Real World Explanation
|"Time has packaged my best friend inside a goddess of love." --"What Price Gloria"||Superficially, this sounds like Al is saying that Sam is inside the body of Samantha. In reality, however, he's saying, "inside the illusion of the physical aura of" Samantha.||
Given that (as Deborah Pratt said in a 1993 interview) she and Don argued
about whether Al saw Sam as Sam or as Samantha, Deborah was probably
already aware by this point (as other staff members apparently were not)
of Don's body-leap concept.
|"I'm trapped in the body of a troglodyte" -- "Animal Frat"||
This early in Sam's leaping, he has not fully recovered his memories of how
Quantum Leaping worked, as seen in various first and second season episodes.
He also loses various memories on each leap. It is therefore reasonable to
suppose that at that moment, Sam honestly does not remember that it is he
own body he is using. Even if he did, he might well have ignored this
technicality for the sake of a succinct comment. "I'm trapped in the illusion
of the physical aura of a troglodyte" just don't have the same ring to it!
||This was part way through Season Two. Don Bellisario didn't get around to telling his writers and actors about the illusion of the physical aura--or even that it was Sam's body--until midway through Season Three.|
|I'm in the body of a chimp. That's too close."--"The Wrong Stuff"||
As in "Animal Frat," Sam's imprecise speech here is due to his annoyance
and penchant for pithy comments. Despite the remark, there are several clear
indications that Sam is in his own body here. Sam can swim (see above), and
a chimp's body can't, even given Sam's mind at the helm. Also, Sam can standing
upright, use his own intelligence, and use human speech (which Al can hear,
even though the people Sam's time cannot through the illusion of the physical
||By now, Paul Brown and the other writer-producers knew about Sam's body leaping, but didn't let that technicality get in the way of a funny line of dialogue.|
|Miscellaneous NBC and cable tv ads, TV Guide listings, etc. (Please note I haven't actually looked for examples yet. This may be a straw horse.)||Television promos and TV Guide listings are not part of the series itself as produced and overseen by Don Bellisario. therefore they never happened, and we can safely ignore their contents. One minor exception is the handful of NBC promos (four of the early ones, various new time slot announcements and one ad about the last several shows of Season Five) that were specifically produced by Belisarius Productions. Even here, they can't be said to have "really" happened, because Sam wouldn't be addressing the audience directly as he does in most of these ads.||
NBC hardly ever got its facts right in Quantum Leap promos, aside
from the very early ones in which Sam leaped into Terri Utley, Willard Scott,
Dracula and Santa Claus. Judging from the results, it seems that the NBC
promo department would generally pull out the most dramatic clips and make
up their own plot and title to fit the clips. This led to such spurious titles
as "Daughter of Sin" for "Trilogy" and "The Oswald Conspiracy" (a direct
contradiction of the episode's theme!) for "Lee Harvey Oswald." It is therefore
no surprise that NBC publicity and TV Guide listings might sometimes
skip the technicalities and say "into the body of" whoever.
|Universal video boxes and press releases, e.g. "...when he leaps into the body of Samantha...." ("What Price Gloria" video box.)||Universal merchandise copy and publicity are not canonical, having no direct connection to Don Bellisario's vision or to Sam's life.||
Like NBC, MCA/Universal has often shown a casual disregard for the finer
points of Quantum Leap continuity. Although licensed products must
be cleared by MCA prior to release, this is generally for legal purposes
to to make sure the product isn't blatantly shoddy. The products are not,
to my knowledge, checked by anyone closely connected to the show, so mistakes
can and do occur. An exception to that the Quantum Leap soundtrack
album, which was largely supervised by Deborah Pratt.
|Quantum Leap novels and comics, especially Quantum Leap: The Novel by Ashley McConnell||Although they are the closest things we've had to new, official Quantum Leap stories we've had since May, 1993, the Quantum Leap novels and comics are not overseen by Don Bellisario and are therefore not canonical. In other words, we have no official evidence that any of these stories ever happened. (On the other hand, except for the parts that contradict the aired episodes, we can always say that these stories could have happened!)||
Ashley McConnell, who wrote most of the early Quantum Leap novels,
did not like the "body theory," so she simply chose to go with the "mind
leap theory" she had personally developed long before the opposite explanation
became well established on the episodes themselves. Some of the other novelists
have since reverted to the body leap theory in their own work. As for the
comic books from Innovation, many of them show a profound lack of understanding
of the Quantum Leap premise in that they often have Sam fulfilling
history instead of changing it.
