12 Monkeys: acts of mercy change the game in "Primary"

12 Monkeys wastes no time in getting to the meat of the story -- and then eating it all up and finding more. This week's episode ("Primary," S0202) makes last week's premier extravaganza look positively tame, and does it with character building, proper use of time travel, and emotional depth. Spoilers ahead!

Screencap by Splinterboy

This week picks up right where last week left off...sort of. Before the credits, we get Cassie joining the voiceover club with her own pretty grim and fatalistic version of the "where are you right now" speech. Her's is about not belonging, about becoming something you hate and barely recognize, and it goes while there's a montage of her and Deacon going on raids to find the parts Jones needs to repair the Machine over those eight months. When she gets to the end, she's on the rooftop with Cole and Jennifer, shooting all those guys with barely a flinch. Amanda Schull is bringing her A-game on the Cassie-as-heartbreaking-change story! It effectively gives us a glimpse of what it was like for her and where her mind is--she feels desolate, like everything she was is gone, like she's turned into something else and that it's all she has. 

"Not every catterpillar becomes a butterfly" - Cassie

So back on the rooftop, she's all ready to kill Jennifer, and the only reason she doesn't is that she doesn't want to have to shoot through Cole to do it, and he's asking for a minute. He actually turns his back on Cassie and makes a connection with Jennifer and convinces her to give him the vial. It's not easy, but she believes in him more than she believes in this fate that involves killing everyone, and she hands it over. 

Cole and Cassie and Ramse take her to where her plane is, they gather up all the vials, every last one, and Aaron Stanford resurrects Pyro for a minute and lights them all on fire. The vials burn, they boil, and then when they burst, all three of them get sudden nosebleeds and Ramse gets a splitting headache--and in the future, Jones, too, gets a nosebleed. Things go blurry around her. The board, full of info, keeps changing, people appear and disappear, objects move around and disappear.

They did it! Time was changed!

It was a beautiful scene, orchestrated like a dance almost, a perfect visual representation of what it would look like if time changed around you. When it settles, they're still in the lab, still working to stop the Army, but the virus has been pushed back to 2018 before it hits, Cassie had managed to warn them so the CDC handled it a lot better, the quarantine zones didn't collapse so drastically, and so there are a lot more people than there were. Jones has a whole team of scientists--including Lasky! Sweet Lasky who died last season and was barely noticed! His reaction to her news that he'd died was so perfect. "Uh, I prefer this reality".

And Jones has a boyfriend that she doesn't know at all! Barbara Sukowa's comedic timing is spot on every time she looks at him, and he just charmingly rolls with the change and decides to keep trying. He's going to win her back! Time changes around you, your love doesn't even know you, and you're reaction is "I get to do it again"? That's love, you guys!

Meanwhile, Cole still doesn't want to kill Jennifer, and Cassie is all hardline about the Mission, so when Cole isn't immediately on her side, she stabs Ramse viciously with Cole's dose of serum, and Ramse gets dragged back instead. They're going to get info on the Messangers out of him no matter what, and Cole is left alone in the past with Jennifer, who is slowly unhinging, even for her. Jennifer is babbling about "607", which happens to be 2016-Jones's area code, and they go find a hotel where they can regroup. Jennifer wants them to get a primary-number room and insiststs that he's been there before, but Cole only cares about the phone. He calls Jones, tells her to leave a reminder to herself in her journals to come get him, but YoungJones is not having this time-shenanigans, and hangs up on him.

Jennifer, while this is happening, is flipping out. Olivia told her that if she killed everyone, the voices would go away, that there'd be silence, and that she and Cole could be together--which is tragic because she wants it to be true so badly, even though I think she knows it's not. Killing the whole world can't fix her mental issues, and Cole loves Cassie, which she knows. While she's fast-talking at him, she goes from trying to kill him for taking her purpose from her, to trying to kiss him, saying that him and Cassie together will be the end of the world. The kiss doesn't work. She tries to slit her wrist, and Cole bandages her up--and tells her to run. To disappear, to find a new purpose, something good. It's sad that her arc comes down to being the thwarted unrequited one, but it's good that it almost immediately gets out of that and moves somewhere else. That almost-love-triangle undoes itself!

