HOW OLD ARE SAM AND AL?
HOW FAR BACK IN TIME CAN SAM LEAP?
by Karen Funk Blocher
According to the Beckett-LoNigro String Theory of Quantum Leaping, one can
only leap within one's own lifetime. This was first mentioned in the pilot
episode as Sam caught on to Al's "Dick and Jane explanation" of the String
Theory. Sam's birthday was also clearly established in the pilot, when he
listed his birthdate as August 8, 1953 on the Burger-Ernst questionaire.
This date is corroborated by the Quantum Leap Story Guideline and by references
to Sam's age in "The Leap Home." Sam again gives the same birthdate in "Star
Light, Star Bright" while under the influence of sodium pentathol ("truth
serum"). His birthday is also mentioned prominently in "Mirror Image," which
actually takes place on August 8, 1953.
Theoretically, therefore, Sam should only be capable of leaping back as far
as August 8, 1953. However, he has in fact leaped into dates that precede
his birth on four occasions, two of them in the year of his birth. "Play
It Again, Seymour" had a leap date of April 14, 1953, and The Americanization
of Machiko had a leap date of August 4, 1953. The third time, in "The Leap
Back," it was June 15, 1945--but the extenuating circumstances in that case
were extraordinary (see below). Finally, in "The Leap Between the States,"
Sam leaped all the way back to September 20, 1862, almost 91 years before
his "own lifetime."
The most likely theory to explain this is that any presence of his basic
genetic material somewhere in that time is sufficient to allow Sam to leap
there, although how this could be applied to the string model that represents
Sam's lifetime is unclear. The fact that Sam had leaped twice into times
when his DNA being present in vitro (i.e., during his mother's pregnancy)
suggests that Sam's original theory should be modified to include the possibility
of Sam leaping to any time during which his genetic material--or something
extremely similar--is present. Because of this loophole, Sam once leaped
well beyond his lifetime into someone with almost identical genes, namely
his Civil War ancestor John Beckett. But any further pre-1953 leaps for Sam
would be a rarity at best; how many people in history (Marty McFly and Biff
Tannen notwithstanding) can be that genetically similar? From what Sam and
Al said during that historic leap, not just any Beckett would do!
As previously mentioned, Sam's only other leap farther back than 1953 was
when he used the Accelerator at the Project to replace Al as Tom Jarret in
1945. He was able to do this that one time because he and Al had "simo-leaped"
due to a massive power discharge (including a bolt of lightning), which merged
parts of Sam's mind with parts of Al's. As in "Lee Harvey Oswald," Sam actually
had a small portion of Al's actual physical brain, namely the "neurons and
mesons" mentioned in the pilot and elsewhere. Since parts of both men's minds
were physically present in 1945, thus mixing their genetic material to some
extent, Sam was able to leap to that point within Al's lifetime. He has not
done so since, so presumably all or most of Al's neurons and mesons are now
back where they belong.
At the other end of Sam's lifetime to date, there have been a number of
references to suggest that Sam first leaped in 1995, and that for Al it was
"now" 1999 as of early in the show's fifth season (the last season of
Quantum Leap on NBC). "Mirror Image" probably takes place early in
the year 2000 from Al's point of view. Sam therefore turned 46 sometime during
the season, as measured against his native time period (Al's time).
It has been suggested that Sam does not age while "in transit" between leap-out
and leap-in, which may partially account for his youthful appearance. Or
maybe he has aged, but we just didn't see it because his aura is not updated
relative to the passage of time back home. Sam's aura between "The Leap Back"
and "Memphis Melody" may have been based on his appearance at the time he
stepped into the Accelerator in "The Leap Back," the last time Sam was "himself"
before "Mirror Image." Or maybe not. Either way, Sam in "Mirror
Image" would have appeared as his up-to-the-minute self, because that was
exactly what he was. There was no illusion of Sam's aura in the Waiting Room,
and Sam probably had no aura covering him at Al's Place, not even his own.