|But it just doesn't make any sense!||Neither does the alternative, given all the evidence. Nevertheless, pretty much every apparent glitch in the "body theory" can be explained away, either as shown above or by exploring the properties of the physical aura. (See the rest ofPasrt Seven and Part Eight for more on this.)||Hey, who ever said that Don Bellisario, or Quantum Leap itself, always made sense? That's what makes explaining it all so much fun!|
Like it or not--and some fans still don't like it--we have to accept that it's Sam's body that leaps, not just his disembodied mind. There are problems, of course--there always are--but they are mostly concerned with side issues such as "Who sees whom?" "How is Sam influenced by the leapee?" and "How does the physical aura work?" That last one's a toughie. We know what it does, but not how it does it. All of these questions are dealt with elsewhere in CQ7 and CQ8.
© 1992-1997 Karen Funk Blocher (major revision 3/29/97)
WHAT IS THE "ILLUSION OF THE PHYSICAL AURA?
HOW DOES IT WORK?
by Karen Funk Blocher
The "illusion of the physical aura," a term first mentioned in "8 1/2 Months,"
is as close as Quantum Leap's ground rules come to outright magic.
Even Sam and Al are sometimes surprised by what it can do. Like them, we
really don't know how it works, but from what it does, it seems to be, as
the term states, both "illusion" and "physical." We do know that it can do
some pretty amazing things--make Sam seem to be a chimpanzee's height and
weight, fit Sam into clothing that should be too small ("Runaway," "The Leap
Home," or too large ("Maybe Baby", "Good Night, Dear Heart," "A Little Miracle"),
disguise his voice (particularly when he's a woman or a chimpanzee!), show
up in a photograph looking like the leapee, transmit the impact of a baby's
kick in the Waiting Room, and even carry a baby down the physical aura of
the birth canal, if only for a few seconds!
Although it's illusion, it's physical enough to do all these things, and
Sam can cover the aura in clothing, brush the aura's hair and so on. Since
it's Sam's body, Sam also has to shave his real facial hair, as well as taking
care of the aura's apparent needs. This is possible because Sam himself is
immune in some respects to the illusion the physical aura presents. Indications
are (as mentioned in another CQ Answer) that Sam sees himself as himself
except when he looks in a mirror. That most likely applies to the sense of
touch as well, since Sam did not feel the webbing between Tonic's fingers
while playing guitar in "Glitter Rock." It is unclear how Sam can touch both
the aura and his own body, or even whether he does so. The most likely
explanation is that the aura merely reflects changes made to the real body
underneath--i.e. makeup, hairstyling etc. Nor do we know for certain whether
Sam curling the aura's illusory hair affects the real hair in the Waiting
Room, but it seems unlikely. Most likely the illusory surface of the aura
is set in a certain pattern based on the real body at the time of the leap,
and thereafter subject to a large extent to the actions of the real person
inside rather than the person resembled. This would not apply, however, to
whatever functions it may have in maintaining a physical and mental link
between leaper and leapee, such as symptoms of pregnancy ("8 1/2 Months)
or heart problems ("Trilogy, Pt. 3").
G/T/W knows what would turn up on the various monitors if Sam were to have
a thorough medical examination using modern equipment, although the Project
seems to manage adequately with Sam's counterpart (the leapee in Sam's physical
aura) in the Waiting Room. Perhaps they have special methods for compensating
for the aura's effects. Certainly Dr. Rogers in "8 1/2 Months" could not
detect any difference between Sam and a young woman in labor, except of course
for Sam's odd behavior!
There are some ways, however, in which the physical aura does not compensate
to make Sam apparently match the leapee. Sam takes his own body, his own
intelligence and his own physical strength into a leap, and is thus able
to do things which amaze onlookers. In "Runaway," he picks up Alexandra,
who is bigger and heavier than Butchie. In "Miss Deep South" he performs
a similar feat as a fairly petite woman. And when Sam throws a punch, it's
with all the force of a fortysomething-year-old male physicist in great physical
This is somewhat problematical if the aura also gives Sam the illusion of
the leapee's weight, as seems to be the case in "The Wrong Stuff." If necessary
the aura might be able to compensate so that it would seem like Sam weighed
what Bobo weighed, but since Sam is physically there beneath the aura, he
would actually have an adult human's weight. Perhaps one of its properties
would be to compensate for Sam's actual mass so that the combination of Sam
and aura would tip the scales at Bobo's weight after all, and yet still allow
Sam to use his own strength.
