Quantum Leap – Shock Theater [3.22]

Sam leaps into Sam Biederman, an institutionalized patient in 1954, immediately before he receives unnecessarily high electro-shock therapy from an angry orderly. This results in Sam becoming disconnected from his own personality, randomly adopting the personas of the hosts from his previous leaps. Al must find a way to help Sam complete his normal mission, and to help him leap out of the situation before the project loses touch with Sam forever.

Written by Deborah Pratt. Directed by Joe Napolitano.

Previous Episode:  Nuclear FamilyNext Episode: The Leap Back

Like in many shows, Quantum Leap hits a bit of a high point at the end of its third season. I haven’t re-watched (or in some cases, watched) seasons 4 or 5 yet, so I’m not saying this is the very highest point. But it’s a pretty amazing episode, and the sort of thing that a show like this can only pull (or should only try to pull off) about this far into its production. It’s precisely because we’ve already seen Sam and Al navigating the complexities of different peoples lives for the prior @50 episodes the change-up of the format that we see here is so effective. Suddenly, Sam’s mission takes a complete back-seat the episode’s real plot…to save Sam himself from being lost, both to history and his own confusion.

The mental asylum is a definitely a bit of a nightmare scenario for the story–filled as it is with a cruel orderly and doctors who seem more interested in the wonder of “Sam Beiderman’s” condition than they do the needs of a patient. Of course, it’s also staffed by a fairly sympathetic nurse, Nurse Chatam. It is thanks to her that Sam is able to leap, as she is the one who believes his pleadings that he should be administered another dangerously high round of shock treatment. Of course, this brings up the question of what happened to her afterward, as she basically went ahead and administered the shock without the instruction of a doctor. The episode doesn’t address what happened to her after that; nor does it say what happened to Sam Beiderman himself. Oh well, maybe Mr. Beiderman was fine after the leap and Nurse Chatam was hailed as a hero for curing him. Maybe things get explained in the following episode…we’ll see I guess.

Sam’s mission to save Tibby from a life on the streets is the most thrown away part of the story–the least believable and the most cringeworthy. Al basically sings a rap song to Tibby and his friends just one time and that’s all it takes to make sure that Tibby can read and get a job when he’s released in seven years time. Plus, the rap song itself is pretty bad (although I can imagine how fans might find it a bit of silly fun). I understand we didn’t want to take a lot of screen time on this plot point, but I think there could have been stronger ways achieve the key story event, which is just that Al is able to help complete the original mission of the leap without Sam’s help.

But in the end it doesn’t really matter, because no matter how under-developed that plotline is, it doesn’t take away from the main appeal of the episode, which is Scott Bakula’s incredible performance as Sam, randomly disassociating himself into his various identities. Whether he is Samantha Stormer or Jessy Tyler or Signalman First Class “Magic” Williams, or even just a confused and terrified Sam Beckett, he is outstanding. Each personality is rock solid, and Bakula well keeps up with the script’s demands. It is quite possibly the best work I have ever seen from Scott Bakula as an actor.

Put this bravura performance into a story whose dilemma is so fresh and meaningful for fans of the show–building as it does on the show’s heritage while twisting it in new directions–and the result is a genuinely memorable episode. The image of Al fading away really emphasizes how dire Sam’s situation is. And we really feel the helplessness of Dean Stockwell’s Al as he is forced to plead to the mystified Sam to do what he needs to do in order to survive.

It all adds up to first rate science fiction drama, and is a strong contender for the very best episode of the series, in spite of its minor weaknesses.

Cast Notes:
• Scott Lawrence (Tibby Johnson) had a small role in Star Trek Into Darkness, is a regular voice on Star Wars Resistance (as Jarek Yeager, a character I do not know but I’m sure that my kids do or soon will) and has played Darth Vader in loads of video games going all the back to 1994!

• Robert Symonds (Dr. Wickless) played a highly misguided Vedek (Bajoran priest) in a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode called Accession.

• Candy Ann Brown makes her first of two appearances on the show as Dr. Virbina Beeks, the head psychiatrist at Project Quantum Leap, who has been mentioned earlier in the series.

• Howard Johnson (Jesse Tyler, The Color of Truth), LaReine Chabut (Samantha Stormer, What Price Gloria?), and Brad Silverman (Jimmy, Jimmy) all reappear from previous episodes as hallucinations that Sam sees in the mirror.

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Sam Beiderman, a patient at Havenwell Hospital in Havenwell, Pennsylvania, from October 3-4, 1954.

What does Sam have to do?
Sam’s mission is assumed to be to help fellow patient Tibido “Tibby” Johnson learn to read so he can be more successful at work when he is released from the hospital in the future. However, because of the what’s happened to him, in order to actually leap Sam needs to get himself subjected to the same dangerous shock treatment as before.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
None of this is new, but several bits of backstory are restated here: Sam has got seven degrees, including one in medicine and one is in quantum physics (and Al calls him a quantum physicist). He is from Elk Ridge, Indiana. Sam used to hate rap music.

