Quantum Leap – The Leap Home [3.1]

Sam leaps into himself as a 16 year old, just before Thanksgiving.  Al tells him he is there to win a a big high school basketball game which will change the lives of several of the participants, but Sam is determined to use the time to improve the lives of his family:  helping his sister avoid a disastrous elopement, saving his father from an eventual heart attack, and eventually helping his brother not to die in the Vietnam war.  In the end, Sam wins the game but fails to change his family’s fate, but God or time or fate may give him another chance…

Written by Donald P. Bellisario. Directed by Joe Napolitano

Previous Episode: M.I.A. • Next Episode:  The Leap Home, Part 2

And with The Leap Home we arrive into the third season of Quantum Leap, and one of the most memorable concepts the series ever explored–Sam leaping into his earlier self.  It’s the sort of thing that we’re glad the show didn’t rush into too quickly, but which we’re glad that they got to eventually.  I’ve been looking forward to seeing it again ever since I started with this series, and I even once included it on a list of great time travel stories, thanks to the great character work.

The heart of the story is, of course, Sam’s efforts to alter his family’s fate.  Like Al in the previous episode (which of course was originally a whole Summer break earlier) he becomes fixated, which creates some excellent dynamics between Scott Bakula and the guest cast as the guest cast, as he gets more direct and more blatant with his efforts to facilitate change than he normally does.  Bakula is quite good in the double role as Sam and his father John, although even with a solid makeup job one never quite forgets who they are looking at.  Still, the scenes with the two characters are very well done.  John Beckett is made to look sizably taller than his son (which makes sense given that 16 year old Sam is not meant to be fully grown yet) and there are several well directed split screen sequences.  There’s one bit, for instance, around a breakfast table in which Sam, John, Sam’s sister Katie, and Sam’s mother Thelma are all talking on top of each other that achieves a nice effect.

(Scott Bakula also gives a good performance as a version of the 16 year old Sam.  I’ve never heard the show directly refer to this but I see it enough that I can’t really believe it’s a coincidence–it often seems that Sam takes on some of the personality characteristics of the people he leaps into, and given that in this case it’s himself, that makes even more sense.  The image of Sam running distraught through the corn field really does make the grown-man Sam look like a confused teenager).

The show’s highlight is without a doubt the “lesson” that Sam learns as all his attempts to warn his family lead to failure and conflict.  The extended sequence that begins with Sam telling Katie about the future and ends with him talking to Al in the corn field…this is one of the best thing we’ve had in this whole series.  Al’s response to Sam’s self-pitying cry of how unfair it all is is powerful and insightful, and delivered with an effective understated gravity by Dean Stockwell:  “I’d give anything to see my father and my sister for a few days, to be able to talk with them again, laugh with them, tell them how much I love them.  I’d give anything to have what you have Sam, anything.”  This is followed by a beautiful montage of Sam enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with his family, where Sam is able to see this leap as a blessing and not a curse.

I’m reminded in watching and reading about this episode of a number of things that the show never seems to address:  what exactly is young Sam Beckett doing in the future during this whole story?  Is his experience there going to have some impact on him getting the idea for Project Quantum Leap in the first place?  And what exactly is the nature of Sam’s “inhabiting” the people he leaps into?  Usually, it’s implied that Sam seems to still be physically himself, but Al implies he’s in the body of a sixteen year old.  And when Sam changes the life of the cheerleader Lisa, so that she doesn’t marry the same guy as before…doesn’t that mean that she won’t have the same children as before?  That sort of things must be happening all the time, but I’ve never heard the show address it.

These sorts of bigger questions about the series aside, The Leap Home is one of the series’ best episodes.

Cast Notes:
• Olivia Burnette, who plays Sam’s sister Lisa, previously appeared in the episode Another Mother.  She also played Steve Martin’s daughter Marti in Planes, Trains and Autobmobiles.

• Caroline Kava (Thelma Beckett) played Dr. Toby Russell in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Ethics.

• Adam Logan, who plays young Sam Beckett, played the same role in the first episode, Genesis, and will appear again at the end of the season.

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is in the body of his 16 year old self, from November 25-28, 1969.

What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to win a basketball game between his team, the Elk Ridge Cougars and the Bentleyville Tigers, which will change the lives of a number of people involved, including the coach and some of the players.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett? (plus speculations and conclusions)
Sam is able to instantly recognizes the sight and smell of the Indiana corn field, even knowing the month.  He used to hunt pheasants with his brother Tom.  His sister Katherine (or Katie, as Sam calls her) was born in 1957.  We’ve heard the names of Sam’s father, brother and sister (though she was called Kate) before, but this is the first time we learn his mother’s name is Thelma.  There is also a Grandma Nettie in their family (who has died some time ago in this episode).  Sam’s paternal grandfather died when he was 57 years old.

