Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Quantum Leap -- Episode 92: Mirror Image


Sam Leaps Into:
Himself

Objective:
Decide whether he wants to keep leaping or if he's ready to go home.

Date:
8-8-53

Location:
Cokeburg, Pennsylvania

Memorable Quote:
Dr. Sam Becket [sic] never returned home.

Highlight:
Talk about a last 5 and a half minutes!  This is one where it's good to have a few tissues on hand. And it doesn't help that they go from Dvorak's New World Symphony to Georgia on my Mind and then back to Dvorak -- it's as if the producers had some Kleenex stock they wanted to inflate.

Lowlight:
The whole business with the miners was a distraction from Sam's dialogue with Bruce McGill (what do I call him: Al?  God?  The bartender?  I think I'll go with Dalton for old times sake). I couldn't really have cared less about any of the scenes involving the miners, but I was eagerly hanging on every word between Sam and Dalton and wanted more -- there certainly were plenty of unanswered questions that could have been addressed.

McGill, by the way, is phenomenal in this episode.  Interesting that he was in both the first and last ever QL.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • No usual intro in this episode -- instead it starts right away with a little trip to Goosebump City when Sam sees himself in the mirror.  Great acting by Bakula here.
  • Sam is only supposed to leap within his own lifetime (not including The Leap Between the States), but if his birthday was 8-8-53, then Play it Again Seymour (4-14-53) and The Americanization of Machiko (8-4-53) were outside the timeline.
  • Cokeburg is the hometown of series creator Donald Bellisario, and the bar is modeled after one owned by his father.  This LA Times article from 1993 talks more about the hometown connection and has some other interesting insights from Bellisario.  I had heard somewhere that this episode was written before those on the show knew for sure that they were being cancelled, but this article dispels that notion.
  • Some familiar faces in this episode include but are not limited to:
  • Weird how after taking so long to find Sam, Al gets a little huffy and talks about leaving when Sam is acting strangely.
  • When Bellisario wrote M.I.A. all the way back in Season 2, I wonder if he had envisioned having Sam save Al and Beth's relationship in a future episode.
  • I have mixed emotions on the surprising final moment of the series where we learn that Sam never returns home (and embarrassing for them that they spelled his name wrong -- "Becket"), but I dislike it more than I like it.  On one hand it's impactful and helps solidify in our minds the sacrifice he's making.  On the other hand, it feels like like a big punch in the gut that this character who we've grown attached to over 5 seasons is going to be stuck in limbo for the rest of his life. After reading the aforementioned LA Times article, I don't think Bellisario was trying to make any big moral statement but instead was just keeping his options open in hopes of a future tv movie or getting picked up by another network. If that was his goal, he still could have had a happy ending where Sam goes home and then a tv movie where he decides to get back into Quantum Leaping for some reason.  At the very least, it would have been nice if they had made the wording more positive such as "Sam spent the rest of his life helping countless numbers of people" instead of "never returned home."  If this was Sam's mission and calling, then we should celebrate it, but unfortunately the wording puts a negative and depressing spin on it.

Final Analysis:
This one had some all-star moments including the beginning, ending, and every scene with McGill.  In particular, the closing with Beth was inspired storytelling and the perfect way to end the series.  As mentioned above, however, the scenes with the miners and the idea and word choice around Sam never returning home left much to be desired.  A memorable episode, but I think with some changes it had the potential to be one of the all-time greats.  Ranking it 16 out of 92.

Well, there you have it -- another legendary tv show in the books!  I do have one more post planned as a wrap-up to the series, and then it'll be time to leap into something new.

15 comments:

  1. I concur that there was potential here for one of the all-time great finales, but my takeaway was more conflicted. I generally liked the atmosphere of the mining town and some of its inhabitants...a location and set of characters that would have been great for a standard episode, but ultimately can't disagree with you that it muddled the narrative centered around Sam in this alternate universe with the bartender that knows all. McGill certainly played the role brilliantly and raised the stakes of the mysteriousness, knowing the payoff to come was imminent.

