A Love Undercover

Tuesday 18 February 2020

Contrary to popular Resident Evil fandom, according to which Leon Kennedy has an incurable crush on Ada Wong since the beginning of time (or rather, since the original Resident Evil 2 when he first met her), I always had the impression that things were never that simple for our fearless hero, as far as love matters were concerned. If you ask me, Leon probably swings both ways, tasting the best of both worlds when it comes to it, but always being selective; and since he is such a smart and good-hearted guy, he likes people and is liked in return thanks to his great looks and big heart, never feeling jealous or competitive, which is why he has made good friends throughout his adventurous life.

I have to make it clear first that I am not part of the fandom, although I like (most) Resident Evil games very much and I enjoy playing them again and again. But the term "fandom" implies a rather hardcore obsession that I don't have, so I prefer to say, when speaking for myself, that I simply love the series and I find several of its characters quite interesting, fascinating even. As I have mentioned a few times in this blog, the video games of our times are like interactive movies; therefore their characters are like heroes from a film or a book. They have depth, background, and are as "real" in their imaginary world as their counterparts from cinema or literature. So character analysis is not only legit in the gaming universe, but also a must, if we want to dig a bit deeper and understand motives, actions or decisions that our digital heroes are called to do or make in the course of their quests.

That said, although I plead guilty of having my own "ships" in several games (I think it's inevitable nowadays that video games have evolved so much and their heroes are so powerful character-wise), I do not blindly stick to them, as I want to be able to fully explore a character's potential. In other words, I do not mind if two characters that I like seeing together as lovers, for example, are simply friends in someone else's shipping realm, or vice versa. I once had a rather entertaining (well, at least for me it was) discussion with another person, who was so fanatic about a certain ship, that they could not bear even hearing a different view. That person obviously was missing the very important point that we were talking about fictional characters, therefore anything could be considered canon in their world. It was impossible to make that person understand that it is not an insult to "pair" video game characters in the combinations that you want, since there are basically no limits to imagination. I would strongly advise people with such stiff brains to read some classic literature or watch good movies to maybe widen their perspective a bit.

So according to fandom, Leon is in love with Ada, or at least is infatuated with her; something that, however, never prevented him from setting his eyes on other girls - and boys, for that matter. He has so far flirted with Angela Miller, his co-protagonist in the movie Degeneration, a little bit with Helena Harper, his partner in Resident Evil 6, even with Ingrid Hunnigan, his overseas guide in Resident Evil 4 - to name a few. Regardless, it is not hard to get those strong metaltango vibes in his scenes with Jack Krauser in both Resident Evil 4 and The Darkside Chronicles (especially in the former, both their fights should be X-rated); not to mention that, so many years later in Resident Evil 6, Leon obviously hadn't undergone any corrective surgery to remove the pretty much visible and very deep scar that Krauser's knife left on his cheek during their duel in Resident Evil 4. There is clearly a rather strong connection between him and Alexander Kozachenko in the movie Damnation, and he has the time to form a suspiciously close bond with Luis Sera in Resident Evil 4, despite their very brief and violently cut acquaintance.

But when it comes to girls, there is a part in Leon's life (and heart, in my humble opinion) that belongs to a very special lady, who is no other than our lovely Claire Redfield. This has nothing to do with shipping Leon and Claire as lovers (I will always ship Leon and Krauser above all other ships), but it is a conclusion based on specific facts. Leon's unrequited crush may have actually been Claire all this time - and vice versa, as Claire seems to be rather smitten as well. It was not that obvious (if at all) in the original Resident Evil 2, because the character design was very simple and the cutscenes focused more on the action and less on the heroes themselves. Moreover, in the original Leon was supposed to have broken up with his girlfriend the night before he arrived at Raccoon City, therefore his character was more or less outlined in a very specific way. His meeting with Claire was very brief and rather typical, cleverly giving room to the possibility of a romance between him and Ada.

In the remake, however, things are quite different. To begin with, we have a jaw-droppingly attractive Leon and a very pretty Claire. When they share the screen for the first time at the gas station, they look like a match made in Heaven (see what I did there?). They are almost the same age (Claire is 19 and Leon is 21), and they are both as sweet as cupcakes. In the brief scenes that follow before they split up, they have an interesting dialogue where, after the necessary introductions, Leon attempts to comfort Claire, seeing how she is worried about the fate of her brother. One could say that this is something anyone would do - show humanity towards a fellow survivor in such a wild situation; but honestly I don't think so; most people tend to save themselves and they do not give a penny for other souls, let alone strangers. But just consider Leon's situation: he finds himself stranded in a store overrun by zombies, and suddenly he stumbles upon another living person who also happens to be a pretty girl. And now consider it from the other point of view: Claire finds herself in the exterior of a gas station, chased by zombies, when she unexpectedly bumps onto another living person who happens to be a handsome boy. You only need a simple knowledge of mathematics to put facts together and reach a conclusion that makes so much sense.

