Quantum Leap – So Help Me God [2.9]

Sam leaps into young lawyer Leonard Dancey in the 1950’s, and makes the decision to defy convention by defending a black woman on trial for murdering the son of the leading citizen of a small southern town.  Sam must overcome prejudice from all sides and his defendant’s own unwillingness to speak to find out what really happened, and save his client from the electric chair.

Written by Deborah Pratt. Directed by Andy Cadiff.

Previous Episode:  JimmyNext Episode:  Catch a Falling Star

Comments:
So Help Me God is far and away the most “adult” and intense episode of Quantum Leap so far.  Topics like rape, sexual slavery, racism and gender-based injustice all play a major role in the story.  Scenes with both Lila and Myrtle are arresting in their honesty and raw emotion.  And the episode doesn’t let the viewer off with easy fixes to these situations, especially with the plight of Lila.  This woman really has been part of a deeply messed up and abusive relationship that’s even left her confused and uncertain about whether she’s been raped or not, and though the episode is suitable for American primetime viewing of the day, it does not soften this truth.

However, this is Quantum Leap and so built into the premise of all of its drama is that there must exist a way, somehow, for things to get better.  In So Help Me God the show sort of distracts us from the societal evils that it is presenting by shocking us with the revelation that Houston was killed by his own mother, albeit in defense of another person.  It’s a well done twist and it fits the emotional tone of the episode by being legitimately stunning, but somehow it also diminishes the pure drama inherent in the episode up to that point.

Still, things in the story hold up quite well, especially thanks to strong performances from Tyra Ferrell as Lila and Ketty Lester as Myrtle, plus Byrne Piven as Captain Cotter.  Plus of course, you’ve got TV legend William Schallert on hand as the judge–that guy always adds class to everything he does.  I also like Scott Bakula’s performance as Sam, with his indignation over everything that he’s seeing.

Indeed, it’s a good episode for Sam in general.  It gives us a good look at his character when Sam pleads Lila “Not Guilty” based on instinct (as well as providing a solid dramatic structure to overlay the episode).  Indeed, it’s interesting that in this episode, it’s explicit that the situation requires Sam to fix it, not because he comes with future knowledge or special skills, but because the person he’s replacing doesn’t have the moral conviction that he does.

In other words, Leonard Dancey could actually have solved the story’s problem himself, but he simply won’t, so “God or Time or Fate” needs Sam Beckett to come in and deal with things instead.

Cast Notes:
• Kathleen Noone, who plays Sadie Cotter, went on to be credited for hundreds of episodes of soap operas like All My Children, Sunset Beach, and Passions.

• Ketty Lester (Myrtle) is memorable as Hester-Sue for a couple of years on Little House on the Prairie

• William Schallert is instantly recognizable as Judge Eugene Haller.  He’s got hundreds of TV and movie credits to his name, including as Dobie’s teacher on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, as Patty’s father on The Patty Duke Show, as the mayor in the movie In the Heat of the Night, and as the officious Nilz Baris in Star Trek’s celebrated Trouble with Tribbles episode.   He also appeared in two episodes of Little House on the Prairie, one of which also featured Ketty Lester.

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Leonard Dancey, a lawyer in Twelve Oaks, Louisiana, from July 29 – until about August 3rd or 4th, 1957.

What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to save Lila Berry from being imprisoned for 20 years (original history) or executed (revised history) for a murder she did not commit.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Sam is familiar with Gone With the Wind, and with Sheriff Lobo (from B.J. and the Bear, and also his own show).  He also watched Perry Mason, but can’t remember it at first.  He also knows that Miranda rights were instituted in the 1960’s.

Sam has six degrees, but none of them are in law.

What do we know about Al?
Nothing really new comes out here.

What about the experiment?
This episode gives us a hint about how things work with the Leaps on the Project end.  Al says that it took them numerous hours before they could get Leonard to talk, and thus before they knew who Sam had become.  It makes me wonder what would happen if Al could somehow figure out where and when Sam was, but not who.  He’d have to walk around trying to figure out who was the confused and out of place guy.  I’m also wondering how they keep the “Leapees” busy during the whole time Sam is taking their place.

