After the events of Shock Theatre, Al and Sam find they have changed places, so that Al has leapt into a recently returned World War II veteran in 1945 who had been believed to be dead, while Sam has gone to the Imaging Chamber in the present. After some effort, Sam is able to leave the chamber where he is reunited with his wife Donna, who he had completely forgotten about in the process of leaping through time. Al as reconnects with his host’s girlfriend, who had gotten engaged while she thought he was dead. Her knew fiancé is enraged and attempts to kill them both, leading Sam to re-leaping in order to save Al’s life. Sam and Al thus return to their more usual positions, and Sam once again forgets that he is married to Donna.
Written by Donald P. Bellisario. Directed by Michael Zinberg
The Leap Back is basically the payoff episode of Quantum Leap–the one that we’ve been waiting for for the entire run of the show, in which Sam finally returns home, even if it’s just for a brief time. The project has almost never been seen on the show, aside from a brief glimpse in the first episode, and a silent appearance by the project psychiatrist in the last episode, the rest has been entirely limited to Al’s descriptions. Now, finally, Sam gets to go back and reunite with his friends, including his wife Donna.
The revelation that Sam is married is one of the series’ best moments. For a first time viewer experiencing the discovery in real time, the news has quite an impact. It gets even more interesting when you realize that this is the same character that Teri Hatcher played back in the show’s second ever episode, Star-Crossed. What’s more, in that story it was very clear that Sam and Donna did not get married in the original history, implying very strongly that Sam’s actions changed things, even if at the time that did not seem likely. Donna is now played by Mimi Kuzyk, who is actually one two years older than Teri Hatcher, even though this story is meant to take place a good 27 years later! She seems to have aged very well.
A real treat in the “present” scenes is the introduction of Ziggy. Science fiction has a long history of sassy robots and computers, but Ziggy is one of the best, with a whole heap of great dialogue. When asked about data on Al, Ziggy replies, “He’ll kiss the girls and make them cry.” When talking about learning about 1945, Ziggy says, “Actually, I was doing quite well absorbing the year until Franklin Delano Roosevelt died. It depressed me.” When asked for information that Sam doesn’t already know, Ziggy says, “Tina’s having an affair with Gushie.” Deborah Pratt does a great job voicing Ziggy. We’ll hear more of the parallel hybrid computer in the future, but probably not enough.
If there is a disappointment attached to all of this it’s that the new status quo only lasted a single episode, meaning there wasn’t more time given to exploring the project and the world that Sam is from, and to seeing Al functioning as a Leaper. Indeed, I recall a letter to Starlog (a science fiction magazine) back in the day in which a fan of the show had the same complaint. It would have been a lot of fun to see this new state of affairs last a bit longer, especially as there are a fair few things that would have been nice for the show to make sense of. See Questions and Speculations, below–since I’m pretty sure most of it is never addressed again, it will have to be the stuff of head canon and fan fiction (you can find a summary of mine here).
However, the biggest loss from returning to the show’s normal state of affairs is just that we never see Donna again (or even hear of her, I think). The relationship is such a significant game-changer for the series, that I can understand how it got ignored (or more accurately, “forgotten”) after this, but it’s a pity the show never circled back around to deal with it. More than any other, it makes the series’ final reveal a painful disappointment. (Spoilers for the finale: Not only does Sam not go home in the end, but it’s implied that it’s his own subconscious choice not to do so, which makes all his passionate promises here to someday come back feel pretty pointless. End Spoilers).
Until then, we still have this episode, and it’s a great one. There is real fun to be had with Al and Sam’s swapping positions (and brainwaves). Al’s actual leap-mission is pretty simple, but that just gives time for all the other character-based stuff, including his reaction to Suzanne and the similarities of Jarrett’s story with his own experiences. Sam’s solution for getting out of the Imaging Chamber is clever, and the project scenes are a delight. Scott Bakula, Mimi Kuzyk and Dean Stockwell all have a lot of great material to work with and help make this another serious contender for the series’ most memorable episode.
• Mimi Kuzyk (Dr. Donna Elesee) is a well known actress who had a regular role in Hill Street Blues, and also appeared recently as Sylvia Tilly’s mother in a Short Treks episode of Star Trek Discovery.
