A Casual TV Fan's Guide
Quantum Leap: The Complete Fifth Season, part two
Rated: N/A :: Air dates: 1992-1993
By Dan Toland
14 August 2008 — So the last time we did this thing, we got to see a show that was getting on in age, making all kinds of panic moves to rejuvenate itself. And on the whole, most of these moves worked in the short-term. There were some very good episodes on the first two discs. However, the charm of the show has been compromised to some extent. By this point, longtime fans were starting to grumble and drift away, and the new viewers, while beginning to trickle in, weren't flowing in fast enough to replace them.
Trilogy: Part Two (For Your Love): June 14, 1966
Writer: Deborah Pratt
The Plot: It's been 11 years since Sam protected Abigail Fuller; now he's returned as Will, her fiancée, to save her once more. And like before, she's involved in the disappearance of a child.
Good Stuff: The guest cast from "Trilogy: Part One" has by and large carried over, and they were a good one on the whole. Particularly welcome is Stephen Lee, radiating warmth as Sheriff Bo Loman, who had been Sam's deputy in the last episode.
Sam is getting fed up. He's falling in love with Abigail, and he just wants to stay where he is and stop leaping around.
Sam: It's not fair.
Al: All right! It's not fair! Who ever said it was fair? You're here to save Abigail. You saved her once before. You've gotta do it again. That's it.
Sam: Why me?!
Al: Because you're a hero.
That exchange shouldn't work, but it does. I honestly never thought of Sam as a hero before now, despite the fact that he's saved dozens of lives by this point, because he's so self-effacing and unassuming. This is a case of two astonishing actors rising above a melodramatic exchange and doing something meaningful with it.
Not So Good Stuff: I'm going to say this once, and then I'm going to drop it. Today, Sam is in love with Abigail. Yesterday, he was her dad.
This episode suffers from the same "grieving mother equals shrieking harpy" syndrome the first part did. Again, of course a worried parent is going to be upset. But either find some way to write them sympathetically or get some better actresses in.
Speaking of which, Mary Gordon Murray is back. She's barely toned down this time, but she's still not doing anything for me.
You would think, that after five seasons, when Al says, "You need to go do this thing," Sam would just go do the thing and not argue. But no, Sam always knows better than Al, despite Al having decades of information at his fingertips, and somehow Sam always manages to get in more trouble. Christ on a pogo stick, Sam, just go do the thing so we can go home already.
Random Observations: The adult Abigail is played by Melora Hardin, now best known as Jan Levinson on the American version of The Office.
Overall: It's melodramatic. The concept is wearing a little thin. And Sam is about as out of character as he can be without stomping on frogs. But this episode is pretty powerful. The end scene is worth the price of admission: 7 out of 10.
Trilogy: Part Three (The Last Door): July 28, 1978
Writer: Deborah Pratt
The Plot: Abigail has gone and gotten herself arrested for murder (again, and Sam is her lawyer. It's been 12 years since Sam last saw Abigail, and perhaps not so coincidentally, she now has an 11 year old daughter.
Good Stuff: Melora Hardin is wonderful here. Abigail has been beaten down her entire life, and she's finally tired of fighting. This is good stuff.
I loves me some courtroom drama.
It shouldn't be any great revelation to say that Abigail's daughter, Sammy Jo, is really Sam's. His interactions with this girl, who he can't acknowledge, are simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking.
Oh, fuck. The ending is coming a mile away: it's cheesy and convenient and it's How Not To Write 101, but goddamn if I'm not sitting here trying to figure out how dust got in my eye. Damn dust!
Not So Good Stuff: Remember, it's Sam's body that leaps, yet he has his leapee's heart problems. Come on.
Sam spends a fair amount of time haranguing about why the murders in Abigail's past don't matter and can't be brought into evidence, and then spends a good 10 minutes proving Abigail's innocence — not of the murder she's accused of now, but those earlier murders which haven't been brought into evidence. Oy!
Random Observations: Here we are, nine episodes in, and it's the first one that doesn't take place in the 1950s or 60s.
