Quantum Leap – The Last Gunfighter [4.14]

Sam leaps into Tyler Means, an 82 year old former gunfighter who gets by through tales of his famous exploits, especially the story of a notable gunfight. However, he is suddenly confronted by Pat Knight, a man from Tyler’s past, who claims to be the real gunfighting skill behind Tyler’s legend, and is out for revenge for the way that Tyler has dishonored him through his stories. Sam finds himself having to face a real gunfighter in a genuine shoot-out on a dusty Western street.

Teleplay by Sam Rolfe and Chip Ruppenthal. Story by Sam Rolfe. Directed by Joe Napolitano

Previous Episode:  Temptation EyesNext Episode:  A Song for the Soul

The Last Gunfighter is one of the less satisfying episodes of Quantum Leap that I’ve seen, which is a shame because for much of the run-time it’s got a lot going for it. It’s a fun story that cooks up a bunch of reasons for everyone to be dressed up in “old West” clothes and for the local sheriff to be allowing a lethal gunfight to play out on his city street. It’s all goofy nonsense of course, but once it gets past all that it manages to tell such an immersive Western tale that you can almost forget it’s all meant to be happening in Sam’s lifetime (1957, to be specific).

And the acting and characterization are good, particularly John Anderson as the angry and embittered Pat Knight. He is a colorful character with loads of personality. His relentless determination to take back his honor by facing Tyler in a genuine duel creates some pretty gripping stakes: try as he might, Sam simply cannot find a way to avoid having to face Knight on the street, even though he is hopelessly outclassed as a marksman. As the episode pushes toward its climax, the tension ratchets up, since we genuinely can’t see how Sam is going to get out of this one.

And this is where the disappointment comes, because it turns out that the episode has written itself into a corner. Sam ultimately prevails by being the faster draw. In other words, he is simply able to do better at the very thing that the whole episode had spent saying he wasn’t very good at. Now, the idea that it might be possible that he’d be quicker was set up by a brief comment earlier in the story, but nowhere did it justify the idea that just because Sam drew his gun most rapidly, Pat would simply give up (Sam didn’t shoot Pat, after all). And more than giving up, Pat seems to change personality at that moment, as he suddenly agrees to everything he was refusing to do a couple of scenes earlier: letting bygones be bygones and agreeing to work with Tyler for their mutual success.

It’s a happy ending, but one of the least justified I’ve seen from the show, which takes what was shaping up to be a decent episode and turns it into one of the most forgettable.

Cast Notes:
• John Anderson (Pat Knight) was Kevin Uxbridge in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, The Survivors.

• Kenneth Tigar (Ben Steiner) has appeared in all sorts of shows I’ve seen at one point or another–Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, The West Wing, Wonder Woman, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, The Flash, Growing Pains, Magnum P.I., Simon & Simon, Bosom Buddies, Barney Miller and more. He also had a small part in The Avengers as “German Old Man.”

Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is Tyler Means, a former gunfighter living in Coffin, Arizona, from November 28-29, 1957.

What does Sam have to do?
Sam has to prevent Tyler from being killed by his former partner at Pat Knight during a shootout.

What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Nothing new except that Sam is obviously not particularly good with a gun.

What do we know about Al?
We just learn about his history with Fifi “Boom-Boom” LaRue–see “The Many Loves of Al Calavicci” below.

What about the experiment?
This isn’t anything new, but the show hasn’t always remembered the idea of the Waiting Room. This time around we hear that Al has been talking to Tyler in the Waiting Room, and that Tyler has received a physical while he is there.

Also, a comment on the way time travel works in this episode–at one point, Sam makes a plan, and without actually doing anything, Al is able to tell him how that works out historically. If this was always the case it should mean that Sam could always go into any situation knowing what the result is, unless he achieves his goal always by means of a last-minute desperate burst of creativity or innovation.

“Driven by an unknown force…” (God or Time or Something)
There are no references, although at one point someone sees him talking to Al and assumes (or hopes) that he is praying.

“Oh Boy”
The catchphrase is heard at the beginning (in the classic fashion), and then again when Pat Knight arrives on the scene.

Sam’s Complicated Love Life
Sam, living the life of an 82 year old, doesn’t have any romantic connections in this episode.

The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Al ogles a good looking actress. He learned to quick-draw from Fifi “Boom-Boom” LaRue, a stripper who used a pair of pistols in her act.

Other Observations
• November 28, 1957

• I like Al’s line after Sam wakes up from his drunken night: “Now, are we in the head-pounding stage…or in the spinning, rising waves of nausea?.” Sam replies, “Take your pick.”

• Al teaching Sam to shoot is pretty funny.

Sam Leaps To
A Song for the Soul

Favorite Dialogue
Sam asks Pat if he would really kill somebody over a point of pride. Pat’s reply is gold:

What the hell else did we ever have?

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

The Best Moment
The best is definitely when Sam is trying to befriend Pat by drinking with him and reminiscing about their past adventures. Sam even makes something up about stealing horses from a guy with cute daughters. When Pat admits he can’t recall that, Sam says that maybe he saw that in a movie or something. Its fun stuff.

Previous Episode:  Temptation EyesNext Episode:  A Song for the Soul


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