Sam leaps into Rabbi David Basch, whose brother Joe is struggling to deal with the death of his teenaged son a year earlier. Sam must act to prevent Joe’s wife Irene from having an affair, and find a way to help Joe and Irene begin to process their grief, and to help their daughter Karen to do the same.
Written by Tammy Ader. Directed by Randy Roberts.
Thou Shalt Not… is quite a strong episode of Quantum Leap, and does a great job at dealing with the emotional complexities of the world that Sam has found himself within. The script smartly takes it time introducing all of the elements, with Sam only gradually becoming aware of the underlying tensions before everything is finally revealed. When Sam finally comes to understand the way that the loss of their son is effecting his Joe, Irene and Karen, it makes for quite an effective reveal.
A lot of the credit for the strength of the story must go to Terri Hanauer and James Sutorious, who play Irene and Joe and bring a lot of heart to their roles. They know when to be understated and when to bring things out into the open, emotionally. Their journey is, as always, a tad too easy–an almost unavoidable failing if we’re going to deal with such serious topics on procedural TV, but still tugs at the heartstrings a lot. The journey is complete enough that their eventual breakthrough and reconciliation feels earned, not forced.
Setting the story in the devout Jewish context that it does isn’t exactly essential for the plot, but it helps the show play to the strength of its premise, which is to immerse Sam and the viewer into the lives of other people–ordinary people who aren’t the same as us but whose challenges we can all relate to. Sometimes those lives wind up being a bit of a caricature, but in this case the emotional lives of our guest cast are well developed. And a very nice touch when we see how those lives relate to Sam’s own situation. One of the episode highlights is when Sam talks about missing a family he can barely remember, and Al helps him focus on the family that is right before him.
If there’s a weakness to the episode it’s how much of a “victim” Irene ends up being to Bert’s seduction and needs to be “rescued” by Sam. The relative ease with which she is swept up by Bert’s machinations makes her appear a bit weak and helpless, which makes the episode feel somewhat awkward in today’s contexts. But I felt like that was a minor failing in comparison to the overall strength of the episode.
• Bert Glasserman is played by Russ Tamblyn, who is well known as Riff from West Side Story, as well as the therapist from Twin Peaks.
• I’m not familiar with either Jill Jacobson (Shirley Winnick) or Freyda Thomas (Maxine), but they both apparently appeared in the same episode of Newhart, entitled Lights! Camera! Contractions! What are the odds?
• John J. Reiner, who plays Rabbi Basch, only has three acting credits on IMDb. One of them is this, and another is in an episode of Community where he appeared as Vice President Joe Biden.
Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Rabbi David Basch, in Los Angeles, California, from February 2-4, 1974.
Actually, it’s a little unclear how long Sam was there. If we say he leapt out on February 4th, that means that the family had their funeral only a day after the big conflict at the beach house. But maybe that’s possible, if they really had Danny’s headstone and everything in place and ready to go. After all, there were only the four of them at the ceremony.
What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to prevent Irene Basch from having an affiar and ruining her marriage. Beyond this, however, Sam has to help Irene and Joe to begin to process their grief related to their dead son Danny, and to help Joe not throw his relationship with his daughter Karen away.
What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Sam would like to get married someday. He believes that fidelity is the basis to a good relationship.
Sam can take a punch–Joe hits him three times and he’s still going.
What do we know about Al?
Al’s fourth wife was Ruthie (see below). He claims he learned the basics of Jewish practice from her, but if he has memorized the prayer that Sam is supposed to recite, that seems to be more than just the basics.
Al saw Fiddler on the Roof five times (the movie, presumably) and also read the book Women in Pain by Bert Glasserman in the original history. He loves traditionally Jewish food.
Al doesn’t see what the problem with a one-night stand…unless you’re married. He says fidelity is overrated and even speculates that maybe the way to save some marriages is to let people have affairs.
What about the experiment?
Nothing new is brought up.
