Sam leaps into Jimmy LaMotta, a mentally handicapped man who is attempting to enter mainstream society with the help of his loving older brother Frank. Sam faces prejudice and rejection from all sides as he attempts to help Jimmy succeed both at work and at home.
Written by Paul M. Belous & Robert Wolterstorff. Directed by James Whitmore jr
Jimmy is one of the more celebrated episodes of Quantum Leap, and it’s easy to see why. The story of how the world of 1964 reacts and responds to Jimmy is well told and brings genuine humanity to the screen, thanks to some well crafted scenes, strong dialogue, and solid performances from the likes of Scott Bakula, Dean Stockwell, and John DiAquino as Jimmy’s brother Frank.
Today, I assume, Jimmy would be known as someone with Down’s syndrome, which wasn’t even something that was commonly talked about when Quantum Leap was produced, let alone in 1964, so the language of calling him “retarded” is a little jarring to hear. But for my mind that only highlights what the show is always doing, which is to use the lens of a historical response to a social issue to give us an opportunity to consider our own response in the present.
There is course plenty of sentimentality on hand–like the fact that the bully Blue is so utterly terrible, but also suffers from dyslexia, or the way that Connie is given such a clear reason to change her mind. But the conviction of actors helps to carry the audience past these contrivances. And this is Quantum Leap, people, a show from the era where science fiction on TV was viewed with some suspicion, and so the time travel concepts were just lightly sprinkled on top of full blown emotional drama. If that’s not what you signed up for, then you are on the wrong train.
Part of what grounds the story is the way both that for both of our main characters, the situation isn’t just clinical. For Sam, that connection is obvious–he’s in the middle of it and he’s quickly discovering the fear and the insecurity that’s coming as a result of the way, presumably, that people treat him. Even the love of his brother is a two-edged sword, as it brings great joy, but also helps to erode Sam’s confidence.
I say “presumably” because the episode brings up the question to me of whether Sam is himself affected by the people he leaps into. It’s a concept I’m hoping to see explored in future episodes, but for the moment it’s treated purely as if Sam’s difficulties are the result how he’s treated.
For Al, of course, the personal connection comes in the revelation of his own sister’s suffering over a similar issue. These sorts of big character downloads were rare for Quantum Leap, wisely doled out with restraint. Here, it’s perfect–it adds just enough emotional weight to what’s going on to give the story strong stakes.
• John DiAquino, aka John D’Aquino, plays Frank LaMotta. He also appears in a bunch of other scifi series, and some other Donald Bellisario productions, including Magnum pi (in an episode called Infinity and Jelly Doughnuts, which also featured a character called Jimmy LaMotta–the person Sam leaps into in this episode), JAG, M.A.N.T.I.S., Sliders, Lois and Clark, Third Rock from the Sun and as a regular on SeaQuest 2032.
• Laura Harrington plays Connie LaMotta. She also appears in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? as Amy Grape, and in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension as Mrs. Johnson, one of the hero’s allies.
• Michael Alldredge plays Charlie Samuels, the warehouse boss. He also appeared as Bill Graham on the original V mini-series, where he played a co-worker of Jason Bernard’s character at a production plant who became part of the Resistance.
• Michael Madsen plays Blue. He’s got, at the time of this writing, 294 credits on IMDb, including roles in Donnie Brasco, Resevoir Dogs, Kill Bill, Free Willy, Wyatt Earp, Mulholland Falls, and as the voice of Kilowog in the animated Green Lantern: First Flight.
• Brad Silverman plays Jimmy. He will reappear in the series again in this role, a few different times. And he’s not the only one–a number of the cast members return in the same (or connected) roles in one or two future episodes.
Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Jimmy LaMotta, a mentally impaired young man who works in a warehouse, in Oakland, California, from October 14-15, 1964.
What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to help “mainstream” Jimmy–allowing him to operate and function in normal life, without needing to be institutionalized. As a bit of a bonus, Sam helps save Corey’s life when he almost drowns.
What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Sam has never been on a job interview, apparently.
What do we know about Al?
Al had a younger sister named Trudy, who had an IQ lower than that of a 12 year old. She was teased by the kids in the neighborhood and called names like “dummy” and “monkey face.” Al got into fights regularly defending her.
Al’s mother ran off with an encyclopedia salesman, possibly because she was unable to handle the pressure of raising Trudy. Al’s father was a construction worker who wnet from job to job attempting to keep the family together. After his work took him to the Middle East, Al wound up in an orphanage, while his sister was institutionalized, where she later died at age 16, supposedly from pneumonia (though Al doubts that conclusion).
It’s not clear what happened to Al’s dad in the Middle East that led to this, but presumably he was killed, sometime in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s.
What about the experiment?
Al says Ziggy is going through difficulties, and having “mood swings”. He reckons that Ziggy needs a girl computer put next to him!
God or Time or Something
There are no particular references to any sort of higher power this time around, except for mentioning miracles in the recap for the previous episode.
Sam says, “Oh boy,” when he realizes he’s retarded. Al responds with “Oh boy what?”
Sam’s Complicated Love Life
This is a rare episode where this no hint of a romantic subplot for Sam anywhere in the episode (thankfully).
