Review of 1993’s Quantum Leap Series Finale “Mirror Image” and What It Means for the Current Series


Image from the Quantum Leap episode “Mirror Image.”

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I’ve been watching the Quantum Leap revival and reviewed episodes 1 and 2. I’m particularly interested in the mystery around why Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee) chose to make an unauthorized leap after receiving a text message from Janice (or Janis) Calavicci (Georgina Reilly), daughter of Al Calavicci (played by the late Dean Stockwell).

However, even before seeing episode 2 “Atlantis,” I formed the same theory that every other fan has; Ben leaped in order to find Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), the creator of Project Quantum Leap who has been missing for thirty years, and to bring him home.

But there are so many missing pieces. While I watched a lot of the original series, I haven’t seen every single episode. Key among them is the controversial series finale Mirror Image – August 8, 1953. More or less for giggles, I decided to watch it last night and it does not disappoint. Further, the story and the history behind it yield vital clues as to what Ben and Janice are up to and why.

The show opens with Sam leaping into the doorway of a bar/diner. He’s dressed in more or less conventional clothes and wearing a hat (which quickly disappears and never comes back). He walks in and orders a beer from Al the bartender (played by Bruce McGill). Then Sam looks at his reflection in the mirror behind the bar. He sees himself, Sam Beckett.


Image from the Quantum Leap episode “Mirror Image.”

He’s delighted but confused. A newspaper yields the date, the exact day when Sam was born. Looking at the clock, he says he must have walked through the door at the very minute he was born. He notices some gray hair and crow’s feet around his eyes. This is important because it shows Sam ages as he continues to leap, so leaping doesn’t make him immortal.

The dialog continues (all dialog quotes courtesy of

Al, the Bartender: When’s the last time you took a really good look at yourself?

Sam: It’s been a while.

Al, the Bartender: Well, you let too much time go by, you could lose touch with reality.

Sam is in a small mining town in Pennsylvania and as strange as things are, they start getting stranger. An old miner comes in, takes a shot of whiskey, and leaves. Sam notes that he has terrible breath and Al refers to him as Gooshie (played by William Morgan Sheppard). This immediately references back to the Project’s Gooshie who also has really bad breath.

Over the course of a few hours, Sam starts meeting people who either have names associated with the Project or who look exactly like people he’s met in past leaps. The thing is, appearances are deceiving. They aren’t the same people, although some of them have similar life experiences.

At one point, Sam runs afoul of another miner named Tonchi (John D’Aquino) who demands to see Sam’s identification. Sam pulls out a nylon wallet bound with Velcro and opening it, sees his drivers license (expired). He can’t show it to anyone and puts it away, but the fact that he has it brings up interesting questions. If he leapt into himself but not as a baby, where did the clothes come from? He entered the acceleration chamber wearing a Fermi Suit and nothing else. His street clothes and wallet were probably in some locker. How would they have “leapt” onto him?

Back at the Project, Ziggy has lost Sam. In talking to the other Gooshie (Dennis Wolfberg), they determined that Sam must have leapt into himself, which is why there’s no one in the Waiting Room. Gooshie says it will take about a month to find Sam, although if they get lucky, that might be taken down to only two-and-a-half weeks.

Al (for some reason wearing his full dress Navy uniform) steps into the imaging chamber while moving 3D holographic images from across Sam’s lifetime surround him. He eventually gets the “feeling” that Sam leapt into his own birthday. Gooshie starts a search for Sam on that date beginning with his first birthday in 1954 and extending into the 21st century.

One of the miners Sam meets is Stawpah (Stephen McHattie), a disabled old man who is bitter and distrusts Sam. As miners file into the tavern, he talks to a number of them including Ziggy (Richard Herd) who looks just like Moe Stein from one of Sam’s leaps. As he gets to know everyone, he gets a strong sense that Al the Bartender is a lot more than he seems and that this isn’t an ordinary bar.

An alarm siren sounds. There’s been an explosion in the mine. Two men are trapped but the manager won’t let anyone go down until the tunnel has been vented of gas. Problem is, the tunnel is filling with water and they won’t survive that long. Stawpah tells the manager Mr. Collins (Mike Genovese) that Sam is a mining inspector, supposedly just to get his goat. As it turns out. Stawpah is using Sam to save the trapped men.

