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Quantum Leap’s “The Boogieman” Flips the Script on the Formula

Quantum Leap’s “The Boogieman” Flips the Script on the Formula

Quantum Leap S03E05 promo imageQuantum Leap, Season 3, Episode 5, “The Boogieman”
Written by Chris Ruppenthal
Directed by Joe Napolitano
Aired Oct. 26, 1990 on NBC

Scott Bakula has one of those likable personalities that immediately connects him to audiences. This heart is at the core of Quantum Leap and its lead, Sam Beckett. It’s easy to expect that he’ll do the right thing, no matter how crazy the situation. The NBC series premiered in 1989 and aired for five seasons during a much different TV era. The theme song, episode structure, and overall style spring from that era and lack the rough edges of many notable shows today. There were certain beats to most stories that brought a familiarity that can be comforting. Viewers shared the journey with Sam and only knew the information that he received. The audience’s connection with Bakula made the show work because his persona made the adventure worth taking. There were some exceptions that diverted from the show’s formula, however.

A prime example is season three’s “The Boogieman”, which aired on Halloween week in 1990. Sam leaps into a horror novelist and tries to discover the source of a series of unexplained deaths around a small town. On the surface, this premise would not be out of place for the series. Al (Dean Stockwell) is there to guide Sam, but he isn’t acting normally. He would typically arrive to save a victim from death, but there seems to be little that Sam can do to stop the calamities. One victim falls out of a window, while another is poisoned by a deadly Black Mamba snake. Sam’s also seeing weird visions of goats and cats that no one else observes. Halloween is the perfect time for this type of story, and there are many references to the horror genre. What sets the episode apart is the ultimate revelation about the source of the murders. This third-act twist raises questions about everything that’s happened up to that point. This is very different territory than expected for a series that rarely deceived the audience.

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The big reveal that the being with the image of Al is basically the devil feels out of left field for the series. There are clues before this moment, but it’s easy to dismiss those as part of the Halloween fun. There is a mysterious force guiding the mayhem, yet Al is never suspected. The red-eyed villain gives Dean Stockwell a chance to show a darker side that he’s channeled in his role in Blue Velvet or as a power-hungry Cylon on Battlestar Galactica. There’s a real menace to this villain who’s ready to stop the good work of Sam. The shot of the battling pair spinning in circles still leaves a creepy impression. Will this be Sam’s last leap?

Another kicker is the presence of a teenager named Stevie (David Kriegel) who’s obsessed with horror and is a young Stephen King. There are multiple references to the author’s works like Christine, Carrie, and other novels. It’s a bit on the nose, but has enough cleverness to make it work. What’s odd is the episode’s muted result, which implies the devil is gone, yet lacks finality. Sam just collapses and then wakes up back at the start of the story. There’s a strong implication that it didn’t happen, so Sam actually didn’t give Stevie any ideas for future books. It’s a minor quibble, but one that eliminates much of the point of what we’ve seen. Did Sam actually experienced these events and met the devil? Was it just a dream? His final move to save a victim implies that it was more than a vision from his subconscious and future episodes involving the “evil leaper” also connect to this story, because of the opposing force to Sam’s changes. He is putting right what once went wrong, but others are causing damage. The balance of good and evil remains, yet unanswered questions about the entire scenario remain.

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Quantum Leap still has its charms, but there are elements that haven’t aged well. Sam’s gee-whiz approach is startling given our stoic anti-heroes of today. Bakula is the right guy to sell it, but there’s a naïve atmosphere that places it right in the late ‘80s. Following one death, Sam yells out a loud “NOOOOO!” that can’t help but inspire some laughs. It was a different TV era, and the montage of clips in the end credits says it all. That said, younger audiences need not avoid the show. The premise is still intriguing, and episodes that flip the script like “The Boogieman” keep it from becoming too predictable. These deviations from the norm are worth seeing, and Halloween is the perfect time to watch this off-beat episode.