So someone has been working very hard adapting one of my favourite films, into one of my favourite TV shows. Well, perhaps not yet. But it’s well on its way.
I really was prepared to hate this show. Terry Gilliam is, basically, a genius, and replicating what he achieved on the big screen — not just the story, but the mood — is no easy ask. What the first two episodes of the TV adaptation have shown is a raw world with a glossy sheen — and a more protracted story spread over the episodic format.
This is only two episodes in though, and there’s many a series which has gone downhill rapidly after a strong start.
12 Monkeys has topicality on its side, but at a time when Ebola is still marching across Africa that might be as much a hindrance as a help. People get squeamish when reality intrudes too far into their escapism.
After losing Goines to Monkey Man last week, Cole and Cassandra follow up the “one got away” lead. Discovering that one of the scientists escaped the massacre at Goines Sr’s lab, and that it was a doctor who Cassandra worked with fighting an epidemic in Haiti in 2014 — and who died out there — Cole heads back to talk to him.
One of the biggest things I like about this episode, is that it shows a propensity to fill in the gaps of previous episodes. That’s a small thing, yes, but it shows attention to a solid, cohesive narative. Firstly, we get to see exactly what Dr Railly spent the two years between her first and second meetings with Cole doing. Going slowly crazy, and seeing the end of the world in every vital outbreak.
When Cole reaches Haiti, Cassandra is fighting an unknown outbreak in Haiti, alongside the very man Cole is looking for. He has to dodge around to avoid her seeing him — timey-wimey stuff — and at the same time get close enough to the doctor, Henri, to find out where the Night Room is.
Henri escaped the massacre, and takes some convincing that Cole isn’t with the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, but doesn’t know here the lab is, since it moves around. But he does know that they were building a mobile lab, just before the attack where his colleagues were slaughtered.
The other section filled in, is Monkey Man’s knowing Cole last episode. He shows up in Haiti, and Cole gives him the scar on his face. Cole and Henri of them elude the Twelve Monkeys, but Cole realises that they will catch up with Henri eventually. So, of course, Cole is the one to kill him.
Cassandra, in 2014, loses control as she becomes more and more convinced that she is witnessing the start of the virus Cole told her about, eventually losing her job at the Centre for Disease Control when she calls for strict and severe quarantine measures.
Back in 2015, when Cole returns from his hop back in time, he has a little more understanding of what she went through. And, of course, he lies about having to kill Henri, which after everything feels like a piece of mercy. She decides to go back to the CDC, in order to look for the mobile lab Henri described.
In 2043, unexpectedly, we get a little more exposition of the world after the end. Ramse heads out on patrol with a future soldier, and we get to see a bit of the sociological divide. The soldier was born inside Jones’ facility, and feels inherently superior to the surface-born Cole and Ramse. We also see a glimpse of the world that the pair of them fled, an army of what looks an awful lot like savages, coming for the facility and for Cole and Ramse.
It’s the 2043 part which surprises me most. It’s ground which was never explored in the film, where it wasn’t really relevant. But here it adds another note to the story, another threat, more to be explored. Not to mention another villain who seems out for Cole. So, potentially, we have a developing tension between him (Whoever he is -Ed) in the future, and Monkey Man (Whoever he is -Ed) in the past.
And rather than shying away from the fact that Cole has to do awful things to further his mission, the story directly engages with it, and with the consequences thereof. The character naratives are growing more complex with every strand, weaved from future to past and back again, that is added. Keeping track of all these threads is going to be a difficult trick for the writers to pull off, but I am delighted that they are bold enough to try it.
- So Monkey Man seems freakishly strong. Cole grew up in the post-apocalyptic wilderness, so of course is tough, so what’s Monkey Man’s excuse?
- Solar flares interfere with the time machine. I know that that’s a bit of a cliché, but as I said last week, fleshing out how this machine works is an important step in making this series feel believable. Limitations are important.
- The council of scientists in the future is another area which could do with some shading. So far it’s Jones plus extras. Faceless bureaucrats are all well and good, but for longevity, the show could stand to make us care about its politics.
- Cassandra was wrong about the virus, yes, but her quarantine policy sounded pretty sound to me.
- I’m sure the Haitian tourism board were absolutely delighted with this little advert for their island paradise…