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Quantum Leap and historical correction

by Steve Anderson

The NBC television series, Quantum Leap, is unapologetic about its moralistic approach to the rewriting of history. In each episode, the show’s main character, Sam (Scott Bakula), “leaps” uncontrollably from one moment in the past to the next, finding himself inside the bodies of various individuals (often of varying gender, age, race, etc.), “driven by an unknown force to change history for the better.” Sam is accompanied on his adventures by a holographic companion played by Dean Stockwell, who runs computer simulations in order to calculate which alterations to the historical timeline are necessary to “put right what once went wrong” and move on to the next leap/episode. Unlike the typical Star Trek historical narrative, which operates on the level of geopolitical or eschatological conflict, Quantum Leap deals with more personal, emotionally laden struggles (e.g., an African-American doctor must survive the Watts riots to help rebuild his community; a boxer must win his last fight in order to finance a chapel for an impoverished group of nuns, etc). On Quantum Leap, the past is malleable, but only within the constraints of a prescriptive master plan, the execution of which is governed by statistical probabilities and the good intentions of white, male scientists. The frequency of this narrative device – revisiting troubling moments in the past to correct wrongs – may be read as a revealing expression of desires to work through the trauma of past events. The compulsive replaying of Nazi scenarios twenty years after WWII, for example, as well as the continual reworking of the Kennedy assassinations and a long list of other national traumatic events, suggests that one of the roles for these fantastic histories is in fact therapeutic – the expression of a collective trauma and the suggestion of possible ways to heal it.

by Larry Fitzgerald

Quantum Leap Show Open

The opening sequence of Quantum Leap explains the show's narrative premise to "put right what once went wrong" in history.

from Quantum Leap (1989)
Creator: Donald P. Bellisario
Distributor: NBC
Posted by Administrator