The Color of Truth was the seventh episode in Season 1 of the Quanum Leap TV series, also the seventh overall series episode. Written by Deborah Pratt, the episode, which was directed by Mike Vejar, made its premiere on NBC-TV on May 3, 1989.
As the black chauffeur of an elderly southern woman, Sam must overcome prejudice to prevent her death.
August 8, 1955: Sam leaps into Jesse Tyler, an aged black man living in the south prior to the Civil Rights Movement. Sam's modern-day racial attitudes cause consternation and unrest among the townsfolk, leading to brutal consequences. And, while Sam's true mission is to save the life of his elderly white employer, Ms Melny Trafford (Susan French), Sam also believes he has been sent to initiate the cause of civil rights in the town.
Sam leaps into Jesse Tyler while standing at the entrance to a diner. Unaware that he is a black man in the Deep South during the segregationist era, he takes a seat at the counter to order lunch, prompting outcries of shock and dismay from the other patrons. Sam catches his own reflection in the mirror, and becomes marveled that he has leaped into a black man. Two young thugs, Toad and Billy Joe, become riled with Sam's audacious action and threaten him with physical violence. Ms. Patty, the diner owner, suggests Sam take the bag of lunch for his employer, Ms. Melny, and leave at once to avoid bloodshed. Sam confers and leaves the diner.
As he crosses the street, he notices an old lady summoning him. Sam deduces that it must Ms. Melny and walks over to hand the bag of lunch to her. Ms. Melny is his demanding, though benevolent employer, and well-respected member of the community. She instructs Sam to drive her to the cemetery where she can visit the grave of her late husband, Charles Trafford, the former Governor of Alabama. Sam feigns memory loss to get Ms. Melny to direct him to the cemetery's location. Ms. Melny becomes flustered by Sam's "tomfoolery" and gives him directions.
The grave site has been overrun by weeds. Sam offers to take out the weeds and discard them, while Ms. Melny silently pays her respects. Al arrives in the cemetery and Sam boasts about leaping into a black man and how it opens up greater possibilities about the identities Sam may leap into in the future. Al, however, believes that Sam's position as a black man in the Deep South is dangerous and advises him to keep a low profile, until he can accomplish his mission: saving Ms. Melny from being killed by a passenger train while driving her car across the tracks the following day. Sam, however, believes his other mission is to advance the cause of civil rights in the town.
Back at Ms. Melny's home, Sam takes her groceries into the kitchen, where he is confronted by Ms. Melny's brash son, Clayton. Clayton tells Sam that his decision to sit down at the lunch counter has upset the entire town and warns him against any further recalcitrant behavior. Clayton attempts to relay his message to Ms Melny, reminding her that her standing as widower of a former state Governor carries certain responsibilities. Ms Melny, however, is unconcerned by Sam's behavior at the diner, and tells Clayton not to lecture her.
Jesse's granddaughter, Nell, arrives at Ms. Melny's home to collect Sam for the day. She drives him back to their house where they live with Jesse's son and daughter-in-law. Sam must fulfill one of Jesse's obligations and prepare chitlins for the upcoming church picnic. Jesse's son approaches him about Sam's sitting at the lunch counter earlier in the day, warning him that such actions will provoke a backlash in the community which will, in turn, harm their family. Al agrees, saying that the town isn't ready to change their prejudices just yet. Sam disagrees, stating that he has every right as a black man to sit and eat lunch. They are interrupted by a female scream. Nell is out the front, staring at Billy Joe and Toad, who have just planted burning a cross in their front lawn.
Sam approaches the Sheriff about the matter. However, the Sheriff, who is Billy Joe's father, dismisses the stunt as just a couple of boys being "mischievous". Furthermore, he places the blame on Sam, saying that it was his decision to sit at the lunch counter which prompted this backlash. After the sheriff walks off, Sam angrily drinks from the whites-only water fountain to cool off. He is seen by Billy Joe and Toad, who decide that he has "gone too far" and resolve to take more serious action against him in order to "whack him back into place".
Sam, meanwhile, resumes work at Ms. Melny's home, attempting to repair her broken water pipe. They take a break and Ms. Melny prepares supper for the both of them. Sam is about to sit at the same table with Ms. Melny, until she interrupts him. She says "coloreds and whites" are not allowed to eat together. Sam presses her on the matter, asking why she is not allowed to do so. Ms. Melny tells him it is the "way things are" but Sam counters that things need to change.
Nell appears at the door, but Sam tells her he cannot come home, as he is going to drive Ms. Melny's car back and make some repairs on it. Nell nods and walks away. As she is driving back, Billy Joe and Toad ambush the vehicle, forcing it to veer off the road and crash into a ditch. Nell lay unconscious, bleeding profusely. Worried that she might be seriously hurt, Billy Joe and Toad flee the scene immediately.
