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Hard to believe, but it’s been almost 30 years since Quantum Leap left the airwaves, leaving Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) shackled to his time-jumping fate in what felt like a closure-denying cliffhanger ending. Luckily, Quantum Leap is set to return this fall in a revival series on NBC. But, that original show — which you can stream on Peacock and catch on SYFY, where there will be some marathons leading up to the revival's Sept. 19 premiere — ended abruptly back in 1993. It’s safe to assume Sam’s still out there somewhere today, looking for that perfect last leap that could finally send him home.
As fans from way back may recall, NBC’s groundbreaking sci-fi series came to a jarringly quick end, concluding what would become its final season in a way that never gave Sam and helpful holographic sidekick Al (the late Dean Stockwell) satisfying answers. Canceled only weeks before the last episode of its fifth season was set to air, the show simply didn’t have enough time (ahem) to flesh out the season-ending installment as a proper series finale.
Quantum Leap’s 97th and final episode, “Mirror Image,” did resolve one of the show’s ongoing plot threads, with Sam looping back in time to save Al’s first marriage (and thereby preventing Al from becoming the oft-divorced womanizer fans were all too familiar with). But its closing moments deployed a cobbled-together wall of text, complete with the infamous “Sam Becket” misspelling of its hero’s name, to answer the bigger questions series creator Donald P. Bellisario and the writing team knew fans would have about Sam’s future. Sam, viewers were told via an onscreen title card, “never returned home,” resuming his unceasing series of time skips in the hope of finding the one leap that could send our stranded hero physicist back to his own time.
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.
In all, it’s clear that Bellisario and the show’s writers were entertaining big ideas that would’ve shaken up the formula guiding Sam and Al’s adventures if Quantum Leap had extended into a sixth season. Will NBC's new Quantum Leap series find a way to loop back in time and answer the questions that the original series left lingering? We know the new series picks up in the same continuity 30 years later, though Bakula himself hasn't been mentioned as part of the new show’s cast... so if the rebooted show does surprise us by dropping in on Dr. Sam Beckett after all these years in a guest spot, we’ll be there with an astounded “Oh boy” — Sam's go-to catchphrase — to mark the momentous occasion.
Stream the original Quantum Leap series on Peacock and keep an eye out for marathons on SYFY. The new series will premiere on NBC on Sept. 19.