12 Monkeys: Cassandra Complex review

Syfy’s 12 Monkeys balances timeline intricacies with smart storytelling, rich characters, and snappy dialogue in this week’s episode.

This 12 Monkeys review contains spoilers.

One of the most impressive aspects of the writing in Syfy’s 12 Monkeys – besides the great dialogue – is the organized way in which the story and the steps in the investigation into the cause of the future outbreak unfold. In the premiere, Cole went after Goines; in week two the target was Leland’s daughter, Jennifer; and now information is needed from the scientist, referred to as “the one that got away,” who escaped the Markridge Group murders. The effect of this carefully constructed narrative is to suggest episodic content in a serialized show, and the audience can more easily keep up with the story without getting too wrapped up in the time travel complexities.

Not that the average sci-fi geek doesn’t enjoy parsing the implications of, for example, Cassie’s warning to Cole to avoid her when he travels to 2014. It might seem obvious that Cassie will not meet Cole in Haiti because she doesn’t remember having done so, but 12 Monkeys has left open the possibility of changes in the past affecting the future. Remember the watch?

Now, there are those who might question the overly convenient circumstance of Cassie being brought in for police questioning only to be shown the picture of the missing scientist, Henri Toussaint, but consider this: she might not have even remembered Henri, whom she only knew for a day or two, had it not been for their romantic encounter. Yet that fateful night of passion might not have occurred had Cassie not been such a life-embracing fatalist, a frame of mind brought about by her encounter a year prior with the disappearing Cole!

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And good for Cole for dismissing the death of “the one that got away” as a minor inconvenience for a time traveler! His ability to investigate in a time period that comes before the baseline year of the show, 2015, is both mind-blowingly creative and refreshingly obvious. However, what could have been a rather straightforward search for answers is interrupted by sunspot glitches, a wonderful effect we’re bound to see again, and a massive moral dilemma that leads to one of the greatest twists of the show yet. Although many may have seen it coming once the ball got rolling, few could have anticipated too far ahead of time Cole’s role in Toussaint’s death!

But that’s not even the truly impressive part! I can’t help but marvel at the parallels between the tough choice Cole had to make and the situation Cassis is going through. She’s becoming more and more paranoid about the unidentified viral strain in Haiti, and she worries this might be the origins of the pandemic Cole mentioned during his fateful visit in 2013. As she alarmingly calls for a harsh quarantine, shooting anyone that tries to leave, I can’t help but think, “How is that any different from what Cole did to Toussaint?” In essence, he had to quarantine the information about the Night Room to prevent anyone else from gaining that intel.

Clearly, the Pallid Man (as Syfy documentation refers to Tom Noonan’s character) did not get the location from Henri; otherwise he would never have needed to come after Jennifer in 2015. The audience even gets to see one of the causes that leads to a later effect already witnessed: the scar on Pallid Man’s cheek. Brilliant stuff!

I’m reserving judgment on the 2043 subplot in this episode until I see where it’s going. Certainly, I’m intrigued by Ramse’s former scavenger companion, Max, and her band of apparently ruthless compatriots in “The West Seven.” But will the new dangers in the future distract from the solutions sought in the past? Frankly, I wouldn’t put it past the writers of this show to make them related somehow in the end.

That’s just the kind of paradoxical mayhem 12 Monkeys is starting to be known for.

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4.5 out of 5