Thursday, July 21, 2016

Quantum Leap -- Episode 36: Black on White on Fire

Sam Leaps Into: 
Ray Harper, a black medical student engaged to a white woman.

Save the life of his fiancee during the outbreak of the Watts riots.


Los Angeles, California

Memorable Quote:
I can't go through life fighting people who hate me for the color of my skin.  ~Susan
I think that's how everyone in Watts must feel tonight.   ~Sam

I like the brief scene at the party where Sam's high school girlfriend is putting the moves on him. She's a great actress and I would have liked to see her play more of a role in the episode.

I figured that Lonnie was going to get shot dead at the end based on the way the scene was developing with the sniper on the roof, but I still had a faint hope that he'd survive (and sadly he didn't).

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • I like the Susan character and the actress who plays here -- she comes off very kind and sincere.
  • I wonder if the stock footage of the riots was from the real Watts riots.
  • Watching this episode motivated me to read up on the Watts riots.  It's amazing and sad that 50 years later our country is still dealing with the same problems.

Final Analysis:
This falls into the category of "not a poorly done episode, but not my cup of tea."  This was the epitome of a "not much fun to be had" episode in that it was brutal to watch, and the writing was not that strong.  Season 3 has been feast or famine so far, and I'm ranking this one in the famine category (3rd from the bottom).


  1. Got lucky and had time to watch this at work this morning. No surprise at all it was one you didn't like and I'm sure it's no surprise that it's one I liked. Despite the stock footage, the backdrop of the Watts riots provided some serious atmosphere to this episode, and while Lonnie and his friends were incredibly unlikable characters, their rage was tangible and the unnecessary shooting of Lonnie at the end at least somewhat helped the audience understand their fury. I also liked Susan, whose youthful optimism and naivete was well-played and sort of reminded me of MacGyver in "The Challenge", hardened as the hour went on when the real-life consequences of a racially segregated society became real to her. The only real criticism I have is that Lonnie's heavyset friend was content to party it up with Sam even though he knew the riots were going on, but suddenly transitioned to Black Panther warrior as soon as Lonnie came in talking about the riots. You said you didn't think the writing was all that strong. What in particular didn't you think was that strong?

    It just struck me comparing your review to mine that we have a fundamental difference of opinion on what this show should be about. I appreciate the backdrop of heavy history in the storytelling which I think authenticates the premise of "changing history for the better" as opposed to merely making sure some kid is able to get a football scholarship, as an example off the top of my head. While there is a place for "fun" in an anthology show like this, I neither insist upon nor desire it in every episode. I hope there are more darker episodes like this one to come. I'll rank it between "Pool Hall Blues" and "MIA".

    1. As far as the writing not being strong, it's hard to explain but when watching an episode like this one or The Color of Truth there's something in the plot and dialogue that feels overly cliched to me and almost a little too simplistic, and there's not enough of a payoff or anything positive to take from it -- it's just like watching a riot for an hour. I really liked So Help Me God which was also a race-related, emotional plot and also written by Deborah Pratt, so there is potential for me to like these type of episodes.

  2. Has anybody seen the PBS documentary series "And Still We Rise?" Or any of the recent shows about the O.J. Simpson trial? A recent viewer of B/W/F cannot but be aware of how much the police are let off the hook. There are bigoted policemen, and Sam gets beat up. But the full extent of what we know about the LAPD offenses against civilians is held back. The riots are mostly seen as the result of a few "hot-headed" blacks. In a scene which goes back to the very beginnings of melodrama, an old black mother is brought onto the screen to condemn the black perpetrators. I feel that the riot was more complicated than the episode lets on. (My bias is that I am a pacifist, and I feel violence is always wrong.)

    I would disagree with the writer above me. "The Color of Truth" seems less simplistic, because Sam's black reflection always seems to be watching, part of what is happening, and because the problem is worked out in one relationship, rather than a whole city. Besides, as Al reminds us, the Civil Rights movement is in motion. "Truth" never tries to say that this will affect anyone apart from that small town.