Quantum Leap and Agency.

Sam and Al Posing So, I’m rewatching Quantum Leap, and it’s aged pretty well, but I’ve noticed something I never really noticed before. The format makes for a great, varied series, but it depends on the people Sam leaps into being incapable of fixing their own problems. This doesn’t seem so bad at first, but a lot of the fan favourite episodes have Sam leaping into minorities or members of marginalised groups in times of crisis.

The episode everyone remembers is The Color of Truth, in which Sam becomes a Jessie Tyler, a black man in a 1950s Southern town. It’s a great episode that takes a lot of inspiration from Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy. (A predates the film by a good few months.) Sam’s presence turns Jessie Tyler into the activist he never was before. Similarly, any episode in which Sam leaps into a woman usually features a good deal of Sam bringing Feminism into their lives for the first time.

I don’t think it’s intentional, but the result is a show in which a straight, white, male, genius travels through time, freeing marginalised people of the late 20th century from oppression they were too passive to tackle on their own. I don’t really blame the writers. It is an inevitable consequence of the  format (quite a good format, usually, I should add) that they only have two options: Have a white man take over for woman and minorities and fix their problems for them, or never feature ethnic minorities and women in the show. Its a pity this issue crops up so often in a show that was very social conscious for its time.