Using some down time to binge watch the 1989-1993 TV series Quantum Leap, I mentioned this to a friend who asked if it holds up. This led to me giving a long-winded answer getting into the idea that we may indeed live in a world or culture where the ultimate show about living in someone else’s shoes can still be dismissed as not progressive enough. The show is often about trying to get someone back together or dealing with an historic social ill that won’t be resolved and instead there will be more personal struggles that can be resolved. Quantum Leap was ambitious and its heart in the right place. A Christmas episode with a Scrooge theme involved a Salvation Army shelter in danger of being demolished, and no doubt some who all-or-nothing in their ideology and have a tendency to over-reach may take issue over the american chapters of Salvation Army not having the most open policy toward LBGTQ, some of the most active internet activists. But for the most part, Boy Scouts and Salvation Army and any number of organizations that may have a blind spot are still well known for helping a great many people. So the show goes on. Most of us can still watch an episode like that and have it “hold up” as heartwarming without socio-political distraction. You may have to go back thirty years for entertainment that isn’t putting Twitter appeasement first.
Having said that, loving the show, I encountered an episode in season three that unraveled my understanding of the premise. I suffer from cognitive dissonance, having interpreted the mechanics of the premise one way and then hitting “8 1/2 Months,” written by Deborah Pratt whose narration you hear in the following intro clip.
I understand that Sam “stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished.”
WHAT I THOUGHT was that he then physically materialized in what they call in the future PROJECT Headquarters “the waiting room,” which I assume is a different room than the accelerator and with someone else’s consciousness or soul while at the same instant Sam Beckett’s consciousness has been transferred to that person’t physical body in the past. It seemed to make sense (and not strain my willing suspension of disbelief) that we the audience will see Scott Bakula/ Sam Beckett in the clothes of that person for theatrical purposes because we are seeing who he is INSIDE but when he looks into a mirror or other reflective surface he is seeing what everyone else is seeing – the actual physical body that is still there in whatever past time period Sam has leapt into.
Whenever someone takes a photo or video of the person Sam occupies, the resulting image shows who is physically there: the person from the past, not Sam.
He will see and hear his friend Al as a hologram helping him guess the purpose of his leap. Children and anyone in an alpha state can perceive Al. But as Al interacts with Sam, he sees the person Sam has leapt into. Al finds himself in sexual conflict looking at a beautiful woman Sam has leapt into, so that reinforces the idea that physically the person from the past remains in the past with only Sam’s consciousness animating them.
WHAT WE ARE TOLD in this season three episode via exposition is gnawing at my brain. Sam has leapt into a young, very pregnant woman. A lady from the hair salon at one point touches Sam’s (unseen by us) belly and feels a kick from the baby. There is no reason she should feel the kick if the mother is not physically there. Sam feeling it himself is explained by Al as the result of a neuro-link between him and the person whose life he is inhabiting, who is supposedly IN THE WAITING ROOM in the FUTURE physically. She supposedly has the baby inside her in the future and Sam can only experience the discomfort and try to patch things up with her judgmental father and with the boy who impregnated her. We are told by Al (for the first time in this episode, so they sure know it was not clear) that the people of the past see Sam as the other person due to a digital or holographic illusion. That does not explain why Sam sees his host in mirrors. And it is hard to swallow that everyone regardless of proximity is subject to some sort of hallucination or projection technology. Supposedly according to this one episode by producer Deborah Pratt Sam and the past person PHYSICALLY travel through time to switch places so that the past person finds himself/herself in the future waiting room to be debriefed by staff of the project. This creates so many new problems.
Will a physical time traveler carry viruses from one era to another like carrying disease to a new continent? There is no decontamination between leaps. And is the person who arrives in the waiting room wearing clothes? Or wearing Sam’s clothes? Because Sam clearly arrives after a leap wearing whatever suit or dress or bathtub his new identity is in. If that person had been riding a motorcycle at the time of the leap, Sam finds himself driving a motorcycle. Is he wearing a leather jacket and protective gear or is that itself part of a magical projection people think they see?
I just can’t reconcile that new information with what I had thought I understood.
My instinct is, going forward, to pretend that episode doesn’t exist. So far there is no indication that this elaborates or touches back on that version of how it all works.
I feel like when The Last Jedi came out and there was a campaign to remove it from canon. Most shows I love have something that spoils it a bit. The final episode of Quantum Leap, as I recall, was just strange. The final episode of Dexter was also kind of traumatic and veered away from what I thought should have happened. But it is true that one bad or strange episode of something, one bit of whimsy that might have been an inside joke in a writers’ room, can taint much of something good.
As I finish watching the discs I have, I’ll see if this is resolved or whether I can just put it behind me. Even the ending of this episode is convoluted in terms of (spoiler alert) Sam going into labor and the baby in the future waiting room disappearing before the mother disappears and before Sam’s leap. So then we have to fill in that the baby was in some neutral place before returning to the mother’s womb. That is way too much complication.
In my own version of events, it just makes sense that Sam is only there in mind and the mother and child never physically left her time. But that’s me. As we are often told by creators these days, fans “don’t own” the shows they like. But we can sure vent our confusion.
I mean I had been thinking a theater version of Quantum Leap might be possible if the physical Sam Beckett is always in the waiting room and simply changing his voice and behaviour as new people inhabit him during leaps. We do not see that end of things. But if the information in this one episode is correct, then that wouldn’t work. Maybe I can go back in time to persuade Deborah Pratt to not write it that way. But I would only send my consciousness, not my physical self.