Howdy Holograms, welcome to the twenty-second episode of HACK. Ziggy says there’s a 99% chance that I’m here to save Project Quantum Leap from obscurity.
Quantum Leap was a weekly TV drama that ran from 1989 – 1993.
That’s pretty much all you need to know and you could leap in at any point in the series. Each episode found Sam in a different body, different location and a different time period (within his own lifetime) with different actors playing new characters each week. The show had a sci-fi premise but everything else was strictly character driven. It was about people and the messed up choices they make and how one person can help them to think differently. Quantum Leap was enlightening—a Highway to Heaven of the 90s, if you will. I personally learned a lot about how to communicate with others who “don’t get it” or “just don’t see it.” In addition, the characters of Dr.6 Sam Beckett and Rear Admiral Upper Half Albert Calavicci provided satisfying role my models for the extremities of my personality–Saint/Pervert.
After five seasons the show ended. Sam’s “final” leap was on his actual birthday, August 8, 1953. He leaps in (at the exact moment of his birth) standing in the doorway of a bar called Al’s place. He orders a Schlitz from the bartender, takes a sip, looks in the mirror and sees his own face, the face he hasn’t seen since before he first leaped . Cue the iconic “Oh Boy!” and prepare for an emotional kick in the butt.
So let’s leap right to it. By the end of the series finale Sam…
a) Realizes that it is he who has been leaping himself around in time all this time. We had always presumed that God/Time/Fate/Whatever was the culprit but in the last episode this “unknown force” is represented by the bartender, coincidentally called Al, who most likely is just some higher dimensional entity that’s been keeping an eye on Sam. The bar is called Al’s Place and seems like some kind of waystation for Leapers. In fact, the actor who plays Al the Bartender (Bruce McGill) also played one of the commanders (‘Weird Ernie’) during Sam’s first leap. He’s the only character besides Sam and Al to appear in both the first and last episodes of the series. So by using some simple post creative rationalization you have a connected loop where Al the Bartender has been watching Sam since the beginning. At this point Sam’s leaping is mostly subconscious. This unknown force probably placed him where he needed to be. It is strongly suggested that Sam is ready for more direct control over where he wants to go and what he wishes to change.
“Who knows what Don Quixote can accomplish?”
b) Discovers that dead people are Leapers too. This is crucial because it reveals to Sam that leaping around in time makes one somehow beyond life and death. Once time becomes something you can leap around at will, the concept of a linear existence seems pretty irrelevant. We’ll come back to this point later. Suffice it to say, the closest equivalent to Leapers would be Angels or whatever name you want to give to those beings who continue to save us and guide our evolution.
Sam Beckett is playing the trope of the walk-in. Except instead of it being a ghost or alien or angel or whatever, Sam uses technology to reach the level of direct human intervention. Leaping into someone’s life to put right what they either made wrong or prevented from going wrong. Some other guy might ingest ayahuasca, meditate for 18 years and reach the same level. It doesn’t matter how you get there, once you’re there, you find that you’ve always BEEN THERE.
That (subplot?) in the episode about Stoppa being Al the hologram’s dead Russian uncle seemed like a warning. You can get stuck in a recurring cycle of Saṃsāra. Since Sam had to be the one to help accomplish Stoppa’s original mission, the message is clear: Leapers help each other. Sam has known that there are other leapers but now he truly realizes that he’s part of a community. Quite conceivably, it’s the kind of thing we’ll all be doing once we make our own personal leap into higher awareness. Some of us are doing it right now!
c) Understands that before he can move on he must finally fix a wrong in his best friend’s life. Al Calavicci is the Project Observer. He stands in a giant cave that’s been converted into an Imaging Chamber and his brainwaves are tuned to Sam’s brainwaves, whenever they are. Once connected, Sam sees Al as a hologram while Sam and everything around him appears as a hologram to Al. Al uses a handlink to communicate with the Project’s “parallel hybrid supercomputer” named Ziggy, who acts as a giant online search engine, calculating probabilities as to what Sam is there to do.
Interesting technical sidenote: Sam and Al always refer to Ziggy with the pronoun he or she, depending on the episode. It would be interesting to do a breakdown of exactly when they say he when they say she across the five seasons. When we actually met Ziggy in ‘The Leap Back,’ it was a she. Also, Ziggy is voiced by Deborah Pratt, who also does the intro explanation of the show’s premise at the beginning of each episode. The most creative explanation I’ve read for the constant flip in pronouns is that it’s some kind of quantum quirk, as Sam leaps and changes history, Ziggy’s gender is some minor loose variable that keeps changing without affecting the rest of the project as a whole.
