The Final Quantum Leap
In January 1996, the Pittsburgh Steelers did indeed represent the AFC in Super Bowl XXX, and even pulled within three points late in the fourth quarter before falling to the heavily-favored Dallas Cowboys. Although Al Calavicci was correct in his assessment, however, the episode itself aired on January 17, 1990—six years before the game was held. While this is obviously nothing more than an intriguing coincidence, the Pittsburgh region played a more significant role in the series finale of Quantum Leap. During the episode, entitled “Mirror Image,” Sam Beckett finds himself in a small bar in Cokeburg, Pennsylvania. “Schlitz,” the bartender replies when Sam asks what beer is on tap. “Iron City, Duquesne and Fort Pitt in bottles.”
Cokeburg is an actual small town in nearby Washington County that was the childhood home of television producer Donald P. Bellisario. In addition to Quantum Leap, Bellisario also created such classic shows as Magnum P.I., Tales of the Gold Monkey and NCIS, and served as both producer and scriptwriter for the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica. The fact that Sam Beckett’s final television leap occurred in Cokeburg is not the only connection with Bellisario as the legendary producer likewise bestowed his birth month and birth day onto Beckett while reversing the last two digits of his birth year (Bellisario was born in 1935).
“It was August the 8th, 1953—literally the day I was born,” Sam Beckett recites in a voiceover narration during the “Mirror Image” episode. “I had leaped into a coal mining tavern. People with names and faces both strange and familiar to me but the biggest surprise was, I was me. For the first time in years the reflection in the mirror was mine, grey hair, crow’s feet and all. So why had I leaped here, what wrong was I to put right and where in God’s name was Al?” The answers to his queries are not immediately forthcoming, and many of the regulars at the tavern are indeed similar in appearance to people that Beckett had met during his time-traveling adventures. Add the fact that it was the first leap in which Sam Beckett was Sam Beckett, and it quickly became apparent that something was different about this leap. It also became apparent that the owner of the establishment—whose name was likewise Al—knew more than he is letting on.
“A good bartender has to be part philosopher, part psychiatrist, part psychic,” the man states in his defense. Sam, however, is convinced that this particular Al is responsible for his journeys through time. “I wouldn’t say that,” Al replies before alluding to Sam Beckett himself being the culprit. “Why did you create Project Quantum Leap, Sam? Why did you want to travel through time? To make the world a better place? To put right what once went wrong? Do you really think that all you’ve done is changed a few lives? At the risk of overinflating your ego, Sam, you’ve done more. The lives you touched, touched others. And those lives, others. You’ve done a lot of good, Sam Beckett. And you can do a lot more.”
The two have an even deeper heart-to-heart conversation later in the installment. “Home,” Sam answers when asked where he’d like to go next. “But I can’t, can I? I’ve got a wrong to put right for Al.” The “wrong” in question occurred during the season two episode “M.I.A.,” in which Al Calavicci asked Sam Beckett to tell his wife Beth that he had not died in Vietnam as assumed but was being held as a POW instead. “I wasn’t there to save his marriage to Beth,” Sam tells Bartender Al in regards to why he refused his friend’s request. “I was there to save an undercover cop from being killed.” Given a second opportunity—either by his own design or that of someone else—Sam Beckett again travels to that same point in time during the final moments of Quantum Leap and succeeds in saving Al Calavicci’s marriage.
“You remember the first time I leaped?” Beckett had earlier asked Calavicci. “And we all felt that someone or something grabbed me? He’s the someone or something that grabbed me. He’s not just a bartender. I think he is God. Or time, or fate, or maybe even something that we never even thought of.”
After five years and 96 episodes, that “something” turned out to be a tavern owner in Washington County who subscribed to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and believed that the Pirates should never have traded Ralph Kiner to the Chicago Cubs in June 1953. God works in mysterious ways indeed.