Mirror Image was the 22nd and final episode of Season 5 of Quantum Leap, also the 97th and final episode of the series. Written by series creator and executive producer Donald P. Bellisario, the episode, which was directed by James Whitmore, Jr., made its premiere airing on NBC-TV on May 5, 1993.
August 8, 1953 The episode begins with Sam leaping into the doorway of a bar empty except for the bartender Al (Bruce McGill), who is cleaning glasses. The bartender asks Sam what he wants to drink, and Sam asks for a Schlitz. Paying for the drink, Sam sits down and looks in the large mirror behind the bar... and is shocked to find that the reflection he is looking at is his own.
Having not seen what he looks like in many years, Sam takes a moment observing himself and is shocked to see he has grey hairs and crow's feet. The bartender jokes that Sam should try looking in a mirror more often, and Sam's gaze is drawn to a bunch of photos behind the bar. The bartender explains that everyone in the pictures are the people from Cokeburg who served in World War II, Sam asks for the paper so he can check the date, and finds that it is the same day he was born. Not only that, he works out that the moment he leaped in was almost certainly the moment of his birth. The bartender gives Sam a birthday drink on the house.
Just then an elderly Russian man with bad breath walks in, wordlessly gives the bartender money for a drink and walks out again. As Sam reacts to the smell, the bartender jokes that Gooshie is known for his bad breath. This shocks Sam, since he also knows a Gooshie who has bad breath. Running outside, he finds two boys fixing a bike who look strangely familiar although he can't quite place where he knows them from. Running back in, he tells the bartender he knows a Gooshie with bad breath too. The bartender responds that halitosis isn't that rare, although Sam counters the name Gooshie certainly is. He feels that there are too many coincidences going on.
Just then, another Russian man (this one unfamiliar) hobbles in and sits himself down. The bartender introduces him as Stawpah, who seems to distrust Sam as he explains his history as a miner and how he was much stronger before arthritis cripped him. Another man walks in, and this one Sam instantly recognises as Frank LaMotta. Overjoyed to see him again, Sam hugs him however the newcomer pushes him off and explains that his name isn't Frank but Tonchi. Sam asks if he has a brother with Down's Syndrome, and when Tonchi doesn't recognise the term Sam defines it as a condition that causes mental retardation. Tonchi gets angry thinking Sam is insulting his brother, although Sam insists he would never do that. Tonchi says he does have a brother who is a little slow, but warns Sam not to bring up the subject again.
Tonchi asks the bartender to put his drink on his tab, however Stawpah suggests that Sam could be an undercover worker for the liquor control board, since running a tab is illegal in Pennsylvania. Tonchi demands to see Sam's ID, and Sam pulls out and opens his wallet (shocking Stawpah who has never seen velcro before). Sam finds his ID, but decides against showing it since it shows his birthday as that day and an expiration date over forty years in the future. Just as Tonchi is about to force the issue, the bartender reminds him he'll be late. Tonchi backs off and leaves.
At Project Quantum Leap, Gooshie confirms to Al that when Sam leaped no-one arrived in the Waiting Room, meaning that Sam has seemingly leaped into himself. Unfortunately, this means that Ziggy doesn't know where to look for meaning that she may never find him.
At the bar, Sam watches the TV in the corner as the place is now filled with miners who have just finished their shift. As he wonders about what is going on and why Al hasn't appeared, a science fiction show named Captain Z-Ro appears on screen. One of the miners walks up next to Sam telling him how great it would be to travel in time. Sam is shocked to recognise the man as Moe Stein from an earlier leap, and asks if that is his name. The man says his name is Ziggy, and the two talk about the Ziggy that Sam knows. Stawpah mocks Ziggy by making machine gun noises since he didn't qualify to fire a machine gun in the war. Ziggy asks Sam if he ever fired a machine gun. Sam admits he isn't sure. Stawpah warns the bartender that Sam isn't what he's pretending to be, and promises to figure that out. The bartender tells Stawpah that Sam might be there for the same reason he is... to get a beer. Stawpah mocks the bartender saying he forgot he doesn't drink beer, but the bartender says that he doesn't forget anything and if he did things might get a bit 'ka-ka'. Sam flashes back to his first ever leap, where Al explained that their experiment went 'a little ka-ka'.