Overall: All right, you win. Just as the trilogy conceit was about to overplay, this episode comes in and makes it better. It's not too heavy, and it gives Bakula range to show what he can do: 8.5 out of 10.
Promised Land: December 22, 1971
Writers: Gillian Horvath and Tommy Thompson
The Plot: Sam leaps into the body of a bank robber, smack-dab in the middle of a heist.
Good Stuff: Sam and his brothers are robbing a bank to pay the mortgage on their foreclosed farm. (Any similarity to anything actually happening in the world today is purely coincidental.) Sam wants to see it through to help the brothers get their farm back, because his real father would lose his own farm to the same crooked banker some years later. Bakula's performance is particularly strong, especially when he interacts with the townsfolk.
Not So Good Stuff: This episode is kinda light on Al.
Gus Vernon, the banker, somehow manages not to twirl his mustache, flap his cape and bellow, "But you must pay the rent! Mwahahahahaha!" Also, it's said that he went to high school with Sam's brother, who's not that much older than Sam himself. Young Sam would be 18 when this episode takes place, but Gus seems to be pushing 40.
Random Observations: This episode was directed by Scott Bakula.
Overall: Holy crap, what a great episode. This is the type of show that had gotten me hooked in the first couple of years. Great acting, good script, some period detail and it's not wrapped up in a neat little bow. Sam is putting things right, but he's not solving everything. I could go on forever, but I'm not going to, so we'll call this a 9.5 out of 10 and move on.
A Tale of Two Sweeties: February 25, 1958
Writer: Robin Jill Bernheim
The Plot: Sam is a bigamist with a terrible gambling addiction, straining to keep his wives from running into each other when one of them comes to visit him unannounced.
Good Stuff: Al Calavicci, quite possibly the horniest bastard in prime time television, is happier than a pig in shit. Stockwell is hilarious.
The child actors playing Josh and Jessica, Sam's kids by his wife Rachel, are actually very good. They could be annoying (such as the kids playing Mary and Marty, the kids by his other wife), but they're both very natural.
Not So Good Stuff: Since the very beginning Sam has assumed that God has been directing him from leap to leap. If that's the case, God wants Sam to keep a bigamist's wives from meeting each other?
Sam has to go back and forth between his two families while they're all at the movies. I'm pretty sure I saw this on Saved by the Bell at one point.
And what are they watching at the movies? Woody Woodpecker. Christ, Woody bugs the shit out of me. All the walrus wants is to have his damn barbecue in peace. But no, he winds up in the hospital with his house in flames, for the unforgivable crime of not giving Woody enough free food. I know, nothing to do with the episode, but I had to get that off my chest.
Random Observations: This episode calls back something from very early on: for whatever reason, very young children are able to see Al and Sam. So one of Sam's kids hangs out with "Daddy's invisible friend" while happily going along with the idea that Daddy's in disguise.
Sam's bookie is played by Larry Mannetti, who had played Rick Wright on Bellisario's Magnum, PI and was one of his stable of actors.
Overall: I swear, this episode was at least four hours long. It's nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is. And whenever it is funny, it's because of Bakula and Stockwell, not the script. And the episode is half over before a single goddamn thing actually happens. And the ending is terrible. Robin Jill Bernheim, who so far has given us "Leaping of the Shrew" (shipwreck with Brooke Shields) and "Deliver Us from Evil" (evil leaper), is not jumping out at me as someone who writes episodes to look forward to. A very generous 3 out of 10.
Disc three is, on the whole, excellent. Parts two and three of "Trilogy" are both very good, and "Promised Land" is one of the best episodes the series ever produced. Unfortunately, it then ends with one of the worst ("Tale of Two Sweeties"), but the disc is already more than worth your time before you ever get there.
Liberation: October 16, 1968
Writers: Chris Abbott and Deborah Pratt
The Plot: Sam is a middle-aged housewife caught up in the women's liberation movement.
Good Stuff: Max Gail (Barney Miller) gives a good performance as Sam's husband. He's a good man who genuinely cares about his wife and daughter, and doesn't do anything he does out of malice. He's not a villain; he's just someone who needs to have his mind opened. And he's obviously able to tell that of the two people vying for a promotion at his office, the woman has a lot of good ideas, and the man is a total fuckwit.
