This 12 Monkeys review contains spoilers.
12 Monkeys Season 4 Episode 5
Once again, 12 Monkeys hearkens back to what made its first season so great for those of us who enjoy brain-melting time travel, and that’s its causal loops, in which everything you do in the past has already happened. In a wonderfully intricate sequence of re-dos in the Emerson Hotel, the mission may appear to have stalled due to the “oops loop,” but Jay Karnes’ welcome return as FBI Agent Robert Gale (not to mention the more in-depth turn for Christopher Lloyd’s character) rejuvenates the search for the weapon to defeat the Witness. Add to that the surprise endings for both Deacon and Cassie, and we’ve got ourselves another perfect episode and definitely the best of night two for those watching three at a time on Syfy.
Jennifer’s not wrong when she characterizes the mission to find the weapon as a “mystery maguffin,” since at this point in Night 2, the team has no idea what they’re looking for, but her idea to search history for occurrences of the phrase, “climb the steps, ring the bell,” seemed like a great place to start. The introduction of classified documents about the illicit sale was also the perfect way to bring in Agent Gale, who left Jennifer the H.G. Wells quote to discover, which in turn forced Jennifer to participate after having been left behind, perhaps unfairly, by Cole and Cassie because of her lack of Primary powers.
Gale was supposed to be dead, of course, but in a twist that brilliantly calls back to the foreknowledge he gained in season three, he lived beyond the 1961 Berlin Wall incident from season two with a triumphant, “Fate, my ass!” and was ultimately more effective than Cassie at saving Cole’s life. Besides the enjoyment of seeing him spout code phrases at Jennifer, it was great that the FBI agent was able to give the team details about the Ahnen Erbe, the Nazi group mentioned by the seller before his death. So even though they created their own “oops loop,” the trip wasn’t wasted.
In fact, it was almost refreshing to see that Cole wouldn’t be able to use the existence of “Future Asshole” to guarantee his invulnerability. Cassie worked desperately to save him twice, and just as we’ve seen many times before, she ended up causing the circumstances that left him vulnerable to Zalmon Shaw and his botanist son. Tying the frantic nature of her re-dos to the fact that the loss of Cole’s tether upon his death would shift the timeline irrevocably was a great way to add urgency to her already life-or-death rescue attempt.
And what a beautifully sophisticated time loop it was! The first hint that something strange was afoot was when Cassie swooned in the lobby, and after that it became a game of spotting the clues that other loops were visiting in the background. The woman whose coat Cassie stole in loop two, the tray that Jennifer knocked over in loop three, it all became a puzzle that pointed towards the conclusion that nothing would happen that hadn’t already occurred. Only after Cassie 1 left to start the loop could Cassie 2 use the pralidoxime chloride to revive Cole — just awe-inspiring complexity!
By contrast, Zalmon Shaw’s back story and desire to bring about the Red Forest follows a more logical progression, not only for the former clergyman’s motivation for joining the Witness, but for Cassie herself. The intimate scene between Cole and Cassie at the beginning of the episode, despite being triumphant for fans of the couple in the audience, provided the perfect hook for Cassie to wonder what would happen if and when the overall mission succeeded. Rather than their relationship being relegated to an erased timeline she’d only have vague memories of, why not make it last forever in the Red Forest?
Although the Night 2 trio of episodes doesn’t continue that line of thought, this episode does introduce the possibility that Deacon might be playing double agent within the Army’s ranks, and the reveal for his complicity was masterfully played. He may have secured the mysterious weapon for the Witness, but his wink to Jennifer as he says, “I’m exactly where I want to be,” told us all we need to know, as does the reprise of his signature song, “Don’t You Forget About Me.”
“After” will join fantastically intricate episodes like “Atari” (ep. 104) and “Lullaby” (ep. 208) in 12 Monkeys lore as one of the best time travel stories ever told on television. Without sacrificing an ounce of emotional power, this episode satisfied the hardcore causality junkies and those who appreciate the more literary aspects of this science fiction show. As the peak of the second night of the season four modified binge, “After” gives us hope while simultaneously making us worry, which is exactly the kind of journey we’ve come to expect, especially now that we’re already halfway finished this final epic season.
The author of this review is the host of the 12 Monkeys Uncaged podcast, which features a discussion with showrunner Terry Matalas about Night 2.