As a thirteen year old on a road trip with his family, Sam realizes he must prevent his “mother,” Emma, from leaving his family without a trace. Initially suspecting that the unhappy woman ran away with a former romantic interest, Sam desperately tries to keep his mother away from her old friend, but to no avail. He also tries to persuade his “father”, Hank to recognize his wife’s need to have a life outside of her home. It all seems destined to ail until it is revealed that in the original history, Emma did not run away with another man but rather slipped over a cliff and died while on the vacation. Using this knowledge, Sam is able to get Hank to help him save her life, which brings Hank and Emma back together again.
Written by Paul Brown. Directed by Michael Katleman
I quite enjoyed Runaway for a few different reasons. First of all, the set up was quite novel for the show, with Sam leaping into a 13 year old–his youngest host ever, even younger than when Sam leapt into himself. Being Butchie Rickett presents Sam a new variety of helplessness, and forces him into a new degree of empathy with the lives of others.
Second, I really enjoyed the character work. There aren’t many figures populating this story, but all the ones that we have are well used and quite clearly written. This is especially true with Butchie’s parents, Hank and Emma. Both Sherman Howard and Sandy Faison are excellent as the couple. Really, they are the stars of the episode, doing great work as a husband and wife who love each other but are failing to connect on any meaningful level. The whole family road trip scenario is a great vehicle to force all these tensions to the surface.
Third, I enjoy the misdirect that is baked into the plot. Al’s conclusion that Emma runs away with her former boyfriend seems completely plausible, and indeed we spend a lot of the episode wondering if the “twist” is going to be that it is right for Emma to leave her husband. Hank is indeed written as a capital jerk–an outdated clod who is completely out-of-step with his wife’s needs, and in general with modern society’s understanding that women might enjoy meaningful activity out of a domestic setting–and so it seems perfectly reasonable that she might enjoy the company of somebody else.
Indeed, I think if the show were being produced today, it’d have been hard to write somebody as offensive as Hank and still have him turn out to be basically the hero of the story. But that’s where the episode surprised me–instead of crafting Hank so unpleasantly so the episode could easily write him off as an irredeemable pig, we get to see realize what he’s on the verge of losing, and to demonstrate a kind of courage of commitment that Emma’s other suitor turns out to be missing.
Of course, the process of this change is quite thinly told, with it all coming down to one moment of near-disaster. But because the scene itself is told so well–brimming with nail-biting suspense, even though we are pretty sure Sam is going to succeed in rescuing Emma from the cliff–we easily accept it as the crux of the change of relationship with between Hank and Emma.
And then to top it off, we get the hilarious sequence of Sam finally getting his host set free of the torment he receives from his older sister. It’s probably really inappropriate–Sam holds a teenage girl upside down over a well. But it’s very funny.
• Sherman Howard (Hank Rickett) was the second Lex Luthor on the Superboy TV series, and also had appearances in both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space Nine.
Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Butchie Rickett, a 13 year old boy on a road trip that goes from Carbon County Wyoming into Colorado, on July 4, 1964 (I read somewhere that this episode extends to July 5, but I don’t necessarily agree).
What does Sam have to do?
Sam has ultimate save Emma Rickett’s life, preventing her from falling off a cliff, and thus preventing the breakdown of her family. In the end, it seems he must also stop Butchie’s older sister Alexendra from continuously terrorizing her little brother.
What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
When Sam was 11 or 12 years old, he spent a summer vacation with his family traveling across the USA in a station wagon.
What do we know about Al?
Al references his mother leaving his father, and says that his father wasn’t there for his mother so he could sometimes understand that. But his mother also left Al and his sister Trudy, and Al could never understand that.
What about the experiment?
Nothing in particular is revealed this time around.
God or Time or Something
Sam wonders if it might be fate that Emma keeps running into Billy.
The catchphrase is heard at the end of the teaser, as Sam realizes he’s become a child.
Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Though Billy’s daughter Beth seems to take a bit of a shine to Butchie, nothing comes of it, and so Sam does not get involved with anyone.
The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
There’s no particular reference in this episode. Al doesn’t even spend any time leering at anyone in this story.
• Sam’s narration makes references to different sorts that he’s run into: bikers (Rebel Without a Clue), mobsters (Double Identity and other), and psychotic killers (several times, including Honeymoon Express and Blind Faith) that he’s run into…but none as bad a big sister
• I think it’s strange that Sam at times has this strange habit of just blabbing about about future–in this case, mentioning the upcoming feminist revolution from The Feminine Mystique by. Betty Friedan
• Butchie’s sister moves right through Al, which is pretty funny looking
• Butchie’s sister moves right through Al, which is pretty funny looking. Later, you get the amusing image of Al just floating outside the car window as it drives down the street, and a pretty funny “double conversation” that Sam has with both Al and Alexandra simultaneously.
• Sam reacts to leaping into someone so young: “I’m old enough to be my own father.”
• Emma and Billy start quoting the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet to each other–pretty cringe-worthy!
• A contender for my favorite dialogue of the episode was the slight moment when Sam responds to Beth’s query of what grade he was in (something he was obviously unaware of): “Uh, I’m, uh, I’m between grades. It’s the summer.”
• Al throws in this funny line after he gets Al to chuck Billy’s contact details out the window: “Okay, good, and now
don’t ever litter again. This is just a special case this time.”
• Not for the first time, the episode brings up the oddness of when Sam leaps into someone who is clearly of a different size and weight than he is. Clearly, Sam is much taller than Butchie would be. The show’s solution for this discrepancy is usually to not highlight it whenever they can avoid it, and to ignore it when they cannot. Also, one presumes Sam would be much heavier than Butchie, which would come into play in the whole cilmactic scene as Hank has to lower him by rope, and then pull both Sam and Emma back up from the cliff face. It makes Hank’s actions seem even more epic than before.
• Similarly, Sam is able to physically down his father in a way that Butchie probably could not have, nor could Butchie have threatened Alexandra like Sam does.
• At one point, when they are are on their run, it sounds like Hank calls his son “Sam”. But I guess he’s just saying, “son.”
• It’s sweet that Hank carries Emma during their dance.
Sam Leaps To
I think the most memorable line is Al talking about the impact of his mother leaving.
My dad wasn’t there for my mom. So sometimes I could understand that she left him. But she left Trudy and me, too, and I could never understand that.
Special thanks, by the way, to this site for the episode transcriptions.
The Best Moment
There are a few good moments but I think my favorite is the whole climax, with Sam and Hank scrambling to save Emma from death. It’s a very well directed sequence that is full of tension–even though we know Sam and Emma aren’t going to die, it really seems impossible that the efforts to save her will succeed.