Old 01-21-2012, 02:12 PM   #1
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Default Sam's Flaws

I know this should probably go in the character discussion forum, but I did ask this question there and nobody answered. I thought that it might get more attention if I started a thread about it here.

I was curious as to what you think to be Sam Beckett's flaws. We know he has many qualities. He's brilliant, resourceful, he has a heart of gold, he's willing to sacrifice himself for the good of others, and he's also pretty easy on the eyes.

All that is nice and good, but I think it would be interesting to see what his shortcomings are. One could argue that his complement of positive qualities is too unrealistically rich, that he's "too good" or too much of a boy scout. I like that about him. With so many real people being jerks, it's refreshing to watch somebody that is exactly the opposite, even if he's a fictional character.

Still, there must be some flaws as well. As I've only watched the show straight through only once, I must defer this question to the more experienced leapers out here.

What are your thoughts?
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Old 01-21-2012, 02:42 PM   #2
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I'm actually watching the series again right now, so some of Sam's flaws are a little fresh in my head. The first flaw that really comes to mind is Sam's treatment of Al. Often when Sam disagrees with Al, he resorts to attacks on Al's character or past. Take for example, this exchange:

Al: You're gonna make nice-nice with the mother.
Sam: Well, it's worth a shot.
Al: I know that kind of woman, Sam. You're wasting your time.
Sam: Al, maybe if your mom thought she had a chance she would have come back.
-The Great Spontini

There was also another episode where Sam threw Al's alcoholism in his face. He immediately regretted it though (he said something to the affect of "I keep hurting the people I love"), but it still was pretty crummy -- especially considering that Al was trying to help him.

Anyone remember that episode? I tried to look it up, but couldn't find anything.

EDIT: Less scathing that the remark about Al's alcoholism or his mother, but worth mentioning nevertheless:

Sam: Allison didn't blow anyone away.
Al: How do you know? How do you know?
Sam: Instinct.
Al: Yeah, well my instinct tells me that that broad has you tied in knots this way and....
Sam: Your instincts got you married five times, right?
Al: That... your swiss cheese brain remembers.
-Play It Again, Seymour

I wanna say this is the episode with the alcohol remark, too, but I don't have the episode on-hand to check.
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Old 01-22-2012, 08:47 AM   #3
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To me, Sam's biggest flaw is that he has to follow every single rule, unless following the rules means he can't make life better for himself or his loved ones (e.g. repairing Donna's relationship to get her over her abandonment issues, and everything in The Leap Home). It's a massive double standard, and I have to feel for Al - Sam wouldn't help him, but then wants to help himself in the very next leap doing exactly what he said shouldn't be done...
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Old 01-23-2012, 03:23 PM   #4
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Thanks for your replies, guys! You make interesting points. Maybe I should rewatch the show myself and keep an eye out for these things.

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Originally Posted by Trudy View Post
I'm actually watching the series again right now, so some of Sam's flaws are a little fresh in my head. The first flaw that really comes to mind is Sam's treatment of Al. Often when Sam disagrees with Al, he resorts to attacks on Al's character or past.
Now that you mention this, I think I noticed this behavior too. Sam did seem a little condescending towards Al at times.

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To me, Sam's biggest flaw is that he has to follow every single rule, unless following the rules means he can't make life better for himself or his loved ones (e.g. repairing Donna's relationship to get her over her abandonment issues, and everything in The Leap Home). It's a massive double standard, and I have to feel for Al - Sam wouldn't help him, but then wants to help himself in the very next leap doing exactly what he said shouldn't be done...
True. That was unfair towards Al. Sam did make up for that mistake in the finale, but it does tell of an inability to sympathize with Al.