Sam manages to bluff his way through the guards posted at the mine elevator, but the rescuers won’t let him go down with them. That gives Sam plenty of time to talk to the enigmatic “Al” and start learning things piece by piece.

steve leaps

Scene from the Quantum Leap episode “Mirror Image”

The two men are rescued and Sam is a hero. He turns to thank Stawpah who was the mastermind behind the rescue only to see him leap. Sam supposedly doesn’t know what a leap looks like, but one minute Stawpah was sitting at a table, and then in a flash of blue light and electricity, he’s gone. Not only that, no one remembers that he was ever there except old Gooshie. He knew Stawpah, but that was a long time ago. He says Sam couldn’t possibly have met him because he died in 1933.

In talking to the bartender, Sam comes to believe that stories of people coming back to warn the living are leapers. The reason no one replaces them when they leap out is because they’re dead. That re-enforces the idea that God has to be behind leaping. It also means that Project Quantum Leap, while unique, isn’t the only source of people leaping from one time to the next helping others.

On top of that, when Sam looks in the mirror, old Gooshie looks like a young man in the reflection and Al is the only other person who remembers Stawpah. Apparently, Gooshie is another leaper.

At the Project, Al has to leave the imaging chamber because the constant bombardment of changing holographic images is making him sick. At that point, Gooshie realizes the one date he hasn’t scanned for was Sam’s actual birthdate, sending Al back in.

Al the Bartender denies being God but does explain to Sam that he is the one who has making him leap, not fate, time, or God. Sam doesn’t want to believe it. He just wants to go home. But then…

Al, the Bartender: Why did you create Project Quantum Leap, Sam?

Sam: To travel in time.

Al, the Bartender: Why did you want to travel through time?

Sam: Because… I w… I-I wanted to, um…

Al, the Bartender: To make the world a better place?

Sam: Of course. To make the world a better place.

Al, the Bartender: To put right what once went wrong?

Sam: Yes. But not one life at a time.

Al, the Bartender: Ugh! I got Mother Teresa here. Do you really think that all you’ve done is change a few lives?

Sam: Basically, yes.

Al, the Bartender: At the risk of over-inflating your ego, Sam, you’ve done more. The lives you’ve touched, touched others. And those lives, others! You’ve done a lot of good, Sam Beckett. And you can do a lot more.

This brings up the question of exactly how Sam thought he was going to use time travel to set right what once went wrong. How would Sam know what was right or wrong? Sometimes terrible things happen, but should we go back and arbitrarily change them? Time travel stories are always about wish fulfillment. I guess that’s why a personified “guide” such as God, fate, or time is necessary, an objective standard that exists outside the flow of time.

Sam confesses that he hasn’t always changed things for the better. Having leapt into April 1, 1969 (in the episode M.I.A) in San Diego, Al sees a chance for Sam to tell his wife Beth (Susan Diol) that he’s still alive and a prisoner of war in Vietnam. However Sam keeps getting information telling him that’s not why he leapt into this place and time. He makes a decision, saves the life of an undercover cop, but doesn’t try to tell Beth about Al.

The episode ends with Beth pretending to dance with Al while Al’s hologram dances with her. Sam leaps as Al is saying good-bye. After Beth, presuming Al is dead, remarries, Al enters into multiple failed marriages, becomes a womanizer, and drinks far too much. Generally speaking, he’s sitting on an awful lot of rage.

After the two miners are rescued and Stawpah leaps, there’s a terrific celebration. It’s at that moment when Al finds Sam. They go outside to talk and Sam unloads on Al about everything the bartender told him. Sam admits he thinks the bartender is God.

sam and bartender

Scene from Quantum Leap episode “Mirror Image”

Al thinks Sam has flipped and doesn’t know what to do. He promises to somehow get Sam out of this and then leaves the imaging chamber seeking answers. As far as we know, this is the last time Sam and Al ever see each other. That’s really too bad and one of the (I suppose necessary) weaknesses of the episode. The original show was a “buddy movie.” It was really all about Sam and Al’s relationship relative to a bunch of guest stars every week. They never had a chance to say good-bye.

Al the Bartender comes out and explains a few more things to Sam:

Al, the Bartender: Sam, if you became a priest…

Sam: I’ve been a priest.

Al, the Bartender: So you have. If the priesthood had been your chosen life, even though the Church might move you from parish to parish, don’t you have to accept responsibility for the life you lead?

Sam: Even priests can quit.

Al, the Bartender: That’s true. Hmm… But they can also take sabbaticals, especially before embarking on a difficult new assignment.

Sam: Are you telling me that the leaps are gonna get tougher?

Al, the Bartender: Where would you like to go, Sam?