The aura has a particularly weird job to do in "Blood Moon." Not only does
it have to disguise Sam as the leapee, but it also has to function the way
the real vampire would with respect to mirrors. In this case, Sam's physical
aura has to deflect light in such a way that neither the aura nor Sam's real
body shows up in a reflection.
We'll probably never know just how all this can be done, but within the context
of the show we simply have to accept that there is little that the "illusion
of the physical aura" can't do to maintain Sam's disguise. However, certain
people do see through it to one extent or another, especially with respect
to seeing Sam's eyes. The question of who can see the real Sam, as well as
Al's hologram, is covered in another CQ.
"Mirror Image," of course, raises new questions with respect to Sam and his
physical aura. Did Sam have the illusion of his own physical aura in "Mirror
Image," or no aura at all? Were Sam's clothes and wallet part of the aura,
or did they leap in from Sam's closet in New Mexico? And now that Sam has
made two leaps undisguised, will he resume leaping into other people's
If I had to guess, I'd say that Sam was wearing an aura in "Mirror Image,"
complete with the illusion of the physical aura of his wallet. With no body
in the Waiting Room to cover, Sam's aura shifted to Sam, altering in the
process from the Fermi-suited Sam image worn by the leapees to Sam as he
would be in the year 2000. (Don't ask me how the aura picked up on the "civies,"
though. I can only assume that G/T/W had something to do with it!)
Alternatively, Sam could leaped home, gotten his wallet, and leaped out again,
immediately forgetting the whole incident (as I once postulated in a story
called "Donna's Secret" for a fanzine that still hasn't been published
after at least four years of waiting!). In that case, or in a repeat of "the
fabulous leaping clothes" of "The Leap Back," Sam is not wearing an aura
at all! But short of a lightning strike or a nuclear blast, as mentioned
in the pilot and "The Leap Back," I don't know how Sam managed it. Perhaps
Sam has passed some event horizon at which the power expended by G/T/W has
increased to include the clothing.
Most likely Sam resumed leaping into other people's lives after talking to
Beth, because in most cases he can do more good in a situation if he comes
in as a loved one (or whatever) rather than as a stranger named Sam Beckett.
But we won't really know for sure until we get a Quantum Leap movie.
© 1992-1997 Karen Funk Blocher (revised 3/29/97)
This is one instance in which all the available evidence points firmly in
both directions at once, at least on the matter of what Al sees. Let's tackle
In the pilot episode (retitled "Genesis" for its NBC rerun), Al tells Sam,
"Well, that was to be expected [Sam looking like Tom]. To us, Tom looks just
like you." Yet in "Pool Hall Blues," Al says, "When I walked into the Waiting
Room and saw Magic sitting there I just couldn't believe it!" In "Lee Harvey
Oswald," Al looks down at the mirror reflection of Sam when he takes over
Oswald for a moment, rather than looking at Oswald looking like Sam. Then
in "Killin' Time," Gooshie mistakes Stiles for Sam!
And how does Sam look to Al? In "What Price, Gloria?" Al is so taken
with Sam's appearance as a beautiful woman that he gets a crush on him. But
in "Nowhere to Run," Al seems to see Sam as Sam. In "The Leap Back," Sam
and Al don't seem especially surprised to see each other as, well, it's hard
to say just who Al looked like to Sam, but it's a safe bet that Sam looked
like himself to everyone. Finally, in a scene cut from "Mirror Image," Al
remarks to Beth that Sam looked like himself, but that Al was too distracted
by Sam's "crazy" words to notice this at the time. But then again, who else
could he have looked like at the time?
So what's the answer? The most workable theory is that Al sees Sam's real
body under the "illusion of the physical aura," and sees the physical
aura superimposed over it. At the February 1991 Hitchcock Theater screening
of "8 1/2 Months," Dean Stockwell said, "I see the person he leaped into.