In any case, Sam seemed to think he'd aged when he saw himself in the mirror
at Al's Place. This is odd because he's had that white hair in front since
before he first leaped--and yet he was shocked to find it, thinking it meant
he was going grey. Perhaps after all these years of looking at other people's
faces in the mirror, he has only a vague memory of how he is supposed to
look as himself.
And hey, if Sam's age bothers you, try Al's age on for size. Based on references
in "Jimmy," "The Leap Back" and "A Leap For Lisa," we now know that Al was
born June 15, 1934. So Al turned 65 sometime during the fifth season!
The discrepancies between the ages of the two characters and their appearances
has a simple "real-world" explanation as well. Quantum Leap was
set roughly six to six and a half years in the future relative to the show's
air dates, and so at any given time, Sam and Al would be six to six and a
half years older than someone born in 1953 or 1945 in our reality.
However, this time difference was never really taking into account
in wither the casting or the writing of the series. The actual Scott
Bakula (born October 9, 1954) was seven to eight years younger than he logically
should have been to match Sam's given age, and Dean Stockwell (March 5, 1936)
was about eight to nine years younger than Al should have been. But
what the heck; television is constantly casting actors who are significantly
older or younger than the roles they play. Fortunately for us, Don
Bellisario either never considered this problem or decided not to let it
get in the way of casting two actors who were perfect for the roles in every
The date August 8th has turned up a few times as a leap date as well, most
recently in "Mirror Image." Aside from its status as Sam's birthday, there's
a reason for that date's popularity on the show. It's Donald P. Bellisario's
© 1992-1997 Karen Funk Blocher (revised 3/18/97)
WHY DOESN'T SAM EVER LEAP TO 1995 OR LATER,
ASIDE FROM "THE LEAP BACK?"
WHAT YEAR DID "THE LEAP BACK" HAPPEN?
by Karen Funk Blocher
Despite six references in the episode as aired which place "now" for the
Project as 1999, other evidence strongly suggests that "The Leap Back" does
not take place that year. For one thing, Sam started leaping in 1995, in
an episode which aired in 1989; this set a precedent for Project being
approximately six years ahead of the year in which we first see the episode.
By this yardstick, "The Leap Back" should take place in late 1997, Project
time. More important, the date reference in "Shock Theater" places Al "43
years ahead" of Sam in October, 1954. That should mean that the episode takes
place in 1997 Al's time, but since it was late in 1954 for Sam we could fudge
Al's date to as late as September, 1998 and still not have him be quite 44
years ahead of Sam. Since "The Leap Back" takes place immediately after "Shock
Theater," give or take a week or so "in transit" for both Sam and Al, "The
Leap Back" takes place no later than September, 1998.
Furthermore, the Season Five episode "Lee Harvey Oswald" gives a current
Project date of February, 1999, just under six and a half years after the
original airdate in September 1992. Since the Oswald episode refers to "The
Leap Back" as a past event, Sam's trip home can't take place some seven months
after his Oswald leaps, can it? Furthermore, the Oswald year is corroborated
in "Star Light, Star Bright." Based on the evidence, therefore, it appears
that "The Leap Back" takes place in early 1998, Project time, not 1999 as
stated repeatedly in the episode.
Unfortunately, that gives us a whole slew of 1999 references to explain away,
since it is mentioned by Al, Sam, Ziggy, and Donna! The initial reference
by Al could be a Swiss-cheesing problem, which he and Sam managed to correct
between scenes in the writing of the letter. Sam could have accidentally
remembered the initial wrong date instead of the real one, and made further
references to it while home. Sam can be forgiven for not remembering the
date, but the people who actually live in that time should know the year
they live in. It can be argued, however, that Sam's 1999 references confused
the others into saying 1999 too by accident. Gooshie in particular is easily
confused anyway, as evidenced by his reaction to Stiles in "Killin' Time."
Besides, Gooshie's tally of the years and months since the letter was mailed--54
years, 7 months and 6 days--places the Project in late January, 2000, a far
cry from September 1999 or the more likely 1998 date. Perhaps he misremembered
the numbers he had previously tallied for his pending conversation with Sam.