Sam is now suspecting the bartender knows more than he's letting on, since he didn't react when Sam said he was just born. The bartender explains he doesn't just give away information for nothing, but gives Sam the chance to win the answer to his question on a punchboard. Sam decides to give it a go, but doesn't win the jackpot.
Al and Gooshie are about to have Ziggy run a nano-search for Sam across all the time periods he could have leapt into, a process that will take a month (although, if lucky, it'll last just two-and-a-half weeks). Although Al is aghast at having to spend that long in the Imaging Chamber, there's no other options so he heads inside and the search begins, with Al imploring Sam to lock onto him.
The conversation between the miners in the bar turns to how Ziggy gained his nickname (a donkey kicked him into a radiator and he was left walking zig-zags for weeks). They tells Sam that the bartender gave everyone in the bar their nicknames, and Sam asks if he nicknamed Gooshie the miner too. Stawpah responds that Gooshie has always been Gooshie like he has always been Stawpah. He says the bartender only gives nicknames to idiots, and Sam takes offence to this and Stawpah's general attitude since he arrived. Before their argument can get heated, an alarm from the mine is sounded. All the miners instantly stop what they're doing and rush out along with Sam and Stawpah. Arriving, the miners tell the foreman Mr Collins that there was an explosion in the mine. Although the fire blew itself out, part of the tunnel collapsed leaving Tonchi and Pete trapped.
Mr Collins refuses to send a rescue team in immediately because of the gas in the mine; although the miners have air tankers one spark would create an enormous explosion. Sam insists that they should go in now, and when Mr Collins asks who he is Stawpah covers for him saying he's the state safety inspector. This makes Collins nervous, although he insists they don't go in until the mine is ventilated which will take two days. The miners balk at this as Tonchi and Pete will certainly be dead by then. Collins responds they could be dead already, but Stawpah insists that they're not. The miners are desperate to rush in and save their two fellow workers, but Collins insists they don't. As the dejected miners walk back, Sam asks Stawpah why he said he was a safety inspector. Stawpah explains he just wanted to put some fear into Collins since it was men like him who made him a cripple. Stawpah insists that Tonchi and Pete need to be saved 'this time'. Sam catches on to the eerie comment. Stawpah talks about how scared Pete must be, and how bad things must be for the brothers down in the collapsed mine, saying he's already been there.
Sam has realised that Stawpah is far more than the bitter cripple he appears to be but genuinely needs to save the brothers. As Sam considers the idea that saving them may be the reason he leaped in, the bartender tells him that it he isn't there to save Tonchi and Pete, at least not directly. Sam tries to get some answers from the bartender but he still isn't forthcoming. Sam decides to speak to Stawpah, and the two agree they need to get into the mine now to save Tonchi and Pete despite the dangers. Stawpah tells Sam that if he wants to help he needs to be the safety inspector. Going back to the mine, Sam insists to the guards at the lift that he has written orders from Collins allowing them to head down. When he goes to pass the paper, he drops it down the shaft and pretends the guard dropped it. The guards decide to go and phone Collins, allowing the miners to get into the lift. Sam wants to join them, but Stawpah stops him telling Sam he's already done his part. Ziggy tells him they don't have enough air tanks for him anyway, so Sam is forced to stay behind with Stawpah as the miners head on their rescue mission.
In the Imaging Chamber, Al is feeling ill from all the images and sounds surrounding him, although Gooshie tells him they've barely begun the search and wishes they could narrow it down. Al suddenly gets the feeling that wherever Sam is, it's his birthday. He tells Gooshie to start searching all of Sam's birthdays beginning with his first.
