Mirror Image

May 2, 2014


Here is an article on “Mirror Image” By Hayden McQueenie
mentioned in The QLP episode “016 Jimmy”

“Mirror Image” is the infamous final episode of Quantum Leap. On the first few viewings, it makes very little sense, and takes a great number of viewings to understand and to accept the ending, that “Dr Samuel Becket [sic] never returned home”. The following is a compilation of analyses by myself and my friends on “Al’s Place Forum”, which is hoped will help anyone watching or re-watching the final episode who is still scratching their heads…

First, some behind the scenes information. When this episode was written, it was not known whether Quantum Leap would be renewed for a sixth season, so Don Bellisario wrote this episode so that it could be used either as a series final or as a cliffhanger for the next season. There are at least three known alternate endings (one of which was filmed) and the episode is purposely ambiguous, providing enough answers to finish the show, but leaving enough unanswered questions to justify having the series continue. Also, apart from the fact that the series as a whole is brilliant, one reason why the fans are still talking about Quantum Leap is because there are still so many unanswered questions which we love speculating over, and it leaves open the possibility for the series to be continued in some way, shape or form in the future, such as a Quantum Leap movie…

Getting onto the episode itself, nobody will understand this episode until they realise that this particular leap is different to any other. He has not leapt into another person with future knowledge to put right what went wrong in the original history. This time, the leap occurs entirely within his own subconscious, and the purpose is to help Sam come to terms with his own life and to accept his life’s path. I see a lot of parallels between “Mirror Image” and the much-loved classic film “The Wizard of Oz”. Both stories are implied to occur entirely within the main character’s head. Both have a mysterious guide – Dorothy has Glinda, Sam has Al the Bartender. Everyone they meet reminds them of someone they already know – the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Wicked Witch of the West remind Dorothy of the farm hands and Miss Gulch; while Tonchi and Pete remind Sam of Frank and Jimmy, the two boys outside the pub remind Sam of the Elroy sons, Ziggy (the man) reminds Sam of Moe Stein/Captain Galaxy, Al the Bartender reminds Sam of Weird Ernie, and everyone else he meets has a name of someone that he knows, such as Al, Gooshie, Ziggy. And finally, both Dorothy and Sam both use this experience to come to terms with something – Dorothy realising that to find happiness she just needs her family and that there’s no place like home, while Sam had to realise that he created Project Quantum Leap to make the world a better place, and that even though he misses his old life, he would never forgive himself if he allowed people to suffer when he could prevent or change it.

I realise it is a stretch to assume that the leap is entirely within Sam’s subconscious, but it is the only conclusion that makes any sense. After all, Sam has his own reflection, and there is not anybody in the Waiting Room at the project. Also, it is the only way to explain how everything around Sam is centred about himself, like leaping in at the exact moment of his birth, and everyone either taking the name or image of someone he knows. We also need to remember that in the beginning of the series, in Genesis, we are told that a certain amount of time passes while Sam is leaping. We don’t know what happens to Sam in this time, but one could guess that he ends up in a comatose state, which would explain why his only experience of the leap is simply an instantaneous blink from one situation to the next, and also why any injuries he obtains during a leap are healed by the leap – for example, when he leapt out after having been badly beaten in “Black on White on Fire” to being fully healed in “The Great Spontini” – he must be in a coma long enough to heal. If the leap puts him in a comatose state, then it’s not difficult to believe that “Mirror Image” might be a dream, or an out-of-body experience between the usual leaps.

Since the leap occurs in Sam’s own mind, it would make sense that everything we see in this leap is a manifestation of his own. In Freudian Psychology, there are three parts to the psyche, the id, the ego and the superego. I see the three parts to Sam’s psyche being materialised in this leap. The first is Sam’s “id”, his true self, his wants and hopes. This is what we are all seeing as Sam, and the consciousness that Sam has taken in his mind. This is the part of Sam that wants to help people but also wants to go home, and the part which carries the pride over his triumphs and guilt over his failures. Sam’s “ego” takes on the form of Al the Bartender. The ego is the voice of reason, the one who knows what needs to be done and what is and isn’t acceptable. Sam mistakenly thinks that this mysterious bartender is God, and in a way, he is, since at this point in time, Sam’s entire world is inside his own mind and the bartender is the puppetmaster controlling everything he sees, but outside of this leap, this bartender would not exist, as he is just a figment of Sam’s imagination to give Sam a tangible way for him to come to terms with his path. So that leaves Sam’s “superego”, this is the one who not only knows what needs to be done, but also, how to do it. For reasons I will explain later, I believe that Sam’s superego took on the form of Stawpah – Al the Observer’s uncle who had died twenty years earlier, now leaping to put wrongs right, who had been stuck in a time loop.

The reason that Sam’s superego took on the form of Hologram-Al’s uncle is important. There is a great deal of subtext that needs a few viewings of the episode to appreciate. Apart from the more obvious events which make you think this leap has something to do with Sam, which I mentioned above, there is a more subtle common denominator to much of what Sam experiences in this leap, that is, Al the Observer. Why did Sam see the two Elroy boys from “A Tale of Two Sweeties”? Because they symbolise the children Al should have had, because he would have been an amazing father, even though he’d had multiple marriages. Why did Sam create two characters in the image of Frank and Jimmy LaMotta? Because they symbolise Al and his connection to his sister, Trudy. Why did Moe Stein appear to Sam? Because it was Captain Galaxy who taught Sam his string theory which would eventually be utilised to create Project Quantum Leap – this was necessary so that Sam would have a reminder of why he created the project in the first place, to make people’s lives better. And who was the only person who Sam had not yet helped (which he felt very guilty about)? Al.

So, why then did Sam’s superego take the form of Stawpah? Because Stawpah symbolises Al. Emotionally, Al was as crippled as Stawpah was physically, having suffered a great deal of abandonment in his life, especially from Beth, but also from his mother, who ran off with the Encyclopaedia salesman (ironically, since Stawpah was Russian, that means he had to have been from Al’s mother’s side). Also, Stawpah talks about having had to live through the pain of losing Tonchi and Pete over and over, not being able to do anything until Sam intervened. This is really Sam’s superego saying “Al can’t get through this himself, you have to help him”. Sam is incredibly intelligent, and with all these signs saying to help Al, how could he not? There’s a second reason also. Stawpah had been dead for a long time. Sam might not have any conscious memory of being helped by an angel (Angelita), but he would at least have a feeling that there is something out there looking over him, and more importantly, doing what he is doing, so he is not alone. Stawpah, also being an angel (or the manifestation of one) was there to remind him of that.

So this leap was threefold, the first part being that Sam needed to learn that he had chosen the path to help others, and in the end, he was ok with it. And the second being that Sam doesn’t need to blindly follow rules, he needs to do what he thinks is right at the time and learn from his mistakes, and the third is to fix his mistake, namely to make sure that Beth doesn’t remarry and that Al can finally have his happiness. Once he has done this, he could leap home any time he wanted to, because it is he who controls how long he will stay on his life path. The reason that we get the heartbreaking result of Sam never returning home is because he felt there was always some other wrong that needed putting right, and so made the CHOICE to continue leaping and to continue helping people. He is still out there, still putting right what once went wrong, and will continue to do so for the rest of his life (and even beyond), and he wouldn’t have it any other way.