• Both Candy Ann Brown and Dennis Wolfberg make their second appearances on the show, as Dr. Virbina Beeks and Gushie. This is the last time we will see Beeks, but Gushie will show up four more times. (Incidentally, I’ve seen both Gushie’s and Virbina Beeks’ names–and Donna Elesee as well–spelled differently, but this is the way it’s spelled in the script for this episode I’ve seen on the fan site Al’s Place.)
• Deborah Pratt is the show’s narrator and has appeared in a guest starring role a couple of seasons earlier (A Portrait for Troian). She’s also written a whole bunch of episodes and is one of the producers. Here, she is also the voice of Ziggy, the Quantum Leap computer, a role she will play again a few times.
Who and Where is Dr. Sam Beckett?
Sam is actually back in September 18, 1999, or possibly January 24, 2000 (see Questions and Speculations below), in Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico. Al on the other hand is in Crown Point, Indiana, on June 15, 1945. At the end of the story, Sam is also briefly in Crown Point, Indiana on the same night.
What does Sam have to do?
Al and Sam (whichever one is present at the time) have to prevent the murders of Tom Jarrett and Suzanne Elsinger by Clifford Whiteside.
What do we learn about Sam Beckett?
Sam is married to Donna Elesee!
Sam’s dad’s lawyer is Doc Crossnoff, whom Sam is confident will see to it that a letter sent to him in 1945 will be delivered at the end of the century.
What do we know about Al?
Al’s birthday is June 15, but the year is not revealed. According to Ziggy, he is 175.25 centimeters tall and weights 70.91 kilograms (presumably, she never gets to the weight unit).
Al’s background is rementioned–how he was a POW for six years, and came home only to discover that his wife Beth had remarried in the meantime.
Al understands astronomy enough to identify the star that Ziggy is describing based the technical information the computer shares.
Al prefers artificial sweetener–Equal or Sweet and Low–in his coffee. He doesn’t smoke cigarettes.
Al mentions Gummy Bears and Mike Tyson. According to Ziggy, Al has saved life 23 times up to this point.
What about the experiment?
Ziggy is described as a parallel hybrid computer that Sam designed, which has a big ego. That ego is at one point compared to Barbra Steisand’s, and is also said to be the development about Ziggy that represented the big breakthrough the project needed–without it Ziggy would just be another “number cruncher.” Though referred to as “he”, Ziggy has a female voice. Ziggy’s database was limited to information from Sam’s lifetime.
Sam says that to leap together, he and Al would have had to have been struck by lightning or sitting together at ground zero of a nuclear explosion. A lightning strike can be misread by Ziggy as a collapse of the radium accelerator ring which surrounds the imaging chamber. This would lead Ziggy to automatically seal the chamber to protect the project for 1600 year–the half life of the radiation from the radium ring–during which time the door cannot be opened from the outside, even by Ziggy. It can be opened from the inside with the handlink.
Ziggy at one point tells Sam his brain must still be magnafluxed. Magnafluxing is a process by which metal is subjected to strong magnetic fields to determine if it has any cracks. Assuming Ziggy is not just being sarcastic, perhaps that tells us that part of the reason for the “Swiss-cheese” memory effect of quantum leaping has to do with exposure to the experiment’s strong magnetic fields?
Ziggy is unable to lock on to Al’s precise location until Sam locks onto his neurons and mesons in the imaging chamber.
When he leaps, Sam wears a Fermi-suit (named after Italian physicist Enrico Fermi).
When he goes to leap again to save Al, Sam says that his first leap didn’t have a target and was subject to the whim of fate, but that since then he has subconsciously been working on the problem, and now knows that he can leap directly into Al, sending him for some reason back to the Imaging Chamber (and not to the Waiting Room–see Questions and Speculations, below). Sam is able to leap out of his own lifetime (and into Al’s) because of the merging of neurons and mesons that he and Al have experienced.
Sam is hopeful that the retrieval program can work to bring him home this time (after it failed in Double Identity) because he updated it since then (again, see Questions and Speculations, below).
The project includes something called the synchotron. Its activation seems to involve Donna’s hands on a control–a beam of light seems to come from it.
