Quantum Leap – Catch a Falling Star [2.10]

Sam becomes Ray Hutton, a stage actor currently cast as an understudy to a famous but unpleasant actor in the lead role in Man of La Mancha.  When he realizes that a fellow understudy is a woman he was smitten with in the past who is romantically involved with his current host, Sam becomes conflicted about completing his mission.

Written by Paul Brown. Directed by Donald P. Bellisario

Previous Episode: So Help Me God Next Episode: A Portrait for Troian

After the intensity of So Help Me God last time around, we get a more light-hearted story complete with singing and dancing!  This of course is the beauty of the Quantum Leap format, in that in can take us into a different environment, time period, and set of relational dynamics each time around.

Catch a Falling Star is interesting because really this time around the focus isn’t on the person that Sam is meant to help at all.  I mean, there is someone–actor John O’Malley–but the guy is so unpleasant and superficial that we quickly sympathize Sam’s ambivalence about helping him.  Indeed, one assumes that the real reason Sam is there is to help Ray and Nicole get together romantically in the midst of the truly unkind environment of the theatre, or maybe to give Ray his shot at stardom by doing such a good job as Don Quixote.  Indeed, the fact that Sam doesn’t leap until after the performance seems to bear this out, even if it’s not particularly stated.

Of course the real story here is Sam being reunited with Nicole, his piano teacher that he was smitten with as a teenager.  It’s an interesting exploration for Sam, giving him a convenient and easy romance to jump into that for sure, for someone with his “lifestyle” would represent a powerful temptation.  It’s effective that Nicole is such a nice person, and so the issue isn’t that she’s wrong for him, it’s just that she’s impossible for him.

It’s interesting when the show adds these “light seasonings” of drama related to the main character’s personal lives, and takes the time to explore some of the implications Sam’s leaping.  One thing that’s not brought up, though, that would be interesting, is the fact that if Sam were never to leap, it would leave the real Ray Hutton trapped in the future, forever looking and sounding like Sam.  I wonder if that will ever be commented upon.

A highlight of the episode is the guest performance by John Cullum as John O’Malley.  All the guest performances are good, but knowing Cullum from Northern Exposure really highlights his ability as an actor, because O’Malley is such a different guy–larger than life and over-the-top in almost every situation, undeniably charming and yet ultimately extremely unlikable.  Add to that the fact that he has to convincingly act several moments from Man of La Mancha, and it’s something of a virtuoso performance.

It is a nice thing about the episode, the way that takes time to actually show Sam’s participation in the musical theatre piece, even if I’m pretty sure that’s not Scott Bakula actually singing.  [EDIT:  Actually, reader Jason commented below that I’m wrong about that.  Indeed, it was Scott Bakula singing!  See the link in the comments.]   It’s provides a fresh sort of dynamic to the episode that is fun to watch, and Sam and Al’s final moments on stage together make for one of the best episode endings that the show has given us.

Cast Notes:
• John Cullum plays John O’Malley.  He’s best known to me as Holling Vincoeur on Northern Exposure, although he also apparently played Mark Green’s father on ER. 

• Janine Turner plays Michelle.  She’s also best known for Nothern Exposure, as Maggie.  She also played the female lead in the ridiculous Sylvester Stallone film, Cliffhanger, and the mother in the film version of Leave it to Beaver.

• Ernie Sabella appears as Manny.  He’s best known as the voice of Pumbaa in The Lion King and its various spin-offs.  He also had regular parts in a sit-coms I remember from the 80’s / 90’s, like Perfect Strangers and It’s Your Move.

• Maria Lauren (Anita) only has three credited roles on IMDb, including a second episode of Quantum Leap (from later this season, Leaping In Without a Net), and an episode of Knight Rider.

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Ray Hutton, an actor who is part of the company for a production of Man of La Mancha in Syracuse, New York, from May 21-24, 1979.

What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to prevent the famous actor John O’Malley from literally breaking his leg and ruining his career during a show.  He doesn’t leap until after filling in for O’Malley and completing the show that evening, so it may be that he also has to further Ray Hutton’s career as an actor, and to ensure that Ray and fellow actor Nicole get together romantically.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Sam has a photographic memory.

He took piano lessons from Nicole up until he was 15, and had a huge crush on her.  This makes Nicole the third teacher he had a crush on, after Miss Morgan in kindergarten and Miss Sedlack in 1st grade (both referenced in How the Tess Was Won).

He remembers the words to Surrey with the Fringe on Top from Oklahoma!, and apparently also likes Man of La Mancha.

What do we know about Al?
Al basically got out of the orphanage via getting involved in the theatre.  He was part of performing, or at least is familiar with, Summer Stock, and misremembers the lyrics of Surrey with the Fringe on Top from Oklahoma!.  He is also familiar with Man of La Mancha, having listened to it while building the imaging chamber.

