The Leap Home: Part I was the Season 3 opening episode, also the 32nd overall episode in the series, and part one of a two episode story arc. Written by series creator Donald P. Bellisario and directed by Joe Napolitano, the episode originally aired on NBC-TV on September 28, 1990.
"The Leap Home" was the two part premier of Quantum Leap's third season. In this episode, Sam leaps into himself at the age of 16 on his family's farm in Elk Ridge, Indiana.
This is a leap unlike any other. When Sam leaps in, he is crouching in a field of seed corn, and immediately realizes from the height of the crops and the smell that it must be November. He also realizes that there must be pheasants around, and when he flushes one out, pretends to shoot it. He is being watched by three high school cheerleaders, who giggle and ask if he got it.
Sam recognizes one of the cheerleaders, Lisa (played by Mai-Lis Kuniholm), who asks him to go with her to the “gobble hop” (Thanksgiving dance) after “the game”. In shock, Sam runs off, but immediately recognizes his home street and runs straight for his family's farmhouse. He gets a glimpse of his reflection in the window, and sees none other than himself at sixteen years old. A woman, who Sam recognizes as his mother, Thelma Louise Beckett (played by Caroline Kava), opens the door, and exclaims that Sam scared ten years off her. She starts calling for everyone to come in for supper, and on the verge of tears, Sam immediately hugs her, and goes to find his father.
Sam's father, John Samuel Beckett (played by Scott Bakula), is milking cows in the milking shed. He sternly tells Sam he shouldn't have stayed back after basketball practice to keep shooting hoops when he has chores to do, and to not push himself too hard, he can't expect to play as well as Tom (played by David Newsom) in his senior year, because Tom was 18 and Sam is only 16 and still growing. After telling his father it won't happen again, Sam shocks John by telling him that he loves him and giving him a hug. Sam's sister, Katie (played by Olivia Burnette), sees this as she walks in, and thinks Sam is just buttering up his father so that he can have Tom's bedroom, which she also wants. Even though John thinks Sam should have it, Sam tells Katie she can, and anything else she wants, and carries her off in a playful hug. At dinner, Sam shovels the food down because it's “all very good”, and John thinks Sam is trying to bulk up for the game.
Sam, remembering how the game originally went, absentmindedly says that Bentleighville still beat them, then covers by saying that happened last year. John says the key will be stopping “No-Nose Pruitt” (played by John Tuell), who scored 20 points against them in the last season, and whom Sam says is “unstoppable” and “6 ft 4” (answering Al, who just walked through the wall and asked how tall he is) and lost part of his nose in a reaping accident.
Katie also heard from one of her friends that No-Nose has it in for Sam, because he is sweet on Lisa, who likes Sam, and teases Sam about running away when she asked him out. Sam leaves to “do his chores” (really to talk to Al), even putting off peach cobbler, and Thelma has a funny feeling. This worries John, because last time she had a bad feeling they had a massive flood “that could float the Ark” the year Katie was born – and they think Katie was God making it up to them. Even though Al ribs Sam for running away from Lisa, Sam couldn't be happier at being back in Elk Ridge Indiana with his dad alive. He already knows it's 1969 sometime near Thanksgiving, because 1969 was his senior year and they always opened the basketball season against Bentleighville, which Al says is why Sam leapt there.
In the original order of events, Sam's team lost that game, or rather, as Sam puts it, he lost the game because of how badly No-Nose beat him on offense, defense, and just plain beat him, and spent many nights wishing he could replay the game. Al tells him he's going to get that chance as that game would have been a turning point for a lot of people; if they had won, the team would go on to be state champions, his coach would have accepted a position at the University of Iowa and go on to the NBA and some of his teammates would get basketball scholarships and become doctors. Al tells Sam all he has to do is win the game against Bentleighville and he'll leap, but leaping out isn't very appealing to Sam. Sam thinks if he stays, he can help his father live a healthier lifestyle to prevent the heart attack that kills him, he can stop Katie from marrying Chuck – an abusive alcoholic who beat her, and could stop Tom from going to Vietnam, thus saving his life.