Remember how I said before that Al fills the role of the guy on the other side of every argument? Well, he does it here, but he manages to do it in a way that doesn't make him sound like a complete toad. He doesn't want Sam to hate George for being an idiot; it wasn't George's fault that he was raised a certain way. (Which is not to say he's totally right; apparently, he gets an earful from his own wife.)
Not So Good Stuff: I wasn't around in 1968 (I'm not that old), and I have been fortunate enough to grow up in a society where the notion of equality between men and women is not an alien one. Yes, it could still use work; I'm not disputing that. However, at some point during this episode, the writers actually came into my living room and began thwacking me with the obvious stick: "Men could be chauvinists!" Thwack! "Women are entitled to equal pay for equal work!" Thwack! "A woman is capable of doing anything a man can do!" Thwack! True story. However, it really kinda undermines the point you're trying to make when the leader of the group trying to change things for women is a borderline nutjob with daddy issues.
Random Observations: There's an extremely quick (about three seconds) location shot in Boston's Kenmore Square, on Brookline Avenue next to Fenway Park. Again, this is one of those things that no one would care about but me. However, I have to wonder why you would go to the expense of a location shoot to get precisely three seconds of film that your story doesn't need, for a scene that doesn't even take place in Boston.
Overall: As blunt and preachy as this episode can get, it's pretty good. It's written well, the cast is great and the minute before Sam leaps out is hilariously uncomfortable: 8 out of 10.
Dr. Ruth: April 25, 1985
Writer: Robin Jill Bernheim
Guest starring: Dr. Ruth Westheimer as herself
The Plot: Sam leaps into Dr. Ruth. You know, like it says in the title.
Dr. Ruth: If you owned a television or radio in the 1980s, Dr. Ruth Westheimer was an inescapable fact of life. She was a sex therapist with a radio show, and after multiple appearances on Letterman, she became a huge pop culture phenomenon. Partly, this was because she spoke very frankly about a subject everyone was interested in, yet were embarrassed to discuss. But she was mostly famous because a hilariously tiny woman saying "penis" in a thick German accent is comedy gold.
Good Stuff: Sam is really uncomfortable doling out sex advice.
If Sam doesn't solve this week's problem, he's "going to stay stuck in 1985, wearing your silly high heels and your stupid dresses, talking to strangers about their G-spots." I want to have Al's babies.
Not So Good Stuff: Well, we managed to get "Sam leaps into someone famous," "Al deals with the leapee in the Waiting Room" and "celebrity stunt casting" — three big shark-jumping points — in a single guest star! Of course, by the time this episode aired, Dr. Ruth's celebrity cachet was not at its zenith.
Sam's mission? To get Dr. Ruth's producers to realize that they were meant for each other. Because apparently Dr. Ruth loves to play matchmaker. That's not me being a wiseass. That is, in fact, the rationale given. Are you freaking kidding me?
Random Observations: Who wrote this episode again? Oh, that's right.
Overall: Bad. Bad, bad, bad. So bad. Terrible script. Awful guest cast. Cheap production values. Al manages to come up with about three dozen words for breasts in his interminable scenes where he's scoring free therapy. And Scott Bakula rolls out a horrendous Dr. Ruth impression. If this was meant to bring in viewers, it could only have ensured they never tuned in again: 1.5 out of 10.
Blood Moon: March 10, 1975
Writer: Tommy Thompson
The Plot: Sam's a vampire. I swear to God.
Good Stuff: Al is, apparently, afraid of vampires. He can't run the numbers to see what Sam's supposed to do, because he doesn't want to hang out in the Waiting Room with the guy Sam leaped into. He shows up with garlic around his neck. You really wouldn't know it from Battlestar Galactica, but Dean Stockwell is very funny and this episode gives him free rein. And, in fact, Scott Bakula is pretty funny in this as well. He doesn't believe for a minute that he's actually a vampire, but he can't deny that things around him are creepy as fuck, and he's extremely nervous.
Not So Good Stuff: Sam is a fucking vampire.
