Quantum Leap: Season Five

It had been awhile since I watched season five, and some of it was better than I remembered. Unfortunately, some of it was worse.

Celebrity leaps

The Kennedy assassination? What were they thinking? ("Lee Harvey Oswald," 5.1 and 5.2.)

Quantum Leap always played with celebrity encounters as cute little supplemental by-the-ways and isn't-this-fun, like Buddy Holly and Michael Jackson, and honestly, I totally understand their desire to try something new, to do a high concept two-part episode. But "Lee Harvey Oswald" was terrible, uncharacteristically grim and unforgivably dull. Quantum Leap is a science fiction adventure show with a great deal of humor and charm. It is not a documentary.

Not to mention that Quantum Leap's raison d'etre is to fix "what once went wrong." How on earth could they possibly fix the Kennedy assassination without changing a massive event in American history? Having Sam save Jackie Kennedy, who died in the original history, was an interesting twist, but it was also a cop-out. Especially when you consider what Jackie did with her life after Jack Kennedy's untimely death. (No judgment there, honestly. I'm just saying.)

It also felt wrong to see Sam so affected and influenced by the person he leaped into that he couldn't change anything, and it's telling that this was the only way they could make the script work. We all know that if Sam had been himself, he would have found some way to stop the assassination. I understand from the internet that Donald Bellisario believed that Oswald acted alone and that it was the point he was trying to get across. And I will respond by saying that a show like Quantum Leap was not the place to do it.


"Goodbye, Norma Jean" (5.18) didn't work either, despite a good performance by Susan Griffiths as Marilyn and some enjoyable faux cameos by actors playing Clark Gable, John Huston and Peter Lawford. The big question for me again was, why? What did Sam put right that once went wrong? Supposedly, Marilyn needed to live a little bit longer and do one last film, and if The Misfits had been one of the greats, I would get it, but honestly, it's not a great film. If they had to do Marilyn, wouldn't it have been great if Sam had kept her from committing suicide earlier in her life?

The other two celebrity leaps this season were outright fun, though, and those did work.

I loved Scott Bakula doing an actual impression of "Dr. Ruth" (5.14) in an episode that featured the real Dr. Ruth Westheimer. While the double entendres were uncomfortably thick on the ground, it was pretty much the perfect celebrity leap to illustrate the differences between the reserved and prudish Sam, who had a terrible time doing a radio show about sex, and Al, who didn't hesitate to avail himself of free sex therapy in the Waiting Room with Dr. Ruth herself. We also got a timely reminder that Al has been married five times, and that he still loves his first wife, Beth.

I also enjoyed "Memphis Melody" (5.21) where Sam leaped into a young Elvis Presley. It was so much better than Lee Harvey Oswald and Marilyn Monroe because it wasn't depressing, and Scott Bakula got to sing as Elvis. Very nice. Especially his version of "Amazing Grace." (Which is not what they're singing in the photo below.)


Movie tributes

One of Quantum Leap's constant go-tos was movie tributes and/or ripoffs. In "Leaping of the Shrew" (5.3), Quantum Leap did The Blue Lagoon, and they even got Brooke Shields to guest star. You'd think that wouldn't work, but it was actually pretty darned cute. They also did Coming Home in "Nowhere to Run" (5.4), and it even guest starred an adorable pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston. But honestly, the way they got around Sam walking around while he was supposed to missing his legs was pretty darned weird.


Points for trying

I liked the idea behind "Trilogy" (5.8, 5.9 and 5.10), an interesting twist in the formula where Sam leaped into three different people while trying to save the same person, Abagail Fuller. It was almost like they finally addressed the "what happened to the person Sam saved later on" question. But the story acquired a mildly incestuous feel when Sam went from being Abagail's father figure in part one to her fiance in part two. And the idea of Sam fathering a child while not in his own body was interesting, but also weird. Although I did like the idea of Sam's brilliant daughter Sammy Jo helping out at the Quantum Leap project. Were they thinking about casting her as a permanent character? That could have been fun.

I also liked "Killin' Time" (5.5), where Sam leaped into a serial killer and had to explain the truth about the Quantum Leap project to his hostages.The best part about it was that there was actually action at the project in alternate universe 1999 as the killer escaped and Al took off after him, while Gooshie had to replace Al in the imaging chamber. I'll admit that the face paint, neon decoration and strange computer stuff didn't work, mostly because we all know now that 1999 didn't look like that. Maybe I should have taken that to mean that all of Quantum Leap happened in an alternate universe?

I wasn't as crazy about "The Leap Between the States" (5.20), the first and only time that Sam leaped out of his own lifetime, inhabiting his great-grandfather and romancing his great-grandmother back in 1862. It might have been a little better if they'd managed to resist white savior syndrome.

