Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Quantum Leap -- Episode 74: Lee Harvey Oswald


Sam Leaps Into:
Lee Harvey Oswald

Objective:
Save Jackie Kennedy.

Date:
several (spanning 1957 to 1963)

Location:
several (including Texas, Louisiana, California, Japan, and the Soviet Union)

Memorable Quote:
I'm ready for my lesson, Sarge. ~Sam

Highlight:
I liked the early scene where Sam is talking to Al on the firing range and they're coming to grips with the magnitude of this leap.  It's a good example of a scene that doesn't have or need any background music -- if this were the MacGyver reboot they'd play something schmaltzy and generic that would end up lessening the impact.

Lowlight:
I don't like the whole "Sam is turning into and acting like Lee Harvey Oswald" plot line, which essentially is the entire two-parter.  I suppose that if you want to have an episode where he leaps into Oswald, it's the only way to do it because if Sam was just acting like himself, he would run far away from the Book Depository and there wouldn't be an episode.  But the downside is that after the early highlight mentioned above, just about every other scene until the end is slow, redundant, and unnecessary, from the scenes in the Japanese bar to everything that took place in Russia.  They only serve to give more examples of how Sam is turning into Oswald -- they could have cut most of them and easily made it into one episode.

It would have been much more interesting and compelling if Sam would have leaped into a police officer or concerned citizen trying to stop the assassination from the outside.  That way he could have just been himself, and it could have been a thrilling episode as he raced against the clock to try and solve the puzzle.  They went that route in the last minute when he leapt into a Secret Service member, but Al's revelation that he saved Jackie fell flat since we couldn't tell in the moment that he had done so and since so little time was devoted to that final leap.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:

  • Whoa, it's a new theme song!  I actually remembered this was coming and I was glad to hear it.  I still like the original one a tad better, but the remix is pretty solid and fun, and I like how they had a fresh and uptempo take on the same underlying theme. Kind of like what they did for the MacGyver reboot, only the exact opposite.
  • Let's talk about the JFK Assassination (aka our country's most infamous unsolved mystery and the defining moment of my parents' and grandparents' generations).  I have a few thoughts!
    • People can spend years studying the JFK Assassination (and some have) -- the sheer amount of angles and rabbit holes is absolutely insane, and it's impossible to know what is valid information and what is misinformation. So while it's hard to feel confident about any opinion, we all have one, and on the question of whether others were involved in the assassination I say yes for two primary reasons:
      • The fatal and disturbing head shot from the Zapruder film.  The movie JFK made famous the phrase "back and to the left" regarding Kennedy's head movement and how it was not consistent with a shooter from the book depository. The physics of the head movement is debatable, but clearly the location of the shot is on the front and right of his head.  And after evaluating the angle of the book depository window vs. the position of Kennedy's car at the time of the shot, it appears much more likely that it came from the grassy knoll.
      • Jack Ruby's murder of Oswald on live television.  He said he did it to spare Mrs. Kennedy any hardship, but he was a lowlife with connections to the underworld and so my best guess is that he killed Oswald in order to silence him.
      • At the very least, the initial investigation was either extremely incompetent, intentionally obstructionist, or a combination of the two.  And knowing a little about J. Edgar Hoover, I don't put much trust in him to lead an honest investigation.
    • That brings us to Oswald.  Much has been written about his supposed ties to the CIA or other intelligence organization, the possibility of him being undercover and framed, or even the existence of two Oswalds. For me he's one of the most enigmatic persons in world history -- the more I learn about him, the more he confuses the hell out of me and I don't know what to make of him.  Was he legitimately pro-Soviet and pro-Cuban, or was that an act?  What kind of husband was he?  But the thing that puzzles me the most are his actions after the assassination because they don't make sense no matter what his role is.
      • Why does he leave the rifle on the 6th floor and not do more to try and hide it?
      • If he was actually undercover and/or innocent, what was he doing while the shooting was going on?  If he was trying to stop the attack, he didn't do a very good job.
      • Then things get very weird -- he takes a bus back to his house where he changes clothes and grabs a pistol (or so the story goes), then goes on foot and allegedly shoots Police Officer Tippit in a neighborhood.  And then he makes his way to the Texas Theatre and sits down to watch a movie.  Huh?!?!  What the f was he doing? It seems like he was trying to get away but without any sense of urgency that I would expect from someone who didn't want to get caught.  The only thing that makes sense is that he was meeting a contact, but then what happened to the contact?
      • Then in the interviews before his death he denies everything and says that he's a "patsy."
      • If you listen to even a little bit of two radio interviews he did in the summer of '63, you can tell he's a smart guy who is very knowledgeable about geopolitics and current events.  He sounds pretty genuine in his support of Castro and Cuba -- if he was a double agent, he did a hell of a job in those interviews arguing the other side.
      • So the big question: did he pull the trigger in the book depository?  I go back and forth on this, and at the moment I feel like he......I really don't know -- I need to read up on it some more.  
    • There are more documents scheduled to be declassified in October of 2017, but unless there's a bombshell in there I suspect that we'll never know what really happened since it's unlikely anyone who was directly involved is coming forward at this point with new evidence if they haven't already.  Glad we got that settled!
  • Back to the episode.  At the 15:27 mark of Part One, we can hear Sam's voice ("I could stop the assassination"), but his mouth is not moving.
  • The actor who plays Oswald we've seen before as Seymour in Play it Again Seymour and on the new Hawaii Five-0.  I like him in those roles, but here he struggles -- not only does he not look or sound like the real Oswald, but his overacting is painful to watch.
  • Elya Baskin is our first triple MacGyver / Quantum Leap guest star, appearing in Quantum Leap, the original MacGyver, and the MacGyver reboot! 
                                                