Do you think that Sam has a tendency not to take Al seriously? Because of his libertine views of women, propensity towards sarcasm and easy-going disposition? After the hardship that Al has endured in his life - his unhappy childhood and his time in the Vietnam war - I'd say those are survival mechanisms.
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Old 01-23-2012, 04:31 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Trudy View Post
I'm actually watching the series again right now, so some of Sam's flaws are a little fresh in my head. The first flaw that really comes to mind is Sam's treatment of Al. Often when Sam disagrees with Al, he resorts to attacks on Al's character or past. Take for example, this exchange:

Al: You're gonna make nice-nice with the mother.
Sam: Well, it's worth a shot.
Al: I know that kind of woman, Sam. You're wasting your time.
Sam: Al, maybe if your mom thought she had a chance she would have come back.
-The Great Spontini
I don't see the above as representative of a flaw in Sam but, rather, a flaw in Al. Al often times will frame his view of something based on his past. In his past, his mother abandoned him and he tends to equate mothers as the bad guy in more than just this scenario. He does the same thing in the episode "Run Away" except, in that instance, a woman almost loses her life because Al's not willing to look past his own prejudice.

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To me, Sam's biggest flaw is that he has to follow every single rule, unless following the rules means he can't make life better for himself or his loved ones (e.g. repairing Donna's relationship to get her over her abandonment issues, and everything in The Leap Home). It's a massive double standard, and I have to feel for Al - Sam wouldn't help him, but then wants to help himself in the very next leap doing exactly what he said shouldn't be done...
I think it's also safe to say that when Sam chooses to meddle in his own life, he is "punished". For example, he fixes Donna's abandonment issues in "Star Crossed" but did he really do her...or him...any favors. Sure, she doesn't feel abandoned by her father anymore. Instead, she's essentially been abandoned by her husband and he's not exactly living happily ever after with her. I'm not really sure where the improvement is there.

Also, just before he leaps out he questions whether GTFW is going to be angry with him for what he's done (or words to that effect), he leaps out and leaps into.....getting punched in the face. Either GTFW has a sense of humor or wasn't happy with what Sam had done.

The only thing we're really sure of from "The Leap Home" is that Tom isn't killed...but that comes at a price. Sam's left with the death of Maggie Dawson on his conscious. As far as whether or not his father still dies young or his sister marries an abusive alcoholic, that's something that's really not answered. I'd err on those parts of his past not changing...at least with regards to his father...based on the episode "Promised Land." When Sam talks with Al in the office he says something to the effect that they took the farm and it killed his father (again, I'm not 100% on what exactly was said). Al doesn't contradict that or look like he wants to but can't which leads one to believe that even after saving Tom, his family still lost the farm, and his father still died. It's not a stretch to assume that Katie still married Chuck.

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Do you think that Sam has a tendency not to take Al seriously? Because of his libertine views of women, propensity towards sarcasm and easy-going disposition? After the hardship that Al has endured in his life - his unhappy childhood and his time in the Vietnam war - I'd say those are survival mechanisms.
No. I think there's a deep enough friendship between the two that Sam knows when to take what Al's say with a grain of salt (a lot of the stories about women) and when to listen to him. That relationship also enables him to point out to his friend when he's allowing his prejudice to shape how he's thinking and the opinions he's forming.

I think one of the best things about how QL was written is that both characters, Sam and Al, were written with their share of human flaws. This made them much more real and easier to relate to....and care about. Neither of them were really sainted martyrs, flawless and suffering for the other. I think examples can be found on both sides where one didn't place enough value in the other. I also believe that even more examples can be found of how each respected the other and that there was a deep friendship between the two.
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Old 01-23-2012, 10:58 PM   #6
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I don't see the above as representative of a flaw in Sam but, rather, a flaw in Al. Al often times will frame his view of something based on his past. In his past, his mother abandoned him and he tends to equate mothers as the bad guy in more than just this scenario. He does the same thing in the episode "Run Away" except, in that instance, a woman almost loses her life because Al's not willing to look past his own prejudice.
I agree that Al is very prejudiced in some episodes, but I certainly think Sam could have delivered his opinion in a way that would have been far less scathing.
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Old 01-23-2012, 11:39 PM   #7
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I agree that Al is very prejudiced in some episodes, but I certainly think Sam could have delivered his opinion in a way that would have been far less scathing.
Sam's been charged with the responsibility of leaving someone's life better than when he leaped in. Al's not exactly being helpful because he can't get beyond his own prejudice. Handling Al with kid gloves really isn't going to help Sam to accomplish what he needs to do...and there are times Al really does need to be told to get his head out of his butt and check his prejudices at the door.
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Old 01-24-2012, 02:06 AM   #8
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Ok...let's look at the reality...the show was written by (gasp!!!) writers!

