Quantum Leap – Last Dance Before an Execution [3.19]

Sam leaps into Jesus Ortega, a death row inmate with only 48 hours to live. A lawyer from the prosecutor’s office, Tearsa Lorrea, secretly helps Jesus, believing him and his fellow defendant, Raul Casta, are innocent. Sam and Al help her to dig up new evidence, but it only confirms that Jesus is guilty. Immediately prior to his execution, Al discovers the truth and has Sam confess to the murder but exonerate Raul, as the real Jesus committed the crime on his own. He also helps to expose the corrupt District Attorney (and gubernatorial candidate). Sam leaps just before Jesus is executed.

Teleplay by Deborah Pratt. Story by Bill Bigelow & Donald P. Bellisario & Deborah Pratt. Directed by Michael Watkins.

Previous Episode: A Hunting We Will GoNext Episode: Heart of a Champion

Comments:
Last Dance Before an Execution gets going with probably the most intense and memorable “cold open” leap-ins that the show has ever made use of: Sam is literally being strapped to an electric chair, his death sentence about to be carried out. The scene that follows, with the phone ringing in the background as all the necessary pre-execution procedures are being carried out, is gripping (even though the outcome of the phone call is not surprising).

This then goes into one of Scott Bakula’s best performances as the legitimately terrified and traumatized Sam. Throughout this episode he is more desperate and agitated than usual, a fitting response considering how high the stakes are and how powerless he is in the face of them. Ultimately, as far as Sam is concerned, the episode is about his own personal question of faith–he has to endure his situation, which he does by grasping hold of the idea that somehow he will succeed. “I’ve done everything that has been asked of me. And I believe that I am not going to die in that chair,” he says. And then later, “I believe that God or time or whoever is testing my faith has not forgotten me…”

But in the face of failure and imminent death, his steady demeanor fails him and he casts about desperately for answers. And at the end, when Sam has completed his task and it appears he is still about to be executed, he finally descends into a a sort of helpless fugue: “It’s time go home, Al…” Even though we know Sam is not going to die, it’s quite fascinating to watch. Really, one of the best things about Quantum Leap is the way Sam identifies with the emotions of his host–this is just another example of that, albeit a more extreme one.

The episode is not perfect. There is a bit of simplistic take on the politics of the characters, for example, with a bit of a shallow presentation of evil conservatives and (presumed, as they are off-screen) good liberals. But the twist that Jesus Ortega is actually guilty of the murder that he’s been accused of helps to bring in some interesting additional dimensions into the story. And though the final victory comes a little out of nowhere, with Al just showing up with all the answers, and moves along very quickly. But the intensity of the situation helps to keep it all compelling nonetheless.

All in all, it’s a very strong episode. Given that it follows A Hunting We Will Go, that makes two very strong episodes in a row–even though they are wildly different from one another.

Cast Notes:
• James Sloyan (Theodore Moody) appeared in a variety of Star Trek episodes, including in as Dr. Mora Pol (the scientist who “raised” Odo) in two episodes of Deep Space Nine .

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Jesus Ortega, a death row inmate imprisoned in Tallahassee, Florida, from May 12-14, 1971.

What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to ultimately prevent Jesus’ friend Raul Casta from being executed for a crime he was innocent of, and to expose District Attorney Theodore Moody for his corruption and prevent him from ruining the career of his assistant, Tearsa Lorrea.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Nothing really this time.

What do we know about Al?
Nothing really this time.

What about the experiment?
Al describes Jesus in the Waiting Room as being 25 years in the future from where Sam is. Dr. Beeks is present helping with Jesus, who believes he is already dead. He implies that because of this, it was not easy to find Sam in history.

Ziggy is able to modify the sensors on the hand link so that it will work as a metal detector. Ziggy is able to center on Tearsa’s brainwaves to provide a “clearer sensory base to pull from”, as long as she is there when Al is trying to use the modified device.