In the season 2 finale, we learned that Al was captured and held POW in Vietnam. He was repatriated four years later only to find out that the love of his life had remarried. Sam had at least two opportunities to fix this for Al but didn’t. He had these rules about how you can’t change your own past and yet he did it for himself in the second episode of the entire series. More on that below. Then in Season 3 he saved his own brother from dying in Vietnam but unknowingly at the expense of rescuing Al who was being captured by Vietcong only a few miles away! Al the hologram was forced to watch his younger self get captured and yet he didn’t give Sam any shit about it.
So back to the series finale. After a long and heartfelt chat with the Al the Bartender who gently breaks it to Sam that he can’t go home again, all Sam has to do now is leap back to Beth and tell her that Al’s alive and he’s coming home. He leaps out the next scene is Sam doing just that. Beth’s crying, Sam’s smiling, ‘Georgia on My Mind’ is playing, and–the last image is a zoom-in on a black and white picture of young Al. Then the Al in the picture quantum leaps (???? Why didn’t we just cut from Beth crying with joy to Sam smiling with relief as he leaps out? You know, the way EVERY SINGLE EPISODE ENDED.)
Except this time the leap implodes into blackness. We read that Beth never remarried and that she and Al are happily married and have four daughters.
The very last scripted scene of the series was never filmed. It showed Al, his wife Beth and and their daughters sitting in their living room. They’re still at Project Quantum Leap and Al explains to them that there’s been no success locating Sam but that wherever he is, he’s still in his own body. Instead of this vital piece of information, viewers who had stuck through 5 years of leaping were treated to this line as the final scene of the series:
Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home.
Wha-wha-wha-what? What the fuck? What the fucking fuck? Why the fuck not? What’s going on? This is a joke, right? Man, Donald Bellisario is an ASSHOLE! *
That’s pretty much what went through my head after I read the words. I was crushed. I didn’t understand. How could this poor guy go through all that, helping all those people and not get to go home at the end?
* The Author does not actually believe that Donald Bellisario is an asshole.
If you look up IMDB’s Quantum Leap trivia page, you’ll find this bit at the very end:
Donald P. Bellisario and Scott Bakula have both expressed their ire with the NBC network over the series finale. Originally Bellisario was asked to write an episode that could function either as a season finale cliffhanger, or as an end to the show. When Bellisario complied, the cast and crew were assured of the series renewal. In the eleventh hour NBC decided to cancel the show after all, and re-edited the ending with title cards revealing the fate of Sam and Al. This was one of at least four endings, at least two of which were filmed. If the show was to end, Bellisario originally planned to have Al and Beth as an old married couple discussing how they would locate Sam who had leaped again. Had the show continued, Bellisario planned to have Sam leap into a space station in the distant future, and Al becoming a leaper himself to rescue Sam.
Technically, Sam did go back—once. In The Leap Back (season 4 premier) Sam and Al switched places and Sam actually got to go home. He remembered that he has a wife—because he changed history in the second episode by solving her daddy issues so she wouldn’t run off at the wedding. So that means that not only does Sam not go home again, he leaves his poor wife to remain lonely and (apparently) childless the rest of her days. But of course Al was gonna die so Sam had to leap back and switch places with him. And since Sam’s brain gets swiss-cheesed every time he leaps, he forgets about his wife and she makes Al promise not to tell him.
Well don’t worry folks, I’m here to put right what once went wrong and change history for the better. After years of contemplation and soul-searching I can finally reveal to you why it all makes sense, why the end is appropriate, and why there’s still hope for Dr. Sam Beckett.
OK, so if Sam is leaping himself around in time and he now knows that, then he should be able to leap right back home. Then he could consciously go whenever and wherever he wants and always leap back in time for dinner, right? Well, it’s apparently not that simple. Maybe Sam could eventually achieve that kind of control over his leaping. At this point he’s only just learned that he controls his leaps. He’s about to discover the actual potential of his abilities. That’s what all those previous leaps were, after all—training.
Even if Sam could consciously control his leaps, it makes sense that he would never go home again. Think about it. He’s just realized that leaping is beyond death and beyond the technology that got him there in the first place. He always wanted to do good and he willed himself the chance to do more. Al the Bartender has hinted that there’s greater (and more difficult) work to be done. In short, Sam’s ready for some next level shit. Once you get to that level, you can’t go really go back, at least not in the same form. He’s transcended life and death and linear time, what’s he gonna do now…go live out some narrow, singular existence? And then what? He’d be right back where he is now, a Leaper. So he could go home again but the awful truth is that there’s really no point. His life as Dr. Sam Beckett from birth to death became irrelevant the moment he first leaped. He has no other choice but to MOVE ON.
