Quantum Leap. Scott Bakula. Dean Stockwell.
I love a lot of science fiction television (and movies) and as much as I love my Star Trek, Quantum Leap has been my favorite show since my introduction to it. I came to it towards the end of Season 2 originally, in fact, I still recall the first episode I watched, and where I was when I saw it.
I also know the impact the show had on me and my life. Where Trek gave me an idealistic vision for the future, that we would get through our growing pains to become something more. Quantum Leap, and it’s lead characters, Sam Beckett (Bakula) and Al Calavicci showed me how to get there, by working for what’s right not matter the sacrifice or the personal cost.
So, it was with great delight that I dove back into the series, and revisited the pilot episode, the two-part series opener, Genesis.
The series began on 26 March, 1989, and it’s premiere was written by Donald P. Bellisario, himself. And it’s amazing how little changes in set-up from the get-go. There are minor character tweaks, and the hand-link and imaging chamber get a make-over, but all of the show, its essence is there from the beginning.
It’s the year 1999, and in the New Mexico desert Doctor Sam Beckett is about to take Project Quantum Leap to the next level as he steps into the accelerator chamber against the advice of chief programmer Gooshie (Dennis Wolfberg), and Al.
And wakes up in 1956, inhabiting the body of Air Force pilot Tom Stratton, who is being prepped to break Mach 3 in the experimental X-2. He also has a pregnant wife, Peg (Jennifer Runyn) and a son, Mikey (Christian Van Dorn).
When Al makes an appearance, and only Sam can see and hear him – he’s a neurological hologram, he reveals bits about the project, and Sam’s time travel experiment. Beckett is having trouble remembering it, as well as other pertinent facts due to the temporal changes (and this is a great way to solve character continuity as well).
With the revelation that Tom originally dies in the X-2, and the Peg loses the baby, Sam believes he’s there to fix those mistakes so that the family can survive. And when those things are fixed, he LEAPS! into a ballplayer named Tim Fox in 1968.
It’s here that the story continues its exploration of family, while in the original history Fox pop-flied out, Sam thinks he could be there to win the game, but first thanks to Al, he is allowed a moment to reconnect with his father, who is still alive at the time.
It’s a poignant scene, and there, in the space of an opening two-hour film you are given all the humor and emotion, as well as brushes with greatness that become the hallmark of the series. All if it forming around the friendship between the main characters.
There are things that fans pick up on right away, references to Al’s drinking (not to mention his legendary womanizing), an appearance by Bruce McGill, which given who he plays in the series finale makes his role here more important.
Sam’s inner monologue, and hold over from other Bellisario series is essential to the episode in terms of setting things up and explaining it, and it’s definitely fun to hear the thoughts going through Sam’s head as he tries to figure out what is going on, his encounter with the ‘boogey man’ and the possibility of a reverse reincarnation entering at mid-life.
While Sam’s consciousness (?), spirit (?), mind (?), soul (?) is inhabiting the body in the past, that person’s self is projected into Sam’s body in the future in New Mexico. Only Al can see him as he really is…
But here’s a thought, does the person he leaps into recall the events that Sam changes when he leaps out? Do these people forget one of the most important decisions in their lives, or because Sam’s mind is magna-fluxed by the leap, do his memories and those of the person he leaps into meld, and they retain the memories of Sam’s experiences as them?
Either way, Sam sets things right that once went wrong, and I am going to love every episode of this!!
And of course there is the brilliant ‘oh, boy’ tag that sets up the following episode, a mainstay of the series hinting at what to expect next week – Sam leaps into a college professor.
Yes it’s a fun science fiction show, yes the casting is brilliant, I couldn’t imagine anyone other than Bakula and Stockwell in those roles, and it also got to do something that hadn’t been done so far… present an anthology series with a recurring cast. Each episode was a different tale, it could be funny, political, dramatic, poignant, filled with social commentary, or just fun
Sam Beckett is a character I’ve identified with since my introduction to the show, in fact he’s the character I most identify with in all of my reading, watching and gaming. And of course meeting the actor who portrayed him, Scott Bakula, shook me to my core (in a good way) and I so wish we could sit down with him in the studio.
But for now, I will take it one leap at a time, hope that each time, that his next leap, will be the leap home!