So...if Al and/or Sam is nice, naughty, mean, happy, sad, angry, etc (ad nauseum) it's because the writer wanted them that way.

However...in keeping with the continuity, both men have their faults and strengths that tend to show up again and again. They often they play to each other in banters and actions. Sometimes they get upset with each other. However, across the board they are always best friends. The reason so many good novels and fanfictions have been written is the friendship between the two men is the most natural in the word. I'm sorry but men are often much more snarky to each other (and/or clueless) about what many women would call relationship savvy. Since Al and Sam have those tendencies towards each other, I'd just say that Bellasario really understood male friendship at a really deep level.

Statements from both Bakula and Stockwell would tend to support that observation.

My POV...don't throw shoes.
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Old 01-24-2012, 03:13 AM   #9
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Sam's been charged with the responsibility of leaving someone's life better than when he leaped in. Al's not exactly being helpful because he can't get beyond his own prejudice. Handling Al with kid gloves really isn't going to help Sam to accomplish what he needs to do...and there are times Al really does need to be told to get his head out of his butt and check his prejudices at the door.
I think you and I are on the polar opposite spectrum of this. There are times when Al is behaving the way a "proper" guide should, and in the end he always does the right thing. Sam is only a jerk to Al a handful of times in the series (I could only come up with three instances, all early in the series), but Al's prejudices born out of a lifetime of being dealt a crappy hand come up several times an episode. It's absolutely by no means necessary for Sam to be an *** to get his point across to Al -- otherwise he'd have to be a jerk more often.

He's even conceded that he's treated Al poorly one of these times in "Play It Again, Seymour", so even Sam himself doesn't see this kind of behavior as acceptable.

I like Sam even despite -- or possibly because -- of these flaws. Sam really is a bit of a boy scout, so seeing him slip up occasionally makes him a more human character than he would otherwise.

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However...in keeping with the continuity, both men have their faults and strengths that tend to show up again and again. They often they play to each other in banters and actions. Sometimes they get upset with each other. However, across the board they are always best friends. The reason so many good novels and fanfictions have been written is the friendship between the two men is the most natural in the word. I'm sorry but men are often much more snarky to each other (and/or clueless) about what many women would call relationship savvy. Since Al and Sam have those tendencies towards each other, I'd just say that Bellasario really understood male friendship at a really deep level.
Quoted for truth.
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Old 01-24-2012, 10:27 AM   #10
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I think you and I are on the polar opposite spectrum of this. There are times when Al is behaving the way a "proper" guide should, and in the end he always does the right thing.
I have to disagree with this. Al does not always do the right thing. Three examples come to mind.

'How The Tess Was Won"
Al leaves Sam to deal with the stallion so he can go fix things with Tina. He may say, after the fact, that he knew Sam could handle the horse but he didn't really know that.

"MIA"
If Sam never sees the picture of a younger Al and puts two and two together, Al would have never told him that he was Beth's husband. Sam would have never known what his true mission was and Skaggs would have ended up killed. Yes, Al does show remorse for the fact that he almost let someone die but that doesn't change the fact that, without Sam catching him with his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak, Al wasn't going to voluntary tell Sam the truth abouth who Beth's husband was or check to see if there was anything else Sam had to do.

"A Leap For Lisa"
Al spends so much time revisiting his youth instead of giving Sam the information that he needs in a timely manner that, by the time he does get to Sam, Sam's convinced Lisa not to be Al's alibi almost leading to Al being executed for a murder he didn't commit.