It’s kind of exciting. The series ends right when it could really start to get interesting. There’s infinite potential for story lines. Despite cool ideas like Sam in space or Al as a Leaper… Sometimes I think maybe it’s better that they didn’t go there. What I always appreciated about Quantum Leap is that the sci-fi element remained hidden in the background. You didn’t even see the goings on at Project Quantum Leap until the 4th season…and it was kind of lame, actually. To be fair, Quantum Leap the show and the fictional Project Quantum Leap always did suffer from budget restrictions.
There was just enough metaphysical jargon to make leaping sound plausible, while keeping it vague enough for speculative junkies like myself to wonder at the nuances of a consciousness that inhabits the physical and temporal location of another consciousness, and how the two are connected across time in varying ways dependent upon the nature of the leap. So anyway, while I think Quantum Leap could incorporate some Serious God Knowledge, it should always stay in the human realm and not stray into sci-fi whackiness.
Which brings me to my own humble suggestions for continuing Quantum Leap–at least for the short term:
So Sam’s leaping around in his own body, right? The Project can’t locate him. He’s got a wife that he last banged about two years before the last episode. So let’s say she conceived and had a kid. Sam would never be told this, of course. He was never allowed to learn anything other than what he could remember. So they finally locate Sam and Al is right there helping him while Sam’s learning how to do his next level shit. Maybe he leaps as himself plus he can leap into other people if necessary. Maybe he coordinates with other Leapers more frequently. Maybe he’s working on fixing something that crosses many points in the space-time continuum. Or, if the rumors are true, the season 6 script stars with Sam in a spacesuit floating above Earth.
I don’t know, I don’t write fanfic, I keep all that in my head, but if I did, then essentially we’d see Sam progressing as a Leaper and his missions would be more difficult. After being trapped in the past, now he’s free to leap into his future, which could be our present or even our future. Presumably Sam will still physically live a very long time. His “death” might even be something he eventually has to face as a Leaper.
Meanwhile, Sam’s wife Donna (also a brilliant physicist) does the same thing her husband did and jumps in the accelerator in a desperate attempt to find him, for their son’s sake. She gets lost in time for a while until Sam rescues her. So now the two of them get to leap together, and death do part them not.
Al and Beth takes care of their son and Sam’s illegitimate daughter Sammy Jo (see comments below.) Thanks to the new timeline Al already has a bunch of kids of his own, so Sam’s sibling progeny won’t be lonely. Speaking of Al, throughout the whole series he’s on and off with Tina, a genius with a bimbo persona. Since we know that Al remembers changes in history, there could be some great awkward moments where Tina comes onto him. But he loves Beth so he never sleeps with Tina. Yet for Al it doesn’t matter because he already got to sleep with Tina many times in the alternate past that he still remembers! Finally, I’d like to see Sam’s brother have some kind of role.
All of that that leaves the Imaging Chamber door open for a re-up of the story line when the son grows up and discovers that his parents are actually alive and leaping. He’s angry at first and with the help of his sister he locates them, jumps in the accelerator to go get them, leaps and eventually confronts them…
You may say I’m a dreamer but if you’ve made it this far, dear Leapers, I’m not the only one.
The overall message I came away with from Quantum Leap is: You can’t go home again. Nothing stays the same and change is constant. There’s work to be done. Consider yourself lucky. Most people aren’t even aware that this is possible. Now go leap around and do some good.
The Top 13 Quantum Leap Episodes You Should Watch
1. Genesis (Pilot, Season 1) 2. Star Crossed (Season 2) 3. M.I.A. (Season 2) 4 – 5. The Leap Home – Parts 1 & 2 (Season 3) 6. Shock Theater (Season 3) 7. The Leap Back (Season 4) 8. Mirror Image (Finale, Season 5) 9 – 13. One more episode from each season, in any order.
Al and Beth Dance to ‘Georgia On My Mind’ (Season 2, ‘M.I.A.’)
Closing Act of Series Finale (Season 5, ‘Mirror Image’)
Scott Bakula as Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha (Season 2, ‘Catch A Falling Star’)
Scott Bakula with Marietta DePrima singing ‘Somewhere In The Night’ (Season 3, ‘Piano Man’)
Scott Bakula and Shari Headley (Season 2, ‘Pool Hall Blues’)
Quantum Leap: 100 Oh Boys
Quantum Leap Theme Song Comparison: Seasons 1 – 4 vs. Season 5
Quantum Leap Bloopers
Sam Learning Sign Language
Dr. Sam Beckett’s Theory of Time Travel
Ball the Loop: (slang) To make it happen, to get it done, complete the circle, finish the mission, tie up loose ends, wrap it up, etc.