“Another Mother,” September 30, 1981
Sam leaps into the utter chaos that is life as a single parent in “Another Mother.”
The year is 1981, the place Scottsdale, Arizona. Sam is Linda Brookner, newly divorced, with a freshly minted real estate license and three kids to wrangle. The eldest of these kids is her adorably dorky son, Kevin, and Sam’s mission—between car pooling, showing houses and gettin’ the kids to Girl Scouts, is to keep Kevin from vanishing from the face of the earth.
“Another Mother” isn’t Sam’s first leap into a woman—that’s “What Price Gloria?”—and I considered reviewing that instead. However, something about the cascade of problems confronting Sam in this one is more appealing to me. As Samantha Stormer in “Gloria,” he’s gorgeous, independent and—once Sam confronts Samantha’s sexually predatory boss—professionally successful. Linda Brookner, on the other hand, has so many balls to keep in the air that Sam barely has a moment to spare for talking to Kevin about girls, let alone figuring out how one girl in particular might fit into his mysterious disappearance.
Complicating all of this is the fact that preschooler Teresa (played by Troian Bellisario, daughter of series creator Donald Bellisario and the episode’s screenwriter, Deborah Pratt) can see both Al and Sam, and wants to know waht they’ve done to Mommy.
There are plenty of groan moments in “Another Mother.” Al and little Teresa get a lot of super-sweet screen time, for one thing. For another, the script takes a wholly unnecessary swipe at gamers, particularly Dungeons & Dragons players (I can still hear my 20-year-old self yelling HEY! across the decades). There’s even a shout-out to Bellisario’s other hit of the 1990s, Magnum P.I.
Sam’s battle with the creepy homicidal perverts who abduct Kevin is the height of cheesy no-contact screen fighting, complete with the boot to the head that misses by a very visible six inches. But the suburban family life Sam leaps into, with its sucking lack of glamor, is scarily familiar, and it’s heartwarming to see him try his utmost to be Mom to this fatherless brood. He sees himself in Kevin, and his attempts to reach him across the mother-son void are honest and sensitive.
Also, Bakula in drag, as far as I’m concerned, is a sight gag that never gets old.
What really gets me, though, is that Sam’s victory in this leap is such a big win for the mythical ’little guy.’ He saves Kevin, of course, but he also saves Linda… from a lifetime of creeping toward the certainty that her child was murdered… and the torment of never knowing for sure.
There was a fair amount of sexual menacing and attempted rape in Quantum Leap. It’s one of those things, like the convenient head-bonk that knocks a character out but doesn’t seriously harm them, or the super-whizzy forensics computer that can tell you the dirt on Suspect X’s shoe is from the S-Mart in Tacoma Washington. At its worst, this particular trope is TV shorthand, a fast track to ensuring the viewer knows the situation is getting serious, and the bad guys are really evil.
There are lots of exceptions, of course, within Quantum Leap and without. Here, the phenomenon crops up when the slavering brutes tear Sam’s blouse open, as a prelude to their well-deserved air-kicking. It’s a bit of a shame, because between the antics of the gamer nerds and the dog, Wookie, getting slimed with paint, it’s easy to forget their initial target was a teen boy; that Kevin’s abduction is in itself a bit of a gender twist.
Male sexual assault victims were thinner on the TV ground in 1990. That a boy rather than a girl would be targeted and taken, and in this almost incidental, “this happens everyday” fashion, in an episode where Sam’s also cast in a female role, has the capacity to intrigue me despite this episode’s shortcomings. “Another Mother” shows men as nurturers, caregivers, and potential targets of predators: it’s not radical, certainly, but it does peer at the societally constructed differences between men and women, and it does conclude we’re a lot less different than we may want to think.
A.M. Dellamonica writes novels and short fiction and teaches writing online. She is passionate about environmentalism, food and drink, and art in every form, and dabbles in several: photography, choral music, theater, dance, cooking and crafts. Catch up with her on her blog here.