But Ziggy, at least, should know what year it is!
It has been suggested that the date of Sam's temporary return home in "The
Leap Back" may have changed retroactively from 1999 to 1998 in a revised
history brought about by Sam's subsequent leaps. The would certainly
solve the dating problem, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to work out
logically. What can Sam possibly have done after "The Leap Back" that affected
his own actions before or during "The Leap Back?" Granted, Sam has changed
his own past with respect to Donna and Tom, but to change the history of
his own leaping very quickly produces a terrible "bootstrap" problem. If
Sam was not temporally protected during his leaps from the historical changes
he himself brings about, then at some point the fact that Tom didn't die
would have caused Sam to no longer need to save Tom. Thus Sam's leap
to Vietnam would be erased retroactively, causing Tom to die, so that Sam
would have gone to Vietnam after all, in which case.... That way madness
lies, as well as the kinds of logical paradoxes that Quantum Leaping seems
to have somehow avoided all these years. No, Sam's present actions probably
cannot and do not affect his past leaps, and therefore "The Leap Back"
only takes place in one year, regardless of the consequences of Sam's later
leaping. (More mind-bogglingly esoteric theorizing about the consequences
of time travel can be found in the next CQ Answer. It's also one of the plot
elements and central themes of my fan novel Paradox: Two Doctors in
Could Sam leap into the future? That depends on whether the future is to
be considered part of Sam's lifetime. Although Sam did make it to 1998 once
under very special circumstances, the period 1995-2000 (i.e., Al's "now"
in any given episode) isn't part of Sam's lifetime in any real way, since
he's not physically there and (aside from "The Leap Back") never has been.
However, in "Star Light, Star Bright," Sam cited May 1st, 1999 as the current
date while under the influence of truth serum. In some fashion, possibly
through Sam's neurological interactions with Al and with each leapee, or
possibly just because it is his natural "home" time, Sam may remain sufficiently
connected with Al's present that the period since his first leap is part
of his lifetime after all. Al the Bartender's advice notwithstanding, Sam
certainly hopes to leap to Al's time at least once more--because that would
be "the leap home!"
On the other hand, anything after the year 2000--or whatever date Al is up
to during any given leap--is only potentially part of Sam's lifetime, since
he hasn't yet survived his leaping years to get home during that time. If
he dies while leaping, Sam will never reach 2000 or beyond, so it will never
be a part of his lifetime.
Even if it is technically possible for Sam to leap to the 1990's or the year
2000, there may be another important reason why he never gets there. G/T/W
may feel that leaping him to an era when the Project exists would be too
great a temptation to Sam, who could then hop a flight to New Mexico. Even
though Sam probably wouldn't do this, such a distraction would be unfair
to both Sam and the person he's there to help.
That said, I feel compelled to mention Don Bellisario's comment (paraphrased)
that the moment you tell him he "can't" do something he'll try to do it,
because he enjoys writing his way out of corners. NBC promos from the time
of the 1992 Summer Olympics seemed to imply a future leap, and Gooshie had
Ziggy check Sam's birthdays all the way through the end of the 21st century
in "Mirror Image." If Don/Time/Whatever ever leaps Sam to 1999 or later,
it could be explained away by saying that in the original history in force
at the moment, Sam does survive to reach the year 2010 or whenever, but he
could at some point after that change his own future history again and get
killed. Theoretically, this still would not invalidate the whole leap having
taken place, only close the door on his having a personal future.
And just a reminder--Sam's "string theory" involves his own lifetime, so
anything in the distant future is out of the question unless Sam's theory
is badly wrong--or unless someone who is almost genetically identical is
present at that future time, just as Sam's genetically similar ancestor made
possible Sam's leap to the Civil War.
Despite all this, Sam might have leaped well into the future at the end of
"Mirror Image" had NBC gotten its way. Don Bellisario announced at the Second
Annual Quantum Leap Convention (1993) that the network wanted Don to leap
Sam into the future permanently, with a young sidekick--or maybe Al--leaping
along with him. Despite the fact that this would ruin the entire premise
of the show (what, is Sam going to put right what may possibly go wrong later?