My point is not that Al's a terrible person but, instead, that he's not perfect...and neither is Sam. They are both very well written characters made believable by the fact that both of them have moments of weakness and don't act at their very best all the time. Both are prone to stumble and neither chooses to do the the "right" thing 100% of the time. Ultimately, though, the one thing that always comes through is the deep and abiding friendship between them and that both would go to the wall for the other.
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Old 01-24-2012, 12:15 PM   #11
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I have to disagree with this. Al does not always do the right thing. Three examples come to mind.
Foiled by semantics! Okay, Al almost always does the right thing. But my point still stands: most of the time, Sam doesn't have to resort to being a bit of a jerk to get Al to do the right thing. Three episodes out of ninety-something isn't half bad, and none of those episodes involved Sam making quips about Al's past in order to "encourage" his friend to do the right thing, which at least in the case of MIA he did (I'm going to be re-watching A Leap for Lisa this week, so I can't speak for that episode). I'd argue that Al's experience in "MIA" -- which didn't involve Sam throwing his past in his face to get Al to give up and do what's right -- led to him unselfishly helping Sam when he could have helped himself in "The Leap Home (Part Two)".

The point I was trying to make is not that Al is perfect (he's far from it), but that Sam has occasionally been a little unnecessarily snippy towards Al when he disagreed with him. Neither man is perfect, this is true, but I don't understand how anyone could be defending Sam for trying to put right what once went wrong by making comments about his friend's prior alcoholism. Especially when Sam has been mostly successful in encouraging his friend to do the right thing the other 90-something episodes of the series without resorting to personal attacks.
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Old 01-24-2012, 01:18 PM   #12
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Ok...I'm not defending that other than to say that Sam's mind is swiss cheesed. At times he doesn't know the linearity of what's happened. So yes, his words were snippy in 'Seymour' about Al's prior alcoholism but he was IMMEDIATELY sorry about what he said and it bothered him greatly afterwards. I think the reason both guys tend to ignore the snarkiness, selfishness, attitudes, and other (from both sides) is that they understand that sometimes in a stressful situation (and both sides of the situation are stressed) things are said that come from human spaces but are likely not really how someone feels overall.

I guess the flaws thing on either side is the type of things to draw out people's defensiveness. Once more, the stories were written so the flaws would be a nuance of the episode. So, no, maybe from our point of view it wasn't necessary and the character 'should have' done something different...but the character didn't have any choice in the matter. The writer put the words in his mouth.

I think that the reason we care for these characters so deeply is there's a truth to them. I have friends. Sometimes we're a bit snarky with each other. Sometimes things are pulled from the past and sometimes we focus so much on what we want that we don't realize how it affects the other person...but if we're good friends...eventually that get's resolved. That's what I see with Sam and Al. Best friends absolutely. Each knows the others flaws and they may not be thrilled with them...but they accept those flaws knowing that the person who has them is really a great person otherwise. They are willing to ignore those interpersonal relationship mistakes because to focus on them would take away what they have...a friend that would go through hell and back for the other.

So...Sam's flaws? Al's flaws? Yep, they both have them in abundance. Sam's strengths? Al's strengths? They have those too and the latter outweighs the former so much that almost 20 years after the end of the show, we can still get worked up at what we feel about them.
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Old 01-24-2012, 04:44 PM   #13
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asearcher, I don't think you could have said it better. It's so weird for me to be here -- fifteen years after watching the show as a child in syndication to be talking about these characters now. I think that's a mark of a good television program -- when long after the series was cancelled that we can sit here and get worked up about the characters all these years later.
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Old 01-24-2012, 08:26 PM   #14
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I think it's also safe to say that when Sam chooses to meddle in his own life, he is "punished". For example, he fixes Donna's abandonment issues in "Star Crossed" but did he really do her...or him...any favors. Sure, she doesn't feel abandoned by her father anymore. Instead, she's essentially been abandoned by her husband and he's not exactly living happily ever after with her. I'm not really sure where the improvement is there.

