"Quantum Leap": What was the backstory?

I catch Quantum Leap in reruns once in a while, but I never saw the pilot, so I’m never entirly clear on what’s going on. It’s clear that Beckett, because of something that went wrong with a quantum-physics experiment he was working on, is doomed to travel through time and space and take the place, temporarily, of various random people. It’s clear that in each case he has a definite (if indeterminate) mission, to do something to change the life of the person he’s impersonating (or pf somebody close to that person), and that until he achieves that he’s not allowed to move on. Al, his colleague who follows him around in holographic form while communicating in realtime with “Ziggy,” an information source in the time of their common origin, is always able to tell him when the mission has been accomplished, at the end of the story (but he never tell, at the beginning of the episode, just what the mission is). Clear enough. But what’s never made clear is, why is that? Why should such a peculiar personal mission and facile plot device be in the nature of quantum physics? Also, who’s “Ziggy”? A person? A computer?

Ziggy is a computer.

The mission has nothing to do with Quantum Physics. The title of the show is “Quantum Leap.” But it’s just a juxtoposition of the physics term with the idea of leaping through time. Asking for a connection is like asking why they’re not trudging across South Africa in “Star Trek.”

Similarly, the project was called “Quantum Leap,” but that’s only the title. Unless you want to ask why the Manhattan project didn’t have anything to do with midtown New York City.

You do know what is going on. The connection to quantum physics is vague and ultimately completely unimportant.

Ziggy is a computer, and the inability to know the personal mission is a byproduct of Ziggy’s processing time finding out about the people involved and what needs to happen/ not happen to set things right.

This isn’t actually about quantum physics, it’s a plot device, thought by many to be a higher power sending him through time and space to make things better.

As to the backstory in the pilot episode…

Sam was the scientist who invented the process, and it was an attempt at time travel, leaping into the past. Al was one of the people working with him on the project – if I recall correctly, it was being funded (partly, maybe?) by the military and government. Al is an officer in the military and a friend of Sam.

When something was about to delay their schedule and threaten their funding, Sam put himself into the accelerator (the chamber of the machine for doing the leap) and he vanished.

He wakes up in the past, but he doesn’t know who he is at first. One of the side effects of the leap process, it turns out, was the “swiss-cheese memory” effect that they often refer to in the shows. He didn’t remember or piece back together who he was until his team back in the future figured out how to have the computer (Ziggy) lock on to the “mesons and neurons” in Sam’s brain, and use that to send Al’s hologram to him (that’s why only Sam can see him – the hologram is locked to Sam’s brain patterns, apparently).

The random leaping around was not a planned effect. After they found Sam and refreshed his memory, they attempted the “retrieval program”. It seemed like it was starting to work, but then didn’t.
And as things went along, his pattern of leaping started, and they found that he would leap again once he had accomplished righting some wrong in the past. Another interesting side effect was that the person he displaces ends up leaping to the future (at their lab), until Sam’s next leap (in which case, the person is leaped back to their own rightful place).

The implication is that some force for good (God, Fate, Time, whatever – is their usual guess) is actually controlling where he goes next on each leap.

I used to watch this show from time to time (no pun intended). It was pretty good, but I felt they spent too little time focusing on the SciFi element of the show.

The show was at its best when it gave little pieces of the backstory.

I bet someday, there is a SciFi Network remake. Maybe then more will be fleshed out!

So this “force for good” is never specified, not even in the pilot?

Fuck that shit! Whoever came up with this series idea should be exiled to Outer Mongolia!

They usually make a comment like “God, or Fate, or Time, or whoever is leaping me”. I always got the impression that the intent is that God is controlling the leaps, but that they don’t want to come out and say that directly, lest people get the idea that they are trying to promote a religious agenda (which I don’t think the show is intending to do at all).

It’s left open ended enough that people can draw their own conclusions about the specifics. Although there are episodes later on that hint at a higher power guiding the leaps. And even lower powers – i.e. Satan – in direct opposition. The three “Evil Leaper” episodes come to mind. (And those are quite interesting, and good, as well).

I liked the show a lot. I always got the impression that while it had a Sci-Fi framework around it (time travel, Al hologram, etc), it was also intended as a show that was accessible to people who were not hard core Sci-Fi fans. And it gave a nice platform for telling all sorts of different stories, set in different years, different social climates, and even working in some historical events and fun references. Good humor in the show, too. And the interplay between Sam and Al – I think that’s a lot of what made the show what it was – their close friendship.

If you watch the first several episodes, you get the impression that in some aspects, they were making it up as they went along. Some of the “effects” (like the blue aura surrounding the leap, or Al’s holographic appearances) hadn’t quite been fleshed out into their later standard form yet.

Some MUST SEE episodes, IMHO, are:

  • the three-part set of episodes called Trilogy
  • M.I.A. – some back story on Al
  • The Leap Home, parts 1 and 2. (Sam’s family backstory, and brother in Vietnam)
  • The Boogeyman – was a Halloween episode, and it’s fun and creepy at the same time. Excellent performance by Dean Stockwell in this one.
  • The Leap Back – in this one, Al and Sam have switched places due to a weird accident, and Al is the leaper, Sam is actually back home (for a short time).
  • Deliver Us From Evil – first “evil leaper” episode
  • Evil Leaper II: Return of the Evil Leaper and then Revenge of the Evil Leaper – back to back episodes
  • and the series finale – lots of people don’t seem to like that episode, but I did.