How could Ziggy research what hasn't happened yet?) the idea of a future
leap got as far as an alternate ending that Don wrote to "Mirror Image."
The cover page of this 10-page (counting the cover) document says, "The following
scene is an example of how we could cliffhang into the 1993/1994 season."
In this alternate ending, Al leaps to Al's Place to confront the bartender
who may be God, and ends up leaping into the future as a buxom woman. It's
actually a brilliant bit of writing, and yes, one future leap with
Sam and Al together could be a lot of fun. In a dual leap situation, Al would
be the Swiss-cheesed novice leaper, and Sam once again the old pro--but without
the memory edge and Al libido of "The Leap Back." Each could bring something
to the solution of the leap which neither of them could handle alone. It
could work--once--but the dynamic of the show/movies would be ruined if it
were a continuous situation. Incidentally, Deborah Pratt told my husband
John and myself way back in 1990 that they were thinking of having Tom Beckett
go leaping after Sam! That could be neat, too--once!
Ultimately, Don apparently told NBC no with regard to the future leap idea,
at least as a continuing premise. The year before, NBC had asked for and
gotten leaps that involved famous people, an experiment which does not seem
to have helped the ratings (and actually annoyed many of the show's fans).
Don was able to find a way to make celebrity leaps work, but future leaps
with a kid sidekick were too much for Don to agree to. So NBC canceled the
series. Maybe Don could have kept it on by agreeing to NBC's idea, and maybe
not. But as Don said at the convention, it was better to have the show end
than let it be ruined by NBC.
© 1992-1997 Karen Funk Blocher (revised 3/19/97)
WHAT HAPPENS TO TIME AND THE UNIVERSE ITSELF
WHEN SAM CHANGES HISTORY?
by Karen Funk Blocher
Many fans have proposed a branching timeline theory with respect to Quantum
Leap, in which each possible action in a situation leads to the existence
of a multitude (ultimately an infinite number) of universes in which that
action did or did not take place in exactly that way. This is a popular concept
in science fiction (Frederic Brown's novel What Mad Universe? leaps
to mind) and the general theory finds support among some actual quantum
physicists in what for sanity's sake we think of as the real universe.
However, this theory has one major problem as far as Quantum Leap
goes, and no one has ever explained it away to my satisfaction. If all Sam
does is create a new history without destroying the old one, then we now
have two (or a million and two, or an infinite number of) sets of people,
some created out of Sam's actions and better off, others going on as before,
dying or whatnot. No matter how many Sams are created by the different possible
choices made (Sam wears a red shirt instead of a brown one, Sam forgets to
brush his teeth), the original history in which Sam was never there remains,
and the person still dies.
Since people change as things happen to them, the branching timeline theory
creates in effect whole new people, each with their own memories and
personalities. Furthermore, Sam's own past could not change; we could only
get an additional Sam, one who was always married to Donna, and whose brother
Tom always came home. Neither the new Al nor the new Sam would remember the
original history at all--because neither of them would ever have been in
the original universe in which it happened. That clearly doesn't match what
More important, the original person Sam leaped in to help would not be helped.
Instead, a new version of that person would be created while the original
one continued to suffer. It has been argued that the balance of good versus
evil is thus improved in the Multiverse, but it still doesn't help the original
person. Also, if the branching timeline theory results in infinite Universes,
then all possible outcomes exist, good and bad, with as many evil Sams as
good ones and no shift in the balance of good and evil at all. Why would
G/T/W want that? No, I'm sorry, but it doesn't fit the premise of "striving
to put right what once went wrong," and being "driven by an Unknown Force
to change history for the better." Nor does it fit what we've seen of changing
personal histories. I don't buy it, certainly not in the context of the show.
What I do buy is the concept as said in a straightforward manner on the show
itself, over and over: Sam changes the "original history," thus creating
a revised history. Instead. Not in addition to! So why complicate things
any more than Don or the show does?
