Sam Beckett’s 10 Strangest Quantum Leaps

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?By Kevin J. Guhl

Although it had a sci-fi premise, Quantum Leap was mostly grounded in the real world. Its hero, Dr. Sam Beckett, disappeared during a trial run of the time machine he invented and found himself traveling to different years throughout the second half of the 20th Century, appearing as different people and tasked with putting something right in their lives that had once gone wrong, all the time hoping that his next leap would be the leap home. For five seasons, Sam’s adventures mostly resembled TV dramas-of-the-week, albeit with the twist of a protagonist put there through fantastic means. However, the occasional Quantum Leap episode went off the beaten path and put Sam in very weird circumstances, especially in the show’s more experimental final season. Two episodes of the show are actually rumored to be cursed, affecting people who watch them in various unsettling ways. These are the 10 strangest Quantum Leaps.

10) The Curse of Ptah-Hotep

Sam leaps into an archaeologist who has unearthed a supposedly cursed Egyptian tomb. Disasters befall the dig, even affecting Ziggy, the computer at Project Quantum Leap, which starts to malfunction due to new software that was created in Egypt. Although Sam is extremely skeptical about the whole idea of a curse, the viewer is treated to a quick glimpse of an emaciated mummy hand as it grabs one of the members of the dig party just before the episode ends.

Quantum Leap tended to show that supernatural beings and other oddities were real, and offered tantalizing glimpses of Bigfoot, Bermuda Triangle strangeness, UFOs, angels and other weird things throughout the course of the series. It was an odd fit for a show that was usually more realistic that fanciful (well, aside from the premise), but reveals of this type were often done in a tastefully short and shocking way. On a related note, two airings of this episode in 1992 supposedly coincided with large earthquakes in California, supporting the idea of a curse that even extended outside the program. It wouldn’t be the first episode of Quantum Leap connected to supposed strange phenomenon in the real world. Read on…

9) 8 ? Months

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Sam leaped into women on several occasions and there were usually several awkward situations for him to deal with, like competing in a beauty pageant and fending off sexual advances from guys who thought he was a woman. But the strangest situation he had to deal with as a woman, hands down, was when he leapt into a pregnant teenager. His mission was fairly routine, in that he had to convince the girl’s father to support her so she wouldn’t have to give the baby up for adoption. The bizarre part was that Sam continued to endure all the pregnancy symptoms and ultimately labor pains as if he were actually pregnant with the baby. Keep in mind that the show established that it’s actually Sam’s entire body that leaps, and that he takes on the appearance of the person he’s pretending to be to everyone around him. Thankfully, Sam leapt out of there just before the baby emerged.

8) Lee Harvey Oswald

Reportedly, NBC dictated to Quantum Leap series creator Donald Bellisario that the show’s fifth season amp up the appearance of historical celebrities in the leaps, which had really only happened before in cameos that were considered to be more like “kisses with history.” Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton and Buddy Holly appeared on the show, for example, but as children that Sam inspired or encountered briefly in some way that wasn’t the main focus of the episodes. Before you knew it, though, Sam was suddenly leaping into Dr. Ruth, Elvis and Marilyn’s Monroe’s chauffer. The most groundshaking and unsettling leap, though, was when Sam leapt into Lee Harvey Oswald and their brains became scrambled together, causing Sam to almost shoot JFK himself! (By the way, the show took the stance, contrary to the popular theory at the time, that Oswald acted alone.) Thankfully, Al was able to snap Sam out of it just in time so that everyone’s favorite time-traveling physicist wouldn’t have the blood of the 35th U.S. President on his hands. Sam then leapt into the nearest person who could complete his mission, a Secret Service agent in the motorcade, which resulted in the best twist ending of the entire series. It turned out that Oswald had originally killed Jackie Kennedy, too, and Sam’s protecting of her created the history that we as viewers had experienced.

