this leap affects them emotionally. "Camikazi Kid" and "Jimmy" also did this for Sam and Al respectively, and it's nice. On the other hand, its "just respectfully protest and get your message out there!" message, plus the boy's club bullshit, plus the racism? It's thorny, and not even in the way other episodes go "we'll have the character say a slur and Sam can say that's a bad word" or something. Nah, this one is really messy. I'm glad to be free of it.

Another Mother: An interesting one to talk about, this. It's the second leap into a woman, which had me wondering if Sam would have to confront the patriarchy again and punch a misogynist's teeth out. Someone's teeth will get punched out over something, but it's not patriarchy. Before we get to that, some fun facts. I was too busy yelling at everything else about "Animal Frat", but it hit an important milestone. It is the first episode of Quantum Leap to air in the 1990s. This is the second and we have our first leap set in the 80's, the episode being set in 1981. You can absolutely feel a restriction being lifted now that the 1980s have drawn to a close. The decade has become a part of the tableau of history, and now Sam can hop to it. Hop to it he does, into the body of Linda, a divorcee with three children: eldest Kevin, middle child Susan, and youngest Teresa. Before we get to the big conflict and serious issue of the episode, we've got to talk about Teresa.

Teresa can see Sam. She doesn't see a quantum projection or a microcosmic singularity or whatever other technobabble you want to come up with. She sees what we see: Scott Bakula in a housewife's dress, and reacts accordingly. The other kids try to help Teresa calm down, but Teresa is adamant: that's not my mommy, that's a man. Not only can she see Sam like we do, but when Al shows up she can see him too! Again, you could technobabble your way out of this. You could say that at a young age kids haven't developed synaptic quantum flux in their cerebral cortex. You've seen a sci-fi movie or show, you know how they chain words like that together to make it sound like what they're talking about is credible. That's not how Quantum Leap rolls. Quantum Leap, which two episodes prior said "ghosts are real", offers a simple and sweeter explanation. Teresa is pure of heart, and so she can see the real Sam and Al. This... is beautiful. It's very wholesome and sweet, and it rejects any science fiction technobabble for something lyrical and poetic and moving. It reminds me of Steven Moffat's run on Doctor Who, where the show moved towards being a beautiful fairy tale in many places. Particularly "Kill The Moon", which wanted the poetic and striking image of the moon being a space dragon egg and went for it, science be damned. 

Sam and Al make up a little fib about being guardian angels, but is it really that much of a lie? The show's already got this spiritualist bend to it and has all but implied that the Lord God is pinballing Sam through space and time, so perhaps he has been drafted into becoming an angel. All of the scenes with Teresa are genuinely sweet and heartwarming, as Al especially takes an interest in helping Sam take care of the kid. He sings her a lullaby to drift her off to sleep, shows her dinosaur holograms via his little tablet, and both he and Sam seem genuinely saddened when all the wrongs are righted and they have to say goodbye to this pure and sweet child who, as Al said, saw the real them. This sort of thing really moves me. I'm the kind of person to keep sections of myself behind various levels of artifice and alter ego, so to have someone see the real you and bond with you behind the curtain of artifice is a very sweet gesture. It's an extremely wholesome side story in the episode, and one that genuinely warms my heart. Ahhh, how lovely. So, what's the story we have to rewrite this time?

Oh. Oh, the eldest kid of the family runs away from home in a day's time and is never seen again. Cheery. Except, it's worse than that. Kevin did not run away from home. Kevin was abducted and killed by a pair of child predators. The episode revels in its shots of this ominous beige van rolling down the highway, crossing state lines and getting closer and closer to the town, its occupants tailgating school buses and scoping out the neighborhood for targets. So, to recap, we have this sweet and wholesome B-plot with Teresa and seeing past artifice juxtaposed with some of the absolute worst humanity has to offer in search of helpless victims. Good fucking god. If that weren't enough, how Kevin ends up in the unfortunate clutches of these monsters is also prickly and kind of fucked up. Kevin's clique of pals at his high school are... well, I don't quite know how to describe them. They're a combination boy's club and what a boomer writing this show thinks kids who play Dungeons and Dragons are like. Their first scene is them outside in the school courtyard, ogling girls and wondering how promiscuous they are... but also filtered in this fucked-up gamified system where they're worth XP for levelling up? OHH KEVIN SHE IS WORTH 50 EXPERIENCE POINTS, IF YOU GET WITH HER YOU WILL CLASS CHANGE INTO A GRAND WIZARD! So, you know. Objectifying women as pieces on your tabletop gaming board. I want to hurl.

These "friends" of Kevin eventually stage a prank on him, where they convince and bribe the girl they were talking about to go in on it. Kevin lives near her and kind of likes her, refuting the idea that she's a promiscuous lady. In exchange for some favors like being Homecoming Queen or whatever, the girl Jackie agrees to invite Kevin over and try to make it with him... and when he confesses he's never had sex before, out burst his bros and they're like HA HA HA KEVIN'S A FUCKING VIRGIN! AWW ARE YOU GOING TO CRY, VIRGIN? WHERE YOU GOING ON YOUR BIKE, YOU BIG DUMB VIRGIN HA HA HA HA HA I AM VERY INTELLIGENT. Jackie thought Kevin would be in on the gag and laugh it off, but realizes they used her for this cruel dumb prank. Al even points out the hypocrisy by analyzing one of these jackasses with Ziggy and revealing that he's also a virgin who won't get with a lady for another six years. Toxic masculinity really is just the worst. Okay, well, maybe the literal child predators who kidnap Kevin as he's riding his bike home in the night in indignant rage are actually the worst.