As seen above, the revised history theory (which, incidentally, more or less
fits the Back to the Future movies as well) enables Sam and Al to
improve their own lives as well as the lives of others. And because they
were there in each version of history and participated in the changes, it
is theoretically possible for each of them to remember the original history.
More on this in Part Eight, CQ Answers 40 through 42.
Incidentally, Sam's universe (in any version of history) is not quite the
same as ours. Obvious differences include the probable presence of angels,
vampires, cursed mummies, etc. in Sam's reality, and the absence of a 1989-1993
tv series called Quantum Leap starring Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell.
(Even if one believes in angels in our reality, they probably aren't dead
human beings, and a tv series based on a top secret government project would
be an unbelievably huge security leak!) There are also quite a few subtle
differences between Sam's changing universe and ours. These include the date
Buddy Holly left Lubbock (and probably when he wrote "Peggy Sue"), Woody
Allen's age, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray being on Saturday Night Live
during the same season, the release date of the film Earthquake (which
in our universe came out before Sam's stunt work on it in his universe),
the dating of the Apollo space program (and the names of the astronauts on
board), the exact circumstances of Elvis' audition(s) for Sam Phillips, etc.,
and quite probably the occasional song or slang expression which would be
anachronistic for a given date in our reality but does indeed exist at that
date in Sam's. Leapers who object to the premise and/or ending of "Lee Harvey
Oswald" would do well to remember that the truths that Sam and Al discovered
about JFK's death in 1963 in their reality need not necessarily reflect what
really happened in ours.
© 1993-1997 Karen Funk Blocher (revised slightly 3/19/97)
WHY CAN'T THEY GET SAM HOME BY PUTTING THE LEAPEE
IN THE ACCELERATOR, TARGETED ON SAM?
by Karen Funk Blocher
Yes, Sam got a targeting program working in "The Leap Back," using it to
successfully to leap into Tom Jarret (replacing Al) in 1945. Later, in "A
Leap for Lisa," the Project successfully leaped Bingo into himself of a few
days earlier, and in "Lee Harvey Oswald," the Project leaped more of Oswald's
mind into Sam via Accelerator while attempting to Sam Sam only his own neurons
and mesons. All in all, it looks like the Project can indeed send people
and even parts of people to specific destination. However, this technique
does not give Al and Ziggy a means of using the Accelerator to
bring Sam home. As Gooshie tells Leon in "Killin' Time," "It doesn't work
that way." Here's why:
Say Sam has just about finished what he's there to do, and so you send the
leapee into the Accelerator, targeted on Sam. One of the following cases
1. Sam is done with whatever G/T/W wants him to do, in which case he's going
to leap out--and into the next situation God, Time, or Whoever wants changed.
After all, sending someone from the Accelerator to wherever and whenever
Sam is need not have any effect on where and when Sam goes from his starting
point in the past. In this scenario, the leapee will just get back at the
same time he or she would have leaped to anyway, and Sam's destination will
be unaffected by the Project's tinkering.
2. Sam has not finished everything he's there to do, so G/T/W won't
let Sam leave yet. In that case, leaping someone in may bounce Sam out, but
since he isn't really to go, he'll just leap into someone else nearby so
that he can finish the job. We've already seen much the same thing happen
in "Double Identity," when Sam leaped from Frankie (who would probably have
been killed otherwise) into Don Geno (with the power to save Frankie and
also help Nona win at bingo). We've also seen it happen in "Lee Harvey Oswald,"
when Sam's realization of his own identity delayed Oswald's shot for a moment,
and then Sam leaped into Secret Service agent Clint Hill to finish saving
One major reason why leaping someone from the Project to Sam is easier than
leaping Sam to the Project is that all the equipment (the Accelerator and
the targeting program) is at the Project end of things. Bingo or whoever
is right there, and the Accelerator and its operators are in more or less
direct control of where he initially goes from the Accelerator Chamber. Sam
on the other had is far away both in time and distance, and the Project equipment
is lucky to get enogh of a lock on Sam for Al to visit him holographically,
let alone for the Accelerator to force him back to 1998 or whenever.