In the bar, Sam tells the bartender about Al and how he has been his partner and best friend for years and how there's nothing they wouldn't do for each other. However Sam remembers that's not technically true, remembering how he had the chance on a previous leap to stop Al's first wife and true love Beth from having him declared dead while he was a prisoner of war and marrying another man. The bartender asks why he didn't, and Sam explains he wasn't there to do that but save an undercover cop from being killed, although now looking back he feels he should have found a way to do both.
Suddenly cheering is heard from outside, before the miners rush in celebrating with a rescued Tonchi and Pete, much to Sam and Stawpah's happiness. Sam finds that Pete does indeed look identical to Jimmy LaMotta and gives him a hug. The miners tells Sam that another few minutes and the brothers would have drowned, and celebrate him for fooling the guards. Sam insists that Stawpah gets the credit since it was his idea. Stawpah looks at Sam and smiles broadly at him and raises his drink, only to then be surrounded by blue electrical energy and leap before Sam's eyes.
As Sam stares at where Stawpah was in shock, all the other miners go about celebrating like nothing happened. Sam asks where Stawpah went, and the miners explain they don't know a 'Steve'. Off Sam's confusion, they explain that Stawpah is 'Steve' in Russian but either way they don't remember anyone by that name. Sam, having never seen himself leap from the outside, realizes that must be what it looks like to people observing it and Stawpah was a leaper. Gooshie the miner reveals that he remembers a Stawpah back when he was younger as the best miner he ever knew. One day, the mine exploded and Stawpah was the only survivor. His back was crooked from all the stone he carried. However he tells Sam they can't have known the same Stawpah, since the one he knew died back in 1933. Sam now doesn't have a clue on what is going around him.
Having now been in the Imaging Chamber for hours watching the swirling vortex of images Al is ready to throw up. He exits queasily and Gooshie explains he was about to suggest a break since they've searched through all of Sam's birthdays from his first until the end of the 21st Century and come up with nothing... but he then points out to Al that while they've searched through all of Sam's birthdays they didn't check the day he was actually born. Al quickly picks himself up and goes back into the Imaging Chamber.
Sam demands to know from the bartender what is going on, convinced he's behind everything going on here. The bartender says there is indeed something special about this bar. He reminds Sam that there's plenty of stories from across time of dead people coming back to help the living, and reveals that he does remember Stawpah. Sam asks why the other miners don't, and the bartender tells him that's just the way it is. Sam refuses to accept that explanation, but the bartender says he doesn't think Sam is ready for more yet. Just then Gooshie the miner sits next to him to grab a drink and Sam sees that Gooshie's reflection doesn't match the man sitting next to him. As the old miner leaves, having seemingly not noticed the mirror image of himself, the bartender asks Sam if he accepts what he sees as reality. Sam asks which reality he accepts, the one around him or the one in the mirror? The bartender remarks that Sam must have learned to accept both given all the times he's looked in a mirror and seen a different face looking back. Sam accuses the bartender of being the one who's been leaping him through time. The bartender denies this and says Sam himself is choosing to leap through time. Sam refuses point-blank to accept that explanation. The bartender asks Sam why he created Project Quantum Leap in the first place. Sam explains he wanted to travel through time and help make the world a better place. The bartender asks if that isn't what Sam has been doing; during his travels he's touched people's lives, and those lives have gone on to touch others, and them others. The bartender assures Sam he's done a lot of good and can do a lot more. Sam tells him he doesn't want to do more, he only wants to go home. The bartender kindly assures Sam he'll only keep on leaping as long as he wants to. Sam asks if this means he can leap home whenever he wants. The bartender says that, technically, he can but he must first accept that he himself has been in charge of his destiny all along.
