Quantum Leap: “Future Boy”

“Future Boy”: October 6, 1957
Original airdate: May 13, 1991
Visit the Quantum Leap Rewatch index

Holy role reversal, Captain Galaxy! Sam gets to be the sidekick of a time traveller in “Future Boy.” It’s 1957 in Saint Louis—the height of the Cold War, in other words—and Sam finds himself leaping into Future Boy, a.k.a. Kenny Sharp. Kenny is the co-pilot of a TV time machine whose pilots are beloved by children across the United States.

That’s right, Captain Galaxy isn’t a trained scientist, or even and adventurer! In fact, is Moe Stein, an actor, and Sam has leapt into his co-star.

Like Sam, Moe is multi-talented. Working alone in a basement lab, he has discovered some of the underlying principles of quantum leaping, and he’s pulled off this rather astounding achievement between bouts of answering fan mail, doing public appearances in his Captain Galaxy costume—with Kenny by his side, of course—and ad-libbing messages of peace and love to his young viewers. This last habit has not endeared him to his show’s producer. He wants Captain Galaxy to ensure that America’s children are sold on a rather warlike view of the universe. But Moe doesn’t care; he knows it’s wrong to preach fear and hate to children, and instead he tells the kiddies to chill out and give their fellow humans a chance.

Sam’s mission is not to save Moe’s job, however, or even to give him a leg up on developing time travel. Captain Galaxy or not, Moe has no real chance of achieving that dream. Instead, his various eccentricities, science projects and absent-mindedness have convinced his adult daughter that Moe is delusional and a danger to himself. She wants to put him in a mental institution.

It is impossible for Sam not to see a kindred spirit in Moe, who is sweet-tempered, cheery and smart. What’s more, Moe has turned to time travel as a means of setting right the mistakes he made in his past, mistakes for which his family paid the price. As daughter Irene tries to get Moe committed, Sam brings his charm to bear on the problem, gently confronting Irene with her childhood resentments, and simultaneously trying to steer Moe through the hazards of a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation.

What I like about “Future Boy” is something it never states explicitly: it gives Sam a taste of what Al’s life must be like. Moe ignores his advice, sends him on crazy errands, insists at every turn that he’s the one who knows best, and risks his life repeatedly in pursuit of a chance to rewrite his own history. In the end, Kenny gets nothing out of helping him—no career boost, not even a whiff of romance. Moe’s the point, and Sam, as Kenny, is just a facilitator.

“Future Boy” also has this lovely warm moment where Moe shares his theory of time travel with Sam…and it’s Sam’s string theory, the one we encounter way back in the first season. Sam, in turn, helps Moe figure out where he’s gone wrong with it. When the episode closes, Captain Galaxy answers a letter, on-air, from a young Sam Beckett in Elk Ridge, and of course he passes the theory along.

Which of the two came up with the string theory first? It is impossible to say. Like many scientific discoveries, Sam’s idea is transformed into something of a collaboration, in this case between his young self, his elder self, and a sweet aging actor who is a reflection of his best qualities.

In time, Moe finds another way—a less punishing one than leaping through time, I might add—to redeem his past. He makes up with Irene, they both recognize that there’s still plenty of time for them to build a relationship, and Sam moves on, as he always does. Tinfoil costumes and anti-Communist scaremongering aside, it all makes for a deeply satisfying story; in fact, in rewatching it I have come to think that “Future Boy” must count as one of Quantum Leap’s most heartwarming episodes.

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.


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