“Driven by an unknown force…” (God or Time or Something)
Though there are several exclamations of “Oh God” and the like, they never talk about the unseen force that they believe is driving Sam’s leaping (which is a little surprising as you’d think this was the perfect opportunity for this–especially when they realize that Al’s leapee has had life experiences so similar to Al himself.
Although now I realize that Sam says that his first leap was “subject to a whim of fate.” He doesn’t talk about fate like it’s a person or an intelligence, but it’s the same idea.
Sam and Al say the catchphrase together at the start of the episode. Then later Al says it again when Sam realizes that he needs the handlink to get to the out of the Imaging Chamber, but he won’t be able to use it for another fifty years. Al also says, “Oh boy you don’t know the half of it,” when Susanne says he’s changed, but that’s not exactly the same thing.
Sam’s Complicated Love Life
This is the episode which actually reveals that Sam’s love life is complicated, as he realizes when his memories return that he is actually married to Donna Elesee in his “present”. He is reunited with Donna for one night before he chooses to leap again to save Al’s life.
Due to trading certain brainwaves with Al (a result of their simultaneous leap) he also takes on some of Al’s lecherous side, ogling women in 1945.
The Many Loves of Al Calavicci
Sam’s girlfriend Tina is seen, and revealed (by Ziggy) to be having an affair with Gushie.
In the past, Al kisses and sleeps with Tom Jarrett’s girlfriend Suzanne, and attempts to ogle various women but finds himself hampered by Sam’s “pure thoughts”.
Al’s fifth wife is suing him for more alimony–September 18, 1999 is the date of the court case.
Speculations and Questions
• If this story arc had been longer, it would have been nice to see what is going on in the Waiting Room? How lucid are the people who are displaced by the leaps? Do they still look like Sam Beckett (or Al) to the rest of the world? I know we will see more of this at some point in the show, so I’m looking forward to that.
• What is going on with Tina? By her “space-age” earrings and general demeanor, she seems to be the same person that appeared in Genesis, the show’s first episode, but it was clear that that woman was meeting Al for the first time. Later, Al talked about dating a Tina who had been with the Project for some time (and who, like this Tina, knew Sam–so it’s not like Al broke up with the earlier Tina and started going out with hitchhiking Tina in the meantime). Were Al and Tina just playing some sort of weird role-play when they met on the roadside? Or did Al pick up the woman on the side of the road because she reminded him so much of his own Tina, and it was just a coincidence that she was also called Tina?
• Why on earth does Tina say that Sam sounds like Al? It sounds like they are implying that Sam is there under Al’s “aura”–that everyone is seeing and hearing Al. But nobody else reacts to Sam in this way, if that is the implication. And it doesn’t really make sense since Sam hasn’t leapt into Al, he’s switched places with him. Al has leapt int Tom Jarrett, so one would assume that Al’s “aura” was in the waiting room with the real Jarrett resting inside of it. But if Sam doesn’t look like Al, then it’s hard to make sense of Tina’s comment. They talk about how Sam and Al have traded bits of each other’s personalities, but Sam has hardly said anything at that point so it isn’t obvious what he could have said that could have sounded like Al from a word-choice or speech pattern point of view.
According to the fan-site Al’s Place, there’s a deleted (or unfilmed) bit of this scene in which Sam does make a risque joke, which prompts Tina to make her comment about him sounding like Al. But given that that doesn’t appear in the episode, how are we to make sense of it?
• What exactly is the date in the future? Al says that he is from September 18, 1999. But when he arrives into the project, Gushie says that the letter was delivered that day, exactly 54 years, 7 months and 6 days after it was mailed. Well, Sam mailed the letter on June 15, 1945. If you go forward that amount of time, then you get to January 24, 2000. September 18, 1999 should have been 54 years, 3 months, and 12 days. Is Gushie just wrong? Or did it just take some extra time for some reason for the letter to get delivered?
• When Sam leaps at the end, why does Al return to the Imaging Chamber and not to the Waiting Room? I suppose it’s because Al only leaped in the first place because of their strange lightning strike-induced simultaneous leap, so that as soon as Al was displaced, he went back to where he came from rather than the Waiting Room.
