(Today’s guest contributor is Kevin Froleiks -Ed.)
The year was 1989. George H.W. Bush had just been sworn into the Oval Office and everybody was shaking their hips to the sounds of Bobby McFerrin’s hit song, “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” I was a one-year-old baby so…fast forward to the early 2000’s when I was definitely sentient.
The year was the early 2000’s! I was an acne-ridden pre-teen with access to the SciFi Channel (now known as SyFy if you’re nasty). I loved this channel mostly for the reruns of classic television programs like the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk series and, of course, a little show called Quantum Leap, which was on the air for 5 seasons from 1989 to 1993.
I want to start by saying that I have a deep, unironic love for Quantum Leap and its characters and lore. If you don’t know, the show follows the adventures of Dr. Sam Beckett, played by Scott Bakula (who I would later encounter in a driver’s education video in 2006 because my school did not update their teaching materials often). Sam is a scientist who has developed a kind of “string theory” that says that a human being can travel through time within their own lifetime. The theory works like this, and I’m going completely from memory here because I’m a Quantum Leap superfan, basically your life has a beginning and an end, right? Right. So your life moves in a straight line like a string, right? Sure. But if you take that string and wrap it up into a little ball, now all of the points of your life are touching and can be accessed by the time traveler. Does that make sense? Well it did in 1989.
Anyways, Sam builds some giant time machine in the first episode that sends him back in time with no memories of who he is or what he’s doing there. When he looks in the mirror he sees the reflection of a different person, a random person from the past who Sam has “leaped” into. The only person who can see Sam as Sam is his friend from the present, Al Calavicci, played by Dean Stockwell. Al shows himself to Sam as a hologram from the lab in the present day. Basically he’s just standing in this little chamber that can project his image back in time to wherever Sam is. He’s usually smoking a big cigar so I imagine that chamber reeked after about three episodes. Side note: For the most part Sam is the only one who can see Al’s hologram but also babies and animals can see him too. I assume this was just because the showrunner didn’t want to reshoot a scene where a dog or a toddler visibly noticed Dean Stockwell just hanging out.
In every, single episode Sam needs to help a random person from the past. He leaps into their body, finds out about some crisis that person is going through (like causing the death of a loved one, or missing an important event, or whatever happened in that episode when Sam leaped into Elvis Presley…no really, that happened), and then Al crunches some numbers with the supercomputer, Ziggy, to find out what the solution is. Then when Sam completes his task, he leaps into a new person and repeats for 5 seasons. Oh boy…
Okay, so now you’re caught up. This is the problem with being a Quantum Leap superfan…no one else knows or cares about Quantum Leap so you’re forced to explain the show from scratch.
Anyway, every single episode of Quantum Leap is essentially the same. Sam leaps into a new body, solves a problem, leaps into a new body. It’s an hour-long drama so the scripts follow a pretty similar formula with the problem being presented right before the first commercial break and a major wrench being thrown in the gears about halfway through. There’s usually some crazy plan put in place that succeeds at the last-minute and saves the day. In any case, Sam’s reward is that he gets to repeat this again in the next episode.
A major question that arises throughout the show is…why is this happening? Who controls the leaps Sam leaps? Will the next leap ever be the leap home? Here’s where things leap off the rails!
In the series finale from 1993, Sam leaps into himself. He arrives in a random bar at the exact time of his birth and when he looks in the mirror he sees himself. The bartender offers him the choice of continuing to leap or to return home. This bartender is implied to be God, the force behind all of Sam’s leaps throughout time. Whaaaaat???
So out of nowhere, the show becomes a biblical allegory. Sam has, in a way, sacrificed his own life to save the lives of others. He is suffering for everyone he has helped. It’s downright Sisyphean! Sam is doomed to push the boulder up the hill every episode only to have it roll back down to the bottom. Is he being punished? I don’t know! It’s possible that his science angered God who did a pretty good job of laying out time and probably would appreciate it if it wasn’t screwed around with. Then again, God in this final episode seems to be a warm presence who appreciates Sam’s work. In a way, Sam has kind of become God’s janitor or fixer, correcting all the errors God made and improving whatever overall “plan” He may have had.
In this final episode, Sam chooses to return home but not before helping his friend Al. You see, Al became a bit of a hard-drinking womanizer after he and his wife, Beth, divorced. Al was a POW in the war and was presumed dead for so long that Beth ended up moving on with her life. Al never fully recovered from this. Sam’s final televised leap sent him back to meet with Beth to let her know that Al is still alive and will be coming home to her soon. As a result Beth and Al never divorce, they have a family, and they live happily ever after.
As we learn in a title card at the end of the episode, however, Dr. Sam Beckett never returns home.
God’s offer was pretty clear, I guess. Sam could either go home or keep leaping. There was no third option where he could leap one more time and then go home. Kind of a dick move on God’s part, but what a beautiful ending to the show.
In a show that was pretty formulaic for five years, it managed to flip everything on its head for the finale. It revealed some of the mystery behind what was actually happening and even managed to bring the focus onto the two lead characters in a way that had not been done in previous episodes. In the end, it was almost like Sam was put in some kind of personal Hell for five seasons. Sam wanted only to go home, to his personal Heaven, but gave up that chance to save his friend. An ultimate sacrifice that kept Sam trapped in an endless loop of leaping forever.
So what do you think? Was Sam being punished? Was he in Hell the whole time? What was God’s actual plan? Most importantly, do you think that I am currently Dr. Sam Beckett working on a leap right now? Let us know on Twitter.
Kevin Froleiks is a New York City based comedian. He currently writes for the sketch team, House of Birds, at UCB and co-hosts the Bad News Comedy Show every Sunday in Brooklyn. Follow him on twitter and instagram @kevinfroleiks.