What I find amusing is that Sam, who is otherwise shown to be absolutely brilliant in everything he does,

[spoiler]more or less plagiarized his theory of time travel from someone else!

This is revealed in an episode where he leaps into an actor who plays the sidekick to a space adventurer. The other actor is suspected to be crazy because of his sincere desire to build a time machine. At the end of the episode, as the older actor retires, he reads a piece of fan mail from young “Samuel Beckett” and explains his “shoestring theory”.[/spoiler]

Not a remake but there’s apparently a sequel coming to TV.

What about in the final episode? I thought things were pretty well explained about why this was happening to Sam. IIRC,

By the way, God is D-Day from Animal House, and tells Sam that he’s doing all of this because someone has to, and he (Sam) is in a position to do it.

And Al was, at the time of the Quantum Leap project, and Admiral in the US Navy. That implied to me that it was a military project. Sam gets to see him on different leaps to the past (once to Viet Nam, and once in the last episode.)

Not sure how many times he actually saw Past Al. He once jumped into Al as a very young officer, but I think that may have been the only time he really saw him, as opposed to just affecting his life somehow. IIRC,

in the Viet Nam one he never really saw Al, just a picture of him as a POW that they failed to rescue in favor of Sam saving his brother. And I thought the last episode he revisited something he’d done before, that took place while Al was a POW (I think the episode *M.I.A * mentioned previously). Sam had to fix someone else’s life and couldn’t fix Al’s (again). In the finale he changed that by telling Al’s wife that he was alive and to wait for him.

I could however be wrong. It’s been a while, and I think I’m missing one.

And that person you mentioned showed up in the pilot episode as well.

In the Viet Nam episode, when Sam was hiding on the side of the trail, some VC soldiers were marching a few soldiers down the trail. The last one in line was younger LT Al. He ended up spending a couple of years as a POW (which contributed to why his first marriage went bust, which is why Sam went back to his first wife while Al was still a prisoner in the very last episode.)

And I remembered him jumping into a classmate of Al, not Al himself, during that school episode. I may have that one wrong, but I’m positive about the trail sighting.

I only saw 2 episodes, one where he lept into a single mom’s life and saved her from being brutally raped and murdered (he only remembered at the last minute that “he” was a black belt), and the Lee Harvey Oswald episode.

Both were excellent.

I thought he didn’t recognize him until he saw the last pictures that the photographer took, but you’re most likely correct. Like I said, it’s been a while.
On the other hand, I’m fairly positive he jumped into Al. I remember him going on about talking to his younger self and how he had to convince young Al that older Al was an existing older uncle at one point.

In the Vietnam episode, they were in fact hiding on the trail while the VC were herding POWs along. But he did not see or recognize young Al at the time – although Hologram Al did, and he was trying to urge Sam that he could rescue the POWs as well as complete his actual mission.

BigDummy is correct in saying that

Sam didn’t realize it was past Al in that group of POWs until they looked at the photo-journalist’s “last photos”. That was in fact what caused her to say “Pulitzer” as her dying word – when Hologram Al was bending over her and she could see him, and recognized him as the POW she had just taken the picture of

Also, the school episode was “A Leap For Lisa”. And Sam definitely leaped into the young version of Al. The basic plot was…

he had to save Al from murder charges and save Lisa, Al’s lover at the time (played by Terry Farrell, later to become Dax on DS9). Something in the timeline got screwed up, Lisa died in a wreck, Al was accused of murdering Commander Riker’s wife (no relation to Star Trek on this one). The truth was that the wife’s death was an accident, and a buddy of Al’s (Chip) was with her at the time. This one was also interesting, because Sam’s initial leap actually puts him into a dream that Al is having (the naked woman on the beach providing the “Oh Boy” moment).

(Monstre knows his Quantum Leap. :))

Yes he does, although I didn’t do so bad. Was I correct that the episode M.I.A. you mentioned was the one where Sam felt he couldn’t interfere on Al’s behalf with his wife? The one that he corrected in the finale?

SHHH! You’re not supposed to mention that title! Bad things supposedly happen. I don’t buy it myself, but I’ll let you know when I get the Season 3 DVDs. :wink:

BrainGlutton: Seasons 1 & 2 are available on DVD so you can rent them to catch up.

Yes. Al is convinced that Sam must be there to fix his problem. Turns out Sam was actually there to save a cop from being murdered.

That episode provides a lot of good backstory on Al.

Heh heh. Really? I’d actually never heard that.

But I’ve never kept up with QL fandom or fan sites, etc. I just got into the show itself. And I LOVE that episode – one of my favorites. I especially like Dean Stockwell’s scenes when the plot twist is revealed.

I also never watched the show when it was actually airing during its run. I got into it several years later, watching it in its syndicated run on one of my cable channels – 5 days a week. Luckily, they were airing them in order. And I was taping them and keeping up. I think I only missed one episode, or at least most of it (one where he’s a rainmaker in Texas, I think…?)

But actually…

Earlier in that episode, the actor is trying to explain his theory to Sam. It is similar, but is missing a key point. Sam tells him. So later when he tells the full version on the air, he used the bit Sam told him earlier. So it’s kind of a paradox, because Sam got it from the TV show actor, who got it from time traveling Sam. Presumably the original time line had either the incomplete theory that young Sam remembered and advanced by himself or the actor had developed it better on his own and gave that version on the air. I don’t think it really counts as plagiarism anyway, as the heavy lifting of making the cute catchphrase actually work was still on Sam’s shoulders.