A scientist named Sam Beckett engages with his time travel experiment before its fully ready and ends up traveling into the lives of other people at different points throughout his own lifetime. The first person he “becomes” is an air force captain named Tom Stratton in 1956. With the help of his friend and contact, Al, who appears to him as a hologram that only he can see, Sam realizes that he cannot stop being Captain Stratton until he fixes something that went wrong, which in this case turns out to be successfully breaking a flight speed record and surviving, and preventing Stratton’s wife from being born prematurely and dying. Sam then leaps into a struggling baseball player and prevents him and his team from finishing in last place. Before he leaps, he is able to remember enough to speak to his father on the phone, who died over 20 years earlier.
Written by Donald P. Bellasario. Directed by David Hemmings
Next Episode: Star-Crossed
This is the first time I’ve watched Quantum Leap for a looong time. And unlike when I started rewatching Next Generation, I don’t necessarily have a working knowledge of all or most of the episodes of this show. All that to say it’s a bit difficult for me to judge how good this episode was in the context of the whole series.
What I can say that this pilot episode of the series does a good job overall couching the science fiction elements of the premise in heartfelt human drama. Back in 1989, certainly, science fiction TV was a bit of a harder sell than it would be today.
The main cast works well, demonstrating some fun chemistry and camaraderie. Scott Bakula makes for a great “everyman” in a series which desperately needs that sort of a figure, and Dean Stockwell is a good counterpoint. Both actors seem pretty comfortable in their parts right from the get-go, which we can tell will help the series feel grounded as the rest of the environment, dramatic focus and ensemble of characters changes from week to week. It was a good move to include a second leap in this story, even though that wouldn’t be the norm later, simply because it helps to make the concept clear.
The episode also demonstrates some good directorial touches, like when the coffee pot explodes just as the plane is breaking the sound barrier. I also like the moment when Sam lands in the parachute. And the transition between one “leap” and the next is done with a nice match cut, and works well.
If there is a weakness to the episode, it’s just that it’s a bit long, which of course shouldn’t be a problem in the future with “regular length” episodes, and that there are a few things that date the series uncomfortably in the late 80’s: the funky “futuristic” earrings and high heels being worn by the hitchhiker at the start, and the slightly awkward holographic effects, to mention a couple. But overall, it’s a decent introduction to the series.
• Scott Bakula stars as Dr. Sam Beckett, and went on to be in all sorts of things, including playing the Captain in the Star Trek prequel series Enterprise, one of Murphy’s boyfriends on Murphy Brown, and more recently as the lead on one of the NCIS series. Before Quantum Leap, he hadn’t done much, but he had appeared in a few episodes of Designing Women and starred in the TV version of Gung Ho!, playing the role Michael Keaton had played in the movie. Bakula also plays the voice of the young Sam Beckett.
• Dean Stockwell, on the other hand, had been for around for ages, with hundreds of roles going back to when he was a child. The only thing I specifically knew him for, though, was as the traitorous Dr. Yueh in David Lynch’s version of Dune.
• Jennifer Runyon plays Peggy Stratton. She was Cindy Brady in one of the Brady Bunch reunion shows, and was a regular on Charles in Charge.
• W.K. Stratton (no relation, presumably, to Tom or Peggy Stratton) plays Dr. Berger. He plays two other roles in the series, including as Larry Stanton III in the three part Trilogy. He also appeared in JAG, which was also created by Donald P. Bellasario.
• Bruce McGill plays Weird Ernie. He reappears in the series’ final episode as Al the Bartender. He also played Jack Dalton in MacGyver.
• Dennis Wolfberg plays Gushie here, for the first of six episodes.
• Lydia Cornell plays Sally. She was a regular on the sit-com Too Close for Comfort.
• Hank Robinson plays an umpire. He plays an umpire again in another episode a couple of years later.
• Patrick Cranshaw plays an Old Man. He was a regular in AfterMASH.
• Adam Logan plays the young Sam Beckett, a part he reprises in The Leap Home.
• Layne Beamer is Captain Tom Stratton, the first of many “faces in the mirror” on this show.
Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Captain Tom Stratton, a pilot in the United States Air Force, starting at September 13, 1956, at about 5:00 am (or earlier), at Edwards Air Force Base in Blokefield, California. This continues until Monday, September 17th.
Sam then becomes Tim Fox in Waco Texas sometime in the Summer of 1968, at the baseball field of the Waco Bombers, for just a few hours.
What does Sam have to do?