These scenes with Emily Hampshire and Aaron Stanford are some of the best Jennifer scenes yet. Partway through her breakdown over losing her role in everything, the hotel manager gives them the room she wanted him to have, number 607, paid for in perpetuity by who the man thinks must be Cole's grandfather and who we all know is actually Cole-but-not-yet. There's pictures there, and when Jennifer finds one of Cole and Cassie smiling in the 40s, she has to face that he doesn't want her, not like that. But there's definitely something between them; is she misinterpreting it or is it just two broken people resonating with each other? After he doesn't kiss her back, she says "no" like she'd forgotten something, or like she was looking for something and it wasn't where she thought it would be. Maybe he's not the right timeline's Cole to match up with her. But the way he doesn't ever come at her with force is something to behold--she's literally got a jagged piece of glass to his throat at one point, and he doesn't break her arm to get rid of it, like he probably could. He doesn't even push her away. He's gentle with her, when probably no one else ever has been.

So he sends her off, to find her own way in the world, free of Olivia and the Monkeys. 

Jones, in the future, gets kidnapped by a NINJA and taken to the camp where the Daughters are. They tell her they aren't leaving until Jones sends Cassie back to get Cole "on the day you refused to help him", and when they send her to do that, they give her a note. Cassie appears in the hotel room, and hands the note to Cole: an ancient, dirty, messy note from the Emmerson Hotel notepad that just says "I found my purpose". Jennifer owed Cole a debt and now it's repaid. The Daughers look like something out of Mad Max--which, knowing Jennifer, could be intentional--but they're serious about their purpose, whatever that is, and they're deadly and sneaky. The one that talks to Jones says that Cole remembers what everyone else has forgotten, that they're all intertwined, in the past and in the future, and that's why he needs to be saved.

Cole gets back to the future...and right into a cage. Next to Ramse, who has been beat up a lot but seems to not actually know anything about the Messengers, as he claims. He does, however, know about Deacon, and the poor abused kid he was before the apocalypse, and used that knowledge to goad Deacon into a freakout that almost got him killed--though it's hard to say whether that was the point or a side effect of poking that wound.

But now we know that Deacon's first name is Teddy, that he had a brother, that Ramse called the cops that saved his mom from being killed by his dad, that Deacon has some sort of panic issue that Cassie knows how to get him out of, and maybe that Deacon owes Ramse a favor? There's a lot about what we owe people in this season, and it wouldn't be surprising if he pulled that favor at some point.

Cole doesn't stay locked up for long. Jones sends for him, and shows him proof that they were successful, that the world did change: there's music now. Someone not too far away is running a music station, broadcasting a steady stream of old songs. Culture survived. It's hope, she says.

It's also the same song that was playing when Cassie was doing her voice over at the beginning, the one about "come to me, for I'm lonely", and that seems to indicate that all three of them are feeling isolated and need connection. Maybe that everyone, the whole show, needs to find that togetherness that will save them. Jones has her mystery instant-boyfriend, and Cole and Cassie need to find each other. If Jennifer's brainwashing was all lies, that would include the part saying Cole and Cassie together was the end of the world, which, to me, sounds like Cole and Cassie together is the key to stopping the end of the world.

Cole tells Jones he's still with the Mission, though he seems to still have reservations. We knew--though Cassie and Jones didn't--that he'd never given up on the Mission, he just didn't think killing everyone in sight was the way to do it anymore. He learned that lesson last season, when all the killing didn't work. And he says as much to Cassie when they get a moment alone next. Saving someone who was "supposed to die" according to the Plan is what finally changed something. He's done it three times now, Ramse and Cassie, Jennifer, and now millions of people, and that is where the real forward movement on the Mission came from. Cassie's still all "you need to do what needs to be done", but he knows that she's just suffering from trauma. He says he knows she's like this because of him--though she says it was her own choice--and he's still with her, ready when she is. And he gives her the picture of them in the 40s, smiling, obviously working together. 

That gets through to her a little, after he leaves. She's struggling to hold back tears as she looks at this picture that proves, on some level, that it's not always going to be like this, or that, at the least, they have a future side by side. And that's hope, too. Hope she hasn't had much of in almost a year, and it looks like it hurts her, which is tragic. But that means there's still softness that is capable of being hurt, and that Cole can get at it without being too forceful about it, and that's amazing.

And here we are, two episodes into thirteen, and everything has literally changed. Everyone is back in the future, ready to start going after the Messengers, and they know to start looking in 1944, a hundred years before where they are. Jennifer is off finding her mind and setting up the Daughters, and her story is still unfolding. History has literally changed around them, and though it's close to what we know and they remember, who knows what important differences they don't know about? The Hannah-blanket didn't get erased; does that mean that Hannah is still alive somewhere? Cassie threatened a kid's safety (or at least let Ramse think she was), but was that actually Sam? It's a different actor, so did they just recast him or are they pulling a switcheroo, either playing on the fact that Ramse can't remember his face, or on time changing around them? Is he even the kid's dad now? 