But I know it's him."
The same would hold true for Al looking at the leapee, seeing the real person
beneath Sam's image, but also the face of his absent friend. This would be
because Al's neurons and mesons are tuned to Sam's. To quote Al in the pilot,
Al's appearance to Sam (and presumably vice-versa) is called a "neurological
hologram," which Sam defines as "created by a subatomic agitation of carbon
quarks tuned to my optic and otic neurons." (Yes, I know carbon isn't subatomic
as a quark is, but maybe the carbon in Sam's neurons is used to produce the
quarks via "agitation." Or something. And yes, I also know that this is the
fourth times I've quoted this comment in the CQ's!)
At the time of "The Leap Back," this tuning in was much stronger than usual
because of the boosted signal from Ziggy, the massive power discharge from
the lightning and the shock treatment, and the simo-leap itself, which gave
them part of each other's minds. Sam, long-since used to Al being the only
person who calls him by his own name, may well have seen Tom Jarret's aura
over Al, because he stared at Al in surprise just before telling him to "Come
here." As for Al, even if he normally sees Sam partly as someone else, he
was too Swiss cheesed at the time to instantly pick up on such details. After
all, at the time Al thought his name was Al Beckett! Gooshie seeing Stiles
as Sam was to be expected, because he's not normally tuned into Sam's neurons
and mesons as Al is. However, after all these years he ought to be used to
the idea that anyone he might see that looks like Sam is actually someone
What does Sam see? He sees the other person in the mirror, but apparently
sees himself when looking at his body directly. In "What Price, Gloria?"
Sam refers to putting on the sexiest dress "I could stuff my hairy chest
into." And in "Glitter Rock," Sam has to actually hold his hand out over
a mirrored surface to see the reflection of the webbing on Tonic's fingers.
Of course, being able to look down at his real body doesn't help Sam to see
his real face, so seeing his own "Mirror Image" was quite a revelation!
The idea of Al seeing both Sam and the leapee at the same time was pretty
much confirmed by Deborah Pratt in a February 1993 interview for The
Observer: "[Don Bellisario] had it very clearly set in his mind how Quantum
Leaping worked, and then over the years, people like me who came up and said,
'Okay, so really Al can see either Sam as the person he's leapt into or Sam
as himself.' But if you go all the way back to 'What Price Gloria,' that
was a big argument that we got in 'cause I wrote the script and everyone
said, 'No, no, no, Dean can only see Sam.'
"I went, 'No, Dean can see what Sam sees because he's attached to his mesons
and neurons.' So Sam sees Gloria [Samantha] when he looks in the mirror.
Dean can see [Samantha] when he looks at Sam. That's why he could fall in
love with him. [In the waiting room] it's just the reverse. So what he sees
is Dr. Beckett and then when they look down in the mirror it's just absolutely
the reverse. We don't try to understand it here. I write it and we make it
work for us."
Who sees Sam as himself, and Al as well? Basically, the answer boils down
to someone whose brainwaves are either extremely similar to Sam's, as seen
in "A Little Miracle," or else substantially off the adult human norm. The
latter, more common situation includes animals (most prequently dogs), children
under the age of five (the developmental psychology term for this age group
is "preoperational"), the "mentally absent"--that is, some crazy people,
people near death, drunks and so on--and supernatural beings such as angels
and devils. Psychics sometimes perceive Sam's and Al's presence, but not
as strongly. In most cases, anyone who is aware of Sam beneath the aura is
also aware of Al.
As mentioned above, animals see both Sam and Al, and often react oddly to
the hologram, appearing to be either hostile to or intimidated by Al. This
leads to Al being able to "control" animals for Sam from time to time, such
as the dog in "Genesis" and the horse Widowmaker in "How the Tess Was Won."
However, a truly enraged animal, such as the lion in "One Strobe Over the
Line," does not seem to respond as well to this side effect of being a
A final note on this: like the "mentally absent," we as viewers see and hear Sam, while the rest of the world sees and hears the other person. This helps us to identify with Sam, and gives us the opportunity to watch Scott Bakula at work. Similarly, we as viewers see the real leapee in the Waiting Room, while Gooshie and Beaks and the military guards see Sam. But Al, being tied in to Sam's brainwaves, sees both the reality we see and the illusion the rest of the world sees.