Can I just say, before we get to the climax, how fucked up this must have been for them and Jackie in the original timeline? Not that I'm offering them all that much empathy, but think about it. You prank your pal into admitting he's a virgin, make fun of him for it, he rides off on his bike in a huff... and is never seen again. I wonder if they felt any gnawing guilt and remorse in the days and years after for that, blaming themselves for it. Well, these kind of things are why we have Scott Bakula in a station wagon... and yes, we've come back to it. Sam tailgates these idiots off of the highway, they think they've won the lottery with a lady to do their terrible things to, and Sam proceeds to beat the stuffing out of them both and rescue Kevin. Hopefully while also calling the police and getting these fuckers locked up for life. Kevin's life is saved, Jackie apologizes to Kevin at school the next day and admits she likes him, they smooch, and that's the episode once Sam and Al say bye to Teresa. It was a good one! Definitely some real reprehensible figures in it, though. Even if the toxic dudebros are the lesser of two evils compared to the actual child predators, they still absolutely suck ass and I hope Kevin found a new group of friends. It was equal parts wholesome and horrific, and I appreciate that dissonance. Where to next, Sam? 

All-Americans: Oh, this one was good. With all the heavy shit and serious issues this show's been hurling my way lately, sometimes it is nice to just get an uncomplicated one with a good moral and just a regular antagonist scumbag rather than like an abuser or murderer. One thing I do have to say, though. I am not that fond of the new intro, which basically summarizes the premise of the show and then shows who Sam's leapt into this week. I understand what it's for; it is not for the weirdo in the future binging the whole thing on Blu-Ray an episode a day. It's for a channel surfer in 1990 to catch and go "Oh, that sounds like an interesting show, I'll check this out!". Even so, I liked hearing Sam's reflections and summarizing of his previous leap in his own words. Like after "Catch A Falling Star", Sam managed to compare himself to Don Quixote in a way that made sense to me, not having read Don Quixote's story. Oh well, maybe I'll learn to love it.

On TV though, a revelation. Sam has leapt into the body of Eddie Vega, a Hispanic high school football player in 1962. There's a lot of diversity at play here, obviously, with lots of friendly and charismatic Hispanic actors and actresses playing Eddie's family and friends. It's very good for representation, but it set off alarm bells in my head because of how Quantum Leap's done things before. Its two episodes focused on the struggles of black people have forced Sam to confront unrepentant racists who say the N word out loud. Guess it's time for another uncomfortable hour with like, a dude in a cowboy hat yelling about borders amidst saying words I dare not repeat, right? Wrong. That's the revelation. There's more stories to tell about American minorities in the past than the bigotry they face by white people. It's obviously important to shine a light on those noxious shadows, even if the execution makes one wince in 2022... but that is not the only story you can tell about minorities in the past. With that in mind, the story this episode does have to tell?

EAT YOUR FUCKING LANDLORD LMAO! That isn't just me playing up my leftism, either, the antagonist of the episode is a landlord. So, Eddie Vega's best friend is named Chuey and his mom Celia has been behind on the rent for 3 months. Enter Ruben, the landlord. He's some other stuff too. Like a creep who implies that Celia can pay off her debt with sex. Earlier, Sam has learned via Al that he's here to help Chuey out. In just a few days, their football team has a Big Game, and according to Al Chuey is going to throw the game and not get a scholarship as a result. Seeing Ruben, Sam confronts him, figuring that this crude customer is his opposition for the leap and warning him to keep away from Chuey and Celia. This does not work, but it's worth delving into more of Ruben and why he's pretty reprehensible. Again, not murder or abuser level, but still kind of a hypocrite. And also he's a landlord so again THAT FUCKING SUCKS! Okay, last time for that. I swear.

Ruben is also a gambling man, and his wagers of choice are high school football. There's nothing wrong with that in and of itself. If you enjoy the thrill of betting, the risk of losing and the reward of winning, alongside calculating what the best bet will be based on the performance of the team and its MVPs and all of that? That can be exciting and engaging, if done responsibly. Ruben, though? He rigs the metaphorical deck. He'll look for inside info and try to make backdoor deals with the players to fix the games as much in his favor as possible. That's not gambling. That's just swindling the poor dolt who bet against you out of their money. Leave it to a fucking landlord to unfairly squeeze as much cash out of someone as possible-- whoops I guess I lied up there, my bad. Anyway, I saw the dilemma of the episode coming from a mile away. Chuey's mom owes a shitload of rent, Ruben wants to make big bucks on the Big Game... so he offers Chuey a deal: Throw the Big Game, let me make a shitload of money betting on the other team, and we'll call it even. Damn. How do we get out of that predicament?

As a wise computer once said, the only winning move is not to play. Chuey fakes an injury early in the game to get out of things, and that will still leave the team in dire straits as Chuey and Eddie are their MVPs. What does Sam do? He refuses to play too, which makes Chuey concerned because all of the talent scouts are watching. Eddie can't throw away his future... but Sam won't let Chuey throw away his, and is counting on the bond Chuey and Eddie have as best friends to motivate Chuey back into the Big Game. From there... look, you've seen a sports movie climax before. 5 seconds on the clock, the other team is leading, but just one touchdown and the home team will win the Big Game. Sam throws a pass to Chuey, and take a wild guess what happens. The ending's a little... tidy, though, and I don't mean Chuey scoring the game-winning touchdown. Ruben's ready to kick Celia out, but then Sam suggests Chuey and Celia stay with him and his widower father. Celia herself is also a single mother, and so Sam is suggesting the obvious ship, and the two basically go "Oh hey we do love each other, let's get married and move in together!". It's pretty quick, and while the show did show chemistry between them before, it could have used another beat. Either way, the day is saved. I don't have much more to say, it was a fun one. OH WAIT I KNOW WHAT TO SAY, FUCK A LANDLORD, FUCK EVERY LANDLORD, FUCK 'EM RIGHT U--

