Quantum Leap – Animal Frat [2.12]

Sam leaps into a college party-loving frat boy named Knut “Wild Thing” Wileton, shortly before some of his anti-war classmates get in trouble for going too far with their protests.  Sam must overcome prejudices against him from one in particular, an attractive girl named Elisabeth, in order to convince her that her actions are misguided.

Written by Chris Ruppenthal. Directed by Gilbert Shilton

Previous Episode:  Portrait for TroianNext Episode:  Another Mother

Animal Frat is a funny…animal, I guess.  It’s a pretty standard Quantum Leap plot:  Sam leaps in in an awkward and confusing moment (drinking a keg of beer at a party), gets his bearings, figures out that he has to help someone that his host is ill-equipped to do, but by bringing his own skills and intelligence to bear, is able to ultimately put right what once went wrong.

The thing that makes is strange is that it all has such an awkwardly dated and sexist feel.  Knut (Sam’s host) is the type of party animal whose conduct was not really scrutinized in the 1960’s (when the episode is set) or even the 1990’s (when it was produced).  But today, when there is such a backlash against “boys will be boys” behavior, it’s weird to see the episode treat the whole “frat boy” environment as something Sam needs to learn to appreciate.  For even though Sam is initially repulsed by Knut and his friends as the type of idiots he doesn’t like, a chunk of the story is spent with him learning the value of fun (including the raid on the girl’s dorm), and the story even positions the frat boys as ancillary heroes, when their pranks are able to help get rid of the ticking bomb.

Another element which diminishes the strength of the episode somewhat is the way that Sam is able to psychoanalyze Elisabeth’s motivations for protesting.

Once you get past those dynamics, though, the episode is a pretty good one, and genuinely strives to find a balance in all of its perspectives.  I enjoy how the episode ends up calling out both the over-reactive anti-war protestors as much as it does the unconcerned beer-chugging students.  Even though it diminishes things somewhat when Sam is able to psychoanalyze so easily Elisabeth’s motivations for protesting, even there the dialogue deliberately points out several times that she does genuinely care about what is going on in Vietnam.  So it’s cool to see Sam argue that Elisabeth use rhetoric and words to bring about change, rather than violence.  And at the same time, he extols her value, by saying it is because of her and people like her that the war will ultimately end.

And with the story’s other main thread, about being able to have fun, the script offers some interesting discussion as well.  Sam has to learn that there is value in just cutting loose and enjoying oneself, taking in Al’s input:  “…you’re a triple-A, super-duper, overachiever type of personality. Unless you’re re-inventing the wheel every 33 seconds, you’re not happy.”  And even Al, a big proponent of fun, freely acknowledges that it isn’t something you do continuously:  “Nobody has fun all the time.  Not even me.”  And then, “You’re between ‘funs.'”

And of course, the thing that really provides the emotional anchor for the episode is Sam’s personal connection to Vietnam.  We’ve learned before about how he lost his brother in that conflict, and so it’s a smart move for the show to bring that up again.  Scott Bakula does a good job with that material, and the violence of his reaction reinforces an unspoken (at least so far) dynamic that the show has, where Sam seems to take on aspects of his host’s personality.

Cast Notes:
• Raphael Sbarge plays Will.  He was Michael Jonas on Star Trek Voyager, who is the Maquis crewmember who allies himself with the traitorous Seska for half a dozen episodes in the early years of the show.

• Darren Dalton plays Duck.  I remember him as Daryl from the original version of Red Dawn. 

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Knut “Wild Thing” Wileton, at Meeks College, somewhere in California, USA, from October 16-18, 1967.

What does Sam have to do?
At first, Sam believes he has to prevent Elisabeth Spokane going too far with her anti-war protests and planting a bomb which accidentally killed a fellow student and thus ruined Elisabeth’s life.  Later, he learns that his actual mission (or perhaps additional mission) was to prevent Knut from paralyzing himself in a drunken party accident.

It has been pointed out, and I agree, that it’s strange that it’s assumed that Sam is there to help Elisabeth, and not to help the poor guy who died in the bomb explosion.  It seems like Sam could have prevented all the problems with that whole situation by simply camping out near the science building and making sure no one was inside.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Sam was 16 years old when he was in college.  He is able to do complex math in his head.

What do we know about Al?
Al used to play the same sort of pranks as the frat boys when they are launching water balloons through the air, except using an inter tube.  He also knows how to make a cherry bomb more effective.

What about the experiment?
There’s nothing new in particular this time around.

God or Time or Something
The only reference to God comes from Duck, who says that he doesn’t seem to be involved in ending the war in Vietnam.  That’s aside from Sam proclaiming himself the god of the Luau, of course.

“Oh Boy”
The catchphrase is said twice, once at the frat party near the beginning and again when Sam sees the bomb in the locker.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Part of Sam’s attempts to stop Elisabeth from planting the bomb involves asking her out on a date, and even though they do go to a party together, it never goes any further than that.  Sam also finds two women in his bed when he first leaps in, but he kicks them out.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al speaks pretty inappropriately about Elisabeth.