In the fascinating universe of fiction, all fields included, there have been great stories about people who met under extreme circumstances and subsequently formed a close bond because of this. Robinson Crusoe from the eponymous novel is a classic archetype, with how he bonded with the native Friday on the island where he found himself alone; and the Atlanta survivors from The Walking Dead series are another good example as well, from contemporary fiction. Leon and Claire both found themselves in a hostile city, where they were initially the only living souls. It is quite clear that neither of them could have survived those first terrifying moments if they hadn't met each other; let alone be able to safely escape from that living Hell. Leon and Claire's chemistry is so evident and strong in the remake, that it almost eliminates Ada's dynamic as a love interest for Leon. Although Ada appears as a very charming woman, bathed in mystery, she looks way too distant compared to the earthly, hot-blooded Claire. Through the progression of the story, we can see Leon growing an interest towards Ada while being separated from Claire whom he will eventually meet again only at the very end. But just like he bonded with Claire at the beginning because the two of them clung on each other in order to survive, in a similar way coming across a woman like Ada wandering alone in the spooky, zombie-infested town, intrigued Leon because on the one hand it was a rather unexpected encounter, and on the other, Ada came from a world that was obviously unknown to Leon - simply put, he had never seen someone like Ada before. But Leon generally has a tendency to get impressed by people that stand out from the crowd and carry an aura of mystery and danger about them, independently of their gender. Ada may be one such case, but something similar happened also when he met Krauser, Luis and Alexander.

In the remake, there is no ex-girlfriend for Leon; and as far as Ada is concerned, she seems rather wooed with him right from the start and does not manage to hide it very well. In the scene where Leon is about to leave her wounded in the cable car outside the Nest and she kisses him just before he enters the lab, he doesn't look particularly thrilled; it is more like he was taken by surprise, as he obviously wasn't expecting something like that to happen. For what it's worth, he never loses his focus or his morality, and he proves to be much smarter than Ada in the end, as it is revealed during their last scene together that he had sensed she was attracted to him to such a degree as to lose her self-control and risk to mess up her dangerous mission. 
Unlike Claire, who is always crystal-clear and honest towards Leon, Ada is constantly lying, hiding things, bluffing and coming up with tricks in order to gain his trust and make him help her. But her tricks and her ways in general are rather old-fashioned; just like her appearance, they seem to come out of an old spy movie. She walks around on her high heels, sporting those huge Jackie O sunglasses in the middle of the night, lurking in the shadows while waiting for Leon to do all the hard work and face all those monsters by himself so as to clear the path for her, showing off her bravery only by threatening to kill Kendo's little daughter in front of her father's eyes. In the meantime Claire fights all sorts of monsters on her own, saves Sherry, manages to fix the broken relationship between her and Annette even if this happens minutes before Annette dies, and cares about Leon in a genuine, unconditional way. Leon is too smart to just ignore all this, since a comparison between the two girls is unavoidable to happen.
There is a scene a bit after the beginning, when Leon and Claire meet again at the back of the police station, separated by a wired fence. Their dialogue at that point is very brief but quite warm and touching, while the smiles that light up their faces while looking at each other say a lot more than words. As far as I am concerned, hadn't Leon crossed paths with Ada and hadn't Claire gotten involved in helping and saving little Sherry, things would have evolved a whole lot differently for the two of them.

The most interesting part is that Leon never flirts with Claire - at least not in the way he does with other girls - and in fact Claire is the only female character (except Ashley, who was his responsibility and he saw her strictly as a person he had to protect, and Sherry, whom he knew since she was little and always considered a kind of little sister) that Leon meets that does not get involved in a courtship with him at any point. It may be considered canon that he has a crush on Ada, but if you think about it, the way he flirts with her is the same way he flirts with every other girl. The reason their courtship went a bit further was only practical: Ada had the chance to bump onto Leon way more times than his other partners or companions. Their relationship never got more intimate (at least there is no mention of anything of this kind in the Resident Evil universe), and in the long run their stagnant love game became rather quaint. So Leon doesn't flirt with Claire because, in his eyes, she is different; she doesn't belong to the crowd of pretty girls that he would easily court. It is not a matter of just liking a girl in this case, but one of a budding feeling of real love. Of course life (aka the Capcom guys) had other plans for them, so sadly those sparkles never had the chance to flare up.

According to a saying, children and fools tell the truth; and little Sherry in the end, when the three of them finally escape from the Raccoon City hell, asks Leon and Claire if they are boyfriend and girlfriend. Sherry is a wise girl; both her parents were highly intelligent, therefore she carries their genes of brilliance. She certainly felt the love vibes in the air, although she was too young to understand that such issues are far more complicated in the adult world. Regardless, more interesting evidence that Leon had feelings for Claire can be found back in his epilogue card from the original Resident Evil 3 (Nemesis). In the brief passage that is featured on that card, we get an idea about how he and Sherry parted ways with Claire right after they escaped from Umbrella's secret lab: he must have been rather upset and marginally disappointed while urging her to leave and go find her brother.

You don't have to read between the lines to realize that Leon sounds like a spiteful man in love here. I wouldn't go as far as considering Claire the love of his life (that title will always belong to Jack), but facts show she clearly came very close to becoming one.

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