Sam leaps into magician Harry Spontini, who travels with his young daughter Jamie performing in night clubs and the like. Harry’s ex-wife Maggie shows up pursuing custody of Jamie, spurred on by her new fiance, a divorce lawyer named Steve Slater. Sam seeks to save Jamie, who will eventually run away because of this situation and end up living on the streets. In order to get the money for a permanent home and to avoid losing custody, Sam has to look at doing a potentially fatal trick–a trick which nearly kills Jamie in the revised history. Sam is convinced that he is there not only to save Jamie, but to reunite Harry’s family, which he eventually accomplishes.
Written by Cristy Dawson & Beverly Bridges. Directed by James Whitmore jr.
The Great Spontini is a solid episode of the sort that is bread and butter of Quantum Leap–a novel situation for Sam to find himself in, combined with some troubled interpersonal relationships for him to deal with, someone’s future in jeopardy to create some emotional stakes, and a bit of period detail layered over the all the drama. The episode doesn’t have any particular character connection for Sam or Al, but that’s okay–in a show with 90 episodes we don’t want them all to be about the stars’ personal lives, or the ones that are would cease to be special.
This episode works largely on the strength of the relationship Sam develops with Jamie, and the performance of young Laurel Woodland as the daughter. She does a good job both at her misery at having her housing situation forcibly adjusted, and in her headstrong willfulness at both of her parents.
Of course, there’s still the connection that Sam and / or Al have with the nature of the drama–the show usually finds that sort of link with things. In this case, it’s the way that the story with the Spontini family reminds Al of his own relationship with his mother, who had walked out on their family when he was very young. This helps to bring in the necessary amount of tension between Sam and Al over how to handle the current situation. Sam’s line, “Al, maybe if your mom thought she had a chance, she would’ve come back,” sums up the differences in their approaches.
Interestingly, the show ultimately builds to the idea that Sam’s purpose is not only to save Jamie from ruining her life, but also to reunite the Spontini family–in spite of any counsel that Al gives. It’s one of the more proactive scenes with Sam that we’ve seen–he just basically decides that this is what needs to happen, based on his own assessment of the situation.
The show never (at least, not so far) clearly states how the changes that Sam makes to people’s lives come to be accepted after he’s left. For example, when Harry Spontini returns to his life and finds just about everything changed, how does he handle that? Does he even want to get back together with Maggie? The only really acceptable answer I can think of is to assume that somehow Sam’s actions become part of their memories. I’m interested to see if the show ever develops this thought.
• Amy F. Steel plays Maggie Spontini. I remember her from the TV show The Powers of Matthew Star and the horror semi-spoof, April Fool’s Day. She also stars in Friday the 13th part 2, but I don’t think I ever saw that.
• Erich Anderson (Steve Slater) played Commander Macduff (an imposter) in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, Conundrum.
Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Harry Spontini, a traveling magician, from May 9-11, 1974, in Oakland, California.
What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to at least save Jamie Spontini from being handed over to her mother’s custody, and thus prevent her from running away and winding up on the streets. It’s also implied that Sam is actually there to get Harry and Maggie Spontini back together again, allowing Jamie to grow up in a complete family.
What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Sam is at least familiar with Bill Bixby from both The Magician and The Incredible Hulk.
What do we know about Al?
Steve Slater reminds Al of his second wife’s divorce lawyer.
Al and his third wife Sharon fought bitterly for months over custody of their dog Chester.
When Al was in the orphanage he learned lockpicking and was called “Al the Pick”.
What about the experiment?
Nothing new here, except for my speculations in the main comments, above.
God or Time or Something
Nothing new here.
The catchphrase is heard once at the start, when Sam is inside the magician’s box with the swords sticking into it, and once at the end, as Sam crashes a motorbike.
Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Elaine comes on to Sam as Harry pretty strongly, but circumstances prevent that from going anywhere too seriously.
Sam manages to win Maggie’s heart back to Harry via some romancing and a pretty passionate kiss.
The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al pervs on Elaine somewhere in the theatre.
• Sam is so ridiculous as he attempts to do the magic tricks at the start–letting first a rabbit and then a dove loose, both hidden on his person.
• The comic book character the Hulk had only existed for about two years at the time this episode takes place–I don’t know if Jamie would “automatically” be aware of who he is, or if he was more obscure at the time than he is now.
• This episode features Al’s original handlink fully breaking down (along with him potentially smashing it) and Al replacing it with a new, more brightly colored model. There is some inconsistency because of episodes that were aired out of production order, but otherwise, this is the handlink he uses from now on.
• There’s some odd things going on in the timing later in the episode–when Al goes to check on Jamie, he’s with her for a long time, it seems, before he tells Sam that she’s in danger.
• Good grief, Jamie really makes a mess of herself in that “Table of Death” trick. But it all helps to make a nicely energized conclusion, with Al yelling for Sam to watch out for a kid on a bike, and Sam rescuing Jamie in the nick of time.
• The reconciliation between Maggie and Jamie is a big abrupt, but that’s often how things had to work for the show to fit its format.
Sam Leaps To
Rebel Without A Clue
I like Sam’s line to the lawyer Steve:
Well, not that it’s any of your business, but I was talking to Maggie, who’s still my wife, about Jamie, who will
always be my daughter.
Special thanks, by the way, to this site for the episode transcriptions.
The Best Moment
Sam’s determination to make things work out for Harry and Maggie at the end! “Well, then maybe we’re just gonna have to change the cards.”