Al doesn't think it's possible and reminds Sam that they tried that sort of thing with Beth, and that some things aren't meant to be. He reminds Sam that he's supposed to help people, telling him that any leap could be the leap home. But as far as Sam is concerned, he's already home and still wants to try. The next morning, Sam causes an argument with his father, because he has made a “healthy, well-balanced breakfast” with decaffeinated coffee, which John does not like the look of. Sam tells John that his lifestyle promotes cardiovascular disease (which makes Thelma think Sam will be a doctor) and that John has to stop eating foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats, stop smoking, and start exercising, but John believes he is healthy, works hard and will continue to eat what he raises (dairy products).
John goes to buy more cigarettes (which Sam has burnt along with the trash) and Thelma tells Sam that he had been very mean to his father. Katie thinks it's because John is the same age his father was when he died. Thelma agrees to cut some fat out of their meals after Thanksgiving, but tells Sam not to remind John about his father's death again. Sam thinks he will change their futures, but Al tells Sam he has to get to basketball practice. Sam doesn't want to go because he doesn't want to leap, but agrees when Al tells him he will get to see his old friends again, but says he's not going to play in the game. Al says if Sam really believes he is here to help his family, he shouldn't worry about leaping if they win the game.
At basketball practice, the coach has organized to have someone “bigger and uglier” train with them, to get them over the intimidation of No-Nose Prewitt. The man (who is wearing an ape mask) has great skills, and Sam thinks he knows him. When he playfully hits Sam in the head with the basketball, Sam immediately knows it is his brother Tom and pulls him in for a hug. Tom and Sam go hunting in the cornfield, and Tom tells Sam about his training, being pushed well past his limits and never thinking past the evolution he is in. Sam says he knows how that feels, which makes Tom laugh, and asks “what evolution are you in now?” Sam replies that he's trying to figure out how to stop his brother from going to Vietnam. Tom is shocked, having never thought of Sam as a hippie, burning his draft card and yelling “Hell No! We won’t go!” But Sam says Vietnam is a losing battle that's just going to drag on for a few more years, taking more lives from both sides with them, and the North eventually swallowing up the South anyway. Tom wonders why Sam is being so unpatriotic, and Sam says that if his brother's life is in danger it should mean something. Tom believes that Vietnam is America pushing its own limits, and that he took an oath to God and his country.
Now having realized that Sam thinks he's not coming back, Tom tells him that neither of them can see the future, but Sam confesses that he can, correctly predicting that Tom will flush out two birds, hit the first and miss the second, stunning Tom. Sam's parents and Tom have a doctor examine Sam. The doctor believes that Sam is simply under a lot of stress, doing his senior year so young and having numerous college offers, and out of fear of losing Tom, his mind has created a creative way of handling it, believing he can see the future. The doctor advises the family to simply play along and that he will outgrow it.
Katie plays along too, asking Sam about the future. He tells her about some of the new slang (thereby starting the use of the word “Awesome”) and tells her to stay away from a guy named Chuck who she's going to elope with. He gets frustrated realizing she's just humoring him, so she asks him about the Beatles, and if Paul is dead (which she heard when playing the White Album backwards). He tells her Paul's not dead, and that after the Beatles split up he forms Wings. She then asks about John Lennon, as he's her favorite, and after being told by Al not to tell her about his murder, says that John writes his favorite song, “Imagine”. He starts playing it, and Katie is clearly into it, but starts crying, having realized that because the song doesn't exist yet, that Sam actually is telling the truth and that Tom actually is going to die. She runs to her parents and Tom and tells them what happened. Al pleads with Sam to tell them he made it all up, as nothing is changing; John and Tom will still die and Katie still marries Chuck. Instead of making their future better, Sam is only making his family's present miserable. Reluctantly he agrees claiming he only did it because he didn't want Tom to go to Vietnam. He then runs off in tears, and John decides to leave him be for a while.
Sam runs into the cornfield, where Al tries to comfort him, telling him he did the right thing. Sam says he always does the right thing, and wonders why he can save strangers but not the people he loves. He angrily tells whoever is controlling his leaps that he quits before running off again. After giving him a few minutes to calm down, Sam tells Al how unfair he thinks his situation is. Al tells Sam he thinks it's “Damn Fair”, wishing that he could have a few days to be with his father and sister again so he could talk to them and tell them how much he loves them. This snaps Sam out of it, and he decides to make the most of out of the time he has left. Returning home, he has a very happy Thanksgiving with his family. After dinner, he and Tom shoot some hoops, and Tom teaches him how to do a jump hook shot, and says it will impress the Hell out of Lisa. He also tells Sam that they have to beat Bentleighville, he wants his revenge as they were the only team his own team didn't beat. Sam promises that he will win the game, on the condition that on April 8, Tom will crawl into a deep dark bunker and stay there. Although Tom still doesn't believe Sam, he agrees.