Also: Is Deacon still sick? Is that why he was having that freakout on Ramse, because Cassie hasn't managed to treat his illness enough yet and he's compromised? If he is, what does that mean for the team, for their safety, for the West 7, and for the Deacon-Cassie friendship?

So much happenened, but here's the takeaway I have: the rules have changed. Finally. Gloriously.

The Mission is fully back on, with three time travelers now, but the space between the past they started at and the future they're trying to change is now full of altered details that they don't remember, and they'll have to get themselves back up to speed or they'll stumble across them at the most inopportune times. Cole and Cassie are back on the same side, and going to a glamorous party in the 40s next week, where maybe we can get some dancing and remembering? But they're not going to be happy about the team-up for a little while, at least. Ramse is moving in the direction of Team Cole, and Jones has a whole other side plot to navigate! How long has it been since she had a bedmate? How different is she from the one he knew?

Everyone gave 100% this episode, and the interpersonal scenes were amazing--from Jennifer's breakdown, to Cole being so caring, to Ramse and Deacon clashing, to Cassie being so hard in public and so upset in private, to Jones having no idea what to do with a boyfriend. 12 Monkeys grabs hold of your heart and drags it on a rollercoaster without feeling manipulative, and that gentle touch is something special in television. May they have five seasons to tell the whole story!

More thoughts on 12 Monkeys 2.2 "Primary": 

  • It was Cassie who took out Ramse last week! Mostly just to slow him down, I guess, since that wound up not being a thing.
  • It's unfair how good AS looks with a lighter and a determined face.
  • If nosebleeds mean time is changing, maybe all those nosebleeds Cole was getting last season weren't because of Splinter Sickness; maybe he's been successful all along, and they just didn't realize it.
  • Time Traveler Tense: "Cassie had managed to warn them so the CDC handled it a lot better" should be "Cassie had-will have" since she's in the records, but she hasn't done that yet.
  • I need a full transcription of all the things Jennifer whispers and jabbers about, and all the things the whispers in her mind are saying. She's got something important going on in her head, more than just the brainwashing.
  • Cole knows now that Jennifer has some connection to time, but maybe it all happens at once? Her tenses are off: "you've been here before" when, in his life, he hasn't yet.
  • Still hoping that something hinky is up with Sam. He's a prop so far, something to justify everything Ramse has been doing, but this kid is old enough to have a life of his own, and his own opinions about the whole thing, and his whole history has literally shifted. Who is he now?
  • Also, Deacon was shifted with the time-change too; is his brother alive? How has his perception of how he helpd Cassie different from hers now?
  • Still can't get over how happy I am that Lasky is back. He was the most personable of all the scientists, and he died last season just when Jones was getting extreme and could have used someone personable on her team to talk to. Also, he's sweet and understands that their job is super-cool.
  • My favorite thing ever is when things happen out of order for time travelers, and that's exactly what happened this ep with room 607. It's using time-travel story-dynamics for all they're worth, and that's what makes 12 Monkeys different from just some show where there's time travel, but it's just a gimmick. Here, it's intrinsic to the plot!
  • Room 607 is gorgeous. I hope it doesn't get blown up at the end of the season like Cassie's bookshop was last year. (But let's be honest, it probably will be. I've seen Nikita, where they all worked before, and how they treated all their awesome houses there!)
  • Before, when there were less people left alive, we had Scavs, we had the Facility, the Daughters, Spearhead, and apparently whatever community the Messengers came from. Who's out there now? Now that less people died in the plague, are there towns out there? Farms? Groups trying to preserve history and culture for when they can rebuild? Other people worse than Scavs? Other scientific groups? I really hope we find out!
  • How does everyone in this cast manage to cram so much emotional complexity into teeny tiny slivers of close-ups? The Casting people really knew what they were doing when casting this show!
  • You can watch 12 Monkeys 2.2 "Primary" on the Syfy website, on Hulu, or On Demand! Watch it live and tweet with us so your viewership helps ratings!

    By Samantha Holloway

    About the author

    Samantha is a freelance writer, editor and book and TV reviewer. She's currently in gradschool and working on her first novel, and one day she'll rule to world. Or marry her TV. Whichever comes first. Follow! twitter.com/pirategirljack.

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