Her Charm: Oh yeah, by the way, before I was so rudely interrupted: the last episode's teaser is once again the fucking Jesse Tyler diner scene in anticipation of another repeat of that story. Like, God, can you rerun the fucking disco one or maybe Blind Faith or something instead of the racism ones? Please? I'm preaching to a long-gone broadcast order, though. All I need to do is fire up the next episode a day later on the PS4. To that end, it's funny I invoked the disco episode just now because this cold open may be one of the strongest attention-getters since then and is quite similar. Sam is at a woman's doorstep, she's annoyed but gets her suitcases and directs him to the car, and when Sam can't find the keys they both look under the seat where she says they are. At which point a black car drives by and a motherfucker pulls out an Uzi to turn the sedan into Swiss cheese. Well. That escalated quickly.

This woman is Dana Berringer, and she used to work for a nasty crime boss type named Nick. When she found out about his shady dealings, she testified against him but he used his connections to get acquitted, and now wants to kill her in revenge. Dana's been shuffling around in Witness Protection with the man Sam's leapt into, FBI agent Pete Langley, and now our lovable quantum physicist has to keep this lady alive. There's an interesting thematic thread to dig into, but first I want to talk about Sam and Dana's relationship over the episode. It's... well, if this were anime, I'd call Dana a tsundere. As it's not, we'll settle for calling her "hot and cold". I'm sure you can understand the extremes she flip-flops towards. One moment, she's tender and allowing to show a vulnerable and caring side. At the tip of a hat, she's assertive and not having any of Sam's incompetence in this bodyguard job, calling him out and butting heads with him over anything and everything. It's cliche, yes, but it's a tried and tested method that most will accept. 

The real interesting crunchy bits of the episode come from that title, and the general theme. You see, Dana's charm isn't referring to any personal charisma she's got that woos Sam. Her charm is an actual charm around her wrists of the scales of justice. (As a Libra, I approve.) This is the thematic thrust of the episode. How poor Dana, who believed in truth and justice, called out the illegal dealings of Nick and expected justice to be served. She did a good thing, Nick did a bad thing, so the person who did the bad thing will be punished. That's not what happened. Justice was corrupt, and it was the exact opposite. Nick got off without a care, and now Dana is the one who's been punished by having to uproot her life and living in constant fear and terror of this madman with a vendetta. In a mad way, Nick is seeking justice too... but the "eye for an eye" kind. Dana wronged him, and so his personal justice dictates that she must die for what he sees as injustice against him.

The corrupt nature of justice goes even deeper, though. Nick's unusually adept at tracking Dana down to try and kill her. On Al's future knowledge that Dana will die on a bridge on the way to a safe house in Baltimore, Sam decides to take her to a cabin in the woods where he once spent time with a college professor of his talking quantum leap theory. Nick manages to tail them, and though Sam loses them Nick has a goddamned FBI tracking machine with a bug in the van Sam's driving. Someone at the FBI is in Nick's back pocket. Given that it's more interesting for things to go this way, I guessed who pretty early on. Yep. It's Pete Langley. Had Sam not leapt into Pete, he'd have conveniently fucked up in protecting Dana but miraculously remain unharmed. Sam's leapt into some fucked-up people before, but I don't think he's ever leapt into anyone as morally bankrupt as Pete. Dana finds out, via a matchbook with Nick's number on it, and runs off just as Nick is at the cabin ready to chase down his prey.

Of course, Sam isn't Pete. Sam is one of the few people in this episode who does believe in justice and doing the right thing. Hell, that's the entire ethos of quantum leaping. Doing the right thing. Interestingly enough, Nick has a person sort of like that on his side. While Nick's been hanging out the side of a black car shooting an Uzi like a vigilante, he's got an older guy named Andy who's been driving and repeatedly questions Nick's logic in doggedly pursuing Dana like this. He can't convince Nick to call it off, though, and there's a final confrontation between the four of them where Sam has a quickdraw contest with Nick and wins. Yeah, Sam just shoots Nick dead, all while Andy relents and takes Nick's body away, weeping about how stupid his vendetta was and how it got him killed. It's a happy ending for Dana, but not necessarily for Pete who gets 8 to 10 for his corruption. In a way, though, Sam put Pete back on the path of justice and doing what's right and stopping criminals. One wonders if Pete will follow that path after getting out, but either way Dana gets to live and know that sometimes, better things are possible and that justice does work. It's a good episode, with lots of tense chases and shootouts and stuff, and I enjoyed myself... which I am unsure I will next time, given the teaser. 

Freedom: Said teaser involving Sam leaping right into the middle of some police brutality in a county jail, before being tossed back into his cell and looking into the mirror to see he's a Native American. Which they call (and I don't think this is the worst to say so I'll say the word, but if it is I offer my apologies) "Indians" for the runtime of the show because it's 1990. You know, still going off of what an old racist in a boat from 500 years ago called these people because he was too stupid and ignorant to realize he wasn't in India. There's an episode of TV for me to talk about here, but it's a tricky minefield of a subject again. I don't know about some of this shit. I really don't, but I am trying my best and please excuse any missteps I may make.

