I have a lot of thoughts about Quantum Leap 2×06 “Secret History.” A secret Nazi plot, “Al” Einstein, and shipping stuff, all in one episode? Needless to say, I had to take a few days to process it all. However, if you read nothing else in this review, just know that Ben punching a Nazi is 10/10 awesome. I have no notes.
Hannah (Eliza Taylor) is back this week. And, yes, that leads into the shipping stuff I’ll get to later. However, I don’t know which aspect of her character will be more divisive within the fandom: the kiss, or her referring to Albert Einstein as “Al” all episode. (We’re that kind of geek in this fandom, right?)
Of course, any time I hear “Al” on Quantum Leap, my brain goes to an entirely different Al (the late, great, Dean Stockwell). And I have to do a hard mental reboot to catch up. Every. Single. Time. But, also, hearing Einstein referred to as “Al” is like the first time you hear your grandmother be called by her first name. People…do that? That’s allowed? Huh. It’s a whole new world.
Those little quirks aside, I enjoyed Hannah in her first appearance. She was as enjoyable here. Hannah is smart and driven. She lives in a world where all the cards are stacked against her. Yet she’s determined to keep going. What’s not to like about that? Well…except for maybe that one little thing we’ll get to later.
Secrets and Lies
This week took Ben (Raymond Lee) to Princeton to track down Einstein’s secret formula. One that could change the course of history as we know it. Of course, the very scope of the revelation makes it a certainty that things can’t go entirely to plan. We don’t live in a world without climate change, after all, and remembering all the ways to rewrite all of reality every week would probably make an average writer’s room cry. (I imagine. I’ve never been in one. Maybe that would be their jam, and they’re a little mad they didn’t go for it.)
At any rate, rather than unveiling the secret formula, Ben has to destroy it. Because Nazis. Secret Nazis at Princeton, who emigrated to the United States after the war to supposedly contribute to the good of science. Yeah, Operation Paperclip was a real thing. Nazis ruin everything, and even if I’d hated everything else about this episode (and I didn’t!), watching Ben punch a Nazi would still make it one of the most cathartic episodes of the season.
Things Not Said
I wasn’t the only one getting a little catharsis this episode, as Ben tried to move on a little from his relationship with Addison (Caitlin Bassett). Though he couldn’t entirely put the past behind him, since Tom (Peter Gadiot) had to pitch-hit as his hologram. Not exactly Ben’s favorite moment, I’m sure, though he handled it about as well as anyone could.
But while this Leap brought Tom face-to-face with his own loss, it really highlighted all the conversations that aren’t being had between Tom and Addison. Which I get, to a point. Addressing some of the elephants in the room would require Addison to make a choice that the writers aren’t ready to have her make, since that would be the end of the season’s dramatic tension as they’ve built it.
Still. The list of Conversations They’re Not Having is continually growing longer. They aren’t talking about the question of who Addison would really choose to be with, if Ben’s phoenix-like rise from presumed death also meant a chance he might come home one day. Or who she’d want to be with if Ben returned tomorrow. Would she regret her time with Tom? They’re not talking about the fact that the Quantum Project means there’s a chance Ben could theoretically save Tom’s wife in the past somehow (though with her death being due to cancer, his manner of doing so isn’t immediately obvious). Or that he could even bump into her in the past, and Tom would have to watch from the holographic sidelines. They aren’t talking about his wife much at all anymore, actually. Which seems…totally healthy. Nothing to worry about there.
A Question of Trust
Though speaking of Tom, on the list of Characters I Just Don’t Trust, I’m adding Rachel (Alice Kremelberg). I adore Ian (Mason Alexander Park), and so my first instinct is to totally buy Rachel’s willingness to blow up her entire life to help them. However, every time we’ve seen Rachel prior to this episode, her scenes have ended with her flouncing out of the room, disappointed with Ian’s lack of personal growth. And, hey, I’m not saying Ian is perfect. I’m not even saying that her frustration with them has been unwarranted. But since these two haven’t been able to get through so much as a coffee date without tension, it seems weird to me that she’d be so eager and willing to blow up her entire life and career at Ian’s request.
I’m not saying Ian wouldn’t deserve that kind of trust and devotion. I’m just saying…under the circumstances as we’ve seen them to-date, I don’t trust Rachel’s unquestioning readiness to give it. I can’t help but think she has an ulterior motive. Which is an awful lot of suspicion to bring to the table of The Least Cynical Show on Television, I know. But I can’t help it.
With those two couples out of the way, let’s get to the heart of the matter: Hannah and Ben. But before we get into it, I feel like this conversation might warrant…
A Fandom History Lesson (As I Know It)
(Feel free to skip this section if you really don’t want to read about the evolution of fandom’s reaction to kisses of dubious consent, when someone is possessing or controlling another person’s body.)
