12 Monkeys: The Red Forest Review

The conspiracies behind the outbreak in 12 Monkeys threaten to unravel, but the deeper themes remain this show’s greatest strength...

At long last, 12 Monkeys has shown that the future can be changed, even if only subtly, but with the resulting surge of hope comes a note of caution: mess with the wrong thing, and the 2043 support systems could break down completely. This week’s episode, titled “The Red Forest,” introduces new dangers and a completely different direction for the investigation, and the twists, although sometimes abrupt and confusing, add depth to an already complex show.

Alternate timelines are always tricky, and the idea that Dr. Railly’s death could stunt the Splinter project, lead to Cole’s death, and inspire Ramse to take West VII from Deacon by force seems incomprehensible. However, the emphasis this changed course of history places on Cassie’s importance is reinforced throughout the episode, so the writers could be forgiven for employing an eyepatch to illustrate how different things are in this reality.

What really sells this side mission – saving Cassie instead of eliminating the virus – is Cole’s return to slightly before the incidents in the Night Room. I really enjoyed how Cole brought Cassie’s ex, Aaron, in on the whole time travel thing, however reluctantly. There were some nice comic moments as Aaron tried to operate a gun, and even the clever trick of shooting Cole A and having the shoulder wound appear on Cole B inspired a smile. It’s nice to know that, as serious as this show is getting, it still leaves room for lighter moments.

Because, let’s be honest, the metaphysics can get kind of heavy! It’s all well and good to have scientists sending a man back to try and stop an outbreak; it’s something else entirely to have a cult-like group hypnotizing Cassie before introducing her to the still-mysterious Witness. And who is this new lady, billed simply as “Striking Woman,” who appears to be above Pallid Man in the Army hierarchy? I like her!

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I must admit, though, I’m a bit baffled by Pallid Man’s statement that “Markridge was a dead end.” Are we to conclude that the virus did not originate with the corpse in the Night Room? Is this new direction with Operation Troy the actual beginning of the plague? The show has taken inspiration from the movie before; perhaps this is the series’ nod to the “Army of the 12 Monkeys” red herring in the film. In any case, the government conspiracy angle gives the mystery a slightly different flavor, and I’ll reserve judgment until it plays itself out. I’m cautiously optimistic.

Cole obviously is able to fix the broken timeline in an oddly anticlimactic escape from the Army’s warehouse – did Dr. Railly actually just run away from them that easily? I’m still left wondering what the Witness had planned for Cassie, but at least the experience brings Aaron fully on board (after witnessing Cole’s impressive disappearing act) as a needed assistant in their mission to unlock the secrets of Operation Troy.

Quite possibly my favorite element of this series is its careful attention to themes of morality and sacrifice, and the increased danger that Cole faces with each successive jump adds a real poignancy to his desire to do something good with his life. “Time will take what it’s owed,” says Jones, and Cole, despite his predilection for violence and going off half-cocked, is prepared to pay the ultimate price.

This show has impressive depth, and as 12 Monkeys enters the second half of its first season, I can’t help but be excited to see where all this is headed. 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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4 out of 5