Sam becomes sailor Charlie MacKenzie, who is returning to his small town in Ohio with his new and traditional bride from Japan, Machiko. Charlie and Machiko face opposition from various people in town, including one racist veteran of World War II, and especially from Charlie’s own mother Lenore. Things come to a point where Lenore’s insensitivity almost leads to Machiko’s death, but in the end she is saved and Lenore accepts her.
Written by Charlie Coffey. Directed by Gilbert Shilton
Sometimes I think my alertness to racism is a bit low and confused, and so I watch an episode of Quantum Leap like The Americanization of Machiko and wonder how offensive I’m supposed to find it. The story is about a traditional Japanese village woman who has married an American sailor and come home with him to the middle America. There she faces racism and discrimination of every sort, including from her own mother-in-law. The treatment of these unpleasant themes is pretty honest, with reactions ranging all over the show. Machiko herself is a sympathetic character, but she never really develops beyond just being sweet, naive, and overwhelmed.
Sam is rightly offended at the way she is treated, but there is also a lot of him helping her to learn that she doesn’t have to submit to certain social roles. I could imagine that one might find an uncomfortable helping of cultural parochialism in these interactions. For sure, it’s all sweet-natured and well-intentioned, but it’s limited. Machiko, as she is written, is a woman who is boxed in as much by her own understanding of what it means to be a grown woman in society as she is by the ignorant reactions of some of the people around her. She is both threatened and saved by the white people around her. For sure, it would have been a bit stronger if Machiko had just been a bit less of a victim, and found her own agency in some way.
Those limitations aside, the drama of the story holds up pretty well. Henry and Lenore–Charlie’s parents–are both well-developed characters, and I enjoyed the performances of Wayne Tippit and especially K Callan as Lenore. The fight between Sam and Rusty (the racist vet) is quite well done and feels believably choreographed all the way through.
And Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell get to play the righteous indignation of their characters without that getting in the way of the actual story. I actually quite enjoy the way that Sam and Al are used to contrast varying responses to racism. Sam is angry, but restrains himself, wondering what the point of reacting would be. Al on the other hand, claims that he’d just punch Rusty out if given a chance.
Overall, it’s a bit of a step up from the last installment (Disco Inferno) even if it does wind up being an imperfect, product-of-its-time attempt to deal with some difficult issues.
• K Callan plays Lenore Mackenzie. She’s best known to me as Martha (“Why did you say that name?!”) Kent in all four seasons of Lois & Clark–the New Adventures of Superman.
• Patrick Massett, who plays Rusty, also appears in another episode of the series, A Single Drop of Rain, which takes place just over a month later in the show’s internal continuity.
Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Charles Lee MacKenzie, a sailor returning to home in Oak Creek, Ohio, on August 4-5, mostly, in 1953, but the ending is presumably a few days later.
What does Sam have to do?
Sam is there is to help Charlie’s family to accept his Japanese bride, Machiko, and thus save their marriage.
What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Sam speaks 7 modern languages and 4 dead ones, including Japanese.
Henry MacKenzie–something about his smile and laugh–reminds Sam of his own father.
Sam has always loved the farm in the summer.
What do we know about Al?
Al was stationed in Japan at some point.
Based on Al’s advice to Sam, he knows something about baseball.
What about the experiment?
There’s nothing really new here. Ziggy makes a mistake about what Sam is there to do, but its consistent with what we know about the project before.
God or Time or Something
Sam says, “Oh, God,” a couple of times, but that’s just an expression. He references God with his eyes when he talks about getting married, how they’ll be married in God’s eyes if he goes through with the wedding.
Charlie’s parents claim to be Christians and have been praying for Machiko’s recover.
Sam says it twice here. The first time is during the big “misunderstanding” scene in the middle, where Sam and Naomi are in a compromising position, and Machiko comes running in naked, and Charlie’s parents and the local pastor all show up at the same time. The second time is at the end, just before Machiko enters the room for the wedding.
Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Naomi kisses Sam, and very awkwardly comes on to him until he’s forced to tell her directly that their relationship is over.
Sam is married to Machiko in this episode, but thanks to his parents preferences he stays in a different room from her until they are properly married in America. Sam leaps out just before this happens.
The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al again mentions he’s been married five times (he has to count). He comments that Naomi would fit in in Las Vegas. Surprisingly, he doesn’t act lewdly at all when Machiko goes topless.
Al refers to all the times that Sam made him feel like a sleaze.
• The opening narration is really intrusive, I think, and doesn’t really add anything to the story in these days, when you’re watching things on DVD or streaming. I suppose for a series where there were potentially new viewers every episode it was helpful to re-state the series’ concepts.
• Seeing himself as sailor, Sam calls himself Popeye.
• It’s a great opening set-up, with Sam thinking he’s figured out enough to know what’s going on, but not being aware that he’s left behind his nearly helpless wife!
• Funny line when Al says that things will be easy, according to Ziggy’s calculations…97%. Then the police show up and Al says, “Course, there’s always that three percent margin of error.”
• Lenore’s insensitive reactions are very believable: “My kitchen floor’s clean enough for anyone who wears shoes.” and “We don’t eat rice for breakfast in America, and I don’t need any help.”
• Sam talks to Machiko about how an American wife has the choice to serve her husband and family, not a duty. When asked about Charlie’s own parents, he tries to explain how Henry is retired, and Machiko says, “I think all men in Japan must be retired.” Amusing.
• It’s a cute touch with Machiko shaking the bugs off of the flowers, even as none of the characters now how that connects with Lenore’s comments earlier.
• It’s also cute when Machiko is in heels for the first time and Sam says, “We’ll think of these as training heels.”
• The big “misunderstanding” scene in the middle is well-timed, but ludicrous. Naomi behaves in a way that is completely out of her mind, and it’s absurd that Sam can’t fight her off. But it’s a great point for Sam to say, “Oh boy.”
• That pastor seems like a good guy.
• I like it when Machiko is yelling “Kill the ump!” and Henry responds, “Hey, you understand baseball.”
• Another cute moment comes at the wedding when Sam wonders when he’ll leap, and Al replies that he will as soon as Lenore accepts Machiko…something which will definitely happen after the birth of the first child.
Sam Leaps To
The Color of Truth
Somehow, the episode brings us back to the beginning of The Color of Truth, from the previous season. It even shows us his arrival earlier than we saw it at the same leap-in, from Double Identity, as we see Sam actually entering the cafe. This is the first time where an episode gives us a final “leap in” to a previous episode.
I think my favorite is the exchange between Henry and Lenore about where Machiko will stay in their house. After Henry offers a certain bedroom…
Lenore: That’s Eileen’s room.
Henry: It’s not a shrink.
Lenore: But that’s Eileen’s room.
It’s a good set up for the drama that is to come.
Special thanks, by the way, to this site for the episode transcriptions.
The Best Moment
In spite of the limitations of the episode in dealing deeply with the themes of racism, I think my favorite moment is the ending, when Lenore arrives at the wedding wearing a kimono, and bowing.