God or Time or Something
Sam prays that God would give him legal words to say as he tries to adjust to being a lawyer.  He prays again for help just as the trial starts.  Myrtle thinks he’s praying when he’s actually talking to Al, and Al gets Sam to quote Galatians 5:7-10 to Myrtle.  There’s talk of how Lila and Myrtle are God-fearing women, which is partly why they won’t testify (because they take the oath and the Bible seriously).  And of course, Lila quotes the title of the episode at the end when she agrees to learn to read, “So help me God.”

“Oh Boy”
The catchphrase is only heard at the end, after he leaps into the next episode.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Sam is married as Leonard Dancey, to Shugee, whose advances he must avoid.  He is also accused of having a relationship with Lila Berry, but this is not the case.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
There’s not really anything in this episode, which is rare.

Other Observations
• Similar to last time, Sam’s narration that we hear during the recap / intro of the episode is pretty good:  “Leaping about in time, I’ve found that there are some things in life that I can’t change, and there are some things that I can.  To save a life, to change a heart, to make the right choice.  I guess that’s what life’s about…making the right choice at the right time.”

• Right off the bat, William Schallert’s judge has a great line of dialogue:  “We appreciate the dramatic pause, Leonard, but we’re waiting for your answer.”

• The introduction of the Captain is well done, and it’s a good twist that it’s his son who has been murdered.

• Sam reacts to the use of racial slurs quite strongly.

• Leonard’s wife is quite expository in her dialogue:  “Now, I must admit, when you agreed to defendin’ that colored whore, which everybody knows Houston took to his bed when she was just 14, I was appalled.”

• Sam actually has a logical reason to question Lila’s guilt, in terms of how the town operates.

• The show does a good job establishing the heat.  It reminds me of In the Heat of the Night, because of that and of course the setting.

• Myrtle’s testimoney when she’s telling Sam the story–and her refusal to testify–powerful stuff and good performance.

• Al tells Sam to tell the judge that his fly is open…pretty funny.

• Al refers to Sam’s sensitivity to see something in Lila’s eyes:  “That’s probably why you got this job. “Me, maybe.  You, never.  But you saw the truth there.  That’s probably why you got this job.”

• It’s a cool moment when Sam makes the white jury have to acknowledge they are equals to the black Lila, but it doesn’t really impact anything in the trial.

• The Captain is so incredibly offensive toward Sam and his wife, it’s almost unbearable.

• Strangely, as the confession starts to be read, the music uses a similar motif as when Al shows up.

• When Mrs. Cotter is asked to swear an oath that she’ll tell the truth, she responds, “I don’t know how to speak any other way.”

• And she speaks an interesting truth during her testimony:  “Sometimes, if you love someone and you don’t wanna love ’em, you get to hatin’ ’em.”

• It’s not clear how long it is after the trial that Sam says goodbye to Lila.  It’s obviously long enough for her to get her things together, and for Leonard Dancey to get his picture in the paper, but both of these things could have happened fairly quickly–no doubt Lila would want to leave pretty quickly.

• Actually the dates in this episode are funny.  July 29, 1957 was a Monday, but in this episode, it’s clearly supposed to be a Friday.  It’s strange that the show can’t be bothered to get that right.  I haven’t checked that consistently but it’d be interesting to see how often they were wrong.

• Sam leaps without Al being present, which is not common (is it the first time?) and without any indication of how things worked out for the characters in the future.

Sam Leaps To
Catch a Falling Star

Favorite Dialogue
It’s probably Lila’s introduction of herself, of a sort:

I’m Delilah, the harlot temptress of the Philistines, who bewitched the golden boy of Twelve Oaks and murdered him when he scorned her love. I’m lucky they’re not burning me at the stake. I suppose the electric chair’s kind of a modern-day stake for a modern-day witch.

It sets the tone for the episode.

Special thanks, by the way, to this site for the episode transcriptions.

The Best Moment
The conversation between Sam and Lila after lunch, where she admits the confession is a lie, is pretty powerful.

Previous Episode:  Jimmy • Next Episode:  Catch a Falling Star

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