Ziggy is able to modify the sensors on the hand link so that it will work as a metal detector, something that wasn’t easy to do. Ziggy is able to center on Tearsa’s brainwaves to provide a “clearer sensory base to pull from”, as long as she is there when Al is trying to use the modified device.

At the end, Al implores Sam to leap before it’s too late, as if it was under his control (though presumably he’s just desperate that Sam not die)

“Driven by an unknown force…” (God or Time or Something)
God figures highly in the episode–the murder victim is a Catholic priest, and both Jesus and Raul have religious backgrounds. So to does Tearsa Lorrea, who spends time in the church praying. Al says “Thank God” when he sees that Tearsa is still at the church, and asks her facetiously to pray that they would find the bullet that they believe will exonerate Sam.

The young girl, Maria, believes that Al is an angel since nobody else can see them (a belief Al capitalizes on).

Sam himself says, “Oh God,” when he first believes he is going to be executed. Later, he has a conversation with a priest about whether he believes that God has abandoned him–Sam maintains his certainty that God has not abandoned him and is not too busy to care for him, and that God is not going to let him die in the chair. Also, as Sam is being placed into the chair the second time, Sam says that he believes “God or time or whoever is testing my faith” has not forgotten him.

Sam also briefly wonders if the reason he has not leaped at one point is because he is “being given” a chance to say goodbye to Tearsa before he leaves.

“Oh Boy”
The catchphrase is heard only once, at the end as Sam makes the next leap into Heart of a Champion.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Sam is close to Tearsa in this episode but there is nothing romantic going on.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al ogles Tearsa, but that’s about it. (Although when he says, “If I had had an attorney like that when I was in court, I’d still be in court,” he is presumably talking about divorce court from one of his many wives.)

Other Observations
• Cool effect of holographic Al walking through the jail bars.

• You know Sam is losing it when he starts talking to Tearsa as himself: “I’m still here because something isn’t right.” and “I don’t belong here, Tearsa. I’m not the man who killed that priest.”

• I wasn’t sure what I thought about Jenny Gago as Tearsa at first–she didn’t seem natural to me. But as the story went on she grew on me, and eventually she delivered some great material. I like her face-off with Sam when she believes he has betrayed her, with lines like, “No, you try and explain it to me! You try and explain to me what you were doing when you were preaching to me about my dignity. About my responsibility to all those Cubans that were repressed by the American system! You used me!” And then to make it even better, she slaps him!

• And then later to her boss, she says, “It’s hard to be loyal to the devil.”

• Sam has an odd voice-over as he is being led into the execution chamber again: “I am not here. I am not standing in this room facing these people. This is not happening. I don’t smell the stench of death or feel this insane terror that is choking me a thousand times more than it did two days ago….”

• It’s not stated but presumably Al got the real Jesus Ortega to confess and give all that information he shows up with. Salvation in this episode literally comes from the future.

Sam Leaps To
Heart of a Champion

Favorite Dialogue
There’s quite a bit of good stuff in this one. After consideration, I’ve picked as an example Moody’s cruel taunting to Sam:

No, you try and explain it to me! You try and explain to me what you were doing when you were preaching to me
about my dignity. About my responsibility to all those Cubans that were repressed by the American system! You used me!

Are you going to…dance before your execution, Jesus?…It’s an old prison saying, that a man on his final walk to the chair, the stench of fear chokes him and he panics, struggling in the arms of his captor for one more moment of freedom. Some people say it looks like a dance. The last dance before death. Romantic, don’t you think?

It’s a pretty intense little moment.

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

The Best Moment
There are quite a few but I think my favorite is the cute scene of Al talking to the little girl in church, and using her to get Tearsa’s attention.

Alternatively, I’ll go with the opening bit where Sam leaps in just as he is about to be executed. That’s an amazing sequence!

Previous Episode: A Hunting We Will GoNext Episode: Heart of a Champion

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