The original Quantum Leap had Sam Beckett romancing a bevy of interchangeable beauties while totally ignoring what consent means when you’re in someone else’s body, and your partner thinks you are that someone else. And they got away with it because it was the late ’80s / early ’90s and Scott Bakula was considered Grade A man candy, so whatever, bring on the (seriously icky, from my 2023 POV) kissing.
Season 1 of the new show skirted the issue of dating while leaping by giving Ben a loyal love interest back home — no flirting with strangers from the past when you’re engaged to your hologram — and avoiding having any guest stars romantically interested in him (or making clear that the person was interested in his host while he basically said “ask me later”).
Season 2, however, started by blowing up Ben’s love life with a 3-year time jump that allowed the writers to hit the “reset” button on a few things… including Ben’s relationship status. With Addison out of the picture — literally, now that he has banished her from the imaging chamber — the door opens for some time-travel romance.
And boy, does he move on fast. Did you really think the fetching genius waitress from two episodes ago would be left in the leap after that long, softly lit conversation? Of course not… she’s back in Episode 206, “Secret History,” which takes place 6 years after her first encounter with Ben. Apparently, Hannah took Ben’s advice and went to Princeton, where she’s studying wildly complicated sci-fi physics.
The ostensible reason for Ben’s leap this time, to 1955 Princeton, is to uncover a secret formula that Einstein left behind. This formula, if discovered, could change the world. The episode kicks off with a murdered professor who uses his dying breath to whisper a code word to Ben, whose host is also a professor. So now Ben must search for and decode clues in what is essentially a Da Vinci Code-style treasure hunt, while, naturally, being chased by baddies who want the formula for their own nefarious reasons.
But the plot isn’t what matters in this episode. Rather, it’s Ben’s star-crossed romances that take the spotlight. First with his re-encounter with Hannah, which immediately leads to more soft lighting and goo-goo-eyed close-ups that scream to the audience “Love interest alert!” (Ben has a thing for blondes, doesn’t he?). She, of course, becomes his partner while seeking Einstein’s formula, and there’s an immediate connection between the two… which is a bit weird since Ben is now inhabiting a different body from the one he first met her in. But she seems to recognize him nonetheless…
Meanwhile, with Addison barred from the imaging chamber and Magic out of the office, Jenn initially takes on hologram duties before being pulled away by Ian, who needs her help dealing with security issues (and vague threats from a mysterious entity). That just leaves Tom, Addison’s new boyfriend, who also went to Princeton and might have some insight into the location. Awkwaaaaard…
The writers must know that in 2023, you can’t ignore the consent issues that make the original Quantum Leap romances seem pretty icky, because they have Ben confess his true identity to Hannah midway through the episode. And Hannah acknowledges that she sensed that he was the same person she’d encountered six years ago, just in a different body (don’t ask how, that’s not romantic). Okay, cool, she knows just who she’s flirting with.
BUT THEN. The episode ends with a rather sudden kiss just as Ben leaps… which means Hannah’s about to find herself lip-locked with a professor whose real personality she’s never encountered, and that professor is about to come out of a blackout with his mouth on a woman he’s never met. YIKES. C’mon, writers, y’all can do better!
The whole thing also comes rather fast… Unlike the audience, Ben doesn’t get a break between leaps. And it was only in the episode before last that he booted Addison from the imaging chamber to give himself space to heal from the heartbreak of losing her. Last episode took place over the span of a few intense hours during the 1992 LA Riots… not exactly conducive to healing. So from Ben’s point of view, barely a day or so has passed since he said “I need some space” to a tearful Addison. And given how tight the episodes are and, again, the lack of any time between them from Ben’s point of view, it’s probably barely been a week since he discovered Addison had moved on. The whole thing feels rushed, especially for a show that’s generally been great at depicting its characters’ emotions, that spent an entire season exploring the now-discarded Ben-Addison relationship.
I wouldn’t have objected to a Ben-Hannah romance if they’d had maybe one or two more leaps together, and it does open up some interesting storytelling possibilities (I’m imagining him appearing at various points in her life, out of order chronologically from her POV). I just wish the writers had given Ben more space from Addison first, while also allowing Hannah to develop a bit more; at the moment, she’s a bit bland… sure, she defies midcentury gender norms by being a scientist, but the “girl genius who is otherwise conventionally feminine and still, above all things, hot” route has been taken so many times in entertainment that by now, it’s boring.
All in all, “Secret History,” was a generally solid episode with some fun treasure-hunt moments and interesting hints as to what Ian might have gotten everyone into back at HQ. We get some cool scenes where Ben and Hannah are figuring out what the clues Einstein left behind meant, and some tense encounters with baddies. Plot-wise, the episode does pretty well, and Ben and Hannah’s chemistry works in general, even if it is a bit boring (Addison left some big shoes to fill…).
I just hope they address the whole bodily consent thing next time Hannah appears, which I have a feeling won’t be far off…