Also, just before he leaps out he questions whether GTFW is going to be angry with him for what he's done (or words to that effect), he leaps out and leaps into.....getting punched in the face. Either GTFW has a sense of humor or wasn't happy with what Sam had done.

The only thing we're really sure of from "The Leap Home" is that Tom isn't killed...but that comes at a price. Sam's left with the death of Maggie Dawson on his conscious. As far as whether or not his father still dies young or his sister marries an abusive alcoholic, that's something that's really not answered. I'd err on those parts of his past not changing...at least with regards to his father...based on the episode "Promised Land." When Sam talks with Al in the office he says something to the effect that they took the farm and it killed his father (again, I'm not 100% on what exactly was said). Al doesn't contradict that or look like he wants to but can't which leads one to believe that even after saving Tom, his family still lost the farm, and his father still died. It's not a stretch to assume that Katie still married Chuck.
I've noticed this, too. This brings me to the obvious flaw I saw in Sam: selfishness. As soon as a leap affects his own life, he was foolishly willing to throw away all of his established rules and disregard any of Ziggy's projections. Sam established his own set of rules before he started leaping, but lost sight of them at times, and not because of the Swiss-cheese effect.

In my opinion, by changing the algorithm of peoples' intended fates and deviating from his missions, a tragedy still occurs even if something else is changed for the better, as you mentioned. I think this is why GFT's plans are how they are, because although Sam can technically change any thing or anybody in the past that he wants, it won't be the best outcome to "make the world a better place," as the Bartender states was Sam's and GFT's ultimate goal. Ultimately, Sam's leaping is really similar to the films The Butterfly Effect in which one change in one part of the world can create ripples that affect the entire world, and The Adjustment Bureau, where every person's life is on a "plan."
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Old 01-24-2012, 08:32 PM   #15
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I've noticed this, too. This brings me to the obvious flaw I saw in Sam: selfishness. As soon as a leap affects his own life, he was foolishly willing to throw away all of his established rules and disregard any of Ziggy's projections.
This was a flaw equally shared by both Al and Sam. When it affects his life, Al's also willing to damn the consequences. There is one difference between the two, though. When Sam does it, he doesn't hide it. He's completely up front with the fact that he's trying to change his life or those close to him. Al, on the other hand, is deceitful when he does it in MIA. He never tells Sam who Beth is...a lie of omission. He also never bothers to see what Ziggy projects as the purpose of the leap. He just knows what he wants the outcome of the leap to be and that's that.
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Old 01-24-2012, 08:36 PM   #16
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I've noticed this, too. This brings me to the obvious flaw I saw in Sam: selfishness. As soon as a leap affects his own life, he was foolishly willing to throw away all of his established rules and disregard any of Ziggy's projections.
This was a flaw equally shared by both Al and Sam. When it affects his life, Al's also willing to damn the consequences. There is one difference between the two, though. When Sam does it, he doesn't hide it. He's completely up front with the fact that he's trying to change his life or those close to him. Al, on the other hand, is deceitful when he does it in MIA. He never tells Sam who Beth is...a lie of omission. He also never bothers to see what Ziggy projects as the purpose of the leap. He just knows what he wants the outcome of the leap to be and that's that.

But, the selfishness that both display is very much human character. Neither is saintly enough to ignore his own needs and desires. I believe this is a trait that most humans share.

weird...I edited my post to add the last paragraph and, instead of editing the original post, it created a duplicate. I definitely didn't mean to double post.
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Old 01-27-2012, 05:52 AM   #17
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I see I've started a heated discussion, and I'm glad of it because there already are many solid arguments in this thread about Sam's flaws and Al's. Thanks for all your very insightful posts!

