Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Quantum Leap--Season Five

"Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator...and vanished."

From 1989 to 1993, Quantum Leap was appointment television for me. I waited with breathless anticipation for those words on Wednesday nights (or Friday nights, or whatever timeslot NBC had decided on that week). Though I had been obsessed with attached to TV shows before, Quantum Leap became my introduction to online fandom. Thirteen years later, I still have friends I met through mutual Quantum Leap appreciation (and/or mutual Scott Bakula appreciation).

With the release of the DVD box set for Season Five, my Quantum Leap collection is complete. It's been fun going back and rewatching all the shows I loved so much, finding some of them as good as I remembered, some of them a little cheesier, but still enjoyable. During Season Five, I was pregnant with my son. Leap aired at 10 pm on the east coast, and I had a terrible time even staying awake to watch it. Watching "Blood Moon," I vividly remembered stretching out on the couch, queasy and exhausted, and fighting to keep my eyes open until the bitter end of the episode. Not even recalcitrant hormones were going to keep me away from my fix.

In many ways Season Five was the strongest of the seasons, but at the same time it was the weakest. Under network pressure to vary the premise of the show, creator Don Bellisario sent Sam Beckett into the lives of historical figures for the first time. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but it never worked as well as when Sam touched the lives of ordinary people. "Lee Harvey Oswald," the first of these forays, was too obvious a political statement on Bellisario's part to really work (he stated at the time that it was a direct response to Oliver Stone's JFK), although the twist at the end nearly saves it. "Memphis Melody" and "Goodbye Norma Jean," leaps into the lives of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe respectively, worked better, but in "Memphis Melody" the beneficiary of the leap is a normal person, with the presence of the famous personalities merely incidental, and in "Norma Jean," Sam's objective proves to be minor. Overall, though, the stories were weaker for the sensational additions, not stronger, showing once again that network executives don't always know best. (They were undoubtedly behind the butchering jazzing up of the theme song, too.)

The strongest and most memorable episodes of Season Five are the "Trilogy" episodes: "One Little Heart," "For Your Love," and "The Last Door." In this nicely plotted series, Sam meets Abigail Fuller (Melora Hardin), with long-reaching consequences. In a convention I attended that year, Deborah Pratt was asked why they decided to include Sammy Jo in the storyline. Her reply--Sam deserved it. I heartily agreed. Even now, thirteen years later, the end of "The Last Door" made me cry.

With Sam leaping into Abigail's father in one episode, then into Abigail's fiancé (and literally "into" Abigail, in the Biblical sense) in the next, "Trilogy" was a rather daring piece of TV. Veering at times too close to pure melodrama, it still presented a good story with a satisfying ending. In many ways, I preferred the implications of "Trilogy" regarding Sam's final fate to the ending we were given in "Mirror Image," the actual series finale.

I hadn't watched "Mirror Image" since the original airing, and I'd forgotten how bitter I was about it until I started yelling at the TV when the words "Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home" appeared on the screen. (Actually it said "Dr. Sam Becket"--what the heck is up with that? The misspelling makes you wonder if Bellisario just slapped it on as an afterthought.) It left me with an empty, hopeless feeling then, and it did the same thing this time. We can only hope that, per his discussion with Al the bartender, Sam chose to continue his journey, in full control of his destiny, in order to help as many people as he could, rather than continuing to leap from life to life, forever hoping the next leap would be his leap home. Still, even with its metaphysical ambiguity, "Mirror Image" gave Al (Dean Stockwell) a nice wrap-up, much as "Trilogy" gave Sam the personal reward of Sammy Jo.

Unfortunately, the DVD extras have grown leaner and leaner with each season's release of this show, and this set offers little aside from the episodes themselves. But it's a solid season of TV, and well worth the price.