As Captain Stratton, he has to Break Mach III and survive, as Stratton was originally killed. Later, it turns out that he also has to stop his wife from delivering their baby pre-maturely.
As Tim Fox, his job appears to be to keep his team and their manager from finishing in the cellar…again.
What do We Know about Sam Beckett?
Sam was raised on a dairy farm in Elk Ridge, Indiana until he was 18. His phone number growing up was 555-2231, in the Oakdell exchange. His sister Kate, eventually married a naval officer named Lt. Jim Bonick, and moved to Hawaii. Sam’s mother has lived there ever since Sam’s father, John, died in 1975. However, he taught Sam how to deal with dogs before that.
Sam can’t fly a plane he apparently can’t fly fish either. But he can dance. And maybe he can make a mean Caesar Salad. If his memories can be trusted, then his birthday is August 8, 1953. He considers miniskirts to have had the most positive impact on his life in college, and pantyhose the most negative, and claims to have been expelled from college for streaking.
Sam has six doctorates, including in medicine, but his specialty is quantum physics.
He has a great-uncle named John who moved to Australia when his father was just a kid.
What do we know about Al?
At this point, we don’t know his last name or his rank. We do know that he’s an ex-astronaut who attended MIT, and that he’s been divorced.
What about the experiment?
Project Quantum Leap was developed by Sam Beckett. It’s located in a cavern in New Mexico.
Ziggy is a hybrid computer that is part of the project, and that Al refers to as “he”. Ziggy doesn’t want Sam to jump, and predicted that Sam would lose his memory. The project involves something called an Accelerator. Ziggy theorizes that Sam is stuck being Tom Stratton until he does something to set right what once went wrong.
The hologram of Al is created by a “subatomic agitation of carbon quarks tuned to the mesons of Sam’s optic and optic neurons”. However, it’s apparent that dogs can sense the truth of both the fact that Sam is not who he appears to be, and that Al’s hologram is present. Al can interact with Sam by entering the Imaging Chamber, where he experiences Sam as a hologram.
Tom Stratton was transported to the Project when Sam replaced him. He also is experiencing memory problems.
Gushie is a little guy with bad breath who works as part of the project. Brenda is a cute readhead who works in coding.
While Sam experiences his time “inside” Tom Stratton and Tim Fox as being instantly one right after the other, it’s actually a week apart from Al’s point of vie
God or Time or Something
Ziggy’s theory is that God or Time or Something was just waiting for Sam to Leap so that he could use him to fix things that went wrong.
At one point, Sam prays and asks God to wake him up from his dream.
Later, Sam thanks God that he was able to talk to his father.
Sam introduces this catchphrase in his inner monologue after waking up next to “his” wife, Peggy Stratton, and he says it again as Tim Fox when he’s looking in the mirror.
Sam’s Complicated Love Life
In his adventures leaping from life to life, Sam Beckett will have to be romantically involved with a lot of different people. Here, as Tom Stratton, Sam is married to Peggy Stratton and shares at least one passionate kiss with her.
The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al is divorced, and refers to his ex-wife. We’ll later find out he’s been divorced more than once.
Al’s current girlfriend is named Tina–is that the girl he picks up at the side of the road in the begining? Her name is apparently Tina but there is another Tina he is later conected with, who actually works at Quantum Leap.
Al had a Lithuanian girlfriend named Danesa at MIT.
He met a “dish” named Martha at a Laker playoff game and spent the night at her.
He also had a rendezvouz with Brenda, the cute redheard from coding, which involved the filing room.
Bit of Trivia
Sam’s brother-in-law is named Jim Bonick – that’s also the real name of the “second Mac” from Magnum PI, another show that was created by Donald P. Bellasario. I’ve no idea if the name was significant to Bellasario for any other reason.
Sam Leaps to
I’ve included this because I’ve realized that sometimes the next leap we see from Sam doesn’t match with the chronological order of the episodes. That doesn’t happen for a while but this way we’ll see when it does.
Sam, in his inner monologue, trying to figure out what is going on:
Am I dead? It would explain a lot. I could be in a reverse reincarnation that’s entered in midlife.
I also enjoy Peggy Stratton’s, “Most women bloom when they get pregnant, I shriveled,” and Sam’s answer when Al suggests they should deal with the situation by “freezing the brain until all electrical activity has ceased.” He says, “That’s called death.”
The Best Moment
Al tells Sam his last name is Beckett, and Sam calls his father on the phone. It’s genuinely moving and a nice way to establish the emotional tone of the episode.
Next Episode: Star-Crossed