Even more imporatant, the big difference between sending the leapee to replace
Sam inside his or her own aura versus (for example) leaping Sam to replace
Al inside Tom Jarret's aura is that the latter scenario has the backing of
G/T/W and Sam's own subconscious, and the former does not. Since G/T/W and
Sam (subconsciously or otherwise) control the leaps, the Project may not
be able to force Sam out of a given aura if he's not ready to go. This is
why the Project was unable to get Sam back to 1995 using the Accelerator's
retrieval program in the pilot episode. Based on Gooshie's mention of religion,
it also explains why Gooshie told Leon he couldn't send Leon back on
Even if they could force Sam out by leaping someone else in (which sounds
pretty dangerous to me considering what happened with Oswald), that would
not affect where Sam goes when forced out. There is no technology in the
universe that can get Sam to leap to any place or time G/T/W doesn't want
him to go, or that Sam won't allow himself to go (i.e. home). This is why
even Sam's update of the retrieval program in "The Leap Back" did not enable
the Project to return Sam from 1945 to 1998. Al got home after one leap because
G/T/W didn't need him any more, and because Al didn't have the psychological
commitment to leaping that Sam has. G/T/W had Sam back, with all the intelligence
and compassion and other skills that make him perfect for the job. And because
of the simo-leap, Sam was even able to leap back to 1945 that one time,
succeeding where Al was about to fail. G/T/W therefore sent Al back to 1998
(not 1999 as stated in the episode) to do what he does best--help Sam from
an Imaging Chamber in his own time. Similarly, once Bingo set things right,
he presumably leaped forward a few days to replace Sam, none the worse for
the experience. And Sam leaped on to another time, to again "put right what
once went wrong."
© 1993-1997 Karen Funk Blocher (revised 3/19/98)
WHAT IS THE IMAGING CHAMBER?
WHAT IS A NEUROLOGICAL HOLOGRAM?
WHY DOES AL CAST A SHADOW?
by Karen Funk Blocher
The Imaging Chamber is built from an underground cavern beneath the Project
building. At the UCLA Q&A of 11/26/90, Don Bellisario described it as
"a vast chamber, miles across," while Sam calls it "a cavern somewhere" in
the pilot. It is in this room, built by Sam and Al to the music of Man
of La Mancha, that Al stands when contacting Sam in the past. We now
know that the Accelerator Chamber and the Waiting Room are adjacent to it,
ten levels below the surface.
The function of the Imaging Chamber is to enable Sam and Al to see a
"neurological hologram" of each other, "created by a subatomic agitation
of carbon quarks tuned to the mesons of my optic and otic neurons," as Sam
says in the pilot episode. Sam cannot see the Imaging Chamber, just Al and
whatever he touches. And at Al's end, the Imaging Chamber is filled with
the holographic image of Sam and the people, places and things around him.
Al thus sees more of Sam's time than Sam of Al's, almost certainly due to
the fact that Sam doesn't have an Imaging Chamber of his own back in the
past with which to "tune in" Al. Even Al doesn't see much of his own time
while in the Imaging Chamber, as evidenced by the fact that Sam couldn't
see the Imaging Chamber door at the beginning of "The Leap Back." The
Chamber door is invisible through the hologram until activated (opened) using
Although Al himself is real, what Sam actually sees is "brainwave transmissions"
from the future, "centered" on Sam by somehow locating and locking onto his
characteristic neurons and mesons somewhere in the past. Once this is done,
and Sam has spent enough time with another person for Ziggy to "get a lock"
on their brainwaves too, then Ziggy and Gooshie can "center" Al on that person
as well as Sam, giving Al some independent mobility relative to the images
of the past. Al once referred to Ziggy's "sex-sensory microchips" (literally
"sixth sense"?) in connection with the "centering" program ("A Portrait for
Troian"). In "Piano Man" Al says Ziggy can't get a lock on Lorraine because
her brain chemistry is weird (hence her klutziness). In "Shock Theater,"
Sam's own brainwaves were altered by his shock-induced psychosis, making
the brainwave transmissions increasing difficult. And in "Trilogy" Ziggy
can't get a lock on the missing child because Sam has never met the kid.
