Quantum Leap – Rebel Without a Clue [3.9]

Sam leaps into a biker who is new to a gang in the 1950’s. He becomes aware that Becky, the girlfriend of the gang leader, is due to be murdered in the next day. His attempts to look after Becky leads him into conflict with his fellow gang members, especially when he finds out that the gang leader, Dillon, is responsible for her death. With the help of the elderly owner of a small roadhouse, Sam is able to fight off his fellow gang members. And with the help of the real-life writer Jack Kerouac, Sam is able to convince Becky to give up her dangerous life on the road and to settle down.

Teleplay by Randy Holland and Paul Brown. Story by Nick Harding and Paul Brown. Directed by James Whitmore Jr.

Previous Episode: The Great Spontini Next Episode:  A Little Miracle

Rebel Without a Clue is a solid and well-constructed Quantum Leap episode, with Sam plopped into a world (or sub-culture) that he knows almost nothing about, a very clear goal (someone is going to kill Becky) and a strong ticking clock (it’s going to happen in the next 24 hours). Sam is clearly outgunned and outmanned, and so the challenges are obvious and the stakes are high, which gives the entire episode a sense of urgency. At the same time, there is a healthy dose of characterization and humanity, particularly in the sequences with Ernie Tyler, the owner of the roadhouse, and his conversations about his son in the military. The future knowledge that Al provides that his son is already dead add a painful sadness to all of his scenes.

One of the story’s best developed characters is the gang leader, Dillon, played by Dietrich (better known as Diedrich) Bader. He at first seems a somewhat reasonable man, showing a level of tenderness to Becky as well as sympathy to Ernie not displayed by others. But as the story goes on the layers are peeled back and we see more and more what a monster he is. Even if some of it can be “blamed” on his post-traumatic stress, there is no question that he is the villain of the story, especially when he tries to rape Becky. And the suspense is strong–at the climax, as Dillon’s whole gang have Sam, Becky and Ernie trapped in the roadhouse, we’re really wondering how Sam is going to get out of this one. Of course, the answer turns out to be with the help of Sam’s trademark spin-kicks and with some verbal couching from Al.

Less plausible is the way that Sam is able to get Jack Kerouc himself to come and help him convince Becky to head onto a different path. It seems a little absurd that Sam is able to have such an in depth conversation with Kerouc in the first place, let alone that he convinces him to go out of his way to change a stranger’s interpretation of his words. But it also doesn’t really do Becky any favors as a character–she basically spends the whole episode dependent on everyone else for all her decisions, be it Dillon, Sam, or even Ernie. And finally, her one moment of significant character growth seems to come not from any internal growth, but because her idol turns up and redirects her path. The scene swith Kerouc itself are not badly done in themelves, but I think they are not so good for the episode overall.

Cast Notes:
• Josie Bissett (Becky) is well known to many (though not to me) for playing Jane on a whole lotta episodes of Melrose Place

• Dietrich Bader, aka Diedrich Bader (Dillon) has had loads of voice roles in various superhero properties, including playing Batman in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. He was also in the movies Napoleon Dynamite and Office Space. I also know him from the sitcom Outsourced, and he had a small early role as a tactical officer on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (The Emissary).

• Teddy Wilson (Ernie Tyler) had previously appeared in the episode Pool Hall Blues.

• Mark Boone Junior (Mad Dog) was Detective Flass (the corrupt cop who is hung upside down and terrified by Batman) in Batman Begins. He was also apparently an uncredited New Yorker in Armageddon.

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Shane “Funnybone” Thomas, a biker, on the road an hour so south of Big Sur, California, from September 1-2, 1958.

What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to prevent Becky from being murdered, and eventually has to help redirect her life to not just idolizing being “on the road”. This has the spill-on effect of helping Ernie live a lot longer.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Nothing in particular.

What do we know about Al?
Al’s “first car” was actually a motorcycle, a 1948 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead.

In his “plebe year” at Annapolis (the Naval Academy) in 1958, Al went and heard Jack Kerouc give a reading a St. John’s College, and then went and partied with him afterward. He was deeply effected by Kerouc’s philosophy and by On the Road, especially the notion of free love.

On the road is a book that Al likes and which changed his life. For a lot of us, Kerouc started a whole new world.

What about the experiment?
Nothing in particular.

God or Time or Something
There are no particular references.

“Oh Boy”
The catchphrase is used just once, as Sam arrives at the start of the episode.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Though there are hints that Sam’s host may have been attracted to Becky, that doesn’t really play into Sam’s experiences in this Leap.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al doesn’t reference anybody in particular this time around, or even spend time ogling Becky or anyone else.

Other Observations
• There’s a funny bit of narration at the start: “Quantum leaping around in time, I’ve assumed many characters, but this was my first leap back as a dirtball.”

• Becky is going to die in 24 hours. It’d be interesting if someday there was an episode where Sam only had 90 minutes or something to do something critical.

• There are some very nice and oblique references to Sam’s family. When asked if he’s lost somebody (presumably in the recent war), Sam says, “Yeah, but I got him back.” And whether it was intention or not, when Sam is trying to show Becky how she’s trapped in a cycle of abuse, one can’t help but to imagine he’s thinking of his sister.

• The stunt of Dillon punching Becky is not completely believable.

• Ernie Tyler with his shotgun is awesome–including the way he puts off the gang

• It’s sad and touching when Sam finds all the birthday presents in the closet

• I have no idea if this version of Kerouc is plausible or authentic or not, but even though I think the idea of Sam seeing him is contrived, the actual dialogue is kind of interesting: “Hey man, I can’t lie. Hey, man, I can’t lie. I speak for it. I speak out for freedom. I speak out for experience. I speak out for life. I speak out for all the roads crisscrossing America in one immense, infinite dream that collides in one infinitesimal, holy honey of creation. That vast sea of the brotherhood that underlies the essence, the unborn essence of everything. I speak out for the road, Zen, apple pie, hustlers, pimps, crazy jazz, truck stops, cops, criminals, and all the things that blast past you while you’re bebopping down that old highway to heaven and hell.”

• Al reveals at the end that thanks to the changes, Ernie’s still alive in the present. That’s in the 90’s sometime–so like more than 35 years later? That’s not impossible, but a little optimistic.

Sam Leaps To
Her Charm (from Season 2)

Favorite Dialogue
Well, I’ve already said I’m not a fan of the idea of the Kerouc scenes, but that the scenes themselves are pretty interesting anyway. I’ll pick here his advice to Becky at the end of the story…

I was talking to a friend the other day about this very subject. He was illuminating. Like a thunderstorm at midnight. And when I overheard your dilemma, on my quest for a cup of coffee, I couldn’t help but be reminded of it, and other things. On the wheel of life we all go around, we are many people at many times. We all go through phases of motion, of ocean, of the notion of living on the edge. Of life. Or of a continent. But the road is not made of asphalt, but of the people we meet. And each of us is on a different journey. And that’s okay. So sometimes it’s okay to get off the road we ride on wheels and just stay. Something will come of it. ‘Cause that’s a world worth writing about, too.

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

The Best Moment
Sam’s conversation with Ernie about his son has a sweet and sad air about it that was very well done, especially when Sam’s brother was referenced.

Previous Episode: The Great Spontini Next Episode:  A Little Miracle

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