Season 2, Episode 1 “Year of the Monkey”
Written by Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett
Directed by David Grossman.
I’m very excited that 12 Monkeys is back for its second season. The cast looks great. Cole (Aaron Stanford) is healthier, since time travel was killing him last season, the sleek and contained Dr. Railly (Amanda Schull) has let her hair down, and Ramse (Kirk Acevedo) has grown his hair back. I’m looking forward to some fine science fiction and something to fill the summer months when the shows on the large networks are on hiatus.
The series is based on the Terry Gilliam movie of the same name, which in turn was inspired by a 1962 short film called Le Jetee by Chris Marker. 12 Monkeys, the series, has some major differences and is sure to drift farther afield as the storyline becomes more complex. The storyline is anchored by the relationship between our time traveler, James Cole, and Dr. Cassandra Railly, whom he meets in the pre-apocalyptic world. They work together to save the world from a virus that was intentionally released to destroy it. If this is your first episode, don’t worry that you’re behind. The exposition in this episode gives you everything you need to know, even some of the characters’ motivations.
The story begins with a story, a voice over that tells you that this is how the world ends. It also tells you that Cole has changed the past. In not killing his friend-turned-enemy Ramse (Kirk Acevedo), he has changed the timeline. Our mad scientist, Katarina Jones (Barbara Sukowa), who invented the time machine, believes that the past can be changed. What I think they left out of this episode is that her motivation is very personal. She doesn’t want to change the past just because the world has been destroyed by the virus, but because she lost her child. She doesn’t care if she exists or remembers if the timeline changes, as long as her long dead child lives. She is also utterly ruthless. Unfortunately, Cole changing the timeline because he did not kill Ramse only shows that time can be changed when it’s been mucked about with in the first place. Ramse and Cole are both time travelers. I don’t know if this story will be told before every episode or just the season opener.
When we last left Cole and Cassie, he had sent her into the future that he came from so that they could save her from a bullet wound. Little did he know that the laboratory had been taken over by the current Army of the 12 Monkeys, intent on going to the past for an unknown reason. They are spooky people, wrapped in robes, with something wrong with their faces. This washes off, as we see when they prepare one of their members for time travel. They wash the ashes of the past off of them.
Dr. Jones is allowed to save Cassie, but then forced to send one of the army back into the past. This is a mistake on their part, because she arranges for a partial “splinter” and locks them out of the computer. The time traveling monkey soldier dies a horrible, fiery death. They threaten Cassie to get Jones to cooperate. She explains that the time traveling machine was finished because of Cassie’s message, the one that names Cole as the time traveler. Killing her will ruin cause and effect and get rid of the time machine, since Cassie hasn’t sent that message yet. The monkeys don’t believe in cause and effect. They believe in fate, and are willing to kill Cassie to prove that things would happen in the same way anyway. The technician finds a way around her computer block before they kill Cassie or Jones caves in. But I have to ask: if they are so sure of predestination, why do they need to go to the past?
Meanwhile Cole and Ramse are hanging out together, much as they did before meeting Jones. Their differences are not forgotten. Cole wants to find the virus and prevent the apocalypse. Ramse still wants to preserve the post-apocalyptic future. He has a child that he recently found out about whose very existence is threatened by preventing the apocalypse. But they are not, at the moment, willing to kill each other over it. We see Ramse being chased and he ends up on a bridge (no, don’t go on a bridge! It’s too easy to get trapped!) Men with guns confront him, accompanied by the very striking woman, Olivia (Alisen Down), who says that they are trying to kill Ramse because his death was foreordained and he missed it. Cole blows up a car and more men show up. They are forced to jump off the bridge. It’s a real Butch and Sundance moment.
Cassie notices that Deacon (Todd Stashwick), who is a mercenary working with the Army of the 12 Monkeys, has Wilson’s Disease, which is a buildup of copper in the body. Cassie must be a very good doctor because it took Dr. House a whole episode to diagnose someone with Wilson’s Disease. She convinces him that if he helps her and Jones, she will go to the past and get medication that will keep him alive and sane. He is convinced, but he tells her that she will have to help kill her guard to escape. She protests that she is a doctor. At this point she has shot someone, but her hands are relatively clean because she is from the past instead of the violent post-apocalyptic future. The monkeys are extraordinarily strong, and Deacon holds the monkey guard while Cassandra stabs him in the throat. It’s horrifying all the way around.
