First aired: May 3, 1989
Written by: Deborah Pratt
Directed by: Michael Vejar
Leap Date: August 8, 1955
This Time: Sam leaps into a fifties era diner. Innocently taking a seat at the counter, he seems to be causing quite a stir, particularly some young men sitting in a booth. He looks up and sees the face of an elderly African American gentleman staring back at him. Two of the two young men from the booth, Toad and Billy Joe, go to teach him a lesson, but Sam is saved (read shooed out) by the proprietress.
Outside, he sees his boss, the widowed Ms. Melny. As Jesse, Sam cannot win or even get a word in edgewise. Al shows up and tells Sam that Ms. Melny will die when her car collides with a passenger train the following day, something Sam must avoid.
The next afternoon, Nell, Jesse’s granddaughter, drives his car home, but Toad and Billy Joe run it off the road thinking it is Jesse driving. Nell is hurt pretty bad but the two troublemakers run off to stay out of trouble. While driving Ms. Melny on an errand, they see the wreck. The nearest hospital is designated for whites but is much closer than the one Nell would normally have to go to.
At that hospital, the staff doesn’t want to treat Nell but Ms. Melny is insistent. They do, but call the Sheriff, who is Billy Joe’s father. While Ms. Melny ensures that Nell gets a proper treatment, Sam/jJsse is arrested. Hearing about what happened, Ms. Melny gets into her car and drives to the jail, unknowingly towards her fate. As she approaches the intersection, she narrowly avoids the train.
Ms. Melny comes to get Jessie out of holding. The Sherriff offers his apologies and ensures that this will not happen again. After asking Jessie to pick up her lunch at the diner she comes in and asks that he sit at the counter with her. Sam leaps …
… into a teenager during a race.
Stop talking to yourself: At the top of the hour, Sam gives a nice recap of his leaping experience, accompanied by footage.
Only Sam can see and hear: Al has a history in the civil rights movement and knows a lot about southern cooking. Also, he is convinced that Ms. Melny heard him at the end.
This is the first time that he asks Gooshie to center him around someone other than Sam.
Mirror images that were not his own: Sam sees himself in the diners’ mirror, in the diners’ window and the rear-view mirror of a car within the opening moments. His face is reflected in the Sheriff’s closing office door, which would make its way to the opening credits eventually.
Brush with history: Not quite Sam, but Al mentions an experience in Selma. It is unclear if he was at the famous march there.
One more time: “I’ve never said that word, Jesse. Not to your face or behind your back.” Ms. Melny rebuking Sam/Jesse.
The Rainbow Treknection: Susan French is magnificent in this episode as Ms. Melny but she appears in Man of the People as Sev Maylor. They cannot all be winners.
This episode is directed by Michael Vejar. While this is his sole credit on Quantum Leap, he has directed several episodes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise along with some episodes of Babylon 5.
Trivial Matters: While each episode ends with a teaser for next, this one is quite different from the events we see. Last week, we saw Sam look up. This week, we see him make the chance to sit down before looking up along with a lot for reaction shots.
Put Right what Once Went Wrong: “There’s got to be some sort of mistake.” “Biggest mistake of your life, boy.” Such an amazing episode of television. The show hits all the points it needs to make and is running on all cylinders.
Susan French carries a lot of the burden as Ms. Melny Tafford. She owns the role and you know who she is from the opening moment. She is a pillar of her community and can pull her weight around, but only does so when necessary. She is keenly aware of which fights to take. Very sure of herself you either get along with her or you do not. It is an absolute pleasure to watch her and is definitely worth experiencing.
The rest of the cast is a little more limited in their scope, certainly not as developed as Ms. Melny, but they play their roles well, though Kimberly Bailey is a standout as Nell. This young lady is giddy with the opportunities ahead of her. The ‘groups’ do a great job acting as well, from the bigoted townsfolk, to the moderately understanding Sheriff, to Jesse’s Family. Vejar did a great job directing, too. The environment is established early on, quickly and effectively. Even the music in on point, particularly when Sam rushes Nell to the hospital.
There is a great moment when Al is in the car trying to get Ms Melny to stop. Whether she hears him or not is debatable, but there is ammo given in to both sides. Al is at his best in this episode by far for the entire series. His asides are minimal, and he has a history with the civil rights movement which is a fun surprise. Plus, he knows how to cook chitlins.
There is a lot of harsh language in this. The n-word is uttered. A lot. By Caucasians. The language is very authentic to the time and place. Writer Deborah Pratt would win an award for her work and it is well deserved. As liberal as this show would get, I’m doubtful they would be able to do this in the end of the 2010’s or early in the 2020’s but I’m grateful they were able to get this on air.
Simply a fantastic hour of television.