© 1993-1997 Karen Funk Blocher (revised 3/29/97)
Fans occasionally propose a combination of the body and spirit theories,
leaning heavily toward the spirit side. While I see the point, and find some
merit in it, the evidence presented in my "body" leaves no room to go back
to the "leap into the body of" scenario no matter how often Scott Bakula
persists in stating it this way.
There is, however, some dialogue left out of "Trilogy Part 3" that helps
to reconcile the two views. Al says that "there's a physical link" between
Sam and Larry, who just had a mild seizure in the Waiting Room. "Ziggy says
you're tied into Larry enough to affect his heart rate and yours." Then a
page later, Al says, "Ziggy figures there are certain people that you retain
physical as well as mental attributes from the leaps. It seems that the more
you need of their expertise mentally the more you have to pull from them
physically. Good or bad."
The fact that this dialogue was cut between the script and the aired episode
may indicate that Don Bellisario didn't want to use that explanation, or
there may not have been time for it. In any case it's a bit ambiguous. Overall
I think it comes down to the "influence" questions dealt with in another
answer. It was as much the medical treatment of Larry as Sam taking pills
that kept them both alive, implying a neurochemical connection between their
minds--and therefore their respective bodies--rather than a physical swap
of large body parts. My best guess from the evidence is that this link is
both transmitted (like Al's link to Sam) and physical in nature, with Sam
and the leapee temporarily in possession of a small portion (larger for Oswald)
of each others' neurons and mesons. That would be enough to trigger the other
physical characteristics, from nicotine addition to heart palpitations. (But
I still think Sam was really pregnant--sort of!)
Major data here on this comes from the "Lee Harvey Oswald' episode. Al says that Sam "can certainly handle a few of Lee Harvey Oswald's loose neurons." That implies that physical brain tissue belonging to Oswald might be present in Sam's brain. Ziggy's theory on why Sam leaps into Oswald multiple times (and presumably why they act like each other) is that they each have some of each other's neurons, which try unsuccessfully to reconnect with the rest of their own brains with each leap. This is the theoretical basis for Ziggy's plan of putting Oswald in the Accelerator and trying to leap Sam's neurons from Oswald back to Sam. According to Sam, however, the neurons would not go alone--and therby cause the opposite effect of merging their minds even more.
© 1993-1997 Karen Funk Blocher (revised slightly 3/29/97)
My current theory is that the two auras--Sam's as Jimmy or whoever and Alia's
as Connie or whoever--"short each other out" with respect to the two time
travelers underneath, creating instead a shared aura which continues to disguise
them to people native to the time. The "illusion of the physical aura" is
apparently vulnerable to contact with another such aura. Once this happens,
Al can see Alia and Zoey can see Sam, but since this doesn't actually tune
their brainwaves to each other's Observers, neither the leapers nor the Observers
can see each other's holograms from the future.
I think the most telling point in the second question is that Sam and Alia
could not see each others' Observer. If they can't do so, what chance have
the Observers themselves, standing in two different Imaging Chambers and
seeing Sam's and Alia's time only through their neurological links with their
As for Alia's leap with Sam and its consequences, it appears that the same
physical contact which allows Sam and Alia to see each other can also be
made to cause the two time travelers to leap together. Since it is Sam's
leap which carries Alia to the prison, Alia's aura is also pulled to the
same location as Sam's aura, resulting in Alia's leapee Angel being dragged
into the Project's Waiting Room instead of Lothos' holding area.
At least one leaper has proposed an explanation for these situations which
incorporates terms based on "real" quantum physics. Sounds good to me, but
frankly, I don't have the scientific background to fully understand that
answer, and so I've stuck with mine, based on what seems to fit the facts
but using terms even I can understand. Gee, I wish I've taken physics in
college, but I don't suppose it would help much in explaining the Bellisario
Laws of Quantum Leaping!
© 1993-1997 Karen Funk Blocher (revised 3/29/97)
|Common Questions about QL Index|
|Common Questions about QL Part Three|
|Common Questions about QL Part Four|
|Common Questions about QL Part Five|
|Common Questions about QL Part Six|
|My Quantum Leap Home Page|
|Index to The Observer early issues|
Karen Funk Blocher's Credos and Curios,
with links to other non-Leap pages