7) Blood Moon

Sam leaps into an eccentric artist who seems to believe he is a vampire and is living a life straight out of a campy horror movie. The guy lives in a castle, sleeps in a coffin (which Sam has the misfortune of being inside when he first leaps in) and is preparing to kill his girlfriend in a ritual sacrifice (which Sam must stop, of course). The viewers are left to assume the guy Sam has replaced is a total wackjob, until Sam glances into a metal plate to see what the guy looks like (as his reflection is always of the person he’s leapt into) and sees no reflection.

6) Killin’ Time

The basic subject matter of Sam’s leap in “Killin’ Time” isn’t out of the ordinary for the show – he’s become a serial killer who is holding a woman and her child hostage in a house that is surrounded by police, and must diffuse the situation without anyone getting killed. The strange part of the episode is that the serial killer has escaped from the waiting room at Project Quantum Leap that he’s supposed to stay in until Sam completes his mission, meaning that Sam can’t leap until the guy is brought back. This causes Al, who normally appears to Sam in the form of a hologram and provides guidance, to venture out from Project Quantum Leap’s hidden location in the New Mexico desert and track the killer to the nearest city. This episode was first broadcast in 1992 but was set in 1999, as the events at Project Quantum Leap were meant to be taking place in the near future. However, the creators of the show appear to have anticipated that the world would turn into Blade Runner in a few years’ time. The city Al captures the killer in has lanes for electro-magnetic cars, lots of neon, voice-activated doors and hookers who dress like they’re extras at Quark’s Bar on DS9. Quantum Leap didn’t frequently show life back in the present time, so this episode was unique for doing so in full force, even if the vision of “the future” we got was pretty comical. By the way, props to the Quantum Leap team for an episode title that works on several levels.


5) Deliver Us From Evil/Return of the Evil Leaper/Revenge of the Evil Leaper

Sam and Al had always figured that something was controlling Sam’s leaps so he could right things in people’s lives, be it God, Fate, Time or whatever. This trilogy of episodes proved that Newton’s Third Law applies even to Quantum Leaping. The duo encountered their evil female counterparts who were being controlled by some force to put wrong what once went right, starting with a family Sam had help keep together in an earlier episode and continuing with a college student who thought he was a superhero and was destined to get himself killed if Sam didn’t intervene. Alia, the evil leaper, wasn’t so evil after all, however, and it was vaguely implied that she might have actually been in Hell before being sent by the Devil on a counter-mission to Sam’s. Sam is able to convince her to switch sides, and the two leap together into a women’s prison as inmates who are both suspected of murdering another inmate as must prove their innocence. Sam and Al are able to help Alia break free in the end, although the true nature of the evil leaper remained a mystery.

4) The Leap Between The States

One of the cardinal rules of Quantum Leap was that Sam could only leap into years within his own lifetime, although that was likely done so the show’s budget wouldn’t get out of hand recreating Roman coliseums and the like. The creators of the show cheated just once on this rule and it was right before the series ended. Sam’s DNA was apparently so similar to his great-grandfather, Captain John Beckett, that Sam was able to leap into him during the Civil War. Back in 1862, Sam must help a black family escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad and must also ensure that his own great-grandmother, a Southern girl unimpressed with his great-grandfather, a Union soldier, get together lest Sam wipe himself from existence. It’s like Back to the Future, but with muskets.

If Quantum Leap had continued, it’s likely that the “within Sam’s own lifetime” rule would have been broken on a regular basis. An unused ending for the final episode (then only the fifth season finale) of Quantum Leap exists in which Al himself leaps in order to find Sam, and the pair end up on a space station in the far future. Reportedly, the direction NBC wanted the show to go in was for Sam to stay in the future and take on a young sidekick, which makes little sense, since how could he alter what once went wrong when it hadn’t happened yet? Series creator Donald Bellisario wasn’t very inclined to cooperate, leading to the show’s cancellation, reportedly. While Bellisario can be admired for sticking to his guns on his vision for the show, it’s also a shame that Quantum Leap didn’t get to have more episodes and further explore the new aspects of leaping revealed in the final season. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if a compromise was reached and Sam got to travel to different eras.