• The only other time that the Retrieval Program is mentioned was in Double Identity, in the first season. In this episode, Sam says that he’s updated it since then. When did this happen? It could only be after Sam returned to the present earlier in this same episode, but it certainly doesn’t seem like the sort of thing he spent any time doing. (Maybe he just needed to hit some sort of automatic “update program” setting on his device before he went home for the night, and nobody else could do it because they didn’t have the password).
• Sam gets all wacky when it comes to being a hologram, and even impersonate Woody Woodpecker at one point.
• Al gets confused about his last name, believing it to be Beckett at one point, which is pretty funny..
• When Sam talks about the half-life of the radiation from the radium ring (which is also the amount of time that Sam will be locked into the Imaging Chamber, he says, “Why do I feel this is going to be a big number?” Sam replies, “Well, no, no. Not in cosmic terms. See, it’s… it’s, uh, 1,600 years.”
• “I like running barefoot through sprinklers.” Nice line from Al.
• Al gets into a fight–trash talking the guy and then pulling off a trademark Sam Beckett spin-kick to take his opponent down.
• All the stuff of Sam greeting everyone in the project is great–it just makes you wish they developed those relationships further.
• This episode is the beginning of the show’s fourth season. It’s clear from a few references in this episodes that Sam has been leaping for four years now, which is longer than the series had been on the air (counting from Genesis which debuted in March 1989, til September 1991 when this episode had been aired, it had been on TV for only 2.5 years.
• Sam and wife sit around in their underwear against a quite unrealistic landscape
• It’s a tender moment when Donna and Sam talk about the fact that she told Al not to tell Sam about her. “Could you have acted freely if you knew you were married?” And Sam can’t remember what he actually did…”Was there anything that I did…that hurt you?” It’s a little hokier when she says, “No, I never once felt that you betrayed our love,” but it works for the scene.
• Sam and Donna both talk to Ziggy by their watches!
• Another good Ziggy exchange: Ziggy asks why human beings die for love, and Sam replies off-the-cuff, “Check Shakespeare.” Ziggy starts doing this and Sam tells him that this isn’t the time. Ziggy replies, “Why not? With a million-gigabyte capacity, I’m quite capable of rubbing my tummy, patting my head and doing a trillion floating point operations at once.” Sam says he doesn’t want to get into a philosophical discussion. A moment later, Ziggy adds, “I’ve finished reading Shakespeare. I see your point.”
• I get tired of Al’s lecherous activities and speech, but it’s interesting to have him and Sam talk about their different experiences with women as a result of their mixed brainwaves.
• Sam’s farewell to Donna is really well done.
• Sam kills that guy Clifford. I’ve lost track of the number of people Sam has killed.
• Sam forgets Donna again, as well as the whole experience of leaping back home. Donna again instructs Al to not reveal her existence to Sam. “You’ll tell him nothing, Al. He came back to me once.
He’ll come back again.” The whole bit with the star at the end is also sweet.
Sam Leaps To
Nothing! No exit leap is scene. Al’s description of Sam’s next (or soon after) leap is that he’s a comic playing the Catskills in 1956, where there is a little girl being torn apart by divorce. He’s there to put the comic together with a waitress so they can raise the little girl together. An upcoming episode called Stand Up features Sam in the Catskills in the 1950’s as a standup comic, but I’m under the impression the rest of the details don’t matchup. We’ll see when we get there, I guess!
Ziggy pretty much has all the best dialogue. When Sam tries to urge him to move faster in helping figure out what’s going on with Al, the computer replies in a proud huff
I believe your brain is still slightly magnafluxed, Dr. Beckett, or you’d remember I never experience guilt. That’s a flaw found only in human computers.
Special thanks, by the way, to this site for the episode transcriptions.
The Best Moment
There are multiple amazing moments in this episode. One of the most obvious is when Al is about to drop the letter in the mailbox, and suddenly Sam begins to get his memory back. The door opens, Sam races out, he sees Al disappear in the Imaging Chamber, and then he out into the project control room and greets…Donna. “Of course I remember you. You’re the woman I love. You’re my wife.”
But just as good is the ending between Al and Donna, as Donna realizes that she’s lost Sam again, reaffirms her commitment that he not be told about her in case it compromises his ability to complete his Leaps, and then looks up at a star whose light is from as far back in the past as Sam is at that moment, and tells him that she loves him.