Sam is George Washaki, and is locked up in jail with his grandfather Joseph for breaking him out of an old folk's home and stealing a truck. It's funny to have this right after "Her Charm", which was all about truth and justice and upholding the law, because Sam and Joseph immediately become crime goblins and bust out of jail, taking off in their stolen truck again. Now the sheriff's pissed and is on a vendetta, partly because of some latent anti-Native bigotry and partly out of revenge for being humiliated and letting his men get away. So, you know, equal sprinkles of racism and ACAB are on the go here. As for what Sam is here to do? Well, that all centers on Joseph and it's the ultimate grim subject matter. Joseph's an old man and he's unwell, but he is insisting that he doesn't go to a hospital or the old folk's home or a jail cell. He wants to go back to the reservation, and live out his last there. The titular "freedom" of the episode is Joseph's freedom to die on his own terms.

It's definitely heavy subject matter, and close to being a hot topic issue: around this time in the late 80's, the infamous Dr. Jack Kevorkian was offering his services of assisted suicide to terminally ill patients. If Wikipedia's to be believed, just 10 months after this episode aired Kevorkian was cleared of murder charges in Michigan. Four years later, he'd go on trial for the first of many times over his practices. Sam is at first aghast at what Al is asking him to do, insistent that he get this sick man to the hospital to save him. I genuinely was not sure what side of things the episode would fall towards at the end. Would we give Joseph the freedom to die on the reservation, or would Sam's insistent mindset prevail? It actually invoked a little of what I've previously called utopic tension in me, where if the episode leaned on the wrong side it would tarnish what I thought of the show so far.

That tension's also present in the writing. We're meant to like and empathize with Joseph, and it's fun seeing how he and Sam interact over the episode. Joseph is intently spiritual, saying all sorts of things about hawks and painting horses and other things one might expect an old Native American attuned with nature to say. The most poignant is when he explains his philosophy on death, and how it's just a doorway. How he says it, though, is that when we die we become someone else and leap into another life, like a grasshopper. There's definitely something there, paralleling these spiritual beliefs with the actual sci-fi conceit of leaping into other lives, especially if you take into account the idea that a divine being is the one sending Sam off on said leaps. On the other hand... Look, I don't know how much of this is respectful and how much of this is stereotypical. I went to check the writer on the Quantum Leap wiki and there's a picture of a white guy. I kind of have to sheepishly throw up my hands and say that I don't know. I kind of like that bit with death and the grasshopper, mirroring the premise of the show, but I really don't know what to make of this.

Free at last.
There is one weird beat wherein Joseph is a fan of the Washington football team, the Commanders... except they weren't called the Commanders in either 1970 when this was set or 1990 when it was made. This leads to another complicated flag I refuse to plant, "is it racist to say a racist term for Native Americans if it's a Native American actor saying it but the story was written by a white man?". I have no answer to that question for you. What I can tell you is that the end is harrowing and haunting. Right on the banks of the river which creates a natural border for the reservation, the sheriff gets his man and shoots Joseph. There's no glory to this, no grand sense of justice prevailing and the law getting the criminal. A sick old man broke the law to try and die his own way, and Sheriff Dingus here just shot him for the sake of it. Sam and Joseph's granddaughter manage to carry him over the river, and Joseph gets his wish even if it was by the sheriff's bullet. He dies on the reservation, on his own terms, the way he wanted. It hits Sam real hard too, and one hopes that there's an afterlife in this world and that Joseph can leap into his next life too. Sam we know will leap into another life. Sometimes making the story better doesn't lead to a happy ending. This one's... it's hard for me to judge. All I can hope is that I conveyed its more poignant moments and avoided putting my foot in my mouth. 

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

A Quantum Microcosm, Adrift On The Sea Of History: Part 2 (Quantum Leap Season 2) [2.2]

Thou Shalt Not...: This one was another heavy hitter, but it does it in a way that's not a prickly brush against prejudice like a lot of the other episodes with heavy subject matter. The double whammies of the episode are grief and infidelity, and how both are intertwined. Sam's leapt into a Jewish rabbi named David in 1974, and at first has to navigate through a bat mitzvah for the rabbi's niece, Karen. It's okay, one of Al's ex-wives was Jewish and he remembers all the prayers and ceremony, so Sam can get through that. So, at the heart of it all we've got this nice Jewish family. David's brother Joe has a wife and daughter, Irene and Karen respectively, and it's Sam's job to save this family from being torn apart. In 36 hours Irene will have an affair and it will destroy her marriage. The episode takes a slow burn approach of showing us just how damaged and broken this family is, and why Irene will be driven to the arms of another man.

It all comes down to grief. There was another member of the family, an elder son named Danny who was of college age and pleaded to go backpacking in Europe, which Joe opposed but Irene agreed to. He got to go, but he never made it; the plane crashed on the way. The wound of Danny's loss hasn't healed, and Joe is emotionally distant to his family because of it. He buries himself in his work, doesn't really interact with his daughter or wife, and is generally just cold. The pair of them are dealing with the loss of Danny, too, and to have the man of the house disregard them in order to close his own heart off is hurting them. That's part of what will drive Irene into another man's arms, but Sam does his best to try and help them. He learns this at the same pace we do, and does what he can to try and reassure Karen and Irene that Joe still cares for them. He tries to get Irene and Joe on a romantic vacation to their beach house, but Joe doesn't want to go; the beach house only reminds him of his dead son. Joe even has refused to put up a headstone for Danny, perhaps opting for the "if I don't acknowledge it he's not really gone" approach. Not great.

