Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Quantum Leap: "A Little Miracle"

Premiered 21 December 1990

Al: He's a real Scrooge.
Sam: Yeah, well, you can say that again.
Al: Scrooge! 
Sam: Absolutely. Michael is Scrooge, right? He's alone, he's miserable. It's like, uh, Charles, um...
Al: Dickens.
Sam:, Dickens, it's like he created his character based on this guy.
Al: So?
Sam: So, we Scrooge him.

In this episode from Season 3 of the popular sci-fi tv series,  it is the 24th of December 1962 in New York City.  Our time traveling hero, Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) has quantum leaped into Reginald Pearson, valet to the mega-rich and mega-mean Michael Blake (Charles Rocket).

Sam's friend Al Calavicci  (Dean Stockwell), who appears as a hologram that (usually) only Sam can see and hear, says that Blake is a corporate raider type, who has "put more people out of work than the Great Depression."

Currently,  Blake's big project is a plan to raze a Salvation Army mission in order to build Blake Plaza, a gleaming skyscraper with his name vaingloriously emblazoned all over it.

Salvation Army Captain Laura Downey (Melinda McGraw) has been trying for months to talk Blake out of tearing down the building.   She has taken matters into her own hands and brought a Salvation Army band to play "Bringing In The Sheaves" in the vestibule of Blake's penthouse.

Downey tries to emphasize the important work that the mission does for homeless and destitute people in that area.   Blake is unimpressed by the mission, but might possibly be a little impressed with Captain Downey herself.  Sam likes her determination and is sympathetic to her cause.   He suggests that maybe they can talk Blake around, despite that fact that Blake has just threatened to fire him.

While cleaning out Blake's closet, Sam and Al discover a box of photos showing that Blake comes from a much humbler background than his current surroundings.  In fact,  he grew up in the neighborhood where the mission is located.   Sam  thinks they should "Scrooge" Blake in the interest of "saving his soul."

Sam brings Blake to the old neighborhood, doing a "Christmas past" bit.   He fakes having a flat tire to get Blake out of the limo and walking around the neighborhood -- many old memories are awakened.  They run into Downey who offers to let him use the mission's phone for help with the flat tire and encounters an old pal from his childhood who is selling chestnuts out on the street.

Blake seems very pensive and stares off into space drinking after his visit to "Christmas Past."  Sam thinks the plan isn't working,  Al thinks it is and suggests that they show him "Christmas Present" next.

Blake thinks his present is just fine.  He brags about having everything that money can buy and how he is the "living embodiment of the American dream."    Sam bets a month's rent that Blake doesn't have everything he really wants and takes him back downtown.

He tries to show that human interaction is better than some cold monument to Blake's ego.

They hear caroling which leads them to the mission where people are singing.  Blake and Sam join in and Blake admits he thinks Capt. Downey is beautiful (!).  He also has a moment with a Tiny Tim-esque moppet who offers him a toy horse named Sheldon.

Things don't go quite according to plan and Blake winds up feeling angry and manipulated, and more determined than ever to go through with the construction of Blake Plaza.

The "Scrooging" continues thanks to a fluke of brain chemistry which allows Blake to see and hear Al (who is normally only visible to Sam).   Sam enlists Al to act as the "Ghost of Christmas Future" to wake Blake up to the error of his ways.

Will Sam and Al be able to redeem Blake so that Sam can leap? Or will additional help from God/Fate/Time/Whatever be needed?

RigbyMel says:

As an impressionable teenager back in the mists of the late '80s/early '90s,  I was a big fan of Quantum Leap, so I remember watching and enjoying this episode when it first aired.   It holds up pretty well today.   The Dickensian overtones are quite strong.

Sam sees who he has leaped into in a mirror - a trope on the show 
Sam leaps into a very put upon Bob Cratchit type servant and we get a plot revolving around showing the Blake/Scrooge character his past, present and future in hopes of redeeming him.  There is an additional objective for Sam though,  he also wants to "put right what once went wrong" so he can leap home.

As with some other tv variations on A Christmas Carol,  the plot centers on characters using any means at their disposal to drag the character in need of transformation on his spiritual journey.  In this take on the story, the technological/brain wave fluke that allows Blake to see Al is key.  Dean Stockwell seems to particularly relish his "Ghost of Christmas Future" role,  hamming it up in quite an amusing fashion.

Al in Ghost of Christmas Future mode shows Blake his potential fate
Some fun trivia:   Melinda McGraw who plays the ingenue Salvation Army captain has gone on to play a major role in ANOTHER show set in the early 1960s --  she plays the rather harder-nosed character of Bobbie Barrett on AMC's Mad Men.  

Melinda McGraw as Bobbie Barrett in Mad Men ... 
 ... and as Capt. Downey in Quantum Leap
The redemption of  Blake doesn't come easily.  In fact, he backslides a lot in this episode before the end and there does seem to be some supernatural rather than technological help that occurs before all is said and done.

The titular "little miracle"? -  The star is NOT one of Al's holographic projections! 
All in all, this is an endearing variation on the themes of A Christmas Carol that is well worth a look or a re-visit.

RigbyMel's rating:

4 candy canes

J.A. Morris says:

Quantum Leap was a show I enjoyed, but I hadn't seen "A Little Miracle" until recently.  It's a very good adaptation of A Christmas Carol. 

As RigbyMel mentioned, Sam's ultimate goal in this series is to leap home to his own time.  He must redeem Blake's soul to continue his journey homeward.  This makes Sam's role here somewhat similar to that of Clarence the angel in It's A Wonderful Life.

Blake sees his future self, bankrupt in the 1970s.
And Sam when says he feels sorry for Blake, he echoes the sentiments of Scrooge's nephew Fred.

The fact that "A Little Miracle" takes place in a more recent time shows us that many never got the message of A Christmas Carol.  There were still Scrooges in the world of 1962 as well as in 1990 (the year the episode was produced) and today.  Since historical allegories are often used to critique the present, it's possible that this episode was meant to be a commentary on the "Merger Mania" that raged on Wall Street in the 1980s and early 90s.

Blake cowers before the Ghost of Christmas Future (aka Al).
In short, "A Little Miracle" is another example of the timeless relevance of Dickens' story.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 candy canes!

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