[a tear rolls down Sam’s cheek]

Sam: Home. – I’d like to go home. But I can’t. Can I? I’ve got a wrong to put right for Al. You knew that, didn’t you?

Al, the Bartender: [puts his arm around Sam’s shoulder] God bless, Sam.

[Sam leaps]

If you change the punctuation on the bartender’s last sentence and tweak it just a little, it becomes “God blesses Sam.”

young al

Photo of a young Al (Dean Stockwell) from the Quantum Leap episode “Mirror Image”

Sam seemingly embraces the bartender’s statement that he’s in control of leaping and his desire to “set things right” has been what’s kept him moving from one life to the next over the past five years. He leaps back to 1969 arriving, as himself, in Beth’s home. It’s just after he previously leapt out and Al’s hologram from back then is gone.

Startled at first, Beth accepts that there is a stranger in her home who she didn’t let in. Amazingly (because the story required it) she didn’t freak out or try to run, but believes this stranger is a friend of Al’s.

Sam: I’m gonna tell you a story, Beth. A story with a happy ending. But only if you believe me.

Beth Calavicci: And if I don’t?

Sam: You will. I swear you will. But instead of starting with, “Once upon a time,” let’s start with the happy ending. – Al’s alive. And he’s coming home.

Beth Calavicci: Oh!

[Beth starts crying]

At that point, the camera focuses on a photo of a young Al. The photo itself seems to leap, indicating a change in Al’s history. Afterward, the audience sees two text cards on the screen. The first says that Beth never remarried, that she and Al have four daughters, and that in June, they’ll have been married 39 years.

al and sam

Scene from the Quantum Leap episode “Mirror Image”

The final card says Sam Becket [sic] never returned home. The last scene in the episode is a static image of Sam and Al standing together in front of Al’s bar.

But that’s not the whole story.

Toward the end of the fifth season, NBC had asked writer/producer Donald Bellisario to write an episode that could be a finale or a cliffhanger. There had been rumors the show would be cancelled because of a drop-off in audience size. NBC assured Bellisario that the show would not be cancelled.

This episode was finished before the cancellation was announced and edited to remove any reference of it continuing. As you can imagine, this made a lot of people unhappy.

However, according to a June 2022 article at

Flash forward to 2019, when some long-lost footage surfaced online of a rough-cut alternate ending for Season 5. Unlike the ending that aired on NBC, this one dropped some tantalizing plot twists aimed at setting up a whole new direction for the show to explore in a sixth season. In the alternate version, Al and Beth, reunited thanks to Sam’s time-warping shenanigans — engage in a fascinating back-and-forth chat about how to bring Sam back once and for all.

One of the biggest takeaways from that alternate ending — which more or less tracks with a never-authenticated script that had leaked online years earlier — is that the existence of Project Quantum Leap in the present-day timeline hadn’t, in fact, fallen victim to Sam’s last bit of history-bending. But the bigger twist is that Al seemed ready to stop appearing to Sam only as a holographic apparition from the future.

Instead, as the alleged leaked script suggests, Season 6 might have found Al at last stepping into the Imaging Chamber himself, entering the flow of time to embark on a live, in-person search for Sam. The footage itself doesn’t go quite that far, but it does put Al on the brink, with Beth’s encouragement, of steeping up the intensity in the ongoing quest to bring Sam home. It also makes clear that Sam has finally stopped leaping into other people’s bodies and can travel through time as, well Sam: “Wherever he’s leaped, Sam’s still himself,” Al says. Fans got a glimpse of that in his final leap back to Beth in the series finale, where Sam appears as himself.

Let’s put some things together. I’ve previously asked if Sam has been leaping for the past 30 years, where do the people he replaces go when he leaps into them if the Project has been abandoned for decades? Now we see that Sam has been leaping as Sam, so no one gets replaced. That’s a big problem since he appears in what kind of clothes and with what money? He’d be an extreme anachronism rather than someone who normally belongs but who is acting funny. Maybe that’s what Al the Bartender meant about the leaps getting more difficult.

Also, in the current show’s episode “Atlantis,” the Project team discovers that Ben’s leaps are taking him closer to a “destination.” The presumption is that destination is Sam, but is it static across time or does it keep changing as Sam leaps.

One answer is that it’s Al’s bar in 1953. Even if Sam isn’t there, it might be the gateway to finding him if Ben can meet the bartender.

We have to consider Al’s 1953 bar a real place since Sam was physically there and Al was able to find him through the imaging chamber. If the bar were a simulated reality or even a television view of “Heaven,” then my guess is that Ziggy wouldn’t have been able to locate it. It did have “problems” with Sam seeing people who shouldn’t have been there, but the bartender could have been manipulating things, including Sam’s clothes and wallet.