When Sam leaps out, Al's image appears to "leap" too, disappearing from the
real past even as the holographic images of the past dissolve around him
in the Imaging Chamber. This is simultaneous to Sam's leap, so Al has never
actually seen Sam in the act of leaping, as he mentions in "Mirror Image."
However, Al must have some clue what it looks like, since when electrical
interference causes him to turn blue in "Good Morning, Peoria" he says, "Look,
Sam! I'm leaping!"
Since the neurological holograms created by the Imaging Chamber are a function
of brainwave transmissions between Sam and Al, normally no one else can see
them. However, there are quite a few exceptions, as listed in another one
of these answers, all of which have to do with having brainwaves that for
one reason or another are either substantially off the adult human norm (crazy,
drunk, non-human, etc.) or else extremely close to the brainwave patterns
to which the image is tuned, as seen in "A Little Miracle."
Al does walk short distances from time to time (keeping Sam company or getting
to the Chamber door), but in most cases for any sort of distance he has always
used the handlink to "move"--actually to shift the focus of the images around
him to a different locale. I don't see any substantial difference between
early and more recent leaps in this respect, except that possibly he may
have done it more often as he became more familiar with the technology (and
Ziggy and Gooshie got better at doing it). When Al wants to leave the Imaging
Chamber, he has to physically walk to the door, since using the handlink
only shifts the images around him rather than physically moving Al in real
Al's shadow could be a function of the fact that Sam can see anything that
Al touches, as established in numerous episodes. Al's shadow touches Al,
so it is cast across the objects in Sam's time just as if it were really
there--which it is, in a sense, having been transmitted there. Thus the hologram
is present as some form of energy at Al's apparent location. This explains
how small children and other special cases can see Al, and the reaction of
the beauty contestants who walked through him in "Miss Deep South." It also
explains how a radio transmitter ("Good Morning, Peoria") or a black light
("Star-Crossed") in Sam's time can affect Al's holographic image. The Imaging
Chamber creates a hologram of such effects so that both Al and Sam can see
them. As leaper Jim Ryan suggests, it may also be that the Imaging Chamber
automatically alters Al's image to behave as if it were subject to light
sources and other phenomena present in the location where it is "centered,"
possibly to make Al seem more "real" to Sam. This may also account for both
Al's shadow and the way the wind around Al's hologram occasionally seems
to blow his clothing around. Or maybe it just gets windy in the Imaging
Originally, it seems, only something that touched Al's skin could be seen
by Sam, leading to the bizarre image in "Star-Crossed" of Al being dragged
away by invisible people. Sam being able to see what Al touches (aside from
his clothing and his cigar) may represent an innovation between the time
of "Star-Crossed" and that of "Blind Faith," in which Sam could see sheet
music as long as Al held onto the stand. Sam's ability to see things that
aren't touching Al's skin directly, such as Al's shoes (assuming he's not
wearing socks with holes in them!) and the sheet music on the stand, may
be accounted for by comparing the phenomenon to magnetized paper clips. If
one paper clip is touching a magnet, the other end of the paper clip is
sufficiently magnetized to attract the next paper clip, even though the second
paper clip is not touching the magnet. Sam may thus be able to see things
that are one or two steps away from Al himself.
For the first several years even what Al touched with his bare hand could
only be seen, not heard, with the exception of the bleeps and whines of the
handlink. However, Ziggy's control over what the Imaging Chamber can do has
been refined over the years, primarily in "Raped," when the program was upgraded
to enable Sam to hear someone other than Al. And in "Killin' Time," Gooshie
had Ziggy tune him into both Sam's and Al's neurons and mesons via the Imaging
Chamber. Gooshie's efforts had imperfect results, with an interference-laden
image relative to Sam and no visual image that Al could see. The fact that
Gooshie could do this on short notice at all, however, makes two theories
seem rather unlikely: the idea of some sort of implant in Sam's and Al's
respective bodies being used to facilitate the transmissions (unless Gooshie
had a very quick operation!) and Ashley McConnell's notion that Sam
and Al can only communicate because their respective genetic material was
used in creating a biological portion of Ziggy's hybrid "brain."