    Before I talk about the ending, I must first talk about the beginning. And not Sam seeing his own face in the mirror, cool as that was in the context of a final episode, but I'm guessing you noticed that they reverted to the original theme song for this episode only in season 5. This tells me that viewer reaction was such that Bellisario or somebody caved in and played the original theme. I could be wrong, but I know that I never warmed to the new version of the theme song, and I know fans can be ruthless when it comes to changes in theme songs, as "Hardcastle and McCormick" producers found in season 2 when their new theme song got so much blowback that they dropped it and went back to the original song halfway into season 2.

    Back to QL, I don't know if I'd even have recognized W. Morgan Sheppard in that ridiculous beard had I not seen his name in the credits. I was disappointed with his role....seems like if you get W. Morgan Sheppard on your show, you give him more to do than he had here. I liked it better when the other characters from other episodes popped into the bar enhance the mythology of this mysterious place, all with the smirking McGill in the background playing coy. What state did was Bellisario's hometown of Cokeburg in by the way?

    As for the ending, I had the same takeaway as you in that I wondered if Bellisario had planned to bring Beth from "M.I.A." back to reconnect with Al in the finale. It was a great narrative gambit and an amazing hat tip to Sam's character that he would sacrifice everything for Al's happily ever after. On the other hand, it was unsatisfying that the protagonist we had invited into our homes and hearts for five seasons is presumably in a lonely, permanent purgatory bouncing around through time for the rest of eternity without Al's accompaniment. I'm sure the writers felt some degree of epic sacrifice was needed from a narrative standpoint, but I suspect more viewers were invested in Sam's happy ending than Al's, so it was undoubtedly a polarizing tact...but then again most finales are polarizing....and the bolder a show goes to close the book, the more critics they accrue. I could live with the notion of the ultimate sacrifice more if the entire context of McGill in the bar was spelled out more clearly. They made it seem like the McGill was the time-traveling community's St. Peter guarding the gates of heaven, but ultimately he became more of a devil figure offering up either-or scenarios where one person's happy ending had to come at the expense of another's. As you said, it seems like there was a way they could work this out where we didn't feel as though Sam "Becket" was effectively condemned to an eternity of hell.

    Looking forward to your final wrap-up and will try to organize some closing thoughts on my own in response.

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    1. I forgot to mention that I sat down expecting this to be a two-hour episode. Not really sure why, but it was clear things were wrapping up around the 40-minute mark I was surprised.

      I also forgot to rank this episode, but it was such a split decision that I think I'm gonna take a little more to deliberate on it. I suspect it'll be in the top-third, but knowing that Sam is enduring a hell on Earth for the rest of his days is quite the downer to walk away from this series from.

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    2. I did notice the original theme song was back -- I ended up liking the new one better but I may be in the minority. I agree that they should have given Dr. Zito a bigger role. And Cokesburg is a mining town in PA south of Pittsburgh. In fact I have ancestors on both sides who worked in the mines (some in Eastern PA and some in Western).

      Sounds like we're on the same page regarding the ending. As much as I liked how Sam selflessly went back to help Al, I didn't think it needed to be at the expense of his entire future. And even if they were going to go that route, as I said I think they could have softened the language. Because the "never returned home" makes it sound like a limbo and has the connotation of a "hell on Earth" as you put it, but they could have put a more positive spin and something like "he continued to serve and do what he loved -- putting right where once went wrong" and/or "and every so often, he took the bartender up on his offer for a sabbatical at home."

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    3. Did you know anything about the ending before you started watching?

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    4. I didn't know anything about the ending actually. I guess I thought Sam returned home based on whatever whispers I had heard, so I was surprised by the ending.

      Didn't realize Bellisario was a fellow Keystone Stone alum. Have you ever visited the coal mining region of the state where Bellisario grew up? Has there been mining in eastern PA in our lifetimes? I heard that the Scranton area hasn't had coal mining since the 1950s.

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    5. I've been to Pittsburgh but not the coal mines specifically. I'm not sure about the history in Eastern PA but the mining that my relatives were involved with in Scranton was in the 1920's. Those jobs were not for the faint of heart, that's for sure.

