Disclaimer I: Spoilers are in this review. Read at your own risk.
Disclaimer II: If you’re going to watch 12 Monkeys (2015) you need to forget about 12 Monkeys (1995). Nothing in one truly connects to the other. Any argument to the contrary would be about preference, thus academic, thus a waste of everyone’s time.
I’m not sure if it was eagerness on SyFy’s part, or a sense of confidence they had in this series, but they’ve made episode 2, “Mentally Divergent,” available for viewing online before it airs on its network for fans to watch following the premiere. What I am sure of is the impression it’s left on me and what I now know to expect from 12 Monkeys going forward.
Feeling one step closer to identifying whom or what the 12 Monkeys are, having traced the ominous drawing of the yawning ape to Jennifer Goines, Cole and Ramse, his best friend and former criminal and scavenger, are sent to the remains of Philadelphia to search the ruins of JD Peoples, a mental hospital that’d once housed her. After being attacked by fellow scavengers living on the surface, the pair determine that no trace of Jennifer remains in this hospital and they return to the compound so Cole can be sent back to 2015 and meet with Jennifer in person, learn about her connection to the 12 Monkeys and the virus. Time travel proves to be an imperfect science and Cole is sent to 2006, winding up in a prison camp in North Korea. He’s saved before an interrogation becomes too violent, and his course is corrected, but not before creating an anomaly in his personal timeline.
Meanwhile, Railly continues her investigation without Cole, finding herself immersed in the insanity of Cole’s mission. Quickly she learns of an effort to rewrite Leland Giones’ death, and concludes this is to help Markridge, his former company, to continue their work without interruption. With no other source of help, she reaches out to a former boyfriend, now senator, who helps her hide inside a closed family business outside DC. They butt heads over what he assumes is a psychotic break tied to Cole and his alleged kidnapping of her. Feeling alone, she reaches out to a friend to learn who is behind the media campaign distorting Leland’s death. When she arrives, she finds him dead, covered in flowers, and his killer is present, having waited for Railly simply to tell her to abandon her search for the 12 Monkeys.
With Cole’s travel corrected, he fights his way into JD Peoples and meets Jennifer. It’s clear that she may be experiencing some psychosis, but underneath matted hair and crazy ramblings is the mind of a scientific savant. Appealing to her unstable side Cole manages to build a rocky friendship between them, and manages to draw the attention of a doctor who’s shown to be making shady dealings behind his patients’ backs.
Restrained in a room, believed to be dangerous, Cole receives a visit from Jennifer who explains more about the 12 Monkeys and an underground facility she once worked in at the request of her father, working on viruses, engineering them. She tells him of a break-in resulting in the death of her staff, and the institutionalization that’d followed. But one scientist had gotten away, and that person would be the key to finding her father’s secret laboratory.
As Cole is being dragged out, Railly arrives, impersonating a family doctor responsible for Cole. Together they go to question Jennifer further, but the man with flowers is seen dragging her away. Cole gives chase, but is overwhelmed by the men in his company. It’s revealed that this is another character in Cole’s future, remembered in their past.
Impressed is all I could be following this episode. I touched on SyFy’s stated commitment to excellence in future programming, and while I haven’t been wowed with what they’d offered last year I can say I’m glad they picked up this project. The pacing is both fast and tight without being disorienting in any place. Again the degree of importance given every line of dialogue says that there was a lot left on the cutting room floor, whether in the writers’ or editor’s room. There was no time to waste with so much information being thrown out in the forty minutes they had available. And in that time you can see a foundation set for a conspiracy with enough room to grow, but never revealing more than necessary.
Production is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of SyFy as a channel. For over a decade it was known as the channel where animals were made giant for movies filmed in two afternoons on a budget no bigger than lunch at McDonald’s, but 12 Monkeys has been given some great care in how it’s presented. I find some issue with the scoring. At times it feels as though they are unsure of the emotion displayed on screen and the one they’re trying to evoke through sound. At one point Cole and Ramse are tunneling back to their fortress, it’s cold, dark, and their mission had failed, but the music playing was almost Tolkien in tone, really throwing me. But the cinematography employed here is sharp and mysterious; you’d be forgiven for stumbling across it and think you’re watching an early David Fincher flick for a moment or two. It’s actually something I haven’t seen in even the best shows on television, Homeland and The Wire included.
In the pilot I was concerned if there was something here worth seeing. With this episode I wanted to know if it was something worth the effort to catch on Friday nights. So far it’s succeeded on both counts. Keep it up, and SyFy may have a chance at recapturing the magic Battlestar Galactica had given them.
Those with cable providers affiliated with SyFy can watch Episode 2 early by following this link. But hurry—1/18/15 at midnight it’ll be pulled until it’s aired on the network.
To learn more about 12 Monkeys, go to their official site here.