Quantum Leap – Portrait for Troian [2.11]

Sam leaps into Dr. Timothy Mintz, a parapsychologist hired by Troian Claridge to prove that her home is haunted by the ghost of her dead husband Julian.  Sam of course does not believe in ghosts or supernatural phenomenon, while Al is more easily spooked.  Eventually, Sam discovers that the culprit is Troian’s brother Jimmy, who is attempting to goad his sister into suicide for financial reasons.  But even with his malicious intent exposed, a final twist reveals that a ghost has played a role in the story after all.

Story by John Hill & Scott Shepherd.  Teleplay by Scott Shepherd & Donald P. Bellisario. Directed by Michael Zinberg

Previous Episode:  Catch a Falling StarNext Episode:  Animal Frat

After a number of strong episodes (I’d say the last four have all been strong), A Portrait for Troian is a bit of a letdown.  The story is obviously chasing a whole ghost-story vibe, but it comes across as superficial parody rather than a real attempt to create tension and atmosphere. The show is jam-packed with cliches, including a somewhat artificial looking graveyard, lightning storms, a howling dogs, a creepy housekeeper, and more, and it all feels more like a fairground attraction more than it does an actual time and place.  And the fact that the whole plot is akin to something from Scooby-Doo doesn’t really help.

Producer and writer Deborah Pratt is fine as Troian herself, but not especially engaging.  And the episode never addresses the obvious oddity of the fact that Troian and her brother Jimmy are clearly of completely different ethnicities.  You’d think that’d be the sort of detail that would either have been easy to explain or to avoid.

Where the episode works better is with some of the ways we see Al’s hologram working.  There’s an interesting idea that Mintz’ “ghost detecting” equipment can somehow make Al audible, which Al plays with to good (though ultimately fruitless) effect once Jimmy is revealed as the villain.  There’s a few nice moments of Al addressing the Project technicians in order to get things done to help Sam.  And there’s a clever little bit during a crisis when Al demands to quickly be centred on Sam, only to be relocated only a few feet away, as Sam is at that moment approaching.

Of course, the other thing to note is that the episode does seem to confirm the existence of ghosts in the Quantum Leap universe.  And I suppose the response should be, “Well, why not?” given that the show is about an unseen power interfering with a time travel experiment.  But it is slightly bizarre direction for the show to take, though it also feels like it’s probably just a tacked on gag more than anything else, rather than a concept the series is actually introducing.  Although, since the ghost is played by Carolyn Seymour, who will later be back to play the handler for the Evil Leaper, maybe the whole thing could be explained some sort of earlier activity for that later character?  Hmm, we’ll see if we can create a suitable head-canon explanation when we get there.

Anyway, overall A Portrait for Troian was a diverting way to spend 45 minutes, but not one of the season’s finest moments.

Cast Notes:
• Deborah Pratt plays Troian Claridge.  She also is the narrator on just about every episode of Quantum Leap…although not the versions that I am watching.  She also plays the voice of Ziggy at least three times, and has also written for the show, and is one of its producers.

• Carolyn Seymour, who plays Priscilla Stoltz, appears on the show again three times as Zoey, the handler of the Evil Leaper.  She also appears as a variety of roles on both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager, as well as lots of other shows.

• Donald P. Bellisario, the creator of Quantum Leap and lots of other shows (notably Magnum PI and JAG) appears as Dr. Timothy Mintz.

• Paul Brown appears uncredited as Julian Claridge.  He’s a producer for Quantum Leap and a writer, including the previous episode, Catch a Falling Star.

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Dr. Timothy Mintz, a parapsychologist, outside Los Angeles from February 7 – 9, 1971.

What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to save Troian Claridge from drowning as a result of believing that she is haunted by the ghost of her dead husband.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Sam does not believe in ghosts, vampires, or other similar supernatural elements.

What do we know about Al?
The Claridge’s home reminds Al of a creepy house in his neighborhood, where he used to take a girl.

Al knows quite a bit about electronics.  He appears to allow for the possibility that ghosts are real.

Al references Tina, presumably his girlfriend, and indicates that she owns a crocodile!

What about the experiment?
Dr. Mintz, as is common amongst many of the people who swap with Sam, believes he has been kidnapped by aliens.

Sam’s leap registers on Dr. Mintz’ ghost-detecting equipment, and somehow the fact that it detects brainwaves allows it to “read” Al’s presence (because he tied to Sam’s brainwaves) and make his voice audible.