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    6. As rough as those jobs were, Mr. Trump owes his Presidency to promising people in those areas he was gonna reopen the coal mines. There's a nostalgia for the "good old days" in those types of towns, just as there as is in my area for the $75,000 a year meatpacking jobs of the 60s and 70s that will likewise never return, at least not paying anything close to what they did. And with coal mining in particular, even if the dormant mines were reopened (and they won't be with natural gas as cheap as it is), there would be 90% fewer jobs than before because of automation. And the coal barons would get to the coal not by mining, but by blowing the tops off of mountains and destroying the environment....because it's cheaper and requires fewer workers. Rant over.

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  2. I remember knowing that QL was ending and waiting for the finale. I also remember the finale being a bit of a let-down. For long-running shows you sort of expect them to go out with a 'bang' and not a 'whimper', but this was just meh to me at the time.

    Regarding the bit about Sam 'never returned home' - my guess is they're playing off the 'hoping that his next leap will be the leap home' part of the original intro narrative - that was his goal, was to go home, so the ending would be 'he never leaped home' or 'someday he leaped home' - but I'm guessing they did the 'never' in case there was later pick-up potential.

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    1. Seems like it's very hard to please audiences with finales. If they go big, they often do something weird like tell us "it was all a dream". If they go out small, like "Lost", it feels like we watched a show for nothing.

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    2. Though maybe Bellesario learned his lesson after QL - b/c JAG ends on a coinflip of career advancement for one or the other of the 2 main characters and it's a pretty decent send-off. (Despite the fact that the last 2 seasons were a load of uninteresting blah.)

      The "MacGyver" finale, while not amazing and spectacular, didn't suck beyond the telling of it. It's a decent story, even if it's not brilliant.

      "Lost", oh man, the folks I knew who watched that show were so seriously disappointed by that ending. Kind of like the "St. Elsewhere" - definitely a weird and disappointing ending.

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  3. I've read posts from longtime QL viewers who caught Mirror Image the first time it aired on NBC and taped it then as well. They said that Sam's name was spelled correctly in the last slide, but for some reason, syndication screwed that up.

    I have very mixed feelings about Mirror Image myself. On one hand, Sam is so altruistic that it makes sense for him to continue leaping and helping people. On the other hand, I feel bad for the people he's left behind, like Al and Donna.

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    1. That's interesting about the last slide, thanks for sharing.

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    2. I have never read that is was correctly spelled on first airing. I saw it that night and no longer have my VHS tape but most fans say it was always misspelled.

      I have read that Don Bellisario wrote that only a day before it aired. So the last mintue rush it why there was an error. They seems to be debate about when he knew the show was cancelled for sure. I know that that episode was written as a season finale. There is an alternate ending that has been online. Instead of the picture of young Al leaping out to black and that text, it changes to a family picture of Al in the year 2000 with Beth and their daughters. It was not photoshop it was actually filmed.

      Also online is a proposal Don wrote presumably to tease NBC on what would happen next if they renewe the show. In the changed future Al tells Beth he can not find Sam. So Al in the Imaging Chamber goes back to the bar and talks to the Bartnender. The Bartender explains that Sam is now and that Al no longer can help him. Al is pissed and lists stuff he help Sam do on the show. The Bartender agrees and says he would have to be a Leap him to help Sam. Al explains this to Beth and how dangerous it is. She agrees that he needs to help his friend and is confident he will return to her. Considering he returned from Vietnam to her. The tease is that Al Leaps into a Bar in the future and looks into a mirror and discovers he of all people is now a woman!

      No, I am not making this up. I will post a link when I can. It shows that if the show had been renewed or pickup someplace else, they never intend to write Al out of the show. Don has confirmed that over the years. Who knows if he would have really used that crazy new direction? Probably just a gimmick that might have lasted for one episode to get NBC give the show another chance.

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    3. Good stuff, thanks for the info.

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  4. Here is the original script with two alternate endings http://www.quantumleap-alsplace.com/scripts/script_mirrorimage.htm

    Here is the alternate ending showing a picture of Al and Beth and their four daughters. I can not get the zip file to open on my IPad but have seen it before. http://www.quantumleap-alsplace.com/med/alternate_ending.zip

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