Al talks about prostitution with what sounds like personal experience.

What about the experiment?
When Sam and Al were building the imaging chamber, the only thing they listened to was The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha.

God or Time or Something
Al says it’s up to “him” (referring to God) if Sam stays or not.

“Oh Boy”
The catchphrase is used just before Sam is supposed to go on stage, and again while he’s waiting to be pushed on.  And one more time when he’s supposed to be rehearsing.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Sam has to fend off the inappropriate familiarity from leading lady Michelle.  He falls in love with and becomes intimate with Nicole, both as himself and as his host, Ray Hutton.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al leers at the girls in the theatre (including Nicole), and says that was part of the appeal of that world for him.  He also talks about prostitution in a way that implies personal experience.

Other Observations
• This episode features another great “fish out of water” moment for Sam at its start.  Sam is only reprieved from going on stage when the real actor shows up.  It’s nice that this isn’t just a gag, but actually a significant part of the plot.

• Al waxes poetic about the theater, referring to the “roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd.”  When Sam corrects him, Al simply tells him, “…you never did summer stock.”  I’m not sure I understand the reference.  “Summer stock” refers to a theatre tradition where a company only does its shows in the Summer, often making use of the outdoors or temporary tents for venues.  It’s also the name of a Gene Kelly / Judy Garland musical about such a group.  There’s also a show actually called The Roar of the Greasepaint–The Smell of the Crowd which was produced originally in 1964, but I don’t know that that has anything to do with summer stock as either a theatre tradition or a show.   I don’t know if the phrase is actually a quote from anything in particular before that.

• This is only the second time since the show began that Sam has met someone he once knew, and both times it was a lost love of sorts.

• A clever but hokey double meaning comment by Sam, which is something the show did surprisingly infrequently:  “I tend to…leap around a lot.”

• O’Malley is fully fully inappropriate to Nicole.  And Michelle is super-aggressive and inappropriate to Ray (although the original Ray probably went for it).  Wow, these theatre people are terrible.

• This is the second episode to feature Sam as a piano player, and the second one to reference Al’s time in the orphanage.

• We know that Al is going to show up in the rehearsal scene, but it’s gratifying when he does.

• Everyone is very cruel in the theatre–Michelle, O’Malley and Manny all do stuff make Sam and Nicole mad at each other.

• There’s a lot of meaning in that “John, break a leg,” line from Sam.

• I think this is the widest angled “leap out” shot the show’s had so far.

• And apparently Sam leaps into that year’s Halloween episode!

• The ending credits for the show run over a bunch of shots doing bows and curtain calls on the Man of La Mancha stage.

Sam Leaps To
A Portrait for Troian

Favorite Dialogue
My favorite dialogue comes from the sequence where Sam and Al talk about Sam’s situation:

Al:  You’re out of control, Sam.
Sam:  In case you haven’t noticed, Al, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in control.
Al:  You know what I mean.  You can’t tell anyone who you really are.  You can’t change your personal history. You can’t
Sam:  I can’t have a life. All I do is live someone else’s life. Right their wrongs, fight their fights. Geez, I feel like I’m Don Quixote. He
Al:  He…He loved pure and chaste from afar….Well, that part was never big with me either.
Sam:  I love her, Al.

Although, “John, break a leg,” is very good as well.

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

The Best Moment
I love seeing Al’s appearance at the end, as Sam climbs the staircase to leave the show, giving Nicole a last loving look.  Sam and Al, riding off into the sunset, and quoting the play (“More misadventures? / Adventures, old friend.”) is great stuff.

Previous Episode: So Help Me God  • Next Episode: A Portrait for Troian


5 thoughts on “Quantum Leap – Catch a Falling Star [2.10]

  1. “Catch a Falling Star” is my favorite episode of Quantum Leap. When I saw it when it first aired, I immediately had to dig out my Man of La Mancha soundtrack, and I had its tunes in my head for a week! Whenever I see this episode (Comet aired it two weeks ago), I break into a grin as soon as the singing starts.
    Did you know there was a soundtrack cassette? It is called Music from the Television Series Quantum Leap. It was dated 1993 Universal Studios/GNP Crescendo Records, stock number GNP 58036. I have the cassette, but I don’t know if it was released on LP or CD. It includes some of the songs from “Catch a Falling Star” plus a number of other songs that Scott sang during the run of the series.

  2. Two comments:

    John Cullum played Don Quixote/Alonzo Quijanas in the original Broadway production. He appeared in the matinee shows.

    Ray was never interested in Michelle. In the script: “Are you kidding?!! Ray wouldn’t even touch Michelle with Don Quixote’s lance.”

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