God or Time or Something
There’s a lot of reference to God and the divine is Sam’s role as a rabbi. In addition, Sam obliquely refers to God as the “Big Bopper”. (As a funny connection, the episode takes place on the 15 year anniversary of the death of the singer known as the Big Bopper.) Sam also glances up, as if at God, with a wry grin. And later Al makes Sam promise not to have an affair with Irene in the hopes that it will complete their mission.
The catchphrase is not said in this episode. We do get the opening “Oy vey,” instead.
Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Sam briefly becomes romantically interested in Irene Basch, leading him to even think that he (or David) is actually her lover. This turns out not to be the case, though.
The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al talks extensively about his fourth wife Ruthie, who was Jewish and taught him the basics of Jewish customs. She was a very good cook, apparently.
• As we said last time, “Oy vey, I’m the rabbi,” is a really funny line.
• There’s no indication of how Sam made it through the initial service without help. We save that moment for when he has to lead a prayer with his brother. Of course, Al shows up just in time, but if it were me, again, I’d probably pretend to faint. Really, if I was Sam, I’d probably be pretending to faint all through space and time.
• The couple fighting over the bread is funny.
• It’s sort of delightful watching Al helping Sam with the dance. Dean Stockwell does great with this sort of material.
• In the early stages of the episode, Sam has quite a goofy smile on his face, when he’s in the service and when he’s dancing.
• I had no idea that Killing Me Softly with His Song was as old as this, but apparently it was released originally in 1973. Well there you go…live and learn.
• I like the performances by Scott Bakula and James Sutorious in the car. It’s a very restrained scene, but you can feel the pain in it all even if you don’t yet understand the reasons for it.
• Sam and Al’s discussion about the merits of marital fidelity is interesting and funny, and culminates well with this:
Al: Look Sam, if all the men in all the world could freely socialize with all the women in all the world, there would be no war.
Sam: Until their wives found out.
Al: Good point.
• Also, “My relationships have all been good. It’s my marriages that haven’t worked out.”
• Al, oddly, says he wishes he had Sam’s faith. Or possibly David’s. It’s not clear. And it’s not clear what Al is talking about at all.
• Cute, how Karen doesn’t know what sushi is.
• I like Sam’s response to being asked if he wanted to marry: “Um, uh, I have kind of an unusual lifestyle. But someday, um, I want to, yeah.”
• I love it when Irene breaks down about Danny, and asks, “Do you think he loved me when the plane crashed?…Do you think he was thinking of me when he was dying?” It all feels so raw and so real.
• I also like Al’s evaluation of Irene, “I think she’s falling in need with you. I think she needs for you to help her get back to the man she really loves.”
• So…Sam apparently invents the Heimlich maneuver. Or at least helps it be created in a closed time loop.
• Bert really looks like a 70’s player in the “seduction” scene
• It’s gratifying when Irene gives Bert a couple of good slaps.
• In the midst of the serious stuff, I like the laughs the episode offers. My favorite is when Joe is hitting Sam, and Al cries out to him, “I’ve got you!” and tries to catch him, only for Sam to fall right through him to the ground.
• The episode takes a moment to reference a Bonnie Teller, whom Irene told about Bert’s techniques, which helped to disgrace Bert. But there’s no explanation of who Bonnie Teller is. It seems a funny detail to include if it’s ultimately meaningless.
• Great set up for the next episode, a famous one called Jimmy
Sam Leaps To
One of my favorite exchanges is when Sam begins to let the Bosch’s troubles start to get to him. He says
You know, sometimes I wish I could go home, but I can’t. Then all I have is what I can remember, which is not a whole hell of a lot.
But then Al replies, calling him back to the matter at hand:
What you’ve got is here now right here, right now. This is your family. This is your home for now. So don’t let it fall apart. Make it work, Sam.
It’s nice when the show touches back on Sam and Al as characters.
Special thanks, by the way, to this site for the episode transcriptions.
The Best Moment
I love it when Joe and Irene finally cry together, talking about the things they do to remember him, like vacuuming his bedroom or driving past the park where he played baseball.