3) The Wrong Stuff

Sam leapt out of the human race in this episode, becoming a chimpanzee named Bobo involved in the U.S. space program, which was apparently made possible due to the close similarity between human and chimp DNA. As a potential Chimp-A-Naut who stood a chance at actually getting to rocket into space, Sam had to go through both endurance and skill tests, as well as indignities such as diapers, cages, tranquilizer darts and the advances of a female chimp. If Bobo failed to make the space program (as Sam somehow did), he was doomed to have his head bashed apart in a helmet test. But Sam saved the scientist in charge of the tests from drowning, causing the scientist to reconsider his opinion on the sentience of chimps and to cancel the deadly tests. The scientist was also surprised by his rescue since chimps can’t swim, whereas Sam of course could.

2) Mirror Image

The final episode of Quantum Leap was an enigma, albeit a beautifully written and presented one. It wasn’t known for sure when it was made that Quantum Leap would be canceled, but Donald Bellisario figured it might be and designed the episode as a possible series finale. Sam finds himself in a Pennsylvania mining town, but he hasn’t leapt into another person — he’s himself, and he’s there on the day he was born. He enters a bar that seems to be mostly populated by people he has helped throughout time, only they are all there in the guise of miners. And they seem to have become leapers themselves, including Al’s uncle, who (chillingly) is dead. The friendly but mysterious bartender Sam meets may or may not be God, but certainly knows who and what Sam is. The bartender finally reveals to Sam that the leaps are not being controlled by God, Fate, Time or whatever – Sam is making himself leap because he likes helping people, although Sam doesn’t want to accept that. Sam passes up on an opportunity for a sabbatical in order for a chance to go back in time and tell Al’s beloved first wife, Beth, that her husband did not die in Vietnam; he’s a P.O.W. and will return. The episode ends with text (obviously added at the last minute) that tells you that Al and Beth’s marriage was saved, but also, ominously, that “Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home.” It’s easy to understand why many viewers were unhappy with this ending, as more questions were raised and Sam never achieved his stated goal since the beginning of the series, that of returning home. However, the answer as to why Sam didn’t return home is right there in the episode, even if viewers may not like it, and the episode did offer a tantalizing glimpse into the mystery behind the leaps.

1) The Boogiem*n

There are two levels of freakiness to this Halloween-themed episode; one involves the plot itself, and the other explains why I didn’t write the complete title above. In the episode, Sam leaps into a horror novelist who lives in a creepy house and surrounds himself with occult paraphernalia. While he’s there to stop one murder, several other mysterious deaths happen along the way and Sam befriends a young man named Stevie, who turns out to be a young Steven King that was inspired by the episode’s weird events. The jawdropping final act reveals that Al, who has been helping Sam throughout the adventure as usual, is not really Al at all. The real Al shows up, having been delayed by mysterious interference, and it is revealed that the Fake Al caused the deaths and has been behind all the other weirdness, like a goat that would appear out of nowhere and follow Sam around. As Fake Al’s eyes glow red, he pretty much admits to being the Devil and says he is not happy that Sam has been putting right what he made wrong. The two have a frantic struggle and Sam appears to win, causing time to reset and everyone to be spared from death.

Now, here’s the reason I’m hesitant to even mention this episode; it’s apparently cursed and is rumored to cause havoc whenever it’s aired or even written about. According to Quantum Leap fans, there has been a high degree of signal interference or signal failure when this episode has aired, going all the way back to its premiere around Halloween 1990. Attempts to record the episode from television have reportedly been plagued by VCR problems. I haven’t heard about issues recording it on TiVo or playing it on DVD, but it wouldn’t be a surprise. Other viewers have attributed calamities in their lives to viewing the episode, and Chris Ruppenthal, the writer of the episode, reportedly experiences strange behavior from any cameras or recording equipment in his vicinity.

And I shit you not, weird stuff went down even in the writing of this article. While typing the previous paragraph, I accidentally hit the Caps Lock and then was unable to turn it off. Even though the keyboard said it was off (the indicator light wasn’t on), caps still poured forth onto the screen every time I attempted to type. The only solution was to shut down the computer, including all browser windows that contained information about this episode. Coincidence, or has the Quantum Leap Curse paid a visit to Topless Robot?