12 Monkeys: Yesterday Review

12 Monkeys takes a time out to explore character motivations and alternative solutions, the drive to the finish line continues to entertain.

Even in an episode that treads water to develop some of the 2043 characters, 12 Monkeys manages to raise the stakes for its time traveling protagonist in a particularly game-changing episode, “Yesterday.” The jumps into the past are on hold for now, but many of the characters reveal their strengths and flaws while taking on new motivations for the decisions they make. It’s difficult to decide who to side with, but part of the fun of this show is the moral questions it forces the viewers to confront and answer for themselves.

Central to this episode is the idea that there could be an alternative to Jones’ rewriting of history. As the power core finally breaks down, the scientists have no choice but to seek assistance from a nearby military stronghold called Spearhead. We’ve heard it mentioned that the abrasive but fair Whitley originates from there, having sacrificed his position and alienated his father. It’s a nice detail for a minor character, and the ensuing conflict of ideas between the major players makes more sense in this subtle context.

Ramse as a newcomer to Spearhead provides a viewer perspective on the well-appointed compound, but I would have liked to have seen more awe, disdain, or even admiration from this ex-scavenger. I was also slightly bothered by his understated reaction to seeing his lost love, Elena, in such an unexpected place. Apparently, she left him five years ago when he was still on the run from the West VII as she sought safety for her unborn child. How about an “Oh my god!” or a surprised hug or something? The awkward reunion seemed out of place, especially given how well the ensuing introduction to his five-year-old son turned out.

However, the touching father-son moments do provide a nice reason for a change of heart for Ramse, who now understandably wants to protect the here and now, perhaps without the “erasing” effects of a time travel correction. He brings a dissenting voice back to Project Splinter, speaking of a cure as a distant but acknowledgeable possibility. The audience begins to wonder if Jones’ rock solid conviction is actually blindness to other options, and even Whitley and some of the other scientists see no other alternative moving forward.

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Xander Berkeley is perfect in the role of Colonel Jonathan Foster, whose power core is being used by a network of servers working on one task: finding a cure for the virus, even as it mutates. I love how his character relies on a certain amount of faith in his cause as well as the devotion of those following him. His single-mindedness is both believable and understandable, given the death of his wife ten years ago to one of the first mutations of the plague. Joining Pallid Man and Deacon as antagonists in this show, the villain line-up is even stronger. And the fact that Jones now wants to take the power core by force provides a nice set-up for future conflict.

But all this pales in comparison to the new dilemma Cole faces. The shocking twist at the end of the episode which puts him out of reach of both Cassie and the scientists back home leaves me wondering how he’ll get out of this one. Cassie believes his mission was successful, erasing him and any trace that he was even there. Jones will likely retrieve him if she is successful in borrowing (or taking) Foster’s power core, but Cole’s tracer signal is soon to disappear – not much time to act! I must admit, this is a surprising amount of tension given the lack of forward motion in the plot!

Was it my favorite episode? No, not really. But given the necessity of carrying through with several conflicts set in motion in prior episodes, the story was surprisingly compelling. No one could accuse this show of being predictable, and between putting myself in characters’ shoes and trying to figure out what they’re going to do next, I’m always on the edge of my seat.

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3.5 out of 5