12 Monkeys returns with a blast in "Year of the Monkey"

It's been a very long wait. 12 Monkeys premiered in January of last year, and it seemed like it would do the same this year, but Syfy Channel noticed that it was amazing and put it in a better (see: more crowded -- I skipped Lucifer to watch the premiere live!) slot in a stronger month for TV, so we waited another four months for "Year of the Monkey" (S0201)! But it's back and it's so good to have these time-crossed tragic heroes on our screen again! Spoilers ahead!

Season 2!

At the end of last season, Ramse was shot by Cassie, Cassie was shot by Ramse's body guard, both bodygaurds were dead, and Cole was, uncharacteristically, the only one without a scratch. He sent Cassie to the only doctor he knew and could get her to quickly--Jones, in the future. He went back and saved Ramse himself, while the narration said that the Witness has forseen that he would disappear and never be seen again and Ramse would die. Take that, predestination!

Season two picks up with a beautiful recap set up with "Let me tell you a story about how the world ends" and presented as a love story that gives all us shippers hope--and also manages to pretty effectively sum up the main details you need to jump right in, so if you're a new viewer, this episode is a good place to pick it up!

Ramse is running from the Army as "Time Is On Our Side" plays, and it makes me wonder if that's a sarcastic choice or a secret clue? He gets cornered on a bridge and Olivia comes out of a fancy car, but he and Cole had set the whole thing up to take her out: Cole gets behind the encircling cars and blows them up, then makes a really great hero's enterance through the smoke and fire, and dang he's pretty doing it. There's a fantastic moment where Olivia thinks they're back on the same side and they very effectively shoot that down with "Nah. We just both don't like you." But Olivia is still another step ahead of them--before they can shoot her, more baddies show up and they're forced to jump off the bridge to get away.

It's a great opening scene, already more cinematic and bigger than the last season, but maintaining the human connection to the characters and their states of mind that made the first season so much better and more involving than just a bunch of people traveling through time. It's a big, twisty story; we need that clear contact with who these people are to stay involved.

The boys get back to their pretty awesome looking abandoned-building lair. Cole is joking about how Ramse is an old man now, and Ramse doesn't like it, proving that he IS an old man. But then things get real. Ramse is still mad that Cole won't think of his son when he's trying to save the world, so they decide to go their separate ways as soon as they shake the Army. It's been three months and they keep getting caught at every turn--

Except in Berlin, where they never went above ground. 

With that relization, they know that Ramse has a tracker somewhere in him, and they know the next mission is to find a doctor who will take it out, here, where the thing can't give them away. Luckily, Ramse knows a guy. Cole goes to find him in the prettiest library ever on TV, and convinces him that Ramse helped him once, and we owe something to those who make us better. Kalman agrees to help, and he's all chummy and chatty until Cole and his gun leave the room, then he's creepy and cowardly--he made a deal with the Army: Ramse for his freedom. He'd never gotten out after all. So he paralyzes Ramse while he's removing the tracker, then tries to go after Cole, which was his last big mistake. 

Cole: "You didn't become anything better."

Kalman: "But I wanted to. I wanted to."

Cole: "So did I."

And then he takes him out. And runs to be sure that Ramse is okay, because even disagreeing on almost everything right now, they're still brothers. It's sad that our Downton Abbey guest star didn't last very long, but he was really good as the cowardly doctor, and if we get any flashbacks to Ramse's time with the Monkeys, maybe he'll come back!

But Kalman also blabbed to Ramse where the virus would be let off and who would do it, and Ramse didn't keep that secret very long. They'd agreed to go separate ways, but when they're about to do it, he tells Cole he knows where they need to go, and that Cole isn't going to die on his watch. Which means they're still partners in this. They head to New York, during the Year of the Monkey Chinese New Years celebration to find Jennifer.

It's fantastic that Ramse chose Cole, who he's known almost all his life, over his son, who he barely met and soon abandoned in the name of protecting him. It's true that Sam isn't going to exist if they change the future, but it's also true that he's always taken care of Cole, and even after a whole second life thinking he'd killed him and working against him, they haven't lost that bond. This is his chance to get the life he had back--the one by Cole's side. And with only 13 episodes in a season, there's not really a lot of time for waffling and separating, so it's good that he made that choice quickly and acted on it, too.

