How do you turn an existentially comfortless movie about a futile journey from a post-apocalyptic future into the present day into an ongoing TV series? One way is to make the time travel less futile. But another is to create a really scary villain — and with its second episode, 12 Monkeys stars doing just that.
Spoilers are here!
So as we mentioned last week, the Army of the Twelve Monkeys is basically a giant red herring in the Terry Gilliam movie (and I don't believe they even show up in La Jetee, the original film, at all.) But in the television version, they're apparently the actual villains, who cause the plague apocalypse that turns the world of 2043 into a soul-killing hellhole.
In a nutshell, biotech CEO Leland Goines was developing a nasty virus, which he kept in a secret lab called the Night Room. And 700-odd days ago, the Army of the 12 Monkeys busted up a lab where Goines' daughter Jennifer and some other scientists were working on nastiness, and killed almost everyone to find out the secrets of the Night Room. Jennifer survived, but she was blamed for the lab massacre and now she's in a mental institution.
Jennifer, of course, is a version of the character played by Brad Pitt in the movie, and she's superficially the same — manic, edgy, knife-waving — but has a bit more vulnerability. And an instant sexual dynamic with Cole, the time traveler from 2043, who's gotten himself admitted to the J.D. Peoples Mental Institution to find her.
Jennifer's madness is partly a result of having that creepy guy from Heroes and countless other shows as her father. "The voices" started when she was 13 years old (right when she got breasts) and she was medicated for her delusions successfully until the massacre — but now, she's traumatized, and half convinced that she really did kill her labmates.
The Army of the Twelve Monkeys get their own creepy guy as their leader, and he's apparently met Cole before (getting a nasty scrape on his face) but this hasn't happened for Cole yet. And in a particularly horrid touch, when they kill people, they leave lavender and jasmine petals behind in their bloody corpses. (As we discover when they off Jeffrey, the intelligence analyst who was helping Cassandra Railly.) And they're paying off Jennifer Goines' doctor to find out what she knows about the Night Room.
Once Cole makes contact with Jennifer in the mental institution, he strikes out at finding out what she knows at first — and by the time she starts sharing some useful intel, the Twelve Monkeys have shown up. Cole tries to take them on, but they end up taking Jennifer as their captive, and giving her some really good drugs.
But first, Cole finds out that another doctor from that secret lab "got away" during the massacre — so that's another lead he can follow up.
The mythos is slowly deepening, but not in that "drop lots of cryptic nonsense hints" way that television shows often do, when they want to signal "we're going down the rabbit hole" but don't actually have any idea where the rabbit hole leads yet. We're learning more about where the virus was apparently created, and who apparently stole it and disseminated it in 2017 — and the addition of another doctor who knows where to find the virus seems like a good complication.
The other big development in this episode is that Cassandra Railly takes a major step towards being a full partner in Cole's quest to stop the plague. He tries to shut her out, because Dr. Jones is worried that if he interacts too much with Railly, he'll corrupt her timeline and she'll never leave the message that causes him to go back in time in the first place. But Railly says she doesn't give a shit about paradoxes.
So Railly tracks down Cole in the mental institution, and gets him out of there just in the nick of time before everything is about to go sideways. And after that, he agrees that she's going to work with him on this investigation, from her on out — even though Dr. Jones, back in the future, throws a fit over their continued entanglement.
The reason why Railly is able to track down Cole is because he accidentally washes up in North Korea in 2006, and gets captured by the North Koreans briefly, before getting "slingshot" to 2015. I really, really hope there's some other fallout from that incident than just the lucky "Railly happens to find out about that incident at exactly the right moment to point her in the right direction" contrivance — like, wouldn't the Koreans be kind of paranoid about an American showing up and then vanishing like that? They got it on video, so they know it really happened.
Cassie gets access to the North Korean surveillance video screencaps because of Aaron, her ex, who's starting to believe that there's something more going on here. At her suggestion, she checks into the fact that she and Cole were never arrested after the cops dragged them away from that fancy party, and that's enough for him to glimpse that there's some kind of conspiracy at work — but he still thinks Cole is a dangerous crazy person. Which, fair enough. The main thing is, maybe we're getting some of the Nikita team back together.
And we get a bit more of the future this time around, too — we spend time with Kirk Acevedo's character, Ramse, who's an old friend of Cole's but still doesn't like Cole's recklessness. And Ramse keeps warning Cole against "going native" in the past, while also encouraging him to get laid and asking questions about Cassandra Railly. For his part, Cole offers to go have sex with Ramse's mom, back in 2015. Oh, and we learn that Cole is considered essential personnel in this future science-base, but Ramse is not.
For her part, Dr. Jones is having a power struggle with Cole — she can send him back in time, but she can't get him to follow her fricken orders. Cole keeps pointing out that it was just supposed to be one mission: Kill Goines, change the future, and erase himself. Now it's turning into a whole complicated series of forays into the past.
All of Jones' concerns about what happens if you screw around with time the wrong way are just abstractions to him. And in a fascinating scene, she suggests there's also a generational divide at work — he was a child when the plague hit, while she was an adult. She remembers everyone who died, and wants to save them all — whereas Cole only remembers what he had to do to survive, and the only person Cole really wants to save is himself.