Sam and Ms. Melny continue their discussion about civil rights, with Sam telling her that one day things will change, and African Americans will unite and seek equality. He tells Ms. Melny she can use her influence and respect in the town to encourage others to change. Ms. Melny becomes uncomfortable and steers him away from the conversation by stating that she must drive into town to buy a new water pipe. Sam insists on driving her, aware that she is destined to be killed by the passenger train later in the day.
While they are driving into town, Ms. Melny spots Nell's overturned car in the ditch. Sam pulls over and rushes down to tend to Nell's unconscious form. He picks her up, wraps a cloth around her to stop the bleeding and puts her in the backseat of the car. Sam drives to the nearest hospital, and frantically asks the staff for assistance. However, the staff tell him sternly that they cannot accept Nell, as it is a whites-only hospital and black people are not allowed admittance. Sam persists, and one of the nurses leaves to call the sheriff. Ms. Melny intervenes, using her status in the community, to order the staff to treat Nell. They obey, and take Nell in for surgery.
Ms. Melny goes in after them, but advises Sam to wait outside so as not to cause any further unrest. Sam and Al wait outside, with Al urging Sam to drive the car away so that Ms. Melny will not get into it and be killed, as is destined to happen in twenty minutes time Sam believes Al is being paranoid.
The Sheriff arrives and arrests Sam for bringing Nell to the hospital and violating the segregation laws. As he is being whisked into the patrol car, Sam asks the nurse to delay Ms. Melny at the hospital for half-an-hour. After the Sheriff takes Sam away, Ms. Melny appears. Despite the nurse's instructions, Ms. Melny gets into her car and drives off.
Al stays with Ms. Melny in the car, attempting to reach out to her and tell her to stop the car. Ms. Melny, however, cannot hear him and continues to drive toward the path of the passenger train, which is inching closer. Al screams become more desperate and, just as Ms. Melny is about to collide with the train, she manages to hear one of Al's warnings, and pulls off into the cemetery, avoiding collision. She attributes her miraculous avoidance of death to her late husband Charles' spirit.
Sam, meanwhile, is locked away in a jail cell. The sheriff arrives to tell Sam he has dropped the charges, as Nell's accident was caused by two boys that ran her off the road, though he won't disclose their identities. The Sheriff assures him that no one in Jesse's family will be harmed further, but Sam tells him it isn't good enough and that the Sheriff is going to have to learn to change his ways.
Sam leaves the Sheriff's department, and is met outside by Ms. Melny and Clayton. Clayton tells Sam he should still be in jail for his actions but Ms Melny tells him to mind his own business and be on his way. Ms. Melny tells Sam that Nell is in good condition and back in a black hospital. Sam says it was reckless and unsafe for her to be transferred while she was in such a critical condition. He tells Ms. Melny that this experience should prove to her the injustice of the town, and how she can use her authority to affect positive changes. Ms. Melny, however, disagrees and wants things to go back to normal. She orders that he cease trying to change things, and go into Ms Patty's diner and pick up her lunch, like usual.
Sam appears once more at the diner, being eyed suspiciously by the patrons, including Toad, Billy Joe, the Sheriff, and Clayton. Sam collects the lunch and is about to leave, until Ms. Melny appears and decides she will eat her lunch in the diner. She asks Sam to join him. Billy Joe is about to rise in protest, but the Sheriff tells him to sit down. Sam happily sits next to Ms. Melny at the counter. He view turns to Jesse reflection smiling at which point Sam leaps
The Driving Miss Daisy connection
Many people think this episode was based on the film Driving Miss Daisy. In fact, the movie would not be released until later this same year, though Daisy did exist as a play prior to that, and was likely an inspiration for the writers.
References in other episodes
Jesse Tyler is one of Sam's "multiple personalities" in the episode Shock Theater.
Behind the Scenes
- This episode marks the series' move by NBC from Fridays at 9/8 p.m. Central to Wednesdays at 10/9 p.m. Central. This will be the most consistent time slot that the series will have, and well as its most successful slot in the ratings.
- Writer Deborah Pratt won a Women in Film award for Best Writing for a Drama Series with this episode, according to The Quantum Leap Book by Louis Chunovic.
- This is one of three times that Sam leaps in on this same date (Aug. 8, 1955), the other two times being the episodes "8 1/2 Months" and "Trilogy Part I: One Little Heart." All 3 episodes were written by Pratt, and the latter two were both directed by James Whitmore, Jr., but it's unknown whether or not this is a coincidence.
- We Shall Overcome
|Quantum Leap Season One|
|● Genesis: Part I ● Genesis: Part II ● Star-Crossed ● The Right Hand of God ● How The Tess Was Won ● Double Identity ● The Color of Truth ● Camikazi Kid ● Play It Again, Seymour ●.|