It's probably reasonable to be a little more forgiving with Sam and Al than we would be with other characters because of their special situation. I know I've been more willing to look past their flaws (to the point of not paying that much attention) because they are both under a considerable amount of stress. asearcher has made a fine post about this. Sam, I would argue, has to put up with a lot more stress than Al, because Al at least can go back to his normal life after he's done his part. But Sam is constantly caught in someone else's body and having to live someone else's life. Basically, he never has too much time to be with himself, to figure out what's happening to him, and to get his bearings, psychologically. Being instantly uprooted from the life you were used to, forced by the circumstances to spend most of your time disconnected from yourself, and changing identities every few days counts as extreme stress. And I think Sam is handling all that incredibly well. I'm amazed by his disposition to rise to the situation no matter what that is and to keep doing it, not to mention his ability to adapt and retain his sanity. He accepts his "mission" even if he didn't ask for it and didn't have time to prepare.

So, if he's sometimes insensitive towards Al, or if he's willing to break the rules and help his own family, that's completely understandable because he's human. It would have been unrealistic for Sam NOT to try undoing the wrongs in his own family when given the chance. We would all do that, or at least we would want to. At some point along his years of leaping from one person to another, it was natural for him to get frustrated and want out. I think that everything he does in "The Leap Home" makes sense. He was finally back home, at a time when everyone was alive and well. As Julia also says, the selfishness of wanting to stay in that leap and change the course of history for his own family is merely a human trait. To ask Sam to ignore his own wishes when he hasn't even lived his own life for two years would be asking too much.
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Old 02-08-2012, 07:24 PM   #18
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I have been reading all the points of view and I got to say that when it comes down to it Al is always there for Sam as a true friend. Even when they disagree or go against the rules like in the Leap Home where Sam wanted so badly to save his Dad and sister, and In MIA where Al wanted so badly not to have Beth marry that lawyer.
They are human and these are the people that they love and I could not blame AL for helping Beth his true love. But then on the other hand there were times where Sam needed him. I recall in Tempation Eyes when Al told Sam no do not tell Tamala that she will die and who you really he joked lie it works for me. But Sam said I am tired of pretending. So he goes and tells the young lady the truth of who he is.
I truly feel that even when they disagree like that Sam and Al know that they would do anything for each other. Oh and even when the Episode play Ball Al asked Sam why are you so interested in the Guy who was always getting drunk and in trouble.
He said that this young man reminded him so much of Al as young man who once Kicked a vending machine, in anger but Sam saw the wonderful talent that Al had and stood by him and defended him when he was going to be thrown off an important project. I think that ever so offen when they as humans make mistakes they also stand by each other.
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Old 02-10-2012, 11:18 AM   #19
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I absolutely agree with you, Cynthia! At the end of the day, the genuine friendship between Sam and Al outweighs any flaws that they might have, as all humans do. It goes to the writers' credit that they managed to create such real characters and to the actors' for bringing them to life.
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Old 02-10-2012, 05:35 PM   #20
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stray Star I totally am in agreement with you. It is also a credit to the writers as well, and oh and yes to Dean and Scott for making them so wonderfully brought to life.
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Old 02-12-2012, 09:25 AM   #21
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I've recently started rewatching QL and I have something I wanted to discuss that relates to the fact that Sam occasionally broke his own rule about not interfering with his own life.

In the second episode, he changes Donna's future by helping her overcome her fear of abandonment, which in turn causes her to marry him later. Of course, that's all very nice and good, two people who love each other actually getting together. The problem is that marrying Sam doesn't seem to me like the best thing that could have happened to Donna. I mean, he's a wonderful guy, but he's just not around. And what's the point in being married to a wonderful guy if he's not around?

The treatment of Donna on the part of the writers feels a little hypocritical to me. Because, in the end, Sam doesn't really put right what went wrong for her. He got her to overcome her issue with her father and be willing to commit to a man. She married that man, only to be abandoned again. Perhaps that's the lesson of the show - that you can't really use your special powers to help yourself, only others - but still, it seems unfair.
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