It may take a few weeks or even an entire season to stop comparing Syfy’s 12 Monkeys to the Terry Gilliam movie that inspired the series, but although not all distinctions are improvements (and how could they be with such stellar source material?) the TV show is definitely making admirable changes appropriate for the new medium. The second episode, “Mentally Divergent,” reinforces the sense that the writers are bravely forging new paths and telling fans of the movie, “We’re not the same. Keep up.”
One major difference is the decidedly less dark future portrayed in this episode as compared to the movie. The rubble-strewn surface, the scavenger attack, and the underground bunker in 2043 seem more like inconvenient circumstances for a small band of survivors and less like the horrific dystopia of a decaying society. When Ramse, Cole’s friend played with gruff expertise by Kirk Acevedo, yells at the lab technicians and jokes with Cole saying, “Are you my father?” things don’t seem so bad really. Loved the Terminator-esque joke; not sure I enjoyed the levity.
And of course the major departure comes from the fact that there appears to actually be an Army of the 12 Monkeys conspiracy, unlike the red-herring animal activists of the film. The mysteriously floral-themed murderer, who appears to be in charge of the terrorist group, has taken out Cassie’s NSA family friend, Jeremy, and has apparently met Cole before! Just as last week Leland Goines references a 1987 visit, it’s clear that at least one more of Cole’s visits to the past have yet to be initiated in the future. I love these causal twists! Besides the mind-bending appeal on their own merits, the time travel eccentricities allow Cole to realize his missions are not the one-off, future-obliterating assassination he was hoping for.
The power struggle between Cole and Jones that results from the aforementioned realization is enticing if not entirely convincing. Clearly the audience needs more background on Cole than has yet been presented. His growing attachment to Dr. Railly mirrors the situation in the movie, and I can’t help but wonder if he’ll grow attached to the past like the Bruce Willis character did. Jones even mentioned that Cole was a small child when the virus broke out. Surely he will not witness his own death as in the movie! Or will he?
The mysteries of “The Night Room” and the man in the gas mask have no analogue in the movie, and as time goes by, I’m certain the departures will increase. As 12 Monkeys continues to establish its own identity as a TV show, it will no doubt succeed based on the excellent dialogue (as written if not always expertly delivered) so far. I particularly liked Jennifer Goines sharing her backstory with Cole, telling him she’s spent her time “apologizing to ghosts. You don’t know what that’s like.” Cole’s classic response: “You’d be surprised.”
Others have criticized Dr. Railly’s “quick” acceptance of the time travel premise, forgetting that she’s had two years to absorb and question and struggle with the reality of it. Knowing this fact made it that much more enjoyable when she protested to Cole, “I don’t care about your paradox bullshit!” I also appreciate that Cassie addressed the fact that they were conveniently not arrested for the murder of Leland Goines, although I’m not sure why she’s confiding so much in her ex-boyfriend.
Another nice touch: the mistaken splinter jump to North Korea, the fact of which, through the ex-boyfriend’s government contacts, leads Cassie to find Cole in the mental hospital in time to extract him. I can’t help but remember Bruce Willis’ side trip to the World War I bunker, where a bullet that hit him helped prove his time traveling assertions later.
As long as the 12 Monkeys writers continue to pull the best moments such as these from the movie, the comparison will always be favorable. Hopefully, they will keep this respectful homage going as the show enters new territory. So far so good.