04 “Atari” (12 Monkeys season 1) [SPOILERS]


12 monkeys

If you asked me to summarise 12 Monkeys in two words, I’d probably ask you why, and who you are anyway?

If you held a gun to my head, I’d probably go with “unexpectedly good”. Which, I think is fair. Could you put the gun down now? Cheers.

So 12 Monkeys has taken a rather dark view of the source material in terms of the mood and atmosphere of the whole production. One thing which they have started to do, which the film left alone, is explore the future world. I suppose it’s an inevitability for a TV show.

Whether it will prove too many plates to spin remains to be seen, but there’s no problem with an action packed start.

After the past-based excitement of last week, this week we’re in the future. Whilst Cassie uses the CDC’s resources to try and track down the mobile Night Room in the past, Cole in the future deals with an attack by West Seven, their old crew, on the bunker.

I was expecting the payoff from last week’s cliffhanger to drag on a little longer, but apparently 12 Monkeys is in a hurry. Deacon, the guy who we saw menacingly sharpening a knife, leads his band of scavengers in an attack on the bunker, making distressingly short work of the defenders. They force Cole and Jones back to the time machine, where in a last ditch effort to save the project Jones tries to send him back to 2015.

Except he wakes up back in 2043, only a few hours before the attack, and is immediately captured by West 7. Deacon, and Cole’s ex-lover Max, torture him for information on the bunker, which Cole unwittingly gives up — thus enabling their blitzkrieg attack in the first place. Max’s change of heart allows Cole to go after West 7.

And there is where it gets interesting. In the first time around, we heard — rather than saw — Ramse die in the core room. We saw him cornered, and heard the shots over Cole’s radio. Except, in the second loop, the shots are Cole coming to his rescue. Deacon escapes, but the bunker is saved, for now.

From the start of this episode I was expecting a groundhog day episode. This was something more complicated. The episode shows a fixed, closed loop. So far in the series, the only changing of history that we’ve seen is a scratch on a watch. Jones has said that time is fragile, but maybe she’s wrong. What if time can’t be rewritten, and Cole’s whole mission is futile?

Which, for anyone who has seen the film, is more or less what we expected from the start.

The other main strand of the story is flashbacks to 2032 and 2035, when Ramse and Cole first encounter West 7, and teamed up with them. The psychotic leader of the group, Deacon‘s attitude basically boils down the “immune” shall inherit the earth from the “survivors”. Cole fits in disturbingly well with the murdering, me-first philosophy. It’s Ramse whose moral compass points elsewhere, and when Deacon orders Cole to kill his friend, they both decide to leave.

It layers up some character history behind the main pair, gives some background to Deacon as the enemy in the future, and gives us a glimpse of the ruins of the future. It also nods towards a coming love triangle between Cole, Cassandra and Max, which I’m less enthusiastic about.

We’ll be back in the future next week, since this episode ends with Cassandra announcing that she’s found the Night Room, but what we have now is a coherent world, with questions being built into the very fabric of the show. Deacon’s utilitarian, survivalist philosophy may be on the money. But the likes of Jones and Ramse want not just to survive, but something worth surviving for. Cole, of course, is trapped in the middle.

  • “You got all this from the CDC?” Yeah, they’re surprisingly bad at this whole security thing.
  • That time machine takes a surprising number of bullets and still works. I look at my laptop the wrong way and I get an error message.
  • I’m not entirely clear what the difference between the immune and the survivors is, in practical terms. It sounds, from Deacon’s conversation, like the immune are kept in quarantine, perhaps because they are carriers of whatever virus ends the world?
  • “The years haven’t change you a bit,” Deacon says, when seeing Cole for the first time in 2043. Which raises an interesting point: has Cole’s time hopping meant that he has (objectively) spent less time in the future, and aged less? Does that make sense?
  • I like that Cole, and even Ramse, aren’t fully moralistic idealists. The future is a grim world, and even the good guys have to get dirty to get by.
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