Sam leaps into Tommy York, a naval student who is a popular athlete on the track field, in the 1960’s. Sam must prevent the death of Tommy’s former roommate, Phillip Ashcroft, who was expelled for being gay. Phillip was apparently murdered by bigoted students at their academy, but Sam eventually realizes that Phillip really committed suicide in order to frame his school tormentors. Sam prevents Phillip’s death and helps him find a way forward, while also exposing the bullies who have been causing his problems. There are significant questions throughout the story as to whether or not Tommy York himself is gay, but this is left unknown.
Written by Bobby Duncan. Directed by Bob Hulme.
In a lot of ways, Running for Honor is a pretty standard episode of Quantum Leap: Sam arrives in the midst of a wacky “fish-out-of-water” situation (right in the middle of relay race) but quickly finds a way forward. He encounters a situation in which his own modern and liberal stance clash with the values of the day. There is decent character work as Sam attempts to figure out what exactly is going wrong with the new people in his new environment, and with Al’s help must race against time to save someone’s life. All pretty well done, and all pretty much par for the course.
What makes Running for Honor notable is the caution and awkwardness it demonstrates tackling its general subject matter. Gay rights was still a pretty controversial topic in the 1990’s, and the episode’s attempts to navigate that controversy are a bit all over the show. Usually the show puts Sam and Al on the same page on important topics, and creates conflict between them so that one or both of them can learn to appreciate new perspectives in thinking, in a way that is fun and engaging.
But this time around Al just acts as a mouthpiece for a position that the episode clearly doesn’t agree with. It makes many of his scenes pretty cringeworthy, and a his eventual turnaround contrived and uncompelling. And of course his jokes about whether Sam is acting “more gay” because of the way he’s holding his hand or because of what he’s drinking. All of this makes the episode a lot less watchable than it might have been.
I also think its interesting to note how much the place where the episode finally lands on the question of whether Thomas York is gay or not (basically, that it doesn’t ultimately matter, so the question is left unanswered) is so far off from how a similar issue would be tackled today. It makes the episode feel dated, and is a reminder that what might seem enlightened or progressive one day could easily end up being pretty embarrassing in the near future.
• John Finn (Admiral Spencer) was a regular on Cold Case, and appeared in half a dozen X-Files episodes and in films such as Glory and Catch Me If You Can.
Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Thomas H. York, a student at Prescott College, a Naval college / prep school outside of Lakeside, Michigan, from July 11-14, 1964.
What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to prevent the death of former cadet Phillip Ashcroft, which involves exposing the cadets who were bullying him and others. For some reason, he also has to take Tommy to the start of the “big race” that he is participating in. It almost seems like he doesn’t leap until Al has a chance to admit he’s changed his mind about gays serving in the military.
What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Sam apparently likes tea.
What do we know about Al?
Al was in charge of tapping the beer kegs after graduation from his military college.
Al reflects on his days as a plebe: “There was no freedom, there was no sleep, there were no women. It was hell.”
What about the experiment?
There is a lot of talk about whether or not Thomas York is gay, but there is no reference at all about Al simply asking him in the Waiting Room, and no reason given as to why he cannot just do this. So from this episode alone, one might assume that York has just vanished or something while Sam is leaping into him.
Also, Al spends a lot of the episode wondering if Sam is acting “more gay” than usual, which (aside from just being generally stupid) implies that the characters (or at least Al) believe that Sam can or might adopt some of his host’s personality or characteristics during the leap. Of course, this idea has come up many times before.
“Driven by an unknown force…” (God or Time or Something)
The catchphrase is heard twice, shortly after the leap-in at the start, and again after the leap-in at the end.
Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Sam kisses Tommy’s girlfriend Karen, but it’s all pretty awkward.
The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al refers to Karen as a “choice morsel”. Blech.
• Amazing how this show keeps managing to get Sam into these insane situations upon his leap-ins. It’s one of the most entertaining aspects of the program. This time we start with him in the middle of a relay race, and end with him in the midst of a live news broadcast.
• When Sam wishes that Ziggy had more useful information to share, Al replies, “Well, if wishes were broken hearts, everybody would have ’em.” Funny.
• Later, Sam says, “Change the record!” when he wants Al to talk about something different. Was that an expression back in the 90s?
• Sam is in shape, of course, but he’s not a champion runner, which I think is good.
• The gang is going to hang a near-naked Sam! Or at least, they attempt to scare him into thinking that is what they are doing. Pretty intense.
• Ronnie’s gang of idiots all mutter against Al in an unconvincing way. I think it’s a hard time for TV to pull off dialogue for what is basically a crowd of extras, especially a mean-spirited crowd. It almost always sounds forced and fake.
• It’s kind of funny when Sam locks the plebe into the closet.
• Military music for ending credits this time around.
Sam Leaps To
I think I like Sam’s tirade against Al for his bigotry. It doesn’t exactly make sense, but it’s memorable and kind of funny.
Does drinking tea make me any less of a man than somebody who drinks coffee? I mean, is every tea drinker in the entire history of the world gay to you? Is that it? What about the Boston Tea Party? Was that like some kind of a gay boat festival or something?
Special thanks, by the way, to this site for the episode transcriptions.
The Best Moment
I didn’t love this episode, and so there aren’t many moments that I’d call great. But I guess I like Sam’s frustration at not having leapt before the end of the story: “I mean, it’s not enough that I save somebody’s life, right? I got to win the damn race too?” And then Al’s nonsense advice about how to run the race: “Look, you pump your arms and you pump your legs, and then you drive through the tape.”