Monday, April 18, 2016

REVIEW: '12 Monkeys' - The Roles are Reversed as Cole and Cassie Face New and Old Threats in 'Year of the Monkey'

Syfy's 12 Monkeys - Episode 2.01 "Year of the Monkey"

While on the run from the Army of the 12 Monkeys, Cole and Ramse repair their broken friendship. Meanwhile in 2043, Railly and Jones navigate an uncertain future as Deacon and the Twelve control the Temporal Facility.

It has been a year since 12 Monkeys aired its first season finale. This is a show with a rather dense mythology complicated by time travel mechanics. So, it's much appreciated that "Year of the Monkey" opens with a narration of every important thing that happened at the conclusion of the first season. That narration is provided by Madeleine Stowe - who starred in the movie the series is based on and will also play a new character later this season. The first season was good but not great. It got lost in itself a capable of times by needlessly complicating things. The finale was a very thrilling experience that set up an interesting premise for the second season. And now, the show is finally back to fulfill that promise with a premiere that is very exciting and tense. It signals that massive changes are coming to the show this season that should be very interesting to watch.

"Year of the Monkey" works so well because of the role reversal between Cole and Cassie. At the start of the series, Cole was the rogue time traveler committed to the mission above all else. He was solely focused on saving the future from this devastating virus and wasn't going to let anything get in his way of stopping it. His relationship with Cassie forced him to see the humanity of the situation. He opened himself up to her in a way that he couldn't in the time he comes from. And now, he's the one stuck in 2016 reaching out to people's free will in order to prevent this virus from being unleashed into the world. He has changed fate in a way that the Witness couldn't predict. He has truly altered the plan for this apocalypse. That's an importance thrusted on him throughout this premiere that really works well. He's a man on the run with Ramse. They are trading notes on Olivia and the Army of the 12 Monkeys in order to get some sense of what's happening with the virus as the day it's released is quickly approaching.

Meanwhile, in 2043, Cassie's life has been successfully saved by Jones. And now, she's the one looking at the past with purpose and a sense of urgency. She's aware of just how deep this mystery and time travel really go. The Messengers have taken over the Temporal Factory in order to send themselves into the past for nefarious purposes. Cassie sees firsthand just how ruthless they can be in order to preserve this mission. She has to embrace that quality as well in order to survive in this world. Life in 2043 is drastically different than the world she left behind in 2016. She's still holding onto her beliefs as a doctor. But she also needs to do whatever it takes in order to ensure her own survival. She essentially becomes the cold-blooded killer that Cole was at the start of the series. It's a fascinating character transition that largely happens off screen. The majority of this premiere focuses on her first few days in 2043 with Jones and Deacon. But she then pops up again in 2016 when Cole really needs it as a changed woman.

And that final showdown between Cole and Cassie is filled with so much fraught tension. It's a dynamic that works really well. Neither one of them knew if they would ever see each other again. Cole didn't know if Cassie survived the trip through the time machine. He didn't know if she made it back to Jones who was able to save her from the bullet wound. Nor did Cassie know if Cole was still fighting for the cause in 2016. During the eight months she spends in 2043, she's the one who takes over the reins of this mission. She's the one who travels through time in order to prevent this apocalypse. The stakes have become even more clear for her. It has become much more cut and dry in her mind. So, when Cassie makes her return to 2016 and kills a couple men from the Army of the 12 Monkeys, she does it with no hesitation. She wants to do the same thing to Jennifer. And yet, Cole won't let her do that because he still feels like he can reach out to Jennifer and get her to change her mind.

Jennifer has always been a very interesting key player throughout this show. She has been deeply connected to the mythology that leads to the destruction of the world. And yet, she's still just a crazy figure talking out of her head a lot of the time. Throughout this premiere, she's agonizing over what to do with the virus. She has a ton of it. So, killing her wouldn't ensure that it wouldn't make it's way out into the world somehow. When Cole tries to stop her at the Chinese New Year celebration, she only has one vile of the virus. That's all it takes to destroy the world. It's a very difficult decision for Jennifer though. She's being told by the Army that this is her big purpose in life. This is what she is destined to do and will be rewarded accordingly. And yet, that action will be the one thing that destroys the world. She has come to believe that someone killing her is the only way to ensure that she doesn't release the virus. She's thrilled when Cole and Cassie show up to do just that. And yet, their presence is messing with the timeline that the Witness has seen. So, everyone is playing with a reality where anything can happen.

But again, "Year of the Monkey" also shows the long reaching actions of the Army of the 12 Monkeys. They raised the Messengers with purpose and ensured they would survive until the Time Machine was built by Jones so that they can spread the Army's mission throughout all of time. Cassie and Deacon are able to stop that mission before it is completed. There are a number of Messengers who aren't able to reach their predestined timelines. And yet, a few of them still made that journey. So stopping the virus in 2016 may not be the sole focus Cole and Cassie will need to deal with this season. The Army of the 12 Monkeys has been working on this mission for a long time. The two may need to go back further in order to stop everything that they've put into motion. But first, they will need to mend fences and work together. Something that seems a lot more complicated by the episode concluding showdown here.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Year of the Monkey" was written by Terry Matalas & Travis Fickett and directed by David Grossman.
  • It took Cole and Ramse three months on the run from the Army of the 12 Monkeys to realize that the Army had implanted a tracker in Ramse. And yet, why would they do that if they believed he was destined to die during the confrontation with Cole in the Season 1 finale?
  • The tracker largely serves as a way for Cole and Ramse to learn about Jennifer and the virus. They get that information by tracking down Dr. Kalman, a former associate of Ramse's, who is able to remove the tracker. He then tried to kill both of them in order to ensure his safety from the virus. But that didn't go according to plan because Cole is still somewhat smart.
  • Deacon was pretty much a one-note antagonist figure during the first season. A way to keep things tense in 2043 while not being directly connected to the deep mythology of the Army. But here, he is humanized a little bit with the reveal that he has a disease that only medicine from 2016 can treat. That's what motivates him to help Cassie and Jones take back control of the Factory.
  • Oh, Marcus Whitley is still alive and able to assist at the Temporal Factory. Deacon's men find him and Deacon generously decides not to kill him because of the knowledge he has of the facility.
  • That opening showdown between Ramse and Olivia was pretty great too. His continued presence threatens everything the Army has worked so hard for. Despite everything, he still manages to survive.
  • Cole and Ramse's brotherhood is starting to mend as well due to their time hiding under ground together. They still have different ideologies about the release of the virus. But they are working together again. Plus, all of Cole's old man jokes are pretty amusing.