12 Monkeys: Atari Review

Cole takes a breather from the virus investigation to deal with problems back home on the latest 12 Monkeys.

This 12 Monkeys review contains spoilers.

I’ve heard there are some out there who don’t care to see too much of what Cole’s world is like in 2043. After all, the underground society in the 1995 movie never needed fleshing out! But this is television, and the wider context of Cole’s mission is a necessary ingredient to show the motivation for decisions he makes. What circumstances, for instance, made Cole into someone who would kill to protect information about the Night Room, as he did last week? Perhaps this episode, entitled “Atari,” serves to answer that question somewhat.

The narrative is bookended nicely by the conversation Cole is having with Cassie in 2015. She wants to know more about him, and by extension so does the audience. His reluctance to open up belies some dark moments in his past, but Cassie can’t understand his reticence: “What could be so bad?” Quite a lot, actually, if the ensuing story is any indication.

How strange that Cole, the supposed hero of the show, is taken in by the West VII’s propaganda in 2032, whereas Ramse becomes his moral compass! It’s hard to say whether any of us could resist the lure of three squares and a bed after years of scavenging. Even Ramse puts up with the situation for three years before enough is enough. These desperate circumstances are masterfully laid out for viewers to judge, and they’re completely believable and deeply fraught, even with a compressed timeline – not an easy feat!

The West VII boss, Deacon, played with evil ease by Todd Stashwick (The Originals), is a ruthless antagonist who recognizes the worth  of Cole and Ramse after they kill two of his strongest men. A true believer in survival of the fittest, he argues against mercy saying, “Shame about the meek. They don’t inherit shit.” After a narrow defeat in this episode, the fact remains that such a man cannot ignore the wealth of resources available in the scientists’ lair – and that’s not even factoring in the splinter device!

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[Read our interview with Todd Stashwick here.

Time travel is handled with smooth expertise as always, as Cole jumps two days into the past (a feat which apparently is impossible to repeat – can’t say I’m disappointed) to overcome what looked like a certain death sentence for both Ramse and Jones. A cornerstone of the series (and of the movie, not coincidentally) appears to be a past which is unchangeably written, and Cole’s actions appear to fit the already-determined outcome. Normally, this would cause me to lose all hope for Cole’s mission to change the future as it pertains to the deadly outbreak of 2017. But always there’s that scratch on the watch giving me hope. I absolutely love this detail, and I hope the writers are able to keep that sense of a glimmer in the darkness as events unfold in season one and beyond.

A comparison between Ramse and Cassie is inevitable, and the two men acknowledge that Cole needs a companion with a conscience and a heart to keep him grounded. This is a perfect foundation for possible romantic connections between Cassie and Cole down the road. But for now, of course, there’s the Max factor, if you’ll pardon the pun. Will she be an ally, and will her feelings, which apparently Cole no longer reciprocates, be a problem? Almost certainly!

12 Monkeys is not without flaws, and occasionally these show up as clunky moments in the dialogue; the “Atari” reference, for example, was artistic and lent gravitas to a tragic moment, but it also seemed a bit forced. However, the overall story structure is just so seamlessly clean and full of direction and purpose, that it’s hard not to overlook such minor blemishes. I’m anxious to get back to Emily Hampshire’s wonderful portrayal of Jennifer Goines, but in the meantime, there’s plenty of stellar acting to enjoy from both major and minor characters alike.

I can’t believe we’re not even at the halfway point of this premiere season of 12 Monkeys yet. I definitely look forward to this show each week! Want more discussion of 12 Monkeys? Check out my podcast at http://12monkeysuncaged.com for show news, episode analysis, and fan interaction!

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4.5 out of 5