Science fiction as a genre invites some peculiar moral quandaries that just don’t come up in the real world. Most people will never need to grapple with the issue of how to cope with having kissed their significant other’s evil clone/doppelgänger from another dimension/grandfather after they time-traveled to the past. There are some real-world cases involving twins impersonating each other, but that’s as far as it goes. However, when it comes to fiction, as fandoms have evolved, the response to some of these moral questions has evolved.
Whether these issues of consent (or lack thereof) have always raised eyebrows within fandoms is hard to say, given the insular nature of fandoms in the pre-Twitter era. If Smallville fans objected to Lana (Kristin Kreuk) being written to unwittingly sleep with Bizarro Clark (Tom Welling), the conversations were happening within (typically password-protected) message forums. (And, as a Lois (Erica Durance) fan, I have no idea how Lana fans responded to that arc. Even within fandoms, different fan bases had their own ruthlessly protected fan spaces.)
By the time Sam (Jared Padalecki) slept with Ruby-wearing-a-meatsuit (Genevieve Padalecki) on Supernatural , fandom was taking over open spaces like Twitter. I have no idea if the writers had Ruby take over a basically dead body to skirt the question of whether Sam having sexual contact with someone’s inhabited body raised concerns about said original-body-host’s consent. Maybe the writing decision was coincidental. Even so, some fans still found it…uncomfortable, watching Sam have sex with a meatsuit without its original owner’s consent. Which, given the oddness that is that entire sentence, is fair enough.
Whether fans have always found these questions of consent to be troubling is uncertain. But they’ve certainly come to grapple with it in recent years, if the response to Wonder Woman 1984 is any indication. And, to be fair, when looking strictly inside of shipping fandom communities, the willingness (or lack thereof) to overlook questions of dubious consent is often entirely predicated on who’s involved. For example, many fans of The Flash who shipped Barry (Grant Gustin) and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) were willing to overlook the kiss between Everyman (posing as the former) and the latter. It was the only kiss their ship was likely to get (or indeed got, as far as I know), and sometimes shippers gotta do what shippers gotta do with whatever crumbs they get. Of course, any Iris (Candice Patton) fan who pointed out the questions regarding consent in that episode were accused of being disingenuous at best.
For that reason, I recognize that some may take my discussion of this entire issue as it pertains to Quantum Leap with a grain of salt. I am a self-professed shipper, after all. And that’s fair enough, I suppose. (Though, for the record, I am also distinctly uncomfortable with the Steve/Diana sexual encounter in WW84, and I couldn’t ship them harder if I tried). We all view the content we consume through our own biases and experiences. But what does all that mean for Quantum Leap?
Back to the Show
Putting aside the framework that the very nature of Quantum Leap requires for Hannah and Ben, I don’t dislike the two together. (As a short-term obstacle; you know my heart is with Ben and Addison.) They have decent chemistry, and their characters play off each other well. I’m a shipper, but I’m usually open to a little drama – even some “will they/won’t they” in my ships. I don’t mind a little pain, and I try to be open to the story.
I knew a kiss between Ben and Hannah was pretty much inevitable from the moment I heard about the three-year time jump, Tom’s existence, and that Hannah would appear in more than one episode. It was even more apparent a kiss was on the way when Hannah claimed she recognized Ben “in her heart” – a line that would be entirely too cheesy for any show that isn’t Quantum Leap. And I even wrote in my “Closure Encounters” review that I was down with the idea of this interim ship being explored…”provided they don’t do creepy things in non-consenting host bodies.” (See my discussion above.)
Still. I enjoyed Quantum Leap 2×06 “Secret History” for the most part. But even with my willingness to be open to the idea of Ben and Hannah (in the short term), it’s hard to forget that any moment between them features Ben in some unwitting, non-consenting host’s body. Who may or may not remember it ever happened, but lack of a memory doesn’t really make it better. All of which makes it hard for me not to cringe a little during their kiss.
And, yes, I recognize that it seems silly to debate the morality of a non-consensual kiss (on his host body’s part) when the entire premise of the show requires Ben take over a body to do everything else he does without consent. Again…science fiction as a genre raises its own brand of peculiar, unique moral quandaries that thankfully will never arise in real life.
As for where all that leaves me? Well, Quantum Leap isn’t the kind of show that I think will push this particular moral quandary too far. (A few kisses is one thing. If Ben-in-another-person’s-body ever actually slept with Hannah, that would probably be a bridge too far for me, as it was with WW84.) The show hasn’t lost me as a viewer or a fan yet. I’m still along for the ride. I still have faith that this entire plot is building to something, and the pain in my little shipper heart isn’t for nothing.
Because if there’s one thing you can count on with Quantum Leap, it’s that there are always happy endings in store. For anyone who isn’t a Nazi. And, seriously, fuck Nazis. I could watch Ben punch them all day.