Quantum Leap – The Color of Truth [1.6]

Sam leaps into Jesse Tyler, a black man in the American South in the 1950’s who works as a driver for an elderly white woman.  Al tells him he is there to save her from a dying in a car accident, but Sam feels compelled to get involved with the start of the civil rights movement.  In the end, he does both.

Written by Donald P. Bellisario & Deborah Pratt. Directed by Michael Vejar

Previous Episode: Double IdentityNext Episode: Camikazi Kid

So we’ve had a number of good episodes of Quantum Leap, but The Color of Truth might just be the first great one.  It’s got some good performances, strong character work and an decent plot, all set on the backdrop of an interesting environment full of challenging social issues.  Dealing directly with real-world social problems is no guarantee of success for an episode of science fiction TV, but in this case it adds greater depth to a story that was already working well.

This is good episode for Scott Bakula as Sam.  He really gets to get riled up over the injustices around him, and plays that well.  Seeing Sam have such a reaction to the policies and mindset behind segregation is good for his character–we see that Sam isn’t just a friendly guy, or a smart guy, but a good-hearted one.  The relationship between him and Miss Melny works quite well, and we appreciate the tenderness between them.  I love it that we see Sam both attempting to convince Miss Melny of the injustice of the status quo, but at the same time receiving her generosity and kindness.  It’s also nice seeing him caring for her in moments like when he helps her clear the weeds off of her husband’s grave.

And it’s a great story for Al, and certainly Dean Stockwell’s best one so far.  The scene where he pleads for Miss Melny to hear him is gripping, and opens up some intriguing possibilities about how the leaping actually works.  And it’s a nice touch to learn about his involvement with the civil rights movement, talking about going to jail for his beliefs.  This leads to the episode’s best scene (see below).

It’d be easy to assume that this episode is inspired by the movie Driving Miss Daisy, but that popular movie actually came out about 7 months after the episode aired.  But Driving Miss Daisy was a well known play before it was a movie, so it’s probable that the episode was inspired by that.

Cast Notes:
• Susan French plays Miss Melny.  She was an apparently elderly victim in the Star Trek:  The Next Generation episode, Man of the People.  She also played the older Jane Seymour in the movie, Somewhere in Time.

• Royce D. Applegate plays Sheriff Blount.  He appears as a reporter in another episode a couple of years later.  He was also a regular on SeaQuest, and had a role as “Man with a Bullhorn” in O Brother, Where Art Thou? by the Coen brothers.

• Michael D. Roberts (Willis) also appears in another episode of Quantum Leap (as Martin Luthor King jr.’s ancestor), but more than that, played Rooster in Baretta and was a regular on the police fantasy classic, Manimal.

• Howard Johnson, who plays “Real Jesse Tyler” (that’s how he’s credited), will reappear as the same character in Shock Theater, an episode coming up next season.

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Jesse Tyler, a chauffeur, in Red Dog, Alabama, from August 8-10, 1955

What does Sam have to do?
Sam’s obvious role is to prevent Miss Melny from dying in a car accident with a train.  But he doesn’t actually leap until he also persuades her to take a more active stance in the whole area of civil rights.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Not much, except that he took an autopsy class (which I guess is normal if you are a medical doctor?) and that he obviously has strong personal feelings against racism.  Also, he’s heard of chitlins, but had no idea what they were.

What do we know about Al?
Al protested and spent time in jail during the civil rights movement.  He also has a killer recipe for chitlins.

What about the experiment?
Nothing, except that somehow, Al is perceptible to Miss Melny on some level.  Also, Sam is really excited about the implications of the fact that he can become a black man.  He’s got no idea what he’s in for.

God or Time or Something
Sam never talks about God in this episode, though Jesse’s relatives are church going folk, with singing gospel ballads, preparing for sermons, and so on.

“Oh Boy”
For the first time, it’s the very first thing Sam says after he leaps at the end.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
I think this is the first episode where there’s no romance element to Sam’s leap.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al doesn’t talk about anyone in particular, but he imagines the implications if he could get younger women to listen to him like Miss Melny did.

Other Observations
• Sam actually talks about leaping as being fun, and runs over everything he’s done so far.  – Saved 2 lives, apparently referring to the father and baby in Genesis, though he’s clearly saved more than that since then

– Won a ballgame, also in Genesis

– Fought for the faith of a nun in The Right Hand of God

– Fought against the mob in Double Identity

– Reunited a father and a mother in Star-Crossed

– Helped to write the lyrics to Peggy Sue and saved a pig in How the Tess Was Won

– Put together three couples – let’s see, that would be that football player and his girlfriend in Star-Crossed, Tess & the rancher in How the Tess Was One (though to be fair, it seemed like they were going to get together anyway), and Frankie & Teresa in Double Identity.

• Sam is hungry when he arrives in Alabama.  Is that because he hasn’t eaten, or because Jesse was hungry?

• Sam is appropriately uncomfortable when someone talk about Sally having been the finest negro woman he knew, and even more so when someone else wonders if he has “one of those uppity norther niggers” staying with him.  Really, he is visibly holding himself back from slugging Clayton.

• I like Sam’s exchange with Nell.  “Is that why you want to do it?  To make them mad?”  She replies that it is, but also because it’s right.

• “I’d heard of chitlins of course, thought they were one of those rare Southern delicacies that taste as good as they sound.  I never realized they were pig intestines.  The smell was like something that was kept around too long in autopsy class.”

• Great bit of direction when Sam finishes talking to the sheriff, the door closes, and Jesse’s reflection is looking back.

• Jesse is still alive in the future! 105 years old.  It’s an intriguing clue as to the date of the “present” in the show, but it’s not enough to figure it out.

Sam Leaps To
The Color of Truth

Favorite Dialogue
Sam is so frustrated at the ignorance that he sees around him.

I sat at that counter because I was hungry, and everybody went nuts because they saw me as a black man instead of as a hungry man, and that’s wrong!

The Best Moment
My favorite scene is when Al in the jail cell after Sam is let out.  The camera moves across the bars from the outside, as Al sings to himself “We Shall Overcome”, remembering his days “in the trenches” of the civil rights movement.  It’s nice stuff.

Previous Episode: Double IdentityNext Episode: Camikazi Kid

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