This article contains spoilers for Quantum Leap season 2 episode 3.
The original Quantum Leap, despite being a show centered on time travel, was fairly grounded. Besides Sam (Scott Bakula) being able to leap into other people’s lives, the show kept its stories pretty down to Earth. Sam would help someone with a problem viewers could easily relate to. It’s part of what makes the show so beloved to this day. It was sci-fi but not TOO sci-fi.
Which is why it was more than a little strange when, in season 5 episode 6 “Star Light, Star Bright,” Sam encountered aliens. No, it wasn’t a fake out to generate interest in the episode. Sam really proves aliens are real. The story follows Sam’s leap into an old man in 1966 who’s in danger of being put in a home for believing in aliens. Despite seeing a UFO at the beginning of the story, the episode mostly makes you assume that Sam probably just mistook a “space ship” for something more reasonable.
Then the end of the episode happens and, nope, it’s really aliens. Sam, the leapee’s family, and two government agents all see a “self illuminated elliptical orb.” There’s no ambiguity here. Sam is even told he should board the alien craft just before he leaps! It’s not something the TV series ever touched on again, though a spinoff comic entitled “Time and Space” featured Sam actually meeting aliens (though its canonicity to the show is dubious at best.)
So yes, aliens are real in the Quantum Leap universe.
Which makes watching the latest episode of the new Quantum Leap, season 2 episode 3 “Closure Encounters,” an odd experience. The episode details Ben’s (Raymond Lee) leap into a government agent in 1949 investigating unexplained extraterrestrial activity. Right from the start Ben disproves an alien sighting and doesn’t put much stock in extraterrestrials. Back at the Project, Ian (Mason Alexander Park) believes in aliens and hopes that this mission will confirm their existence.
Sadly for Ian their wishes don’t come true, Ben exposes that what people thought were aliens was simply a Bell 47 helicopter, a Zero Point jet, and some night vision goggles. There’s no ambiguity here, no little wink to the audience that maybe aliens could still be out there. Ben proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Aliens aren’t real.
This is a massive contradiction to “Star Light, Star Bright.” Why was Ian so focused on the possibility of aliens existing when there’s information in the Project files that prove it? Why didn’t Ben or Addison (Caitlin Bassett) even entertain the notion that real aliens could be at play here? It’s hard to say, unless that part of the original Project Quantum Leap was classified and no one at the new Project had access to it.
A more fringe theory that could explain this discrepancy is one that demands a closer reading of “Star Light, Star Bright.” In that episode, Sam made a connection that the alien spaceship visited Earth once every 47.5 months, seemingly beginning in 1955. If that was the first time the alien ship visited Earth then the date of 1949 in “Closure Encounters” would mean that ship hadn’t come to Earth yet. Even if it had and no one reported it, that would mean the ship would have previously visited Earth in 1951 and 1947, missing 1949 by a wide margin.
This theory still means you need to headcanon a reason why Ian or anyone else at the new Project Quantum Leap doesn’t mention the events of “Star Light, Star Bright” but it does provide one key thing. The aliens from “Star Light, Star Bright,” even if they had been visiting Earth before 1955, could not have shown up in 1949. Thus none of the characters mentioning them at least makes a little more sense.
New episodes of Quantum Leap season 2 premiere Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.
(Special thanks to Matt Dale and his book Beyond the Mirror Image – The Observer’s Guide to Quantum Leap for some of the finer points of research utilized in this article.)