Al speaks directly to Gooshie a couple of times, and threatens to remove Ziggy’s “sex sensory” circuits.

God or Time or Something
There’s no direct reference but Sam appears to be thanking God when he mocks Al for discovering something sexual that Al is not into.

“Oh Boy”
As is common, Sam says his catchphrase both shortly after arriving in 1971, and at the end when he’s arrived in his next episode (which was actually a previous episode).

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
It is said that there is affection for Troian on the part of Dr. Mintz, but this never really seems to go anywhere for Sam.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al refers to Moira Boichek, a girl he would take to a local creepy house in his neighborhood when he was a youth.  When Al says he’s not into necrophilia, Sam mocks being amazed at finding something sexual that Al is not into.

At one point, Al says he doesn’t want anyone hearing him but Sam…and women.

Other Observations
• “Uh oh, if this is glory, something tells me I’m in big trouble,” says Sam as he arrives, referring to the song he was just singing, and the fact that he’s arrived in a graveyard.

• Wow, Miss Stoltz sure is is unpleasant!  And she seems to come with her own thunder sound effect.  A bit like Frau Blucher from Young Frankenstein. Al’s reaction to her is pretty funny.

• Jimmy is a jerk:  “Hey, Sis, just in case you two missed them, those things in the hall closet, they’re umbrellas.”

• Cute moment when Sam admires his host’s receding hairline.

• Why would Troian purposely walk exactly in those wet footsteps?

• The power is supposed to be out…but it’s really well lit everywhere.  This includes inside the crypt, where it’s supposedly too dark for Al to see properly.

• I appreciate the advice and encouragements Sam gives Troian at different parts of the story:  “Troian, we’re not responsible for promises beyond our power to keep, no matter how sincerely made.”  And also, “You survived Julian’s death and all the horrors that Jimmy put you through. You’ll survive this too. That’s the difference between you and your brother. You’re a survivor.”

• At first I thought the implied romance between Mintz and Troian seemed odd because of their age gap.  But then it turned out that the actors who played them both–Deborah Pratt and Donald P. Bellisario himself, really were married  at the time, even though yes, there was something of an age gap between them.

• Troian as a character is named after Troian Bellisario, daughter of the two producers, who is now something of a successful actress herself.

• Cute bit where Al has to smack his hand-held device to read the rest of something that’s being sent to him.  “She’s a house, uh <smack!> keeper that Troian hired after Julian died.”

• Jimmy majored in golf?

• Some pretty good narration by Sam:  “I’d spent the night reading one of Julian and Troian’s novels. It was really quite wonderful. An incredibly romantic tale of bittersweet love and deep tragedy. It might have been too dark, were it not for Troian’s illustrations. They were whimsical and full of life, not at all like her nightmare painting, which depicted only darkness and death.”  Indeed, the creepy paintings are the most effective of the “haunted house” in this episode.

• The earthquake depicted in this story is actually a real thing, the San Fernando Earthquake of 1971, with a surface-wave magnitude of 6.5.  You’d think a big earthquake like that would have been the sort of thing Ziggy and Al would have warned Sam about.  The camera movements for the earthquake are okay, but the effect is still transparent.

• I’m not sure there’s any way that Sam could carry Troian like he does in a real earthquake.

• I was going to complain about the incessant dog howlings in the background all the time, but they actually explained it as a result of Jimmy’s electronic shenanigans.

• Sam walks in that crypt like it’s no big deal, but I’d be concerned about damage it sustained in the earthquake

• “These are skeletons, not ghosts!” yells Sam at one point.

• Somehow, Ziggy is able to tell Al exactly where in the pond Troian has sunk to.  This seems pretty unlikely, given the limited information that they are normally working with.

Sam Leaps To
The Camicazi Kid, from the previous season.  Presumably this episode was repeated the following time after A Portrait for Troian. 

Favorite Dialogue
The funniest is Al’s reaction to Miss Stoltz:

I think she can see me.

Of course, if she’s a ghost, or if she’s really the Evil Leaper, maybe he’s right!

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

The Best Moment
I like the combination of drama, action and humor when Al demands to be re-located to where Sam is, only to shift location by just a few feet, and then Sam bolts into the scene and dives directly into the water.

Previous Episode:  Catch a Falling Star • Next Episode:  Animal Frat


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