"Promised Land" (5.11) was a nice idea in theory, popping Sam back to his own home town with people he grew up with. Maybe a little hokey, but at least he got to see his late father one last time. But couldn't we have spent time with Sam's family again instead of getting stuck in a bank for the entire episode?

No points for trying

And then we had the evil leaper. (5.7 "Deliver Us From Evil," 5.16 "Return of the Evil Leaper," 5.17 "Revenge of the Evil Leaper")

Okay. I can see where the writers would have hit on the idea of an evil counterpart to Sam, but I thought it made absolutely no sense and was in fact never explained. Was Satan carrying on a Quantum Leap project of his own to put wrong what once went right? Although it was nice to see the characters from season two's "Jimmy" again and the carrying on in the women's prison was sort of fun, it just didn't work for me. Plus Alia's existence made Sam non-unique, which is something you don't want to do with your lead. The evil leaper concept didn't deserve to take up three full episodes of their final season.

The series finale

I hadn't seen "Mirror Image" (5.22), the final episode of Quantum Leap, since it aired, and was really looking forward to it because I remembered how choked up I was by that last scene with Beth and that final card about what ultimately happened to Sam. Unfortunately, I am sad to report that I found the rest of "Mirror Image" to be sub-par.

Sam arrived in a barroom at the moment he was born, and for the first time, when he looked into a mirror, he saw himself. That was actually a powerful scene, and it was touching that his hair had started to become gray. There were many scenes in the barroom in the coal mining town of Cokesburg that included actors from previous episodes playing other characters. I'm sure they were going for some sort of huge metaphorical what's-is with the mine collapse, but I just didn't get it.

I also thought it was sad that, even though the resolution of the series was all about Al Calavicci, we saw too little of him in the finale. Instead, we got Bruce McGill as the enigmatic Al the bartender, who kept giving Sam clues about what's going on. Was this new Al supposed to represent the God who had sent Sam on this strange journey? I suppose so.


We also learned that it was always Sam's unconscious choice to keep leaping, that his leaps would become more difficult, and at this point, Sam could choose to go home. The fact that Sam chose instead to leap back to the end of "M.I.A." and change Al's life forever was by far the best part of this mishmosh of an episode. Sam's ultimate choice was a selfless expression of love for his closest friend. It was also a radical, series-changing choice, breaking all of the rules we've come to accept as governing Sam's leaps. It was emotionally satisfying, though. So like Sam to give such a huge gift to someone else instead of taking advantage of his one last opportunity to go home. Tragic.

That last title card, "Dr. Sam Becket never returned home," really got to me way back when it first aired in May of 1993. This time, when I saw it, the one big thing that struck me was that in their rush to close down their series, they spelled their lead character's name wrong. (It's "Beckett," with two T's.) Maybe they made that mistake because "Mirror Image" wasn't supposed to be the series finale and they were forced to tack on an ending.

While that last scene with Beth, and its implications, were a worthy end to the series, and I loved the idea of Al happily married to the love of his life, the thought of a sad and exhausted Sam choosing to continue leaping forever was emotionally wrenching. In a way, it also negated everything that happened in the entire series. The Al Calavicci that helped Sam on every step of his journey is no longer the same Al Calavicci. I guess I need to remind myself that I must never try to apply logic to time travel stories.

Bits and pieces:

-- The credits for season five featured a new arrangement of the original theme song. It was terrible. Awful. Blech.

-- Notable actors: Neil Patrick Harris, age twenty, in "Return of the Evil Leaper," Stephen Root in "Goodbye Norma Jean," Hinton Battle from the Buffy musical in "Revenge of the Evil Leaper," and Meg Foster of the amazing eyes in "Trilogy."

-- Bruce McGill, who played Al in the series finale "Mirror Image," was also in "Genesis," the pilot episode. That was a nice touch, since I assume it was deliberate.

-- I hadn't known this until I looked it up, but Susan Griffiths ("Goodbye, Norma Jean") has made a career out of playing Marilyn Monroe. And Michael St. Gerard, "Memphis Melody," played Elvis several other times as well.

-- Just a general observation: when I was finished my rewatch, I figured out what years Sam leaped into the most, and which months of the year. There were very few winter leaps, which makes sense since they filmed in Los Angeles. It also makes sense that the writers would mostly choose the 1950s and 1960s because they could do more interesting period stuff. The year Sam leaped into the most was 1957 (seven times).

And in the end:

Despite this mostly negative closing review, I enjoyed rewatching Quantum Leap more than I thought I would. It was a creative series that aired at a time when there was very little quality science fiction on television, and the two lead characters and the actors who played them were exceptional. There's also no question that Quantum Leap is showing its age a bit sooner than it probably should.

There are a lot of series revivals going on right now. What would a reboot of Quantum Leap be like? I bet that in today's "it's all about the arc" environment, they could go in some truly interesting directions.

What do you guys think?
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Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.

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