Then we get to the antagonist of the episode, the perfect scummy intersection of grief and infidelity. Let me tell you about fucking Bert Glasserman. He's introduced to us as a widower with a greying beard who's constantly smoking a pipe. Bert is writing a book about grief, and likes to discuss the shared mutual subject of grief and loss with other women as research for his book. Bert, my friends, is a fucking pick-up artist. He's been lying about losing a wife, in order to try and empathize better with the women he approaches. I could say Bert's a piece of shit who doesn't care about the grief and loss that's wounded these women's hearts, but that's not entirely true. He does care, in two major ways. Crucially, none of them are in the decent human being way of "I genuinely care about letting you express your pain and loss in a way that will help you come to terms with it and heal a little from sharing.". No, here's why Bert cares about their stories of loss. One: The immediate gratification of being able to leverage their most vulnerable moments into putting the moves on them so he can sleep with them for his own pleasure. Two: Taking their stories and adding them to his book, which will become a best-seller in the future and make him a shitload of money. Bert Glasserman only plays along with caring because caring will get him laid and get him rich. He couldn't give two shits otherwise, and for that he's a opportunistic homewrecking slimebucket.

Luckily Sam shows up just in time to stop him and reveal the truth to Irene, so Bert can slip out the fucking door. Unluckily, Joe arrives at the beach house just in time to see Sam and Irene hugging it out and he thinks they're fooling around behind his back, and proceeds to punch his own brother in the face. This, surprisingly, is character development for Joe. Not only was he emotionally distant all episode, but he even admitted to Joe in the car near the start that he was considering having an affair himself. Now, thinking his own wife has gone behind his back, he's mad enough to smack the proverbial fox in the henhouse. Hey how about that, he actually does care about his wife! Well, then it all comes out: he's been resenting Irene for Danny's death this whole time because she was the one who let him go to Europe. Irene, by contrast, has been resenting herself for letting him go to Europe, and the two break down sobbing as they each share how they keep Danny alive in their own hearts, bonding over their loss. Not for sex, or for hitting the fucking best-seller list. Because they love each other, and share this loss, and want to each heal the other. Joe lost a son, and it's a devastating and raw loss... but he still has a wife and daughter he can hold on to. He can't let grief and resentment drive them away, too, and he almost did.

It's the first step to healing from the loss. They put up Danny's headstone, and Sam gives Joe one last bit of advice to go to his daughter and console her, to be a good dad... and that's the episode. Well, before we go, I just want to tell you about another Sam Beckett Does A History Gag. The Quantum Leap wiki calls these "kisses with history". If the show keeps this up we'll have to call it a hot and heavy makeout session. Anyway a guy's choking so Sam grabs him from behind to force the obstruction out, saving the guy's life. As he's led away, the lady with him asks OH MY GOSH DR. HEIMLICH ARE YOU OKAY? Ahahahah you get it, Sam did that maneuver and the guy will patent it and be named for it. Funny joke. This is a great episode, though. It deals with heavy subject matter and combines it all together quite well, using it effectively with a real scumbag of an antagonist to boot. I cried a little at the end, but I really enjoyed it! So far this run of episodes has been on fire, what's the show got next for me--


Jimmy: Okay, we have to tackle this one different, and deal with the elephant in the room I was screaming about there. This episode's major issue involves (and I apologize in advance if this isn't the respectful term for it, I tried my best and did some Googling) intellectual disability, which our titular leapee has. Except they don't say "intellectual disability" or anything of a more graceful nature. They say a word I will not repeat, beginning with R, multiple times. Lest you think it's just the prejudiced time of 1964 saying it pejoratively about Jimmy, Sam and Al say it too. The thing I reacted to in horror was the teaser/opener for the episode, where Sam looks in the mirror after Jimmy's brother has exposited this fact to him and says, questioningly, "I'm [REDACTED]?". So, you know, major major poorly aged alerts all around for this one. Even before we begin, that's not great and is a black mark against the episode.

But then, black marks against things are part of what this is all about. Uncomfortable word usage aside, I still have to get under the hood and talk about what this is doing. Even if its mouth is miles away from the right place, the episode's heart is. It's another story that puts Sam into a world lacking privilege and facing prejudice against him, only this time it's about his intellectual disability. Jimmy's brother Frank and his son Corey are sympathetic and friendly to him. The rest of the world, not so much, and Sam experiences every part of it. Frank's wife Connie doesn't seem to care much for Jimmy living under their roof, but Frank is a caring brother looking out for Jimmy and has even lined up a potential job for him at the docks. Sam manages to get the job, and the future he's here to change is just that; securing that job and keeping it so that Jimmy isn't institutionalized.

One would think Sam has this in the bag. After all, the blind pianist episode proved that any sort of disability the leapee has doesn't transfer to Sam upon leaping. Sam could see, and as Jimmy he has all his neurotypical mental faculties. Keeping that job and keeping Jimmy from being sent away again isn't so easy. The entire damn world seems to be against him here. Most of the dock workers, in particular an ornery man named Blue (played by Michael Madsen, who went on to feature in many a Tarantino film) bully and belittle Jimmy. Connie, as I said, has a short fuse of patience when it comes to Jimmy. The neighboring kids tease Corey about hanging out with Jimmy and imply he'll become dumber for doing it. All of this gets to Sam, and Sam in this episode is a little... klutzier than usual. He'll drop breakable things or mess up in little tiny ways. Simple small little mistakes that the average person makes every day. What's fucking unfair, and the point of the episode, is how much harsher everyone treats these small mistakes when Jimmy does them. They become unforgivable sins, another chip on the pile, another building reason as to why they should just lock him up and throw away the key. It's as if everyone in this world has a Subway card to stamp and keep track of Jimmy's mistakes. THAT WAS SCREW-UP #4, JIMMY! JUST SIX MORE AND YOU GET INSTITUTIONALIZED!!! HAVE A GOOD DAY AT WORK TOMORROW, NO PRESSURE!!!

