It’s 1955 and Ben leaps into the body of academic Henry McCoy, just in time to find a mortally-wounded fellow professor who manages to grasp about a ‘formula’ and ‘pathfinder’ before dying.
Ben realises he’s at Princeton and it becomes clear that as a ‘friend’ of the late professor, he might hold the solution to locating a formula that had been worked on by Albert Einstein. But that’s not the only surprise… Hannah Carson, the brilliant young woman Ben met back in 1949 (when he was ‘Agent Cook’ investigating UFOs in New Mexico), apparently took his career advice and sought out the university’s prestigious science program. Of course, she’s not immediately aware she’s met Ben before in a different body.
When it becomes clear that a Nazi sleeper cell is just as anxious to get their hands on the missing formula as they are, it becomes a race against time and Ben may have to reveal some home truths…
Though the reboot of Quantum Leap has striven to find its own modern feel since it began, it’s noticeable that some of the most successful episodes do echo the basic truths at the heart of the original. Secret History feels very much like a classic episode from that era, albeit written to fit the new characters – there’s brushes with history, a dilemma that’s got personal and more wide-reaching implications and one of those moments that you know will resonate and play in the mythology. There’s elements of Oppenheimer, Indiana Jones and even a bit of a cut-price Da Vinci Code.
Ben Song doesn’t actually get to meet his idol, ‘Al’ Einstein (though it’s nice to hear that first name turn up again albeit in a different capacity) because the great scientist died a month or so before his arrival, but Ben’s positively giddy at being able to be at Princeton in the wake of those years. Yes, the ‘nazi’ factor seems a little comic-booky in the sheer ‘bwa-ha-ha‘ factor, though as go-to period-drama and disposable bad guys it’s hard to fault. (Ben gleefully celebrates being able to punch a genuine Nazi). The episode also makes a wry, accurate mention of the real-life Operation Paperclip, where post-WWII America selected certain enemy scientists to ‘pardon’ in return for their help in advancements – something of an ethical minefield.
For all that there’s a supporting cast, the whole premise is that Ben is usually alone in his Leaps – stuck in the past with people he doesn’t know and strangers to help, however briefly. Yes, he receives guidance from the future but he’s one physical step askew from interacting with his own people physically. Having a recurring touchstone in Ben’s Leaps introduces a support mechanism that he (and we) can appreciate, even if it’s somewhat random and far from clear in the implications. There’s a palpable joy from both sides when Ben is able to tell Hannah Carson (recurring Eliza Taylor) who he really is and she realises that her intuition is working well. The scene where she gets to learn one thing about ‘Future Boy’ and all she wants to know is his name reminds me of another nice character beat in the film Sneakers where the hacker team can basically ask for anything they want from the government and all River Phoenix wants is a female agent’s telephone number. (James Earl Jones balks at the request but the agent in question realises the compliment and gladly gives it). It will be interesting if this is a a Time-Traveller’s Wife scenario (though, so far, they’re only meeting each other in order, even if it’s displaced) and whether this is a self-contained season arc.
(I did mishear one line in the previous episode: the fallen Professor Lawrence played by Addison Witt, doesn’t mumble ‘Save her, Ben‘ – however well that might fit – but ‘Pathfinder‘, relating to a link that he and Henry share…)
The newer Quantum Leap spends equal time in the Project and the threads this season seem to be whether Tom’s a god guy and what exactly Ian compromised to get the Project back up and running. The show is deliberately keeping unsure about new addition Tom (Peter Gadiot). He seems supportive of both Addison and Ben (if not of Addison and Ben for obvious reasons), but every so often the camera lingers a little too long to imply more and it’s pretty obvious the death of his ex-wife Kate is going to factor in more sometime later in the season. (Is it too obvious to think Ben’s going to Leap into a situation where Tom could be in a position to change that element of his own/Kate’s history – and does that even make him a ‘bad’ guy per se?). I have to say that I’m not a huge fan of the way that the Project gets to watch Ben’s interactions. In the original there’s sleights of hand in the few times we see events from that perspective, but here it’s little more than a monitor impossibly cutting to angles that are no more than standard clips and it feels awkward and even somewhat lazy given what should be possible to create or just imply.
Ian appears to have elected to use a chip to improve Ziggy without realising that the trade-off with its shady supplier is going to compromise the Project’s integrity. Inevitably that’s coming in to play though the series isn’t revealing too much about the specifics of the other company’s motives – except they are obviously nefarious to some degree. There’s the ‘illusion of change’ here, but little actual momentum. The Project’s Leap stalls when the n’er-do-wells turn off the chip to make a point, but by episode’s end Ian and Jen may have made a workaround, even though it’s temporary. It feels like another story-arc that will edge forward but is not going to move quickly and I’m not sure how interesting it is so far… though it could be as it develops.
With Magic off-screen throughout, it’s also interesting when Jen muses on how the Leap could impact the future/present, pondering the fact that if Ben’s initial read of the Leap is correct and Einstein’s formula is unearthed then it would change the technology of the last 50 years by… well, a quantum leap forward. We realise as an audience that that is therefore unlikely to happen, but it does raise the questions of how such developments and changes would impact the ‘present’ the team would experience.
There’s three episodes left of the batch filmed before the recent strikes which should take us through to the Christmas holidays (and at least thirteen episodes intended for the full season) but hopefully, with production back in front of the camera, there won’t be too much of a hiatus after that…
(Lastly, but not leastly, the person Ben has jumped into is Professor Henry McCoy… is someone an X-Men fan?)
- Production Design / VFX8