I’ve always loved time travel stories.
The a-grade, for me, is still the Gordian knot of Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies”, which demonstrates just how confusingly complex a closed temporal loop can be. Being able to twist backwards and forwards in time gives the story extra room to manoeuvre, and adds different layers and dimensions.
The original film 12 Monkeys was a closed loop idea too, and remains one of my favourite SF films. The fear that this TV adaptation wouldn’t live up to its source material didn’t really outlive the first two episodes — what SyFy have produced is a dark, witty, exciting and smart SF series. They’ve toned down the Terry Gilliam wackiness, but added a layer of grit and harsh realism which befits the company which gave us RDM’s Battlestar Galactica.
As I’ve said a number of times, being a good, solid adaptation is no guarantee of success. Constantine has arguably done that better, and at time of press it’s still in renewal limbo (No pun intended, I hope -Ed). What 12 Monkeys needs is to prove longevity in its story, and that it has the staying power to last however many seasons.
At the end of the last episode, Cassandra announced that she had found the Night Room, so guess where we’re off to this week. In the future, everyone’s awfully excited, because if Cole manages to destroy the virus before it is unleashed then everything will have changed. When Cole and Cassie get there, though, the Twelve Monkeys have beaten them to it. And in the future, Ramse investigates Jones’ past a little more.
We were due a Jennifer Goines episode, I suppose, which is nice given that she’s only really featured in one so far. And, to be honest, she was a crazy delight. The Twelve Monkeys have, apparently, not broken her yet, even though they’ve found the Night Room, and they need her to get at the source of the virus.
Which is a piece of a corpse several hundreds of years old, according to the Pallid Man. I’m putting this out there now: the corpse is a time traveller sent back from 2043 (ish). Possibly even Cole. Closed time loop, baby.
But Cassie and Cole find themselves captured by the Pallid Man and his goons, whilst Goines is sort of bullied into letting the Twelve Monkeys into the vault. She resists, even managing to alert Markridge of the attempted theft, but lets slip that she’d only open it for Cole. So of course the bad guys run away, at which point Cole persuades Goines to let him at the virus sample, and the Pallid Man shows up again. It’s sort of predictable, but I suppose Cole just desperately wants to destroy the virus and it be over with.
Which he actually does. He and Cassie activate the failsafe, and incinerate the sample. Which is pretty neat. The Twelve Monkeys, in response, kidnap Cassie before Cole can rescue her.
Back in the future, we’re focusing more on Jones, the strange German lady who likes to send people back in time. She doesn’t seem especially bothered at the risk of using the machine, damaged by the West 7 attack in the previous episode; even though Ramse correctly points out that, since it’s a time machine, there’s no real hurry. The past isn’t going anywhere. But apparently the core is degrading, or whatever, which doesn’t make much sense with the “yet” part of not being able to send Cole back to 1987.
After Max tells him about Deacon’s stories of a German lady who turned people inside out, Ramse does some snooping, and uncovers some conveniently on-show photos of Jones’ early experiments with the time machine. Which has some nasty effects on the test subjects — subjects who are now “lost in time”. Just how many “Coles” have there been?
The whole theme of the episode is what nasty things Cole has been doing for the greater good, and where it actually gets him. When the Pallid Man tells Cassie that Cole killed her doctor friend Henri, she’s horrified. Conversely, when he tells Goines that he killed her father, she’s delighted. And in destroying the sample of the virus, Cole allows the Twelve Monkeys to kidnap Cassie.
But the best bit, far and away the part which blows the mind, is the close. As the Twelve Monkeys drive away with Dr Railly in the back of a van, Cole splinters away leaving a confused and unstable Goines on her own…
…and he emerges from a ruined time machine room, into a bunker crowded with some very dishevelled folks who don’t pay him any heed; and the Roman numerals VII painted on the wall.
So despite what previous episodes have suggested, it looks like Cole can change the future. Except, in whatever future he has created, West 7 still exist — which means that civilisation still collapsed — and have overrun the bunker. Some time ago, by the look of things. And Cole can still remember the old timeline.
This doesn’t make any sense at all, yet. But it’s such a brilliant game-changing move that I’m willing to give it a chance. So far that seems to be the niche that 12 Monkeys is carving out for itself; a willingness to embrace the full mind-bending insanity of its concept. It’s an attitude I have a lot of time for, and already it is making fantastically compulsive TV. I know I keep pouring out praise for this show, but I am genuinely impressed with what it has done and what it is trying to do.
Brave and brilliant is a rare combination in TV; when it arises it should be eagerly welcomed, savoured and enjoyed.
- Did you notice Cole’s reaction when he got close to the skeleton? It was very similar to his reaction last week, when he got too close to an earlier version of himself… More evidence that he was/is the source of the virus.
- And the Pallid Man isn’t the leader of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. He answers to someone called The Witness. Does nobody have an actual goddamnned name any more?
- Jones was married “just for a few days”. I wonder what could have cut it short? A certain…apocalypse?
- I suppose Cole could have splintered back to a time further in the future, and we’re just seeing that West 7 eventually do overrun the facility. Whether that’s any better or not, since it takes away the idea that Cole can change anything, I have no idea…
- I have a feeling that working out the eventually-complete plot of 12 Monkeys will need flow charts to get my head around.