That's the point of the episode. To highlight how bullshit and unfair the double standards of 1964; hell, the double standards of 1989 and 2022 were/are towards people with these disabilities. Al, in particular, is especially motivated to make this leap succeed, as he shares with Sam the sad story of his sister Trudy. She also had an intellectual disability, and she was institutionalized and died in there. You can see poor Al's heart break as he asks, "how does a 16-year old girl in 1953 die of pneumonia?". Things go from bad to worse, as a screwup from Blue causes him to blame Jimmy, and Frank stakes his job on Jimmy not getting fired and they both walk out. This seems to be the low point where it's "just not working" and Jimmy has to go away. Yeah, it's "just not working" because you stacked the deck so much against him ever succeeding with your unreasonable expectations of absolute perfection and treating every little tiny fault like a complete disaster. 

Sam's not giving up yet, though, and steals Frank's truck to go and convince the boss that he didn't fuck up and Blue did. Not only does he prove it, but he gets out why Blue is so judgmental towards him: Blue has dyslexia and can't cope with the fact that even someone with a disability like Jimmy can read the numbers off of crates better than him. There's no way someone like Jimmy could be smarter than him! Well, the climax has Blue try to run down Jimmy with a forklift, but the miss and crash knocks a nearby Corey into the water, where Sam has to convince Connie to let him try to perform CPR, that he damn well knows what he's doing and isn't a complete fuckup who can't be trusted. He does it, he saves Corey's life, and Connie seems to trust Jimmy a little more. Jimmy's got a job back, and it seems like it's going to work out for him.

I mean, it's effective, I'll give it that. It exposes the uncomfortable prejudice against Jimmy for what it is, and it frustrates you to see Sam not be trusted to do simple tasks and treated badly for minor mistakes. Good! You should be frustrated about that sort of treatment, because it's terrible and you should strive to do better and inspire others around you to do better! The episode's heart is in the right place, the general correct vicinity. I just wish they didn't say that damn word so fucking much in those 45 minutes. I have to ding it a few pegs for that, but even so it's still an effective episode, like I said. Let's hope we don't get anything quite that prickly in that way for a while, and can have another run of bangers.

Nothing but the truth.
So Help Me God: And then we get an episode set in the South in the 50's again, so GUESS WHAT WE GET TO DEAL WITH AGAIN! That's right, it's racism and bad words against black people! Ahhh, the past was a mistake. Unlike the last time we had to cover that, though, Sam isn't taking on the role of a marginalized person. This time he's a white lawyer defending a black woman from a charge of murder. This means that Sam's got privilege in this leap, so early on when one of these old southern racists casually drops the N word in conversation about his client? Sam can immediately halt the conversation and say "Oh no no no my man, don't you dare use that fucking word about my client". Calling out racists is good! The lawyer's wife also has some choice words about the defendant, not as strong as that word but still enough for Sam to call it out as racist drivel. Again, good.

Not so good are the stacked odds against the defendant, Lilah. Sam immediately hopped in as the judge was asking how they were pleading, and Sam took one look in his client's eyes and believed she was innocent, pleading not guilty to the consternation of the entire courtroom. WE HAD A DEAL, DAMN IT, YOU PLEAD GUILTY AND SHE GETS 20 YEARS! Yes, that would be a better outcome than her getting the electric chair after a damning trial... but that's just it. These fuckers are mad because they already decided the outcome of the trial and Sam's not playing ball. There's no fair trial happening here. They have decided Lilah did it and are ready to throw her in jail for 20 years. There's a reason for this, and it goes beyond the color of Lilah's skin. The truth is afoot, and Sam has to dig it up.

Sam and Al's window into the legal world is Perry Mason. Well, shit, that's okay. Mine is Phoenix Wright. What Sam uncovers is one hell of a tangled web involving Lilah working as a servant for some rich southern folks and being involved with their son, a man named Houston. Who we find out beat Lilah and had his way with her. When she was 14. And the lawyer's wife has the gall to call her promiscuous? Jesus Christ. Well, the accepted story is that Lilah couldn't take any more of Houston's abuse and blew his fucking face off with a shotgun. Sam tries to get the truth out of another servant at the house named Myrtle, and while she has some info that contradicts Lilah's signed confession/account of events, Myrtle refuses to testify. At every turn, the truth refuses to come out. From Myrtle, from Houston's father who everyone refers to as "the Captain", and even from Lilah herself. She seems resigned to her fate, uncooperative with Sam's attempts to have her clear her name.

Well, the truth does come out, despite everyone's attempt to resist it... and a lot of why it was kept under wraps comes down to faith. It is in the title, after all, and that's what you do in a courtroom when you swear to tell the truth. You swear to God, on a Bible, that you'll tell the whole truth. Myrtle shows up again, revealing that she can't take the stand because the Captain made her swear on a Bible that she'd never tell the truth about what happened to Houston, and if she did she'd be damned to hell. The Captain, using god-fearing faith to keep the truth suppressed. Nasty. He has his reasons for wanting Lilah to take the fall on this, and it's more than just "I am a huge racist". Still, Sam helps Myrtle see that the Captain's word isn't stronger than the Lord's by reading a passage Al suggests from the Bible itself. That gets the truth out of her, and good lord.