Final Analysis:
I wasn't a fan of this one.  Too bad, because as you can tell I'm clearly fascinated by Oswald and the JFK assassination (to the point where watching this episode has got me going again and led me to do quite a bit of reading and youtubing on the topic during the last few days).  They tried their best to make this episode as epic and dramatic as possible, but unfortunately it was a boring and substandard script and a missed opportunity.  Too bad, because this had the potential to be one of the all-time greats. Ranking it 65 out of 74.

10 comments:

  1. This is an episode that I was really looking forward to, b/c I'd been studying/reading the Kennedy assassination for a very long time. (No idea what specifically got me into it, but I found it fascinating.) I've read several books on it - fiction and non-fiction - and read tons of different theories by people on the internet and lots and lots of stuff. Hence, I was SORELY disappointed by this whole thing. I hated this set of episodes.

    Sam 'becoming' Lee Harvey Oswald was annoying to watch and threw me out of the story. The build up is super slow. And the end with 'oh, yeah, Jackie was killed too' was SUCH a let down. Maybe they thought they were being clever? "Ha ha - this is why you remember history the way you do, because Sam fixed it. Neener neener." Okay, sure, but that wasn't very believable. And it's a hard sell b/c this is a TV SHOW.

    Which leads me to Stephen King's "11.22.63". It's a book about a guy who tries to literally prevent the Kennedy assassination. And I really like King's take on how it plays out. The closer to the actual historical event Jake (the protag) gets, the more history pushes AGAINST his attempts to change, *b/c* this was such a HUGE event in history. Whether or not you liked JFK as a person or a president, his death had a HUGE impact on the nation and the world. It's a turning point sort of event and history is a stubborn bitch and doesn't want those sorts of milestones fucked with. (If you haven't read the book, give it a go. It's not the best ever, but it's entertaining. Hulu also has an original series based on the book that's pretty good and pretty true to the text.)

    Now, the actual assassination elements themselves. (I'm writing this before I read your comments.) Conspiracy vs. Lone Gunman. There's evidence to point either way - including some folks pointing out that the 'Magic Bullet' isn't actually magic, b/c Garrison wasn't using a correct layout of the car. (A specially designed car so Connelly wasn't sitting directly in front of JFK, thus blocking people's view of him.) Essentially - Occam's Razor - the simplest explanation is more often the right one. LHO absolutely could've managed it on his own. He could've also had help. Did he have help from the government? I don't think so, b/c if someone actually thought he had, there would have been some treason trials going on to get to the bottom of things. I don't know if you've ever seen the report of the Warren Commission, but the damned thing is something like 500 standard book pages long. No one writes that much trying to cover something up. It would be too obvious they were full of shit. (The old axiom: if you're going to lie, be brief.)

    I could argue the other way too - that it was a conspiracy, b/c there were definitely enough people in the gov't who hated JFK, didn't trust him and wanted him out of the White House. And, if I was John Munch, I'd be all up in the conspiracy theory, but I'm not. So, I'm siding w/ King that it was probably just the one guy.

    I've been to the TX School Book Depository and to Dealey Plaza. Very cool places to visit. There's a museum on the 6th floor of the Depository and it's full of models and pages and pages of information. (Most of which I was able to skim, having already read 6 or 7 books on the topic and seeing that much of this data was repeats from those books.) If you're ever in Dallas, it's worth the stop in to the museum and down the side of the plaza. There's a white 'x' painted in the road marking the location of the car when Kennedy was shot, which is pretty chilling. (I was in Dallas going to a charity event for the Dallas Stars and their old arena was down the street from Dealey Plaza, so it was a simple walk from one to the other.)