This also explains a few things about Janice and Ben. Janice was probably brought up seeing her parents’ devotion to finding Sam and bringing him home. Al taught her everything he knew about the Project, since he was still involved even after Sam changed his history. Her Dad’s death may have triggered her to do what Al couldn’t do, go after Sam. After all, if Sam hadn’t changed Al’s history, she literally would have never existed.

Janice tried to find Sam herself by attempting to join the current project, but was rejected. Janice told Magic (Ernie Hudson) that Ben came to her, which is a missing piece. It’s easy to see why she would go to him for help, but why the other way around? If the Syfy article is right, Al was going to leap as himself to find Sam in time. Assuming that was Ben’s and Janice’s plan as well, then at least one thing went wrong.

However, from what was revealed in a preview for the current show’s third episode, Ian (Mason Alexander Park) says that each of Ben’s leaps is a stopping point on the way to an endpoint. It suggests that Ben’s leaps are not random but more like following a treasure map or a trail of breadcrumbs.

From what the bartender said, if Sam was unconsciously controlling his leaps, then they weren’t random either. Sam had previously leapt into himself in high school trying to prevent his father from dying of lung cancer and his sister from marrying an abusive husband. Later, he leapt into a Vietnam soldier and saved his older brother’s life. Statistically, if Sam’s leaps were random, the odds of him leaping into those circumstances would be almost nil.

Finally, after talking to the bartender, Sam deliberately leapt into Beth’s home to tell her Al was alive. We never see him leap out again, but at some point, he would have had to.

One problem with all of that is Sam should be able to leap back home at will. When he asked the bartender if that were true, the bartender replied, “Technically, yes.”

It’s the “technically” that’s a hiccup.


Scene from the Quantum Leap episode “The Leap Back”

It’s a little “ka-ka” as to why Sam just doesn’t leap home, at least temporarily. Does he still not remember his wife Donna? See the episode The Leap Back – June 15, 1945 where Sam does leap home but Al is stuck in the past. Sam steps into the acceleration chamber a second time to get him home but sacrifices his own happiness to save his friend. That could be another of Janice’s motivations.

Maybe he doesn’t leap home because of this:

Al, the Bartender: Well, you let too much time go by, you could lose touch with reality.

It’s possible the reason that Sam hasn’t leapt home is because he’s become “lost” in time and the perceived “need” to continue leaping. If that’s the case, then what Ben would have to do is remind Sam of who he is. Ben’s problem is swiss cheese memory so Addison (Caitlin Bassett) and the rest of the current team would have to help. That means “the big secret” is going to have to come to light in the present Project for any of this to work. Janice and Ben should have realized this.

Also in the episode, Al sends a letter to the Project from 1945 more or less like Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) did to Marty (Michael J. Fox) in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II (“The Leap Back” aired on September 18, 1991). This is a long shot, but what if Sam, at strategic points in history, was able to send letters to Al after he disappeared? That information might have been the basis for the code Ben and Janice created resulting in Ben’s leaping.

I did say it was a long shot.

Also, recalling this bit of dialog from “Mirror Image,” consider the modern show’s episode “Atlantis:”

Al, the Bartender: Ugh! I got Mother Teresa here. Do you really think that all you’ve done is change a few lives?

Sam: Basically, yes.

Al, the Bartender: At the risk of over-inflating your ego, Sam, you’ve done more. The lives you’ve touched, touched others. And those lives, others! You’ve done a lot of good, Sam Beckett. And you can do a lot more.

On the space shuttle Atlantis, a pivotal member of the crew is Samantha Stratton (Carly Pope). In the original show’s pilot, Sam leaps into test pilot Tom Stratton and prevents his wife Peg from going into premature labor, which would have killed their unborn daughter Samantha. It’s the same person. An unborn baby who Sam saved becomes a key person during one of Ben’s early leaps. I strongly suspect that many of Ben’s leaps will somehow involve people Sam has affected before.

If Bellisario and company do this right, what I thought originally was going to be a mediocre extension of a classic television show, may actually become something special. If I’m right about what I’ve said above I just wish the powers-that-be could have put this on the air years ago. It would have been terrific is Stockwell had still been alive to see Sam’s leaps resolved.

Bellisario could be using the current series to put right what once went wrong.

al and sam

Publicity still of Dean Stockwell and Scott Bakula for the television show “Quantum Leap”


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