Quantum Leap – Justice [4.4]

Sam leaps into Clyde (no last name given) just as he is being inducted into the Ku Klux Klan. Sam is revolted and soon discovers that Clyde himself is conflicted about it, feeling pressured to join because of his family. Sam soon discovers that he is there to prevent the forthcoming lynching of a young black activist named Nathaniel Simpson. His efforts to prevent violence ultimately fail, and in the end Sam is only able to save Nathaniel by insisting he be hung next to him–something the Klansmen, particulalry his father-in-law, are unwilling to do.

Written by Toni Graphia. Directed by Rob Bowman.

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Comments:
One of the fun things about Quantum Leap is the versatility of its format, which is often true of more procedural science fiction. Sometimes the episodes have can be primarily human drama stories, like in Play Ball, other times they can be more comedic, like A Hunting We Will Go, and still others can be more high concept science fiction, like Shock Theater. And then you’ve got the big ones, which attempt to grapple with more serious topics, and don’t do so half-heartedly, but just grab the bull by the horns an hold on no matter how much it thrashes around. And that’s what you have here with Justice, and the issues of racism, civil rights, and hate crimes.

How well does Justice handle the burdens imposed on it by its heavy subject matter? It’s hard to tell. In terms of genuinely handling the heaviness of the civil rights movements and all the injustice and pain that led to it? Probably not so much–probably there’s no possibility of a TV show that will do that flawlessly. But as an episode of Quantum Leap, given the show’s format and premise? Well, pretty good, actually.

The features Sam in the life of a young southern government worker who opts to join the KKK in the face of overwhelming societal pressure. The show never really addresses “Sam’s” cowardice in this, which might be a missed opportunity, but it does do an interesting job showing how racism isn’t just men at night in masks doing despicable acts, but it’s also day-to-day disregard for human beings during casual conversation around the dinner table. There is something about Lilly’s dismissive attitude toward her servant that is even more shocking sounding than the more overt cruelty of the town’s Klansmen.

It’s a good story choice that Sam finds himself forced to go along with all this behavior, and even participate in it. We’ve never really seen Sam so tortured by the person he is supposed to be. Some of the strongest drama of the story is Sam having to demean the people coming to his office to register to vote, and other such behavior–it’s deeply uncomfortable, but well done. Scott Bakula handles the material well, and Michael Beach has got real authenticity to him as the young activist that makes him compelling to watch.

Sam, of course, is fairly “untarnished” in that he never really has his own prejudices to grapple with. That might have been an interesting angle to explore, but even so, Justice tells a decent story with more than one gripping moment of dramatic action. It features some good performances and fulfills the promise of the show’s concept by putting Sam into an extremely difficult situation and letting him grapple with it. And it makes a game effort to tell a serious story about significant events–it may not be perfect–it does slide into some cheesy moralizing at times–but for my money that’s better than making no effort at all.

Cast Notes:
• Rob Bowman directed the episode, the only Quantum Leap that he directed. He also directed about a dozen episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, including the first episode to feature the Borg.

• Michael Beach (Nathaniel Simpson) played Black Manta’s father in the recent Aquaman movie, amongst many other roles.

• Fran Bennett (Ada Simpson) will show up in Quantum Leap again, in the three part Trilogy as Marie Billings. She was also an admiral in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Redemption II.

• Dirk Blocker (Tom) played Hitchcock in a whole lot of episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

• Glenn Morshower (Grady) was well known as Aaron Pierce in the TV series 24. He also played General Sam Lane in a handful of episodes of Supergirl, and showed up in a couple of episodes of Star Trek–specifically The Next Generation, Voyager and the movie Generations.

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Clyde (no last name given), who works in the government office that overseas voter registration. He is in the American south–it’s never specified where but it’s implied it may be Alabama. He is there on May 11th, 1965.

What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to save the life of Nathaniel Simpson and prevent him from being lynched by the Ku Klux KLan.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
The way Sam’s parents raised him taught him to fight against the kind of behavior he is seeing from the people around him on this leap.

What do we know about Al?
There’s nothing to learn this time.

What about the experiment?
Once again, Al is visible to some of the children, which he and Sam use to their advantage.

“Driven by an unknown force…” (God or Time or Something)
There are lots of references to God but none specifically to the unknown force that drives Sam’s leaps.

“Oh Boy”
The catchphrase is heard three times–once right at the start, with a very sober tone of voice, and then again after Sam hears about the lynching for the firs time. Finally, he say sit at the end of the story as we lead into the next episode.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Sam is married to Lilly, who gives him some big kisses, but it doesn’t seem to go further than that.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
I t

Other Observations
• I’ve read that this episode takes place May 11-12, 1965, but that doesn’t seem to make sense. Al tells Sam when they first see each other that its May 11th–that means Sam leapt in on the 10th or the 11th, depending what time of night Sam leapt in (it could easily be after midnight). The story goes on to takes place on one day, with Sam leeaping out that night. It is possible that the end of the story could be after midnight, but given the children present at the church, that doesn’t seem likely.

• It’s quite shocking when Cody just talks casually about niggers in the woods, and the wife’s defensive response to Sam’s reaction.

• Mr. Thompson really knows his stuff about the law, which makes sense I guess once you know that Clyde would have been trying to help him.

• “I had to try and stop one night of violence,” says Sam–a bit on-the-nose, but still a good line.

• Similarly, Sam’s big speech is a bit obvious, but well-delivered: “Because I don’t want to live in a world where fear and hate…hide behind a call for justice. Where men, women and children, born as free as you and me, are denied, among other things, the right to vote. And if they try to do anything about it, you hang ’em…or you blow ’em up in a church. They’re so proud of what they’re doin’, these dispensers of justice, that they have to hide behind masks to do it.”

• And then I like how he speaks directly to his son, Cody: “Cody, you look at me, son. This is not justice. This is merely a desperate attempt…to hang on to the past…a shameful past…that can never and should never be restored.”

• The leap-in seems pretty dramatic. Is that a gunshot? I’m not familiar with the next episode at all, so I don’t know if it’s genuinely dramatic or just a bit of a bait and switch.

• The credits run over gospel music.

Sam Leaps To
Permanent Wave

Favorite Dialogue
I like the line that Ada Simpson has about her son…

You can’t make spirits like Nathaniel’s be careful, Mr. Clyde. The Lord gives them the fire to want to change things.

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

The Best Moment
The kids’ reaction to seeing Al is pretty funny–ideas about who he is range from a ghost, an angel, the Lord, Abraham Lincoln, and a crazy white man. This is followed shortly thereafter by the church exploding, which is pretty dramatic.

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