18 March 2009

Quantum Leap: Seasons 4 and 5

Seasons 4 and 5 Branch Out, Almost Undo Quantum Leap
By Kristin Battestella

Yes, after all my Quantum Leap praise, I do realize that the spiritual turn taken in Seasons 4 and 5 of the moral science fiction show is probably what turned off viewers and led to the series’ cancellation in 1993. That being said, Donald P. Bellasario’s award winning series still provides great statements and thinking man’s television in its final two seasons.

Quantum Leap - The Complete Fourth SeasonSeason 4 of Quantum Leap opens with a little something we all wanted to see. ‘The Leap Back’ returns Sam to his own time, where we discover the wife he has forgotten amid his travels. Equally challenging is the finale ‘A Leap for Lisa’ where Sam leaps into a young Al on trial. Unfortunately, much of season 4 in between feels like filler we’ve seen before- like ‘Justice’, dealing with the Civil Rights movement and the Klu Klux Klan; and ‘Raped’- where Sam leaps into an assaulted teenager. Only the exceptional ‘Running For Honor’ stands out-an episode where Sam leaps into a gay Naval cadet. Maybe gay issues on television are commonplace now, but it was unheard of then.

Season 5 continues some of the lackluster trend, with stunt episodes focusing on Lee Harvey Oswald, Elvis Presley, and Marilyn Monroe. Unique to this season, however, are the Trilogy episodes-where Sam leaps into subsequent generations of one Southern family and the two part ‘Evil Leaper’ episodes. Sam also leaps beyond his lifetime into a Civil War ancestor for ‘The Leap Between The States’. Some of these twists stray too far beyond the series’ own believability, yet others are intriguing additions to the Leap premise. Had the series continued into a sixth season, we have the possibility of more Leapers- both good and bad-and explanations behind the science and religion of time travel.

Even though Quantum Leap is science fiction for folks who don’t like science fiction, the lovely spiritual statements introduced in these two seasons are generally considered to be the final nail in the show’s coffin after 5 years of great television. The cast and crew continued to make strong, episodes with moral conviction; but after so much sentimentality, it’s not Quantum Leap’s fault that an increasingly amoral, grunge listening, conspiracy theory loving audience tuned out. With the exception of some stunt casting and the blatantly big name storylines, Quantum Leap perhaps brings its strongest statement with its Evil Leaper and Godly notions. Who is moving Sam through his leaps? If he is sent to do good, surely there is a balancing force seeking evil at work. Perhaps in 1993, these ideas were too close to home for audiences; but such notions only grow better with age when applied in our own lives. Who moves us from one day to the next? Why do things happen as they do? Is there no such thing as coincidences? Are there people placed on this earth purely for evil? Am I the one placed here to do some good in this world?

Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell shine again in both the stellar and the not so stellar episodes here. Stockwell takes Al through the emotional ringer, even leaping himself a time or two while facing his own past. Bakula brings all the range needed as well-from singing as Elvis to talking sex as Dr. Ruth. Though it is somewhat of a stunt, having our boys switch places shows the award winning talent between Bakula and Stockwell. Sam and Al have entered our cultural lexicon; and from the first day Bakula appeared as Captain Archer on Star Trek: Enterprise, talk of reuniting with Stockwell brewed. Quantum Leap fans got their wish in Enterprise’s Season 1 episode Detained.

Quantum Leap - The Complete Fifth SeasonOf course, I cannot praise Quantum Leap without commenting on the series’ finale ‘Mirror Image’. I love it, but I also hate it. The conclusion is fitting to the series, but also leaves several critical questions up for grabs. After seeing the end to Quantum Leap, you either crave more and have to watch the series all over again; or you insist on giving the show ten years to stew and mull on before you can rewatch. Either way, Quantum Leap stays will you long after your latest viewing.

Again the dvd sets for Season 4 and 5 have been unloved with music changes, too brief extras, and unusual packaging and disc layering; but technical mistakes should not deter viewers from seeing this show for the first time or falling in love with Quantum Leap again. I’d like to think Universal will come to their senses and release a complete series set with proper extras and restoration, but I won’t hold my breath. Affordable pricing, online viewing, and rental options keep their pockets lined a plenty.

Quantum Leap is the type of show that they don’t make anymore. It says something beyond its science fiction premise and stretches far beyond its time traveling mission. Its effects and social commentaries may seem dated to some in this fast-paced day and age; but Quantum Leap leaves the candle burning on the big and small issues of the 20th century. Young and old can appreciate this series for years to come.

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