Meanwhile, Cassie lands in the future, has crazy fever dreams that intersperse her last day with Cole (and the extremely-sweet waking-up-and-smiling scene) as well as her last moments in 2015, with creepy shots of the Red Forest and the Witness, making me think that maybe he is inside her head. Last season, when she was taken, she was obviously traumatized but we didn't really know what they'd done to her--except that she never wanted to kill people unless she'd just looked at red leaves. Like she did right before she shot Ramse and got shot.

Anyway, she wakes up in 2043 with Jones watching over her. She's been out for four days, and the time-travel shot seems to have done it's magic, because she's sore and looks pretty bad, but she's not unable to walk or anything. Jones knows that the Messengers are up to something, so she gives herself the shot, too, so that "time moves around me" and she can hopefully get a handle on what they're doing. And then Deacon comes in and wins me over in mere moments. He was a convenient villain in the first season, but he easily slides into a more useful and complex role here.

He reacts to Cassie as if he's a fanboy meeting his favorite actor, but it doesn't stop him from taking Jones to the Machine and handing her over to the Messengers. They want her to work the machine while they send their dudes through, to locations and times they're not telling her because they have their own nerd to enter the coordinates. She does--sort of. Jones is scary when she's not on your side, and they find that out right quick. The first guy gets torn to shreds because she only splintered part of him and then locked the others out. It looked like most of his upper body went; is he the Origin? It would actually be pretty great if he were, because no one seems to be looking at the Origin in this bigger picture, and it would be sneaky to have this sideways creation of it. Also, it means it isn't Cole, which worries me.

The Messangers threaten Jones and hit her, which seems especially mean since she's not young and resilient, but she won't unlock the Machine, so they drag Cassie out and threaten her. Jones says they can't kill her because she hasn't yet left the message that makes all of this possible, but the leader is adamant that that doesn't matter--whatever is meant to happen will happen, no matter what. "If Causality is your religion, show some faith in it". That's a juicy nugget to chew on, isn't it? Does that imply that this is a cult? That it actually is his religion? Is his understanding better or worse because of it? Does he really know what he's talking about, or is it all a pile of claptrap fed to him his whole life so that he'd do this?

Also, did the Witness forsee what would happen to that first guy?

Deacon tries to get the guy off Cassie, and gets threatened himself, and just before the Messanger slits Cassie's throat, the nerd gets the Machine unlocked and is so pleased with himself and no one cares. I care, nerd-dude! They go back to sending people through and send Cassie away. Cassie, though, is smart and adaptable. She notices that Deacon is sick and that it's getting worse, and she knows how to cure him--in her time. He doesn't go for it--but it doesn't take him long to come back to her with a plan. All she has to do is stab a guy in the neck, which she does, and it horrifies her--but it's her or them and she has a job to do.

She and Deacon let in the West 7, and find that they have Whitley with them. Instead of killing them, they give him a gun and recruit him into saving the facility. The only thing they can do is blow up the Machine, so that's what they do--but six people have already gone through. Cassie manages to warn Jones just before it blows, so she survives while everyone else gets toasted. She says it'll take months, but she can repair it and and then the mission continues!

I may have cheered.

Cut back to 2016. Cole finds Jennifer and corners her on a rooftop of what looks like a parking structure. She's got the virus, and she doesn't want to drop it but she feels like she has to--and she's so happy that it's Cole that's going to stop her, her favorite person in the world. But Cole isn't a stone cold killer anymore, and he can't shoot her even though she tells him to, and tries to reason with her. Before they get anywhere, though, the Army catches up to them--the men Olivia sent to find Jennifer and make her do it, because she's taking too long. They seem baffled that anyone can "defy fate" and call Cole a "deviation", and then someone busts through the door and kills everyone but Cole and Jennifer.

It's Cassie! She's been in the future for eight months (to Cole and Ramse's three months in 2016) and she's a sharpshooter now--she's the stone-cold killer! They're happy to see each other for about three seconds before she realizes that Cole is trying to protect Jennifer. They found a police report of a crazy woman with a virus wandering around the city and realized it's her, and now Cassie is where Cole was in the pilot, thinking killing one person will fix it all, even though if they shoot her, she'll drop it anyway, so no, bad plan. It's a bit surprising that that would be the plan anyway, though, since every time they think they can kill one person, it never works out that way. Cole and her get into a fierce faceoff, where he gives her the same speech about having a choice that he'd just given Jennifer, and that's where the episode leaves us! What a cliffhanger! What a hook for the next episode!