Sam's wife has a British accent, kind of like how Dick Van Dyke had a British accent: "It's a luvely 'olidaye wif you, Mary Poppins!"
Random Observations: I'm not 100% sure about this, but except for maybe once or twice when he leapt into the Vietnam War, I think this might be the first time Sam's been outside of America.
Overall: It's cheesy, it's cornball and it looks like every low-budget / made-for-TV horror movie that gets dragged out around Halloween. But it's fun. Bakula and Stockwell have great chemistry, as always, and a good-sized portion of the episode is just them interacting with each other: 6.5 out of 10.
Return of the Evil Leaper: October 8, 1956
Writer: Richard C. Okie
Guest starring: Neil Patrick Harris as Mike Hammond, Renée Coleman as Alia, Carolyn Seymour as Zoey
The Plot: Ze evil leapair, she is back! Sam is a nerdy college freshman who dresses up as a masked superhero.
Good Stuff: This probably goes to the last episode, but the teaser for this show — Sam leaping into a guy wearing a red cape and cowl, clinging for dear life to the hood of a car that's swerving in an attempt to get him off — is one of the best teasers in the show's history, and this show has had a lot of great teasers.
Carolyn Seymour is fun as Zoey. She's pretty hammy, but she's clearly having a good time.
Tristan Tate is wonderful as Arnold Watkins, the Midnight Marauder. Yes, he's in those scenes in the Waiting Room that shouldn't ever exist, but it's a great performance.
Not So Good Stuff: Sam walked back to his dorm after breaking up a fraternity hazing dressed as the Midnight Marauder? Really? He didn't think to take off the cape while walking across campus? Seriously? He even left the hood on?
This thing where Sam's mind "merges" with the leapee is getting out of hand. It started in the Oswald story, and this is probably the fourth of fifth time it's happened since. Not that it isn't funny to see Sam get serious and talk like a Silver Age comic book hero, but it's lazy writing designed to get the story moving without Sam or Al having to do anything.
There's no consistency with Coleman's make-up. Usually I never notice that, but either she's not wearing any or she looks like Cesar Romero. There's no middle ground.
Alia's not particularly evil. When Sam meets up with Alia, they don't actually clash or fight or do whatever it is diametrically opposed leapers do. Instead, he wants to save her from Project Evil Quantum Leap (or whatever her deal is), and she's perfectly happy to go with him.
Random Observations: The title card for this episode actually reads "Evil Leaper II." I decided to use the title on the case, because IMDB agrees with it, and it's marginally less silly.
This episode aired about a month or so before Neil Patrick Harris' hit show Doogie Howser, MD went off the air. Harris (How I Met Your Mother) had played Doogie for four seasons, and he had the stink of typecasting all over him. This episode was expressly promoted as a means for Harris to show his range and play against type as the sadistic leader of a fraternity, bullying Sam and his friend mercilessly. (It's also kind of weird to see Barney so young; Harris was only 19 when this episode aired.)
Overall: The story of Sam leaping into a troubled young man who retreats into a fantasy world to make getting through the day easier — and who lives out his death wish by putting himself in harm's way for others — is a great story. However, somebody got their Evil Leaper all over it. It might have turned out to be interesting, except that Alia doesn't actually do anything. If the show had shown confidence in what it does best, this could have been one of the top ten episodes of the entire run. However, the newfound need to shoehorn stunt casting, Waiting Room scenes and a major story arc into the show drags it down. There's a lot to like in this episode, but they're all in the first half. A hugely disappointing 6 out of 10.
Disc four is wildly uneven. The only really good episode, "Liberation," is not enough to warrant wasting a queue space on this. And "Dr. Ruth" is just awful.
Yikes! After the relative triumph of the Abigail Fuller trilogy, things got spotty real quick. Quantum Leap was one of those shows that had been dodging cancellation rumors since it first aired, but I remember at the time feeling like they were headed in that direction for real this time. What had been appointment television for me had become what I watched if I was home Wednesday nights because that's what was on. I still enjoyed it, but I could see that it wasn't the same show anymore. Next week, the nails get driven into the coffin, and we discuss quite possibly the least satisfying series finale in television history.