The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Similar to Sam, this is one of the few episodes that doesn’t make a comment about Al’s lascivious nature…except for his semi-lewd comments about thinking that Ziggy needs a girlfriend.
• I’ve commented before that I find the show’s opening recaps of the previous episode to be a bit unnecessary and awkward, but this is one of the better ones, as it’s not really a musing about time travel, but about life. “Some people believe in fate; that nothing we do, for better or worse, can change the course of our lives. But after leaping about in time, I’ve seen that just the opposite is true. Sometimes you can right things that once went wrong, and miracles can happen.”
• This episode is full of fun pop-culture references. As Jimmy, Sam wears a Bullwinkle shirt, and has posters of the Beatles and Thor on his wall. Later, they talk about the film Invaders from Mars, and Sam amusingly tells Corey the story of Star Wars.
• I’m pretty sure that Thor poster is an anachronism, as Marvel Comics’ version of Thor only came out about two years prior. Of course I could be wrong but it seems unlikely there’d be a Thor poster at that stage, and though it’s kept out of focus, it looks like it’s more modern as well.
• As the episode starts, you think Sam is a kid. But that is still to come.
• Sam doesn’t adapt quickly to his new situations, but here he does as he plays “dead” with his nephew.
• The mirror effects on Quantum Leap were an important part of the show, but they weren’t always fully believable in terms of synchronizing the actor’s movements. That’s the case here, but the placement of the effect, in a mirror on a moving door, is very good. I’m actually not sure how they pulled it off.
• I like Frank right away. And I like it when he’s looking at the papers across the room from his wife and says, “Now I’ll see if I won any money yesterday….I mean, if the 49ers won yesterday.”
• There’s an effective moment when Sam asks Al how he should act as a retarded person. You don’t know how Al is going to react. He says, “Just act natural.” But then after a moment, he adds that that is not a joke–that someone like Jimmy is very functional and can read, write, hold a job and generally live life. “In fact, it’d be hard to pick them out from the rest of us normal screw-ups.”
• It’s a little cliched, but it’s probably still true enough to include, when Sam has to tell his prospective boss, “I’m slow, sir. I’m not deaf.” He also has a good line at the end of the job interview scene, where he says “I can’t change that. But I can do the work, Mr. Samuels.”
• I think if I was Sam I’d be having all my conversations with Al in the bathroom, where nobody could see me.
• Sam doesn’t properly remember Jackie Robinson, wondering if he’s a singer. Al makes a good comment about that man’s achievements, saying, “And breaking in, that was only half of it because he took a lot of abuse before they accepted him. But he paved the way and made it easeir for the other ones that followed him.”
• The interaction between Sam and Frank is endearing, like when then they are sharing lunch. “Yeah…you take the dirty half,” says Sam.
• In his confusion, Sam refers to the microwave, and also the idea of a “high five.”
• Connie’s best line might by, “Well, um, I’m sorry, but we’re just gonna have to wait because I don’t happen to have a Martian microwave.”
• After the fight, when it all breaks down between Frank and Connie, you can really see Sam’s helplessness and frustration.
• Sam reading to Corey late at night–you feel for sure Corey is going to get in trouble. But apparently not.
• Cute: “We sleep better when we read Tales of Gore?
• I’ve already mentioned that John DiAquino does a good job as Frank throughout this episode, but I think he’s particularly strong when he loses it with Jimmy. “I can’t take care of you all the time! I can’t watch you every minute!” and so on.
• Similarly, it’s strong when Sam snaps at Al: “I have to apologize to you too, for something that’s not my fault?”
• As far as Frank and Connie know, Jimmy steals their truck and drives illegally to the warehouse! If it weren’t for Corey almost dying, for sure Jimmy would have been in a world of trouble with them, and with everyone.
• Frank dives into that water very boldly and decisively. I’m surprised nobody else, including Sam, does as well.
• At the end, Sam appears to jump into a more modern version of To Kill a Mockingbird
Sam Leaps To
So Help Me God
Favorite Dialogue & The Best Moment
These are both the same this time around. It’s when Al breaks down and reveals the story of the girl he knew who was also mentally handicapped:
It has to work! There was a girl named Trudy…She was retarded, Sam! Her I.Q. was lower than Jimmy’s. And all the kids in the neighborhood, they used to tease her. Kids can be cruel. They’d call her names, like “dummy” and “monkey face. ” And I hated it.
Intelligently, the dialogue only reveals why this is such a personal story for Al mid-speech:
And I used to get in fights all the time over this. But that’s what big brothers are for, right? My mother couldn’t handle it. That’s probably why she ran off with this stupid encyclopedia salesman. But my dad tried to keep us all together. He was a construction worker. He went from job to job, and then when it took him to the Middle East, I wound up in an orphanage, and she wound up in an institution. When I was old enough, I went back there for her. But it was too late. She was gone, Sam. Pneumonia, they said.
Dean Stockwell pretty much knocks it out of the park as he finishes up the moment:
How does a 16-year-old girl die from pneumonia in 1953, Sam? We’re not gonna lose Jimmy. Right?
Special thanks, by the way, to this site for the episode transcriptions.