This article contains spoilers for Quantum Leap season 1 and the premiere of season 2.
Does a Leaper control their leaps? It’s a question that Quantum Leap, both old and new series, seemingly have answers for. In the original show, Sam (Scott Bakula) was leaping because he was conducting a time travel experiment that went, to quote the original narration for the series, “a little caca.” He couldn’t control his leaps and hoped his next leap would be the one that would finally bring him home.
In the first season of the new series, Ben (Raymond Lee) had somewhat planned his leaps in order to get to a place in time where he could save the love of his life, Addison (Caitlin Bassett.) Now though in season 2 Ben is lost in time much like Sam was in the original series… Or was he? And is Ben really lost as well? Leaping always seemed random in the original series until the final episode, “Mirror Image” supposedly tossed everything out the window.
In that episode, Sam, after five years of leaping, comes face to face with an entity simply known as Al the Bartender (Bruce McGill.) The Bartender is elusive with Sam over the whole episode until Sam finally manages to get a huge piece of information out of him. That Sam has, potentially, been controlling his leaps this whole time. The Bartender couches this in some vague language but he does finally give a more solid answer when Sam questions,
“Are you saying I can leap home anytime I want to?”
To which the Bartender responds, “Technically yes.”
This answer of course bewilders Sam. For five years he thought he had no control over his leaps so he wonders what the catch is. The Bartender simply tells him that, “you have to accept that you control your own destiny.”
Later in the episode Sam does control a leap, going back in time to help out Al (hologram Al, not Bartender Al) and make sure Al’s first wife never left him. It is then stated in a title card that Sam never returned home, indicating that he continued to control his leaps from then on.
This bit of lore has often troubled Quantum Leap fans, who feel it contradicts the thrust of the series. That Sam is bouncing around in time and if he could have gone home he would have. “Mirror Image” is an intentionally vague episode so there is some room to interpret that Sam didn’t have control over his leaps until that point, or at least he didn’t know he did. After all, the season 3 premiere of the original Quantum Leap featured Sam failing to save his brother Tom and then leapt into another time period where he was given a second chance to do so. It’s easy to write that as a one-off, a massive coincidence, but it’s also evidence that Sam has had the ability to leap himself for some time. Perhaps he simply forgets this ability during leaps?
The season 2 premiere of the new series addresses all of this when, in a flashback scene before Ben leaped, he questions, “You think when Sam got into the accelerator he knew he maybe wouldn’t come back?”
In the original series we didn’t see much of Sam’s original leap and after that his memory was “swiss cheesed” and wasn’t able to remember the details of exactly why he wanted to leap. This new episode proposes that, perhaps, Sam knew all along he was never coming back. If he knew that, he had some knowledge about the control of his leaps from the start. Even if he wasn’t fully conscious of it, he knew he wanted to travel in time and make the world a better place. “Mirror Image” addresses this when The Bartender makes it clear that Sam wanted to travel in time to make the world a better place. This means that, deep down, Sam always knew he’d never get back home and that he had control over his leaps.
Does this mean that Ben in the new Quantum Leap can also control his leaps, just like Sam could? We aren’t sure yet, especially with the new status quo of leaps where, according to showrunner Marin Gero, “the path (Ben’s) on is a lot more random or in the hands of whatever unknown force guides the Quantum Leap program.”
Over the course of this season or even the next Ben could start to learn to control his leaps, just like Sam did. Or perhaps Ben already has the power to control them and just doesn’t know it yet.
New episodes of Quantum Leap season 2 premiere Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.