Cole and Ramse decide that the reason they get attacked every time they leave the underground tunnels must be because Ramse has a tracking device on him. Ramse knows someone who can perform the surgery to remove the chip, a Dr. Benjamin Kalman (Brendan Coyle). Cole has to go find the guy, of course, because they will get jumped if Ramse leaves the tunnels. He is someone Ramse helped to leave the Army of the 12 Monkeys when he was ‘consulting’ for them. He’s a nice, warm person, sort of a teddy bear. Cole likes him. I like him. Of course, I may be influenced by the fact that he played Bates on Downton Abbey. Cole likes him because he said that Ramse helped him be a better person. Cole tells him that Cassandra helped him be a better person. It’s heart melting to hear him say it. It’s also nice to know that Ramse was not consistently evil while he was with the monkeys.
Cole brings the doctor back to their hiding place and he removes the tracking device, giving Ramse a shot first. I knew immediately when he came around in front of Ramse instead of stopping the bleeding or stitching him up that he was betraying them. It was already suspicious when he had Cole leave the room. The shot produced paralysis, and he was going to take him to the army in exchange for protection against the virus. Being that kind of villain, he tells Ramse where and when the virus will be released, on Chinese New Year, the year of the monkey. It’s this year, 2016. Cole stops him from kidnapping Ramse, of course, and tells Kalman he’s not a better person and that he, Cole, wanted to be one. You can tell that he doesn’t want to shoot him, but he does. I assume he does; it takes place off screen so we could worry about who got shot. It’s very poignant and a tiny part of me is glad that Ramse gets to see what it’s like to be betrayed. Ramse says that he was not told anything by Kalman.
Deacon gets his people together and they reclaim the outer part of the laboratory and overload the time machine, causing it to blow. They have sent back six soldiers for the army. Rather than being dismayed at the destruction, Jones is sure they can rebuild.
Ramse and Cole are going their own ways, and Ramse changes his mind and tells Cole where and when the virus will be and who will be carrying it. He says he’s sure he’s going to muck it up anyway and won’t be able to save the world, so why not tell him?
Jennifer (Emily Hampshire), Leland Goines’ (Zeljko Ivanek) certifiably insane daughter, is carrying the virus in vials. She stops at a speed dating place, attracted by the words “the end of the world” on the sign. She tells the date about the virus and gives him a gun and asks him to save the world. Being neither a hero nor a psychopath, he freaks out and calls 911.
Cole finds Jennifer in the crowd. She looks happy to see him at first but then runs. He catches up to her and pulls a gun on her. She is delighted that he is going to stop her and asks him to shoot her. He says she has a choice. She is sure she doesn’t. More of the army shows up. At this point they seem endless. Suddenly a tougher looking Cassandra appears, guns them down, and tells Cole to shoot Jennifer. He won’t do it. She pulls a gun on Jennifer, with Cole in the way, and he points a gun at her, and that’s where we end.
Speculations and theories? Right, like they are going to shoot each other. It will never happen. But they are inadvertently giving Jennifer time to drop the vial or get away, or for Ramse to come and save the day .Unlikely, since someone had just sucker punched him. But I expect something to happen during the standoff. Why won’t Cole shoot her? He just shot someone he didn’t want to. Jennifer is someone who under any definition is not responsible for her actions, even if she weren’t under the influence of a cult. She likes Cole, and that might give him the confidence that he can persuade her to hand over the virus.
I still think that there is a time traveler or someone who can see the future by technological means who is running the cult and it’s not Ramse. We know that they were using Ramse to ‘see’ the future, and for other purposes, but he is not the legendary Witness. Somehow they have convinced people like Jennifer that they have a destiny that they cannot escape. The best way to do that would be to have perfect foreknowledge.
Cassie and Cole are not getting the best reunion ever. He’s spent a lot of time not knowing whether she was alive or not. She’s spent eight months in the future turning into a warrior. He must be ecstatic that she’s alive, but instead of falling into each others’ arms, they are pointing guns at each other. How will he take the new tougher version of her? When Cassie ended up in the future, I wondered if maybe Cole would come down on Ramse’s side. They are spending a lot of time and energy on changing the past, which is going to separate Cole and Cassie forever. The plague has already happened, and the past resists efforts to change it. Cole’s mission will bring nothing good about for him. However, they haven’t both been in Cole’s time at the same time yet, and the virus mutates and could still wipe out mankind entirely.
There have been commercials for 12 Monkeys that show a very bleak future, and some that show a fun side, such as Cassie and Cole traveling to the 1940’s together. Next week they are traveling to the forties, according to the previews. The synopsis for next week tells a different story so perhaps the time travel will be in a later episode. I doubt that Cassie will like it because it was a very sexist time and she is an independent woman.
If you’ve never seen 12 Monkeys before, now is a good time to begin. The show has made an effort to let you know what happened last season and you can take right off from here and watch the first season later. If you have seen it, season two is off to a great start.
12 Monkeys airs Monday nights at 9/8c on Syfy.