12 Monkeys knows how to tug at the heart without getting sappy--watching Cassie's horror as she kills a guy with her own hands, then seeing how comfortable she is with killing later is heartbreaking. Seeing that glimmer of reunion-happiness get snuffed the second Cole proves to be in a different place than she is again is almost as heartbreaking, too. Especially after Cole spent the first whole act being soft and gentle and sweet when talking about her, which he did a lot, and talking about being better, only to find that she had now become as much a killer and a scav as he was when all this started. Last season, he warned her not to be like him, and here she is, like him, and it's his fault for sending her there. There's going to be so much to work out between them, but the fact that they keep calling the show a love story in amongst all the other stuff makes me have hope that they'll handle it well.

But who was it who knocked out Ramse while Cole was handling Jennifer? Is that other girl ranting about Monkeys associated with Jennifer and the Daughters she's a part of in the future, or is she incidental? How mad is Olivia going to be this time, when she finds out that Cole has again defied fate (even though this time "fate" consisted of her sending goons to clean up the mess he represents)? It was amazing seeing her perfect cool calmness starting to crack, and hopefully that'll continue as the season goes on! What did she do to Jennifer to make her think she has no choice? Her goons said that it has to be her, that it's the reason she was born, but why? How? 

So far, if this episode sets the tone for the season, we're looking at bigger and bolder, as they've been saying in every interview during the long wait till this premier, but they've still got the smart touch and the delicacy to keep it feeling real. As long as we're grounded in the characters and why they're doing what they're doing, we can accept all sorts of time-travel crazy--and I, for one, am looking forward to it. For some shows, this might be too ambitious; 12 Monkeys has already proven they can handle ambitious and still make it make perfect sense, and so let's go! Let's see what they've got and where they're taking this story! Is it next Monday yet?

More notes on "Year of the Monkey":

  • I hope time actually is on their side, because the Army is so sure they've got it locked down that it would be super satisfying to see they don't.
  • Themes of this ep: "We owe something to people who make us better" and "You have a choice". If they turn into season-long themes, it's gonna be so good.
  • Am I the only one who immediately throught about Division from Nikita when they brought up trackers? I mean, Markeridge, funded by the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, has been around for decades; maybe they cleaned up the leftover tech when Division went down, and the Army absorbed it into their own practices. Also, though, it means they're not ONLY relying on the Witness's word--they have technology and spy tactics on their side, too. I'm unsure whether that shows more faith or less, but it's definitely less mystical and much more practical.
  • Hey, look, it's Q from Impractical Jokers! Poor nobody trying to find a girl, getting slapped with Jennifer on a mission to destroy humanity. But it makes the point that ordinary people aren't in the right headspace to Do What Needs Doing--and she was right, he could have killed her and been a hero, but he didn't know that what she was saying was true. He'd have just gone to jail for life.
  • When I heard Q was going to guest star, I could not have possibly figured out how it would work, but they did it! That was a very entertaining scene, and Jennifer was bonkers, and then they made it matter when Cassie came back!
  • Jennifer's wild glee when Cassie comes in and kills everyone deserved a closeup cut, but I guess it would have distracted from the reunion, so whatever. Still, it was GREAT.
  • I wonder if they're going to comment on Ramse's weird time-travel hand at all?
  • I hope we get more of what it was like for Cassie in those eight months, waiting while they rebuilt the machine, being one of only two women in a base full of killers, learning about Cole's time while trying not to mourn her own. And I want to see how Jones rebuilds her team, how she handles having the West 7 as her new security force, how she and Cassie bond--it's been a few weeks since Cassie saw young-Jones, and thirty years since Jones last saw Cassie. How do they relate now?
  • I wonder if it was planned that they'd be doing this in the actual Year of the Monkey or if that was lucky timing?
  • I feel more and more bad for Jennifer. If she actually was born specifically to end the world, that's a big fate to live up to--and a bigger one to fight. But it also makes me wonder about how much her father and mother knew about the whole thing. Is this why her dad always treated her like an experiment?
  • You can watch 12 Monkeys on Syfy Monday nights at 9, right before Hunters. You can see "Year of the Monkey" on Hulu or some on-demands, and there's more podcasts than ever to help you process; they just relased the official one today! And I have my own season-two wishlist that I'll be detailing here!

    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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