At the game, Sam is fouled and winded by No-nose. Tom helps him back up, and Sam reminds him to keep his promise. After saying a brief goodbye to his dad, Sam makes his freethrow shots leaving his team within one point of victory. In the last few seconds, Sam gets the ball, and makes a jump hook shot against No-nose, scoring the goal and winning the game for Elk Ridge. Al tells him that his team goes on to be state champions and everything plays out as Ziggy had predicted. Al stalls when asked about Tom, but eventually tells him that Tom is still killed in Vietnam. Sam tries to call for Tom, but leaps at the same time, and so is still yelling “Tom” when he lands in Vietnam, causing everyone to start shooting, while Sam ducks in the water. When the shooting stops, Sam resurfaces, realizing he is alongside Tom, who asks how he knew they were there..?
Sam leaps into a corn field and quickly starts to recognize things. He quickly races to his house and sees his own image (as a child) in his reflection and his mother come out of the house.
Al soon discovers that Sam is there to ensure that his high school wins a basketball game they originally lost, but with his father and brother Tom still alive and an opportunity to make sure his sister Katie doesn't run away with Chuck, an abusive future husband, Sam refuses to play in the game because he doesn't want to leap. Al tries to convince Sam that he shouldn't try to fix things for his own benefit, but Sam doesn't listen.
Sam does everything he can to save his family; he tries to force his father to give up smoking and live a healthier lifestyle and confesses he can tell the future to get them to believe him about Tom and Katie's grim futures. Obviously no-one believes him but they decide to humor him. Later when talking to Katie about her future, he starts playing Imagine by John Lennon. Although she initially enjoys the song, she soon bursts into tears as she starts to believe that Sam really can tell the future and is right about Tom being killed. As the rest of Sam's family try to comfort Katie, Al tells him that he's not changing anything about their futures and is only making their present worse. Seeing first-hand the misery he's piling on their family, Sam lies that he made up everything to stop Tom going to Vietnam before running off in distress and telling Al he doesn't want to leap anymore if he is expected to save strangers but can't save people he loves. Al eventually convinces Sam that he's got a great opportunity to spend time with his loved ones again, a chance he would give anything for. Sam decides to make the most of the time he has left and returns home and enjoys Thanksgiving with his family.
While practicing basketball with Tom, Sam strikes a deal with his brother... If Sam's school wins the game, Tom must crawl into a concrete bunker on April 8, 1970, the day he was originally killed in Vietnam, and stay there until April 9. Tom agrees and Sam goes on to win the game. During the winning celebration Al informs Sam of all the things he has changed, but Tom is still killed in the war. Reaching for Tom and screaming his name, Sam leaps... only to find himself in Vietnam alongside Tom again, possibly giving him another chance to save his life.
Possible Temporal Problems
By preventing the marriage of Lisa Parsons and No-Nose Pruitt, Sam also prevents their children from being born. The ramifications of this are never discussed, neither temporal nor ethical. Also not mentioned is whether or not Sam's sister, Katie, had children by her new (post-change) husband. (In fact, the latter is not changed: It had already been established in the pilot that, at the time Sam leapt, Katie had remarried to a man named Jim and had two children, and this episode states that her marriage to Chuck still happened.)
In the original history, the team that defeated Elk Ridge won honestly. In the new history, Elk Ridge won, but not honestly, since Sam is, technically, no longer in high school. Elk Ridge's victory allowed the Elk Ridge boys to get scholarships. What happened to the boys on the other team? Did they lose scholarships? This is never explored.
The idea of soul leaping vs. body leaping is still not firmly resolved in this episode. At one point, Al mentions the sexual benefits of having a mature mind in the "persona" of a 16-year-old. Obviously, this comment makes more sense if Al believes that Sam is physically 16 years old.