“Jimmy”: October 4, 1964
Original airdate: November 22, 1989
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Sam’s innate sweetness of character is especially delightful in “Jimmy,” a Season 2 leap that ranks high on many devoted Leapers’ Best-Of lists. A tale of brotherly love and compassion, this story showcases all of the things Quantum Leap did best, by offering Sam a chance to assist a family that is trying to chart the right path for itself, in the face of considerable intolerance.
Sam leaps into 1964 and into the life of Jimmy LaMotta, a young man with Down’s Syndrome. Like many people with Down’s, Jimmy has been institutionalized for some time, but his brother Frank wants him to live with him at home in Oakland, California—he has even gotten him a job at the docks.
The challenge for Sam is to make it all work, and to ensure that Frank’s wife, Connie and young son, Cody, are able to embrace Jimmy’s presence. Cody adores his uncle Jimmy but Connie, while she’s game, isn’t so sure it won’t be trouble. Her experience with Down’s Syndrome is non-existent, and in Jimmy she sees the potential for extra work, social disapproval, and maybe even danger.
The task seems simple enough, but as Sam finds himself fumbling the family crockery and struggling to say the right thing, he makes matters worse. Frank is a devoted brother, but he can’t watch Jimmy all the time. And not everyone at the jobsite wants Jimmy to succeed. One fellow, Blue, actively seeks to get him fired.
Saddling Sam with the complexities of life with a physical disability is something Quantum Leap did more than once: he leaps into a sightless pianist in “Blind Faith” and a war veteran who has lost his legs in “Nowhere to Run.” The stigma faced by those with intellectual challenges can be even greater. Jimmy is no hero soldier, no great musician, and the general attitude Sam must face as he and Frank try to build a functioning family is profoundly hostile.
“Jimmy” is a classic leap, in every sense, placing Sam in a position to help a handful of ordinary and utterly deserving people. The LaMottas are in a precarious state, it’s true, but if they can get Jimmy settled, the future looks golden. They just need a bit of luck, that boost that will allow them to thrive on their own. The story has a more intimate resonance, as well, because viewers learn that Al’s sister Trudy had mental disabilities, and died in an institution. He and Sam are determined to see Jimmy avoid that fate.
In Jimmy LaMotta, Sam finds someone completely sympathetic—a person whose cause he can champion without reservation in the face of ignorance. It’s not one of those leaps where he finds out that he’s a con man or a criminal. No, this is the exactly the sort of mission he can throw himself into, heart and soul. It is obvious, given their histories, that he and Al created Project Quantum Leap to save families in trouble. As a result, this episode clicks from beginning to end.
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.