It ended up being Houston's mother, who Sam had to get a subpoena to put on the stand, much to the Captain's protest. There's a slow creeping horror as she cheerily testifies to what happened as you realize "ohhh the trauma of this fucked her up" as she witnessed Houston and Lilah get in a fight, and she was the one who stopped it with a shotgun to the face. She doesn't even have the faculties to realize that he's dead, thinking he's just been gone hunting. She seemed unusually casual for a grieving mother earlier in the episode, but no first-time viewer would have expected this. There's justice for Lilah, but we never find out what happens to Houston's mother. This is the dark secret that everyone wanted kept hidden away, and Lilah was ready and willing to die for it. Noble of them, perhaps, but Sam brought the truth out and saved Lilah. She has a second chance now, and it may not be a happy ending for the Captain and his family, but it is one for Lilah. It's a good episode, sure, just another really really prickly one. Thankfully, I think we might get some levity with the next one. Or I could be wrong. Look down below and find out. 

Catch A Falling Star: Yeah, I guess we can call that levity. If anything, this episode reminded me of "Star-Crossed" from the first season, way back a bit. Zoomed out, we have the same basic beats playing out again: Sam's leap has him encountering a woman from his past, a woman who he felt love and affection for, and he tries to use this as his own second chance for finding true love with a lost love despite Al's insistence that he can't use leaping for his own personal gain. He'll get a little wiser, learn a little more about himself and the person he loves, and do the right thing with his leap and leave things a little better than he found them. One wonders if this sort of plot will become an archetype for Quantum Leap, but that's all in the future.

For now, it's 1979 and Sam is Ray Hutton, an actor and understudy for a stuffy thespian who's currently the leading man in this theater company's adaptation of Man Of La Mancha. I must unfortunately show my ignorance and tell you all that I don't know a thing about Man Of La Mancha or Don Quixote. He fights a windmill, but I could not tell you why he fights a windmill or the deeper thematic significance of him fighting a windmill. We're 10,000 words deep into me writing about a time travel show from 1989. Okay but I did just skim the plot synopsis of Man Of La Mancha and there's a Knight Of The Mirrors in the play? Lit. Sam doesn't get to go on stage as the leading man, a bit of a drunk, goes on and brings the house down. It's just as well because Sam doesn't know the lyrics yet.

What he does know is this familiar love interest waving to him after the show. Nicole, an old flame of Ray's, and someone who Sam recognizes. She's a piano teacher, and in fact she taught a young teenaged Sam how to play the piano. Teen Sam had a loving crush on his piano teacher, but nothing ever came of it (because that would have been inappropriate, to say the least) and so time moved on. Now, though, he's grown up and the time frame means it's only been a decade since those piano lessons. Sam wants his second chance, and wants to express his love to Nicole. He's doing so as Ray, yes, but there's that naive idealist hope that Nicole will see the Sam inside Ray and reciprocate that love he's held close to his chest for all these years.

Well, since the thing Sam's here to do is save his drunk leading man from breaking his leg while tripping down the stairs on stage in 3 days' time, there's nothing much else to do but rekindle that romance with Nicole. It's interesting to compare this with "Star-Crossed", as one of my takeaways from that episode was how grandiose and theatrical the gestures of love there were. Both Sam and Jamie Lee were expressing themselves via these big sweeping declarations of it being fate and destiny that these lovers should entwine and let their feelings blossom. Here's this episode, and while it's Cervantes and not Shakespeare it's still literally about the artifice of acting and the theater. The episode really plays with that when Nicole is cast as an understudy as well, playing the role of Don Quixote's love interest Dulcinea. Watching the two rehearse, getting into their characters, you can feel the sense of using them and the words of the play to express themselves to one another. Really, who is Sam if not an actor, given a different role every week and having to play his part? With the Quantum Leaping, all the world really is a stage.

Of course, we need a little conflict, so we have some mild contrivance and misunderstanding involving the jealous leading lady who's currently playing Dulcinea manipulating things so Sam thinks Nicole made it with the leading man, making Sam bitter and not prone to saving him from breaking his leg. Long story short, he does come through at the last minute, Sam and Nicole hash out their misunderstandings, and the pair get to play Don Quixote and Dulcinea on the stage. Goddamn, Scott Bakula's got pipes, y'all. This is a good little episode, a nice bit of light levity from the serious thorny takes on prejudice and bigotry I've had to deal with for a little while now. I like the metacommentary on theatricality and playing a role, and the episode even plays with it a little. The end credits are usually just stills from the episode and static credits. This time it's an actual curtain call featuring both cast and crew on the theater stage, the credits scrolling like the end of a film. All they needed was to link hands and bow. Exactly the levity I needed. Not a bad one at all.

A Portrait For Troian: ooooOOOOooo it's the spooky one!! Regular followers of the blog will know I have a penchant for the petrifying, an endearment for the eerie, a... love of spooky scary things. The teaser for this leap at the end of the last one immediately telegraphed what I was in for. A dark and stormy night, a graveyard with an open mausoleum, and Sam turning his back to look at the storm only for a woman in white to be standing in front of the tomb's door. ooooOOOOOooo SPOOOOKY. This is the titular Troian, and she's not a ghost. Rather, she's haunted by one; the restless spirit of her dead husband Julian. To that end she's enlisted the help of a parapsychologist, and that's who Sam is this time. Julian drowned in the nearby lake, and it's Sam's job to save Troian from drowning in that same lake in two days' time.