Other Observations
• Sam leaps in two days before the Saturday night luau, which means that his leap-in date, October 16, 1967, should be a Thursday.  In real life, it was a Monday. The show seems to rarely get this sort of thing right, which I think is strange.

• The opening party scene, with somebody throwing up on Sam, is silly but fun.  For example:

Frat Boy:  Scooter, what is the lowest form of life?
Pledge:  A pledge is the lowest form of life, sir!
Frat Boy:  Yes, and who is the lowest pledge?
Pledge:  I am, sir!
Frat boy:  And what is the greatest fraternity in this great nation of ours in this year of our Lord, one thousand nine hundred and sixty-seven? 
Pledge:  Tau Kappa Beta! 
Frat Boy:  Damn right. Now, take those sacred lobsters and place them in Dean Stomper’s mailbox.

• Sam is so dismissive of Knut and ilk in some early narration:  “And this, according to the subtle clues on the door, was my room. Though perhaps “cave” was a better description. I mean, look at this place piles of unwashed clothes, the scent of stale beer in the air. It looked like every other fraternity room I had ever seen in college, which is precisely why I never joined one.”

• And later, he says to Al, “I’m trapped in the body of a troglodyte! I don’t wanna graduate in it. I wanna leap out of here as soon as I can!”  And, “He’s a PE major. with a minor in underwater hotel management.”

• Sam has to work hard get Duck to let him help with the protest–a good scene.

• The episode takes the opportunity to make some interesting comments about the Vietnam conflict, something which was not uncommon to do in that time period (with films like Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Born on the Fourth of July and so on):  “But I think that we should take our cue from the South Vietnamese. Because once they lose the will to fight, then no matter what we want, or do, I don’t think there’s any way we can win.”

• There’s a reference to Wilt Chamberlain, the basketball player, and also social activitst Abbie Hoffman.  It would have been plausible if Elisabeth had heard of Hoffman, as he had already at this point pulled his stunt of throwing real and fake money at the New York Stock Exchange.

• Sam makes chicken noises!  Pretty funny.  Later, Al makes “crackly” noises to refer to leaping.

• Of course, Al is excited by the raid on the girl’s dorm–it has a couple of pretty inappropriate moments in it.  Actually, the whole thing look a bit like a clip from a Monkees episode.  It is pretty funny when Sam falls off the ladder at the end.

• I just noticed that Al is wearing a strange glowey star pinned to his jacket.  Has that always been there?  What is it?  Some sort of “future fashion”?

• Sam reveals he lost a brother in Vietnam, and, proving that he is a complete jerk, Duck tells him that maybe he should have cared a bit more before he went.

• Later, we will learn that Sam’s brother didn’t die for another two and a half years after this leap date.  There are many reasons why it’s explainable, but it’s interesting that Sam doesn’t show any indication of wanting to try to somehow avert his fate in this episode.

• History changes a number of times this episode.  It seems that it’s Scooter who was fated to die, but then it becomes Knut and Elizabeth.  Al can see that they are going to die and doesn’t register that they survive until they after they actually do.

• Sam kicks in the lab window!  He knows how to be an action hero when he wanted to be.

• Sam’s “drunken” declarations at the end are funny:  “Therefore, my children, go. Eat with your fingers. Drink with your toes. Dance with your lips until the dawn smiles down upon your warm, unconscious bodies. I am Tau-waii, the great Kappa-lua Beta-Hiti, God of the Luau, and I leave you with this message:  T.K.B. is the life for me!”

• And Al’s comment at the end is cute as well:  “Sam, if you wanna leap, you gotta leap!”

• “I’m a mommy!”…an intriguing hint for the next episode.

• End credits play over Louis Louis

Sam Leaps To
Another Mother

Favorite Dialogue
I like Sam’s lines as he attempts to win Elisabeth, related to the habits of fraternities, and how perhaps modern day pledge hazing evolved from primitive rites of passage.

Sam:  Well, it’s like a rite of passage, an initiation. You know, like in the olden days, when a boy wanted to be considered a man, he had to go out and kill a saber-toothed tiger or something like that.
Elisabeth:  So then he would be accepted as an equal amongst the other hunters. Is that what you mean?
Sam:  Exactly.
Elisabeth:  And so now he has to wear underwear on the outside of his pants and steal basketballs? Hmm.
Sam:  Which, depending on how you look at it, is either incredibly lame or infinitely more civilized.
Elisabeth:  Oh, you are unbelievable.
Sam:  No, I figure in another 500,000 years we’ll have the tigers wearing underwear and-and-and stealing basketballs, and we will have evolved beyond it. .

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

The Best Moment
Sam getting angry at Duck in the library, and revealing that he lost his brother in Vietnam, is pretty good.

Previous Episode:  Portrait for Troian • Next Episode:  Another Mother

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