John Beckett smokes.  Sam says that he has three years before his father will die of a heart attack, which would put his father’s death in in 1972 or early 1973–Al actually specifies it is in 1972.  However, in earlier episodes, Sam said his father died in 1974 or 1975.  It was also said that Sam’s father died when he was 21, which would five years in the future from this episode (set in 1969).   Like usual, a lot of these inconsistencies can be explained by Sam’s memory problems which were caused by his time traveling.

Sam’s brother Tom dies in Vietnam on April 8, 1970, after shipping out following the Thanksgiving holidays.  Their sister Katie elopes with a guy called Chuck who is an abusive alcoholic.  Katie’s disastrous marriage has been referenced before but without the guy being named (clearly, this is not the naval officer Jim Bonick that Sam once referred to in Genesis, who she must have married later.  It is consistent with Camikazi Kid where he mentioned his sister married a guy who hit her when she was only 17).

At this point, Sam is deciding between M.I.T. and Caltech for his further study, Tom having talked him out of the idea of going to Indiana State for basketball.  (In Disco Inferno, Sam says it was Tom who convinced him to go to MIT.  In Animal Frat, it was said that Sam is in college by the time he was 16, which means Sam will be there before his next birthday in August, or before he begins his next high school year.  And in Her Charm, it is said that Sam graduated from MIT in two years.  Finally, in Genesis, it is said that Sam lived in Elk Ridge until he was 18, so he must have considered it his home until he graduated college).

In the original history, Sam blames himself for losing a big game between his team, the Elk Ridge Cougars, and the Bentleyville Tigers, which led to a loss of opportunity for his coach and a few of his teammates, called Hurkey and Sibby.  One of their opponents was called “No Nose” Pruett.  Lisa Parsons was a cheerleader whom Sam had a crush on.

Sam plays the guitar.

What do we know about Al?
Al mentions his father and sister again.

What about the experiment?
Nothing in particular.

God or Time or Something
Sam talks about leaping around putting right whatever God or time or fate or whoever is leaping him around wants to put right.  He thinks at first that he’s come home because he’s being rewarded.  Later he looks up and yells at “whoever you are, wherever you are,” that he’s not doing it anymore.

“Oh Boy”
The catchphrase is said twice–once near the start when Sam recognizes Lisa and the other teenagers talking to him, and once at the end in the teaser for the next episode, after realizing that he’s in Vietnam with Tom.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
The cheerleader Lisa Parsons obviously likes Sam, and kisses him after the game is won, but things never go any further than that.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al ogles the cheerleaders, but there aren’t any other references to his lovers, aside from a brief reference to his first wife Beth.

Other Observations
• This episode is often listed as being titled The Leap Home Part One, but in reality there is “Part One” on screen anywhere.

• The guest credits begin by saying, “Starring Scott Bakula as His Father” which is an interesting way of acknowledging his double role.

• I like John Beckett’s reply to what Sam refers to as a healthy, well-balanced breakfast:  “For a hippie.”

• Sam seems to remember a very specific but uninteresting thing occurring during a specific hunting trip, which seems a little unlikely–both that Sam would remember and that the exact same birds would get flushed in the same way in this new history.

• It’s a nice bit, how Sam takes a moment to say farewell to his dad (who is coughing) before he makes the final change to history.

• And I like the match cut of Sam shouting Tom’s name through his Leap.

• The credits role over Sam singing Imagine.

Sam Leaps To
The Leap Home, Part 2

Favorite Dialogue
I love it when Al tells Sam that it is damn fair that he has the chance to spend time with his father and family again, but my favorite line comes just before when he convinces Sam to tell everyone he was making up all his talk about the future.

You’re not changing their future, Sam.  All you’re doing is making their present miserable.

The Best Moment
There are many, but I think my favorite is when Sam’s conversation with Katie about the future and the Beatles.  It’s a clever but very real thing that could come out of this whole situation.  And it’s brilliant the way it suddenly shifts tones when Sam is singing Imagine and she suddenly is convinced that Sam is telling the truth by the fact that the song sounds genuine.  This of course leads into my favorite dialogue, above.

Previous Episode: M.I.A. • Next Episode:  The Leap Home, Part 2


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