There are lots of surprisingly poignant elements to the original Quantum Leap, but one of the most significant is just how spectacularly alone Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) is. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget – after all, he has lots of wild adventures and interacts with hundreds of people, and then there’s Al (Dean Stockwell) popping up all the time. But that doesn’t negate the fact that he has no one. No one truly understands what he’s feeling or going through.
That is until he does. In the seventh episode of Season 5 – ‘Deliver Us From Evil – March 19, 1966’ – suddenly he finds someone who is also leaping through time into the bodies of other people. A woman his age, the answer to his prayers, the one person who gets what it’s like, someone to whom he truly has a connection.
And then, would you believe it, she turns out to be evil. She is, in fact, the Evil Leaper.
Introducing the Evil Leaper to Quantum Leap
Let’s rewind a second. In 1992, Quantum Leap had been on the air for a while. It had already been moved around the schedule on several occasions and it was clear network NBC was beginning to look around for something that could replace it. They’d never really got the show – a sci-fi-drama-comedy-action series that was also an anthology, every episode basically a mini-movie with almost zero serialization.
“We were basically this unicorn galloping through the week,” says Deborah M. Pratt, a writer and producer throughout the show’s entire run (as well as being its uncredited co-creator). “At five years, a show lives or dies unless you reinvent it in some way or another.”
“The last season we were in jeopardy from the day we started,” says Robin Bernheim, then a junior writer/producer on the series. “It was a matter of reaching into the toolbox and thinking of any ideas that we figured could get numbers.”
Sam (Scott Bakula) started jumping into famous people, there was stunt casting and Mike Post’s gentle theme was given a makeover. Then, in ‘Deliver Us From Evil: March 19, 1966’ (S5, Ep7), Sam leaped back to March 1966 into the body of Jimmy, a boy with Down’s Syndrome he helped in a previous episode. Ziggy is confused about what’s going on and why they’re there. Jimmy’s older brother Frank and his wife Connie are fighting. Frankie is heading towards an affair with a work colleague and Sam decides that’s what he’s trying to prevent. Then he accidentally touches Connie and suddenly, the actress changes and Sam sees a new woman, Alia (played by Renée Coleman) standing in front of him.
“I wanted a woman leaping. Originally, I wanted a woman leaping [as the show’s hero],” recalls Pratt. “But it was just too soon. The late Eighties were too soon for that to happen.”
Sam is overwhelmed. Finally, he has a partner in time. But Alia won’t explain when or where she is from and is vague about being part of an experiment, not able or unwilling to remember the details. What is clear is that she’s trying to stop Sam from doing his job – mainly by suggesting that she and Sam have sex. Initially, he goes along with it, hey it’s been a while, but gets cold feet, and then Alia’s true motives are revealed. As Frankie returns to the house, she rips her dress, gouges her own face, and starts screaming that Jimmy tried to rape her. Say hello to the Evil Leaper – who even has her very own Al, an arch English devil-on-the-shoulder called Zoey (Carolyn Seymour).
“We had come up with the idea that somebody else had figured out how to get into quantum leaping,” explains Pratt. “There was a darkness coming into TV, the anti-hero was being born. So I think we were looking at that as well.”
“It was a sensational idea,” adds Bernheim. “Without evil, you can’t have good. It’s one of the tenets of the universe.”
Creating the Evil Leapers
Finding the people to play the Evil Leapers had its up and downs. Seymour (who also guested on Star Trek: Voyager and Babylon 5) had appeared in the show before and the producers were looking to bring her back.
Alia was a little more difficult.
“It was very hard finding someone to play that part,” says Robin Bernheim of Coleman. “She was something of a last-minute hire. [She] had to come across as being innocent and vulnerable before she turned, so that was harder to find.”
What the Evil Leaper revelation brings is a real opportunity for what Pratt calls wounding your protagonist – taking his or her weaknesses and prodding them mercilessly. The sheer injustice of Sam having someone he’s waited so long for ripped away from him is heartbreaking. Not only that but then Zoey says Alia has to shoot and kill him.
But like Luke Skywalker, Sam is convinced that Alia has some good, some vulnerability hiding beneath her malevolent surface.
“God, or Time has put us together,” Sam pleads (“Not God”, she replies), as Zoey cajoles Alia into pulling the trigger with tales of Lothos (an evil Ziggy) sending her “back to your worst nightmares”.
Alia admits she’s killed before, while Zoey reminds her:
“We clawed our way out of hell to learn simple assignments like home-wrecking and adultery.”
But Alia can’t do it. “There has to be an end,” she says. Letting Sam live, suddenly both Evil Leapers start screaming and jump away. Sam leaps as Jimmy to two days later and everything appears to be okay.
Still, he admits, “She’s not gone, Al.”
So who are the Evil Leapers and where do they come from?
“We were in the process of creating those rules,” says Pratt. “We specifically stayed away from the science, so you wouldn’t have to get mired down in it. We were trying to find a conflict and a villain that goes up against Sam to undo the good that he had been doing.”
Or maybe he was putting right what they put wrong.
“Now Sam has a counterpoint that’s out there,” continues Pratt. “And that opened up all kinds of potential storylines. He didn’t know when that adversary was going to show up and that added to the challenges he had each week.”
‘Return...’ and ‘Revenge of the Evil Leaper’
It didn’t take long for Alia and Zoey to make his life difficult again. Nine episodes later, a double bill – ‘Return of the Evil Leaper – October 8, 1956’ (S5, Ep16) and ‘Revenge of the Evil Leaper – September 16, 1987’ (S5, Ep17) – brought them back.
