"M.I.A." I liked Quantum Leap until I saw "M.I.A." It was a solid, character-driven show, with two wonderfully engaging performers comprising its cast. Every episode was a strong story in its own right, and I've always been a fan of happy endings, if they are at all feasible. The producers even had the chutzpah to make G-d Himself an active (if unseen) Character! So it was a little simplistic... not everything had to be epic. It's definitely fair to say that I was fond of Quantum Leap. Then I saw "M.I.A.," and everything changed. It was the story that made me a Leaper (and a simple Dean Stockwell fan) for life. On its surface, "M.I.A." is a straight Leap, in which Sam has Leaped into an undercover police officer to save his partner's life. Al is complicating matters by trying to convince him that his real mission is to keep a lonely young nurse named Beth from having her missing husband declared dead so she can marry a local lawyer. Al himself is, of course, the missing husband, though the audience clues into this much sooner than Sam does. In a wonderful dramatic turn, Sam finds Al's picture on Beth's mantle, and all the bad feelings he's had about the Leap suddenly coalesce. He has to refuse to help Al, and Al must, at long last, say goodbye to "the only woman [he] ever really loved, the only one [he] wanted to grow old with." Even on this level, "M.I.A." is a brilliant piece of television, but it goes a level deeper, and reinterprets everything that came before or after it. On this second level, "M.I.A." (and its two companion pieces, "The Leap Home," and "The Leap Home: Vietnam") is a story about Limits, and it shattered any illusion that Quantum Leap was morally or emotionally simplistic, or that its primary goal was was to create warm fuzzy feelings in its audience. Until "M.I.A.," QL had delighted in breaking past any and all limits on its premise -- in the pilot, Sam's very *mission* is to break Mach 3. In the second episode, we find him ignoring his own rules to no immediately apparent consequence. There seems to be nothing outside of Sam's range, and his innocent hubris is consistently celebrated. But in "M.I.A.," for the first time, he reaches a real Limit, and we feel, along with Sam and Al, the temptation to over-reach, and the pain of realizing that it can't be done. Why not? Significantly, we aren't told, either in "M.I.A." (about Beth) or either of "The Leap Home" episodes (though there is a hint in "Vietnam" that Sam's over-reaching has exacted a moral price). It is at this point that the series itself takes on the feel of epic literature, and echoes some of its most poignant moments (recalling most powerfully -- for me, anyway -- the Lady Galadriel's final refusal of the temptation of the One Ring, despite knowing that she could use it, at first, for benevolent purposes, in The Fellowship of the Ring). We are simply meant to intuit that there are lines Sam cannot cross, that to go beyond them is to risk his very soul. The unparalleled writing and acting in "M.I.A." are enough to place it among the best science fiction episodes ever to air on television, easily in the same park as TNG's "I, Borg" or DS9's "Duet." But the epic dimension begun here and carried to its logical conclusion in "Vietnam" gives it a place of honor in any literary genre, and in any form of presentation.
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