02 “Mentally Divergent” (12 Monkeys season 1) [SPOILERS]


12 monkeys

So I watched the first episode of the 12 Monkeys TV adaptation with a little trepidation, but found I actually enjoyed much of it. It had some issues, but it had the potential to overcome them, certainly.

That doesn’t mean it will, though.

TV, as Constantine is discovering, is a cut-throat world, and many a better series has gone to the wall for far less (*cough*Farscape*cough* -Ed).

So the message, if there is a message, is to hit your stride as quickly as possible, and innovate ceaselessly. And maybe know where you’re going…

So, episode two.

After discovering that Leland Goines isn’t the real force behind the plague, the future scientists start to search for the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. Unable to find any answers in the future, they send Cole back to 2015 to seek out the mysterious mental patient — Jennifer Goines — seen in a newspaper photo drawing a monkey on a wall. Meanwhile Cassandra Railly does her own sleuthing.

In terms of stride, I think 12 Monkeys is already getting there. The show has a slick look, good production values without splurging unnecessarily on CGI effects. The time travel, for instance, simply consists of Cole disappearing — and is rather brilliantly described as “feeding the beast”, by Cole’s future-friend Ramse.

And actually, the Ramse/Cole friendship is more entertaining than it has any right to be. Part of that is that Kirk Acevedo is great — and I hope they make more use of him. Part of it is the writing. The exchange where Ramse tells Cole to find a girl and get some “vintage”, to which Cole responds asking Ramse’s mother’s name, did give me a giggle. There’s some good chemistry there.

And when Cole gets to the mental hospital in 2015, Emily Hampshire’s Goines is also something of a delight. She has the same crazy edge as Brad Pitt’s Jeffrey Goines in the film, but it’s darker, more sinister. She tells Cole tidbits about the Army, but it’s all couched in crazy and hard to tell what’s real, what isn’t, and what it all means.

It seems like the Twelve Monkeys refers to something about dead scientists at her father’s lab, where she used to work until dark figures came looking for a secret lab of Goines Sr — “the Night Room”. And to start with it seems like it might all be part of her mind. Until the Army of the Twelve Monkeys turns up to kidnap Goines, arriving at the summons of a doctor working for them.

Railly’s own investigations also run up against a terrifyingly real Twelve Monkeys. With her sceptical, reluctant ex-boyfriend Aaron Marker in tow, she tries to use Jeremy, her NSA investigator friend from last episode. Then she finds him dead, his face plastered with flower petals — and has an encounter with a terrifying but as yet unnamed bad guy brilliantly played by Tom Noonan (hereafter referred to as Monkey Man, until the showrunners decide to name him).

When Railly comes for Cole at the hospital, she does so just as the Twelve Monkeys are coming for Goines, in time for a tense and confusing confrontation under the hospital, before the bad guys escape with Goines.

This was a great second episode. The stakes, very early on, already feel high, and there are plenty of brilliantly dark characters. Not only Goines, a role which Hampshire suits better than I could have hoped, but Tom Noonan’s Monkey Man.

On top of that, the writers have already started to explore the limitations of the technology — the future scientists don‘t have the power to send him back to 1987, yet, and their first attempt to send him back to 2015 puts him in North Korea in 2006. Time travel is tricky.

If I was nervous after the first episode, I still am now — but I’m also excited. On the strength of this, there is real potential for this to be one of my new favourite shows. The writing is slick, the acting good, and the whole mood of the show is┬áheavy and foreboding, and when it finishes I already want the next episode.

Just how I like ’em, then.

Closing thoughts:

  • Why is the creepiest kids’ show in the world playing at the mental asylum?
  • Monkey Man could have killed Cole, but he didn’t. Time paradox, presumably, which suggests that he knows who Cole is and what he’s doing.
  • “Jones”, the lead scientist in the future played by Barbara Sukowa, is another brilliant aspect of this show. She has that hardbitten, end-of-the-world feel, and serves as an excellent lynchpin for the series — the one desperate for success in saving the world.
  • There’s a real Fringe feel to 12 Monkeys so far, and it’s not just Mr Acevedo. It nods at interesting tid-bits, as if saying, “Yes, that would be fun to explore, wouldn’t it?”
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