‘Return…’ sees Sam as 1950s college student Arnold who dons a costume as local vigilante The Masked Marauder in between classes. His nemesis is played by Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser everyone!) as a caddish frat bro who likes to race dangerously in his car. His girlfriend turns out to be the person Alia has leaped into, someone Arnold has a crush on. Because they haven’t yet touched, they can’t see each other’s true identities, but Zoey overhears Sam talking to Al and tells her Leaper. Zoey explains their joint presence as being due to Random Event Theory, which doesn’t seem to be real science, but rather a Quantum Leap riff on probability theory.
The Evils hatch a plan to screw up Arnold’s life by seducing, then publicly dumping him but the pair inadvertently touch and find out the truth. Alia continues to be vague about where she’s been. “It was worse than death,” she tells Sam. But when they decide to leap away together (exactly how this will work is a little glossed over), Zoey overhears them. While the latter wore chic Sixties clothes in ‘Deliver Us From Evil – March 19, 1966’, here she’s gone full Eighties sci-fi baddie, looking like a cross between Ursa from Superman II (1980) and a character from Dynasty. The episode ends, a bit anticlimactically, with a car race. Realizing their brakes have been cut, Alia and Sam jump from their vehicle just before it plunges over a cliff and they do leap together…
…into a women’s prison. And it’s here, in ‘Revenge…’ that things get a bit bonkers. It’s 1987 and they don’t know who jumped into who’s mission. What they do know is they have to alter Alia’s brainwaves to evade Zoey, making Alia truly believe she’s her character, a young prisoner called Angel. This is done using hypnosis and a dream sequence featuring Coleman wearing voluminous robes and a headscarf.
“When Sam leaps in and leaps out the cross of particles leaves him Swiss-cheesed,” says Pratt, about how Alia can be her leapee. “That means there’s holes in his memory and they’re filled by the other person. We always talked about it, how much – as Sam passes through these people, as their genetics mix – how much does he take with him, how much does he leave behind?”
As with the previous episode, the reason for them both being there is somewhat forgotten amidst the Evil Leaper shenanigans, although it’s to do with the murder of another inmate. Zoey leaps in as the prison warden – yes, she’s become a leaper off-screen – and she’s joined by Hinton Battle, who chews the scenery as her observer Thames (fun fact: Battle played the demon who makes everyone sing in the Buffy musical episode and also played Cat in the U.S. pilot of Red Dwarf).
As the episode reaches its finale, Sam and Alia escape the prison, Zoey chases them (she knows their identities by this point) and eventually corners them. She shoots Alia, who appears to be hit but leaps at the same time and the real Angel returns unharmed. Meanwhile, Sam seems to kill Zoey and the real warden comes back without a scratch on him. It turns out he killed the other prisoner which means that Sam has technically completed his mission and he leaps away into the body of Marilyn Monroe’s chauffeur. Oh boys ensue, especially when Al says he can’t pinpoint where Alia has gone.
The Future of the Evil Leapers
Ignoring how effectively they executed this three-part storyline, the Evil Leaper arc certainly offered some exciting options for the series moving forward. Unfortunately, it was not to be. “I have vivid memories of the protests that the fans staged when it was announced we were canceled,” says Robin Bernheim. She herself didn’t have the greatest time on the show, suggesting it was quite a toxic work environment with staffers asked to choose sides in high-level intra-office disputes and people encouraging her to be fired. Nevertheless, it remains a seminal learning experience. She has since created The Princess Switch series for Netflix and wore her Quantum Leap crew jacket to Vanessa Hudgens’ retro-themed birthday party to much acclaim.
Deborah M. Pratt, meanwhile, had all sorts of plans for the Evil Leapers:
“We were setting up for Season 6, hands down. A good character like that evolves and the show evolves. We would have been listening in the chatrooms to see what people were saying.”
She was also thinking about another Quantum Leap show. “It would have been a really cool spin-off,” she says. “Making things wrong that once went right. How would you deal with that? Maybe he wasn’t a bad guy? Maybe the Evil Leaper was somebody who had to do what he had to do to get back to his own life. Or at least he thought that. That gives you a very complicated, interesting character.”
It certainly would have been and as Pratt points out, audiences were on the brink of being asked to accept heroes who pushed the envelope of what constitutes a good guy in shows like NYPD Blue, or characters like Angel in Buffy or even Star Trek: Voyager’s Seven of Nine before Tony Soprano came along and changed everything.
For Quantum Leap’s much-maligned final season, many loyal fans may have felt the Evil Leapers were a step too far, especially since it can feel like they’re trying to pack so much extraneous story in amongst their anthological formula. The true impact Alia’s arrival and subsequent disappearance has on Sam isn’t really explored, indeed he doesn’t even mention her in the following episode. This feels like a missed opportunity, but then look at programs like Law & Order – the moment their strict procedural formula was interrupted by the private lives of its characters, it floundered. Maybe that’s not what Quantum Leap is about.
Alas, we’ll never know. Or maybe we will. After all, Deborah M. Pratt is deeply involved in the new Quantum Leap, and the Evil Leapers warranted a mention in the episode ‘Ben, Interrupted’ (S1, Ep16)...
This article was first published on April 13th, 2021, on the original Companion website. It has been updated with reference to the new series of Quantum Leap.
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