Despite these innovations, Sam still cannot hear anything either Gooshie
or Ziggy may be saying to Al through the handlink. This is may an intentional
oversight, a way of deliberately preventing Sam from hearing any Project
personnel who might happen to contact Al--including Donna.
Please note that although the brainwave transmissions are neurologically
based, they are audio-visual in nature. Sam and Al are not mind readers.
However, there have been occasional indications of empathy between them,
as in "Mirror Image" when Al guesses about Sam's birthday.
Thanks to Jim Ryan for his insights on this subject.
© 1992-1997 Karen Funk Blocher (revised slightly 3/19/97)
WHAT HAPPENS IN BETWEEN LEAPS?
HOW DOES THE PROJECT FIND SAM WHEN HE ARRIVES?
by Karen Funk Blocher
We know from the pilot episode that when Sam leaps, he spends some time "in
transit" relative to Al, sometimes as long as six days. During that time,
Al goes on with his life, administering the Project, probably filing reports
and so on, as well as eating, sleeping (alone or otherwise) and maybe even
taking the opportunity to grab a quick trip to Las Vegas or a California
racetrack. When Sam "arrives," they know by the leapee's apparently simultaneous
arrival in the Waiting Room, and Al is called in if he's not already on site.
(The script for "Mirror Image" indicated that Al has a home at the Project,
but he may have one off-site as well.) From what has been said in the 95
episodes made to date, it appears that they first determine who the leapee
is, interview him or her if possible, and then feed that information to Ziggy.
Ziggy then apparently uses that data to narrow the possibilities about when
and where Sam could be. The evidence for this is also in the pilot:
Sam: "He's with you?"
Al: "Of course. How do you think we found you? When you went in, he came
Having thus zeroed in on a time and approximate place, Ziggy uses the link
between Sam and Al to "get a lock" on Sam and "center" Al in on him.
On several occasions, Ziggy and Al have had difficulty finding Sam in the
past. In the Halloween episode, Sam was apparently diverted in time (seemingly
to the Devil's manipulated version of reality), and Ziggy couldn't find Sam
at all at first. And of course leaping beyond his own lifetime to 1862 in
"The Leap Between the States" made Sam especially hard to trace. But the
hardest location search to date was in "Mirror Image," because there was
no one in the Waiting Room from whom to derive any data on when and where
Sam was. Even then it was possible to find Sam, but it was extremely difficult,
involving a painstaking high-speed search through the past for which Al had
to be present in the Imaging Chamber. It was only Al's hunch about Sam leaping
in on his birthday that narrowed the scope of the search enough for the Project
to find Sam at all on that occasion. Aside from the fact that Sam can do
more good in the past posing as other people than as himself, he is going
to have to resume leaping into other people if he expects Ziggy and Al to
be able to find and help him!
The other thing Ziggy does with the information obtained from the leapee
is supplement it with other relevant data and begin to run "scenarios" to
determine why Sam is there and what he needs to do. On at least one occasion
("Southern Comforts"), Sam has berated Al for showing up (to ogle the women)
before Ziggy has come up with any significant data that Sam can use.
As for the past tense voiceovers we hear from Sam sometimes as he leaps in
or during a leap, I've always assumed it was Sam keeping a mental diary,
possibly dictated to Al at night between crises during a leap, or perhaps
as a mental exercise to try to keep his memories intact. It's more natural
to describe what's happened to you in past than in present tense, whether
it happened yesterday, or on your previous leap, or thirty years ago.
© 1993-1997 Karen Funk Blocher (revised slightly 3/19/97)