Al gave Sam his first break, and Sam brought Al into Project Quantum Leap. Al describes Sam as the only person who believed in him when he gave up on believing himself.

A few years earlier from Al’s point of view, he and Sam were fooling around with a rap song and put it into Ziggy’s memory banks.

What do we know about Al?
See the comments above about Al’s friendship and history with Sam.

What about the experiment?
Patients in the mental institution, including Tibby, whom Al describes as having mild Down’s Syndrome, joins dogs and children on the list of who can see Al (and Sam as he really is).

Al mentions that Sam Beiderman in the Waiting Room looks bad, so he can obviously see the guy as he really is.

Al claims that the project is 43 years in the future, which would make it 1997 (six years after this episode aired).

Al reminds of us how the project works: Sam built a time machine called Project Quantum Leap, and now he relives pieces of other people’s lives, while he is a hologram attuned to Sam’s mind.

Ziggy and Gushie (the programmer) are referred to as normal, but also Dr. Beeks, the Project “shrink”. She’s been referred to beore, but she is seen here for the first time. She and Sam can only see each other if she is touching Al (because she is not tuned to Sam’s brain waves), but even when touching they cannot hear each other.

Sam shifting in his personality causes the Project to have difficulty maintaining contact with him, meaning that they have to use extra power to keep Al’s hologram present.

Al is able to get a rap song from Ziggy’s memory banks to play through his handlink.

Lightning hits as Sam leaps, leading Al to leap as well (and the two of them to trade states). This will presumably be explored more in the following episode.

“Driven by an unknown force…” (God or Time or Something)
There are no particular references to the question of what is making Sam leap, even as Al re-describes the overall experiment to the conused Sam.

“Oh Boy”
The catchphrase said by Al and Sam together in the final moments of the episode, after they find they have switched places in the latest leap.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Sam doesn’t connect to anyone in this episode.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
A couple of Al’s lines mention his pre-occupation with women. He says he hopes Sam is there for a cute nurse, and wishes that blondes could see him (instead of children, animals, and mentally disturbed people).

Other Observations
• This episode has one of the most gripping openings ever, although perhaps not quite as intense as Last Dance Before an Execution a couple of episodes earlier.

• Very meaningful line said by the medical workers at the start: “Oh, what happened to Mr. Beederman happens to lots of people,” and “Yeah. They get committed and then go crazy.”

• Funny line from Al: “You’re in Havenwell Hospital for ‘a cute… a cute…’ I hope it’s a nurse…’Acute depression.'”

• I like the way that Sam, in his misery, laments, “I don’t know anyone. And I don’t care what he says I don’t have to help anybody do anything. I don’t. I don’t.”

• The personalities that Sam adopts are Samantha Stormer (What Price, Gloria?), Jessy Tyler (The Color of Truth), Signalman First Class Herbert Williams (The Leap Home Part 2 – Vietnam), Captain Tom Stratton (Genesis), Clarence “Kid” Cody (The Right Hand of God) and Jimmy LaMotta (Jimmy).

• In addition, clips from The Color of Truth, The Leap Home, and The Leap Home Part 2 – Vietnam are seen.

• The rap aside, this is a good episode for al. I like it when he warns Tibby not to reveal that he can see him: “Don’t you say anything, or they-they’re gonna put you in a hole so deep under this place, you’ll never get out.”

• And Al does a good job guiding the disturbed Sam, as best he can, in his various guises, especially when he thinks he’s in Vietnam.

• Tibby’s story is sad: “I used to get real bad headaches when I was little.I-It used to make me crazy. My folks brought me here to get fixed. They never came back. Too many kids, not enough food. I-I’m not mad at them, though. I’m not.”

• And I enjoy the exchange between Tibby and Al about the future: “Well, what is it like in the future?…I mean, is it…Is it real clean? Are there cars that float on air?” Tibby asks. Al replies, “No, uh, the air is filthy and the cars are still on the ground. But we’re working on it, Tibby.”

• “Jesse Tyler’s” reaction to Al talking about Sam leaping is cool: “I can’t leap. Son, I can’t hardly walk. I got the rheumatism, you know?” It’s also funny when Sam as Jesse fins himself recognizing the subatomic structure of a quark. “What the hell is a quark?” But quarks are entirely sub-atomic…does it make sense to mention the sub-atomic structure, as if there was another type?

• It’s a touching moment when Sam, in a moment of near-clarity says, “So, uh…So I’m a good guy?” and Al replies, “Oh, yeah, you’re a damn good guy.”

• Very cute when Sam sees Jimmy in the mirror.

Sam Leaps To
The Leap Back

Favorite Dialogue
As is often the case, the best line is one of Al’s, said in this case as he is trying to protect Sam from the local psychiatrists:

Because this nozzle here can’t see me and I don’t want him to think you’re even more crazy than he already thinks. So please, just let Dracula here finish drinking your brain.

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

The Best Moment
There are many good moments, but maybe the best is when Sam first reveals that he is changing personalities: “I’m Sam…mantha Stormer….” It’s a very effective reveal.

Previous Episode:  Nuclear FamilyNext Episode: The Leap Back

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