"The Leap Home" The two "Leap Home" episodes are arguably the best in the series -- and I say that as someone whose favorite will always be "M.I.A." They are thematically textured on many levels, almost flawlessly executed, and (not to underestimate the importance of this) wonderful and well-paced stories, the kind that would be ruined if they went on any longer, but which you nonetheless wish could go on forever. Thematically, "M.I.A.," "The Leap Home," and "The Leap Home: Vietnam" form a compelling trilogy (actually more internally consistent than the fifth season episodes which bore that name) about love and longing, desire and deceit, loyalty and limits. They are partly about what it means to be a Leaper, and are certainly concerned with the ethics of time travel. But they are also about what it means to be human -- evoking, as Orson Scott Card said in his Introduction to Maps in the Mirror, "the ultimate mythic response: 'Yes, that's how people are.'" I've already talked about the concept of Limits in my comments on "M.I.A." Part one of "The Leap Home" reprises this theme, this time reversing Al's role with Sam's. Where Al was trying to use the power of time travel to repair his doomed marriage, Sam tries to use it to change the fate of his father (who died too early, from Sam's point of view), his sister (who eloped with an abusive drunk), and his brother (who died in Vietnam), when he has actually Leaped into himself at sixteen to win a basketball game. The similiarity is easy to see; the difference is more subtle: in "M.I.A.," Al was trying to work through Sam, and Sam, who had no personal connection to Al's marriage, was able to keep a level head and recognize the Limit as soon as it became clear. In "The Leap Home," Sam has the initiative, and Al does not have the power to stop him -- all he can do is counsel, and hope it sinks in. In what is perhaps the best scene in the trilogy ("perhaps" because very little can compare with Al's farewell to Beth in "M.I.A."), Sam realizes that the Limit is not artificially imposed, that he isn't changing anything, that he _can't_ change anything, and runs out into his father's cornfield. He shouts to the sky that he is going to quit, that it's not fair. Al tells him, "I think it's _damn_ fair." Finally, Sam realizes that he has been given a great gift in the ability to actually be with his family again, and lets go of his hubristic (and fruitless) attempt to dictate their fates... except for one fate: his brother Tom's. In part one, Sam makes a deal with Tom: on April 8, the day Tom is supposed to die, he is to "crawl into the deepest, darkest hole in Vietnam." Just before Sam Leaps out, Al tells him that the deal didn't work, and Sam shouts "Tom!" then finds himself wading through a low river in Vietnam with Tom's SEAL squad -- and under fire from snipers -- and the final segment of the trilogy begins. Sam is, of course, not there to save Tom; according to Ziggy, it is likely that he is there to save the life of Colonel Deke Grimwold, who will be killed in a sniper attack on April 7. Al reminds Sam that it is possible that he will Leap immediately after the attack (and therefore be unable to save Tom), but Sam warns Grimwold anyway. The sniper attack, mysteriously, does not occur, and Sam doesn't Leap out. Why? Sam is convinced that it is so he can save his brother; Al insists that it is to make the mission they are going out on, called Operation Lazarus, a success. We are not immediately told what the mission entails -- Al stays to listen to Grimwold brief Tom about it, but we follow Sam out of the tent. We later learn that Al is again trying to change his own life; he is one of the POWs that Tom's team is being sent in to rescue. In "M.I.A." Al was never forced to accept that he couldn't change his life -- Sam simply wouldn't do it -- but in "Vietnam," he has to make a conscious choice between sending Sam after the POWs who are being pulled down a nearby trail or helping him get back to the SEAL squad to warn them that there is a traitor among them, and they are walking into an ambush. He chooses the latter, and Sam is able to save Tom. Had Sam known at the time that Al was one of the POWs, it is likely that he would have frozen up (exactly what his partner, Roger Skaggs, from "M.I.A." warned him about), and the mission would have failed _and_ the squad would have been lost, but Al doesn't tell him until later that night, when a pile of photos taken by journalist Maggie Dawson reveals his face as he was dragged down the path. When Sam recognizes him, he looks up and says, "You could've been free." Al smiles sadly and taps his head. "I was free," he says. "Up here, I was always free." This is a statement with many levels -- on the surface, it is exactly what it is: Al redefining what freedom means. A level beneath, he is trying to reassure Sam that it was okay to save Tom. And then, on its deepest level, it is a statement that Al has accepted that he cannot change that part of his life -- perhaps even suggesting that he would have been less free if he had convinced Sam to go forward, though that might be stretching it. Was it morally fair for Sam to save Tom? The question is left open. It wasn't blocked by a Higher Power of any kind, but Sam had to trade (as he put it) "a life for a life." Without really thinking of the consequences, just hoping for a story Ziggy could access on the mission, Sam had convinced Tom to let Maggie Dawson accompany them. Not only did she never file a story, she was killed when she stepped on a land mine while running back to the chopper... possibly dying in Tom Beckett's place. She was awarded the Pulitzer for her last photo -- of Al -- but that is cold comfort, and there was no reason she had to die for it only yards away from freedom. Was it worthwhile? We're never told. We don't know what Maggie would have done with her life, or what Tom actually did. Perhaps it worked out as it should have. But we don't know. And that is the perfect ending to this bittersweet trilogy.