Quantum Leap – Freedom [2.16]

Sam faces blatant racism again, this time as a young Native American named George Washakie, who is in jail for theft with his dying grandfather.  They break out with the intention of returning to their native land, so that the grandfather can live out his final days there.  Sam must contend with both his prejudiced lawmen as well as his own desire to seek medical care to prolong his grandfather’s life in order to fulfill his wishes.

Written by Chris Ruppenthal . Directed by Alan J. Levi

Previous Episode: Her CharmNext Episode:  Good Night, Dear Heart

As we all know, the beauty of Quantum Leap as a series is how it can bring the audience into a different dramatic venue each week–in terms of both of location.  In this case, we’re out of California (definitely the most common state for Sam to visit, at least so far) and immersing ourself into what was modern Native American culture, specifically the Shoshone (the same tribe as the famous historical Sacagawea).  And it makes for quite an enjoyable visit, thanks largely to the engaging guest performance by Frank Salsedo as Joseph Washakie.

Joseph really is our gateway into Shoshone culture, with the story giving lots of opportunity for relative outsider George (aka Sam) to learn about his heritage. His talk about the paint on the war horses is interesting to hear, for example:

When I was in World War I, only the officers had ponies. I could never get over how naked they look without their markings. How could you tell what they had done? How could you frighten your enemies? It made no sense to me.

The script keeps things lively, though, by giving Joseph a cheeky charm and lots of fun quips (thanks, I guess, to writer Chip Ruppenthal).  “Damn white men can’t make anything but more white men,” is a good example, as well as, “Looks like you slipped too,” when one of the police officers tells him that the bruises that George was given in his beating  are from slipping.  Later, Joseph says, “Aah, primitive cultures,” when Sam reminds him that people will not be able to tell the difference between his ‘borrowing’ and actual ‘stealing.’  In that same vein, when Sam discovers that he stole from the store they visited, he asks him if he left anything in the shop at all, he answers, “Not if I could help it.”

Sometimes the twinkle in Joseph’s eye is a little too bright to be believable, but it keeps the story light and watchable, when the material itself is actually quite melancholy and sad, and Salsedo does a good job playing both of these layers.  It all ends when Joseph is needlessly killed, and Sam actually leaps out as he is weeping over his grandfather’s body, which makes for a much heavier ending than the show normally gives us.  I’ve seen this sort of thing in other Donald P. Bellisario productions, actually…a sort of sad acceptance to an undesirable fate which comes because of a character “being true to himself.”  It’s an interesting tone for the show to take once in a while, and Salsedo, as well as Scott Bakula, capably pull it off.

Cast Notes:
• Leon Rippy (Sheriff Taggart) played L.Q. “Sonny” Clemons in The Neutral Zone, an episode of Star Trek:  The Next Generation

• Tom Everett plays Deputy Hazlitt.  He was NSA Jack Doherty on Air Force One–that’s the officious, slightly self-important guy that the villains kill in order to prove how serious they are.

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is George Washakie, a descendant of Shoshone tribe of Native Americans, in Nevada, from November 22-23, 1970.

What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to help Joseph Washakie, his host’s grandfather, to die in his native land, rather than in a hospital or in town.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Sam used to visit a convenience store with his dad when he was a kid, whenever they came into town.  Sam would get two sticks of cinnamon, and his dad would get two sticks of peppermint (possibly, Sam’s memory is shaky).

Sam’s father died when Sam was 21.

What do we know about Al?
Like Sam, Al would also come into a similar convenience store when he was young, apparently with Shirley Mulcahey.  His favorite was red licorice.

What about the experiment?
There’s nothing new in this episode.

God or Time or Something
Sam and Al don’t talk about God or Time or Something this time around.

“Oh Boy”
The catchphrase is only heard in the epilogue, where we see Sam’s leap, which is actually an earlier one from the first season.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
There is no romance for Sam in this episode.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al references a girl named Shirley Mulcahey, with whom he’d share a stick of red licorice.

Other Observations
• Sam leaps in getting beat up, and does one of his kicks, though not quite a roundhouse kick.

• Nice line from Al, who usually understands things more deeply and more quickly than Sam, “Maybe just being alive isn’t enough.”

• George waxes poetic:  “My brother the hawk. All its life it flies where it wants. Fights where it wants. Loves where it wants. Now, when it’s near death, do you think it wants to be put in a cage?”

• There are references to both Marcus Welby and Oklahoma!  Also, the Washington Redskins, of course.

• It’s an interesting bit of continuity that the show remembers that Sam has killed two men (one in Honeymoon Express and one in Her Charm).  It’s also interesting that Joseph somehow recognizes this in Sam’s eyes.

• Joseph, maybe, can hear Al…which is maybe a little bit of a cliched way of talking about a Native American’s more nature “spiritual” awareness.   can sort of hear Al

• The show often finds interesting ways for Sam to talk to people about his plight without directly revealing it.  Here, Joseph replies to Sam’s question of what he’d do if there was nothing beyond death:

Then I would fight to hang on to this skin as hard as I could. Because it would be all I had. But it’s not. All of life is a series of leaps for us grasshoppers…Sometimes we see where we are going. Sometimes we don’t. Have you ever leaped and not at least survived?…The next time you leap, remember that.

• Ultimately, the theme of the whole episode:  “There’s only one thing you have to learn: that freedom is the greatest gift we’re born with, and the hardest thing to hold on to.”

• Sam’s big moment of carrying his grandfather over the river, plus his big speech, are risky, even on a show as melodramatic as Quantum Leap, but Scott Bakula pulls it off:

All he wanted to do was to die in peace, to die the way he wanted to. He didn’t wanna die inside of a building, surrounded by people he didn’t know, hooked up to machines. He wanted to die surrounded by his friends. By the sky. By the wind. By the open spaces that he grew up with. They were his family. They were his friends. All he wanted to do was die with dignity.

• The credits are back to normal, after the rolling credits from last time.

Sam Leaps To
Double Identity

Favorite Dialogue
My single favorite line comes when Sam and Joseph are pulling off their prison break.  The police officer looks in the cell and asks where Sam is, and Joseph’s reply is priceless.

Gone….I turned him into a raven.

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

The Best Moment
I really enjoyed the scene in the cave, when Sam is worrying about not having a lighter.  Joseph promises to show him an “old Indian trick,” and proceeds to chant.  Al gets excited about the culture they are seeing up close, and then Joseph reveals a lighter that he’d palmed.  It’s funny stuff.

Previous Episode: Her Charm • Next Episode:  Good Night, Dear Heart

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