Right away there's equal parts atmosphere and tension. The Claridge family home, where Troian lives, definitely fits the bill of a gothic old house that could be haunted. The only other people living in the house are the housekeeper Ms. Stolz, who's very old-fashioned and ice cold, and Troian's brother Jimmy who looks about as fitting as you can imagine in your head when I tell you this story is set in 1971. Neither of them are particularly friendly to Sam, Jimmy outright calling him a quack who's running around chasing things that don't exist while also feeding his sister's delusions, risking getting her institutionalized for enabling them. Hostility's afoot at Claridge House, and so is a bunch of spooky shit. Like Troian hearing a whispering echo call her name, and following wet footprints in the carpet only to find the soaking wet painting she did of Julian on the lake in his boat, which she was painting the day he fell in the water and drowned. Troian can't swim, so she couldn't help him, and she threw the painting into the lake... but now here it is, fresh and soaked as if the spectre of Julian took it out of the cold depths of the lake with him.

Here's where the episode gets really smart and interesting. Quantum Leap, up to this point, has been many things. It's sci-fi with its premise of quantum physics and time travel, and it's poked at spirituality by implying that God is guiding Sam's seemingly random leaps through time and space. Watching all this play out, there appear to be two distinct possibilities. Either ghosts are real and Julian is back from the dead trying to reconnect with his wife, or there's a scientific explanation behind these strange phenomena. Interestingly, Al is actually the one who's spooked and superstitious enough to believe in the former. It's Sam, the guy stuck in the body of the parapsychologist, who's insisting to the trembling Al that there's no such things as ghosts. The question then becomes, what will Quantum Leap pull the trigger on? What's going on here?

There's a real sense of ambiguity and mystery in this one, and it lead me to watch it with an extra-analytical nature, theorizing off the top of my head with every line spoken and action taken by its players. I did not think Quantum Leap was going to go the "ghosts are real" route, so the suspects are Ms. Stoltz or Jimmy. Jimmy seemed to care for his sister enough to try and protect her from Sam and his ghost hunter bullshit, so at first it seemed like it must be the old housekeeper. She's cold and sinister enough, it could be it. Ah, but then Sam raised the possibility that Troia was being gaslit by someone early on. Probably not the case, then, if he says that early enough. There's also more wild stuff, like how it seems that Ms. Stoltz and Jimmy can hear Al? Or how the parapsychologist's equipment actually recorded Sam's brain waves as he leaped in, and can record Al's presence in them as he communicates with Sam? Science meets spooky stuff. Am I watching Prince Of Darkness here?

Well, to fast-track it along, it was Jimmy all along. I can even tell you the moment I noticed. After Troian is nearly trapped in the mausoleum when a sudden earthquake hits, Jimmy is fiddling with the TV to try and get it working, and Troian calls him an electronic genius. Aha! That sounds like a clue, and you're right! Jimmy has rigged an entire system of tape recorders with wireless antennae all over Claridge House, as well as in the mausoleum and on the pier of the lake, broadcasting a spooky ghost voice that calls out Troian's name at an ultra-high frequency only she can hear. His motive is to drive her mad so he gets control of the monetary assets to pay off gambling debts. There's another great clue to this I only realized in hindsight: the ominous stock sounds of dogs howling whenever spooky stuff happened. It's because the dogs were going apeshit over the high frequency noise that we couldn't hear! Like a dog whistle! 

Sam gets locked in a room by Ms. Stoltz for... some reason, and it's up to Al to try and stall Jimmy as he confronts Troian on the pier. How the hell can Al do that if he's a hologram? All this cutting-edge 70's tech can pick him up, remember? So Al starts whispering in spooky tones, pretending to be Julian and saying Jimmy's name and shit. Earlier on, Jimmy could even hear Al, and accused Sam of throwing his voice. Now we know that was probably him being able to hear back his own high-frequency broadcast stuff. Before I sat down to write this, I wondered why he was so pissed off at Sam for being a parapsychologist "quack" who was going to drive his sister mad when that was his evil scheme the whole time. Easy answer: He would have pinned Troian's mental state on the doctor's bullshit theories, and have an easy scapegoat. Though Jimmy hurls Troian into the lake, Sam is able to football tackle Jimmy off of the pier, and he manages to save Troian. Jimmy, like the dark history of so many Claridges before him, drowns in the lake.

So, there's your answer. Quantum Leap sits firmly on the side of rationality when it comes to matters of the paranormal. Ghosts aren't real, it was just an asshole gaslighting his sister for money. Another earthquake forces up all the bodies of the many Claridges who drowned in the lake beforehand, and Troian is able to finally say goodbye to Julian as his body is at last recovered. There's some healing there, and it isn't ghostly but something very real and material. Ahh. Well, we should head home and get Ms. Stoltz to make us some hot drinks. Stoltz? Did you say Stoltz? Oh, that's interesting. Did you know the maiden name of Priscilla Claridge, one of the family who drowned in that lake a hundred years ago, was Stoltz? Wait. Wait. Yep. YEP! MS. STOLTZ WAS A FUCKING GHOST ALL ALONG! After stringing us along this spooky story and eventually proving it was a gaslighter all along, Quantum Leap pulls one final swerve and reveals that yes, ghosts are real in the world of Quantum Leap! The episode manages to hang on this debate of whether or not it will pull the trigger, swerves into science, and then right back into the gothic and spooky! I really enjoyed this one, as it not only leaned into my spooky aesthetic, but also just kept me guessing and analyzing. I'm still guessing and analyzing because this episode has such rich ambiguity to it, so I'm a real fan. What have we got next-- Wait, why the fuck are we back in "Camikazi Kid"?