12 Monkeys: Shonin review

How can 12 Monkeys possibly pack more into its final episodes than it did in "Shonin?" Here's our review of this spectacular episode...

This 12 Monkeys review contains spoilers.

It’s hard to believe there are still two more episodes of 12 Monkeys left in the season given what happened in “Shonin.” The episode could easily have been a season finale, and not just because of the many revelations it shared with the audience. The finality of the abandonment of the mission in 2043 and the hopelessness of Cole’s situation leave me wondering, as I seem to be doing each week lately, what on earth are they going to do next? The brilliance of this show lies in its ability to upend the apple cart, keep viewers scrambling to pick up the fallen fruit, and still somehow make them hungry for more.

When Jones told Cole that Ramse, who left for 1987 last week with no warning, had no tracer signal and had therefore taken a one way trip into the past, I doubted it could be true. How would the writers keep the Ramse character relevant if he was stuck in the ’80s? I certainly did not expect the 28-years-in-20-minutes journey they gave us! What could easily have been a plodding, burdensome exposition was instead a series of eye-opening vignettes that explained how Ramse took years to become someone who, with the help of the Army of the 12 Monkeys, could preserve the future and stop Cole from changing events. The changed perspective on incidents from previous episodes brought new light to familiar storylines while still managing to deepen the overall mystery.

How, for example, did Olivia (the name given to the erstwhile “Striking Woman” played by Alisen Down) and her companions know about Ramse and the future from which he came? Who is this “father” that she and Pallid Man refer to as having given them the foreknowledge they needed to assist Ramse during his incarceration and subsequent recovery after his release in 1995? Why does Ramse not appear to age, while his hands appear disfigured? What role does Jennifer Goines play in the plan that eventually leaves her as leader of the nomadic Daughters? And how does the Red Forest of prior visions relate to the crimson transformation the gardens experience when two incarnations of the same pendant come explosively together?

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These questions tend to focus on Ramse’s slow evolution over the years, and I feel like the fight between Ramse and Cole in the White Dragon nightclub paled in comparison to the aforementioned larger battle. However, the initial scenes in Tokyo serve two similarly shocking purposes. First, they gave us (and Ramse) the impression that Cole had been defeated, bleeding out while the scientists of the future watched his life signs diminish. Second, it delivered the realization that Cole himself persuaded the cocaine-addled Leland Goines to acquire the Annapurna remains in the first place by mentioning the virus contained within. The man was focused on human cloning and would have ignored the corpse that became the Origin of the Night Room! Oh, Cole… tragedy times two.

Equally tragic is the abandonment of the Project Splinter facility, as those devoted to Dr. Jones leave the seemingly hopeless mission behind. After slingshotting Cole to 2015, which neatly circumvents his “one last jump” dilemma, Cole’s tracer signal is lost, leaving him stranded in Cassie’s time. Damore Barnes delivers his most heartfelt performance to date as his character, Whitley, leaves with the other soldiers, and even Dr. Adler appears to be leaving for a more meaningful if less exciting life elsewhere. Jones’ stubborn devotion to her cause comes across in her powerful but petulant insistence that, “We have the machine – I am the clock!”

And now Cole is left with Cassie, who remains resigned but ready to do whatever it takes, and Aaron, who has been released from Senator Royce’s staff as his employer prepares for a presidential run. Aaron is understandably ready to use his foreknowledge to hole up somewhere to ride out the plague, and what better way to do so than by “spearheading” the senator’s “selective survival project in the event of a widespread disaster?” That’s right! Aaron got himself involved with what will become Spearhead with assistance from Olivia and her ilk. Talk about a snake eating its own tail!

With masterful writing like this, it’s easy to see why 12 Monkeys has such a devoted fan base, but what’s not quite as simple to decipher is where the show is headed. What plays are left to make with so many cards on the table? Not to mention: how do you get a second season out of this, much less a third or fourth? The power core of this show burns fast and hot, great for short bursts of exciting time travel, but can it sustain these levels over the long term? Time, as it were, will tell.

Want more discussion of 12 Monkeys? Check out my podcast, 12 Monkeys Uncaged, for show news, episode analysis, and fan interaction!

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5 out of 5