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    1. Now, after reading your JFK comments (and this is likely to ramble around a lot as things come to me):
      - the 'back and to the left' thing - I want to say someone examined that film some more - someone who isn't a lawyer, someone who is legit a film examiner or something - and they did some analysis or other and figured that Garrison was wrong. (Don't quote me here, but I really don't remember now that Costner's voice is stuck in my head w/ that line.)
      - the gov't conspiracy angle is a hard sell. Oswald having other folks helping him out, or 'easing his way', yeah, that I can see. but the gov't actively setting him up to do the deed and wanting it done seems a little much. b/c if gov't agency folks can take out their own president, what stopped them from taking out Castro? if gov't guys wanted to take out JFK, they'd literally need a secret service agent in their pocket and an investigation would've borne that out and tarnished the hell out of the secret service. Those guys legit offer to trade their lives for the President (the ones that act as his personal guard). It is literally their job to die in his place if someone/thing attacks him.
      - Jack Ruby taking out Oswald is the weird wild card in the whole thing. He wanted to spare the Kennedy family a trial? Or, was he just wanting his 15 minutes of fame? Trying to be some kind of hero. We'll never know, b/c he's dead too.
      - Oswald himself was an odd duck. I don't know as much about him, but he was definitely not the average guy.

      This episode? I think is quite possibly and 'jump the shark' moment for QL. I can see why they would want to try to 'leap' into a huge moment in history like this, but at the same time, such a landmark moment might have been a little more than they could handle. This isn't making sure a woman gets an answer right on a law exam so she can make sure the QL project keeps it's funding. This is an event in history that could have pivotal impact on the WORLD. The larger the event, the larger the changes to the future if the history is altered. Sort of the extreme version of chaos theory. King's book does a pretty good job of addressing this and I like the way he did it.

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    2. Thanks for the comments. I've never been to Dallas but would love to see Dealey Plaza someday, in fact it's pretty high up on my list of places I've never been to that I want to see at some point in my life.

      There's so many conflicting facts and so many of the people involved after the fact whether it be investigators, witnesses, or writers have an agenda so it's very hard to know what to make of anything. That's why I like audio like the one I linked to where he's interviewed on the radio because it's primary source material and it allows me to form my own impressions instead of relying on secondhand sources. He certainly sounds pretty convincingly pro-Soviet on the tapes, so if he was an U.S. agent he was very skilled.

      I agree that it's hard to imagine members of the government (or anyone else) being that well organized that they would have been able to frame him for everything. But then you have people like Judyth Vary Baker (who claims to be his mistress), James Files (who says he shot JFK), and countless others murking up the waters, some more convincing than others. Like you I could make a case for either way, and clearly there have been lots of lies told, we just don't know by whom.

      What do you think about Oswald's actions immediately after the shooting? As I wrote above the theater part is especially confusing to me.

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    3. Oswald, again, is an odd duck. I can see him, if he truly believed what he was doing was 'patriotic' in his mind, shooting JFK, then just getting a soda and taking in a movie, with a stop to pop off some cop he thought wasn't on his side. Maybe he's a sociopath - it would sort of explain a lot. But, he went to work and now he's done. Claiming that he was a 'patsy' could have been anything from misdirection to intent for an insanity defense. If he really was smart, taking an insanity plea beats getting the chair. B/c the chances of him not getting convicted if Ruby doesn't kill him are pretty slim. B/c even if the gov't was behind it, now they'd wanna look like the 'hero', so they'd make sure the evidence stuck and, this guy's just committed the highest act of treason in the nation, so he's not going home - ever.

      re: the gov't and a conspiracy - our gov't can't work together well enough to do simple shit, no way they'd pull off killing the Commander in Chief. And something as big as what Garrison was making it out to be - there would be enough rumors and legit information to fill countless pages. B/c no way that many people keep this a secret from everyone. Word would've gotten out somehow. One guy gets a little sloshed and tells his wife or his buddy. Someone would find out. And it's too complicated. There are far too many moving parts. One or two guys pulling it off is easier to believe.

      The investigation and such after the event - that was a hot mess. Parading around the rifle and weird stuff like that, I don't even know what was going on there - a bunch of cops wanting their 15 minutes of fame with their involvement in the investigation of the shooting of the President, maybe? I can see people being kind of stupid like that. Even the doctor at Parkland Hospital where they took JFK had a weird moment like that (mentioned in his book) - he's like 'It's the President; half his head is missing, but you attempt that life saving thing anyway b/c it's the freakin' President!' (paraphrased, obviously) Kennedy was 100% DOA. He wasn't gonna make it. He was gone before the car went under the railroad trestle. But those doctors at Parkland put in the vain effort anyway.

      There are stories that the Parkland doctor's x-ray films were taken by the Feds and destroyed b/c they didn't feed into the lone-gunman angle, or whatever. I'm not sure on the truth of that, but it's come up in the conspiracy circles.

      The more I write up, the more random crap that I've read pops into my head. Sadly, I can't remember where it all came from, aside from the Garrison stuff.