Ziggy finally gets a lock on Sam in the bar and sends Al to his location. He finds Sam and shouts at him to come outside. Overjoyed to finally see Al again, Sam pushes through the miners and runs outside to join him. Al tells Sam how relieved he is to finally find him, and asks where they are. Sam tells him about everything that's happened; the miners looking like Moe Stein and the LaMotta brothers, an elderly man with bad breath named Gooshie and a bartender who may be God and wants Sam to believe that he's been leaping himself through time. Al gets very worried at Sam's frenzied explanation and works to find a way to get Sam out of the town. Sam asks Al what he looks like when he leaps (to which Al doesn't know as he goes back to the Imaging Chamber when he does), and tells him all about Stawpah. Al pauses at the mention of his name, and when Sam tells him Stawpah means Steve in Russian Al says he knows... he had an Uncle Stawpah, one who suffered from crippling arthritis. Sam begins laughing at this, although he knows it's not funny and doesn't understand why he's laughing at it. Unable to work out if Sam is telling the unbelievable truth or is going crazy, Al decides to leave and consults with Ziggy. Before he does, he promises Sam he'll do whatever he can to get him out of this situation.
As soon as the Imaging Chamber door closes, the bartender arrives to join Sam and admits that Stawpah was indeed Al's uncle saying he always liked coincidences. Sam asks if he is truly meant to believe that he's been leaping himself through time. The bartender asks that if Sam had chosen to be a priest (since Sam has already been one), wouldn't he take responsibility for the life he picked even if he was moved from parish to parish. Sam reminds him priests can quit. The bartender concedes this, but also tells him priests can take sabbaticals especially if they're about to take on a tough assignment. Sam asks if this means his leaps are going to start getting tougher. The bartender asks Sam where he wants to go. Emotional and through his tears, Sam admits he wants to go home but now knows he can't since there are still people who need help and wrongs that need to be put right... beginning with the thing that went wrong in Al's life. The bartender tells Sam "God bless...", as Sam leaps.
Sam appears in Beth's living room in 1969 as she dances with the air, just after he'd left following his previous leap. Beth spots him and is initially scared of the stranger, but Sam assures her she doesn't have to be afraid. He tells her that he's a friend of Al's, and that he needs to tell her something important. She asks what if she doesn't believe him, but Sam knows she will. Sam then tells her that Al's alive, and one day he'll come home. Beth starts to cry in happiness, as the photograph of Al next to her appears to leap as his timeline changes...
Captions against a black screen reveal that Beth never remarries. Instead she and Al have four daughters and will celebrate their 39th Wedding Anniversary in June.
A final caption reveals that Sam never returned home.
Al states that he doesn't know what leaping looks like as he has usually left the imaging chamber by then. However, in Good Morning, Peoria he believes that he is leaping when he begins to glow blue from the interference from the radio antenna, and in Animal Frat after telling Sam how to complete his mission and leap he makes an electrical sizzling sound and motions with his hand to imply it passing through Sam's body. Furthermore, in many episodes he is looking at or standing next to Sam when he leaps.
Since he didn't leap into anyone but himself in this episode, the clothes he's wearing, including his wallet with his (expired) driver's license, must have materialized from storage or somewhere, since his persona is wearing a Fermi Suit. What happened to the Fermi Suit? Did it leap into a closet somewhere?
- Along with Scott Bakula (Sam), Dean Stockwell (Al) and Dennis Wolfberg (Gooshie), Bruce McGill is the only actor to appear in both the pilot and finale though as a different character.
- Nearly all the actors in this episode appeared in previous episodes.
- Bartender Al offers Sam the choice of 'regular or schooner' glasses. The glass referred to as a schooner is in fact a Pilsner. Schooner glasses have a broad rimmed, round body with a short thick stem, whereas pilsner glasses have a tall, constant angle tapered shape.
- The pinball machine in the front corner of the bar is a Gottlieb 'Baseball' which was first released in June 1970, 17 years after the episode takes place.
- Two alternate endings for this episode are known to have been scripted in case the series was renewed for another season, both of which included a present-day scene between Al and Beth, having remained married in the new timeline, discussing needing to find Sam again. Production stills were found in February 2018 and film footage was found in May 2019 showing that at least one of these endings was filmed. A third, simpler alternate ending was also produced showing a family photo of Al and Beth with their four daughters instead of the ending title cards.