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  2. Ooof....this was a complete and utter mess. I remember seeing the year-end copy of Entertainment Weekly magazine in 1992 where they rated "bests and worsts" and was surprised, given its years of generally favorable critical reviews, to see "Quantum Leap" on the list of "Worst of TV". They singled out the JFK assassination episode as emblematic of the show's bounce towards gimmickry in what would be its final season. Twenty-four years later, I concur with their impression, at least on this episode.

    First of all, in no way should this have been a two-parter. A single hour was more than enough for this story without a more substantive treatment. I knew I was in for a rough ride early with the added gimmickry of Sam inexplicably leaping around within Oswald's six-year timeline. I'm usually not a fan of how this show unveils these kinds of gimmicks from out of nowhere as a means of adding untapped layers to the overall time travel concept. It worked in the episode where Al and Sam traded places, but it doesn't work whenever they conveniently use the captured leaper from the chamber to assist with the mission and it certainly didn't work with this new gimmick of Sam losing control of his own personality. Bellisario is clearly a fan of the JFK assassination mythology, but if he had to resort to a narrative sleight of hand this dopey to conjure up a JFK storyline within the framework of the "Quantum Leap" formula, he should have saved face and scrapped the idea in the writers' room long before they went through with making the episode. Particularly for a two-hour (again, !!!!!) season premiere, this is about as tangible of a jump-the-shark moment a high-concept show like "Quantum Leap" is ever gonna have. And what was up with that ending, when Sam suddenly leaped into a Secret Service agent guarding JFK at the second the real Oswald pulled the trigger? And by doing so it somehow saved Jackie's life? Did I miss something there or was it really that pitiful?

    I typically like conspiracy theories and historical mysteries, but I've never been that big into digging into the JFK assassination. I've seen a couple of documentaries on it and just haven't been able to muster up the passion on the issue that both you and Highlander seem to have. Several years ago at work, a couple of coworkers were outright arguing about it. But even if I was really into JFK assassination history, I think I'd still be rattled by how lame this was. The fact that it took up two hours (again, !!!!!) of my life means I'm gonna be especially harsh on the ranking, putting it second to last, ahead of only "A Portrait for Troian".

    The verdict is still out on the new uptempo theme song. I had never heard that before because I hadn't seen anything from season 5 of "Quantum Leap". It might grow on me but I tend to be a traditionalist. "Wiseguy" had an uptempo variation on its theme for its final season and it grew on me, so perhaps "Quantum Leap's" new version will too by series' end.

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    1. And while Sam was on the tractor with his dad when JFK was shot, my dad was 18 years old and home on lunch break watching the parade and saw the live footage of the assassination.

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    2. You're probably better off for not being that into the JFK assassination -- I find that it's like running on a hamster wheel leading nowhere, and the more time I spend learning about it the more questions I have. Bellisario gave an interview where he says he met Oswald in real life and the interaction was recreated in the episode (the scene where the soldier asks to see the roster in the tent).
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r28lOrcFK6U
      He also says he's "100% sure" that Oswald acted alone -- I don't care who you are (unless you're Lee Harvey himself), but no one can say they are 100% sure of that. You wanna say 99%, that's fine, but don't say 100, Donald.

      We're on the same page on the rest of the episode including the ending which missed the mark. And the new theme song has grown on me big time, in fact each episode I watch now I listen to the whole thing.

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    3. My version of the JFK assassination in terms of climbing into conspiracy theory rabbit holes is the 1982 Johnny Gosch kidnapping right here in Des Moines, perhaps the highest-profile child kidnapping story in our lifetimes. Ever since I went with my mom, aunt, and cousin to the amusement park in Des Moines and was warned about "this being the town where those paperboys were kidnapped" (another paperboy was kidnapped two years later), I've been intrigued, and moving to Des Moines has only increased my interest in the story. Even without delving into the wackiest conspiracy theories of the case that involve former President George H.W. Bush and the 2005 suicide of former Rolling Stone columnist Hunter S. Thompson, just a cursory look at the details and aftermath of the kidnapping reveal incredibly wild undertones to the case and the likelihood that 12-year-old Gosch was forced into sex slavery for titans of business and entertainment. Really dark stuff all around.

      I am intrigued that Bellisario met Oswald in real life. I haven't seen the video interview yet but will check it out later today. Agreed that Bellisario insisting that he's "100% sure" is unconvincing, comparable to all the media "experts" promising us that Hillary's victory in the election last month was "just a fact". Either way, it's unfortunate that encounter with Oswald led Bellisario to insist on foisting this stinker of an episode on us.

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    4. I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist either. I've never even heard of Johnny Gosch.

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    5. I believe you were born in 1981 which would mean you were still in the crib when Gosch was abducted and have limited your exposure in the key years when the saga unfolded. Either way, you'd have heard of him if you lived in Iowa.

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