12 Monkeys: Season 1 (Review)

Lacks the vision of the movie but still manages to engross.

Fans of the film will undoubtedly have mixed feelings over this SyFy TV version of Twelve Monkeys, Terry Gilliam's stylish, post-apocalyptic masterpiece. But by making enough changes to the main arc, and including more characters, there's enough good material to keep us watching for at least a couple of seasons.

by Ed Blackadder

See the episode-by-episode reviews at the bottom.

27 years after a deadly virus almost wipes out every human on the planet, scientists discover time-travel and send James Cole (Aaron Stanford) into the past to try to find out who was responsible for murdering billions of people. If Cole can discover who released the virus and stop them, the current timeline will change, and the barren wasteland Cole knows as home, will cease to exist.

Based on Terry Gilliam's brilliant double Oscar-nominated Twelve Monkeys, a film that starred Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stow and Brad Pitt, the TV version lacks the same quirky vision of the film. But to be fair, no one can do Terry Gilliam quite like Terry Gilliam can. His vision was so unique that it simply wouldn't have worked on television without a major budget ... and Terry Gilliam directing each episode.

12 Monkeys
Developed by
Travis Fickett & Terry Matalas
Cast
Aaron Stanford, Amanda Schull, Noah Bean
First Aired
16 January 2015
Ed's Grade: B

Instead, we have a more grounded, earthy approach to the post-apocalyptic aesthetic, with Cole zipping back and forth through time without needing a wardrobe change like Bruce Willis' transparent suit and rubber cap. Cole mark II only needs to sit in a chair with some apparatus that shines a large beam of light through him, and off he goes into the past. As with the film version, the scientists haven't quite mastered the fine-tuning when it comes to when and where Cole appears. At one point he finds himself out by about 9 years and inside a North Korean military base!

Rather than there being a small group of oddball scientists who occasionally burst into song, a la Terry Gilliam's vision, show creators Travis Fickett and Terry Matalas have trimmed it down to just one main scientist, Katrina Jones (Barbara Sukowa), who sends Cole out on his missions.

12 monkeys

James Cole is played by Aaron Stanford, and while I wasn't immediately convinced he could pull off the character we'd come to know so well, by the end of the first episode I was a believer. The backstory written for Cole and his sidekick Ramse (Kirk Acevedo), is both intriguing and entertaining. But we don't learn of this until we're a few episodes in.

Dr. Cassandra Railly is played by Amanda Schull, and like with Aaron Stanford, it took until the end of the first episode for the actress to really grow on me. Her character starts off in a relationship with Aaron Marker (Noah Bean), but after she's kidnapped by Cole in the first episode, their relationship sours, leaving room for a will-they-or-won't-they scenario with our two lead characters.

In addition, we have Emily Hampshire as Jennifer Goines, who's basically the character previously played by Brad Pitt. Tom Noonan appears in the later episodes playing a brilliantly strange character known as "Pallid Man." Noonan is an entirely new character but a very welcome addition to the 12 Monkeys universe.

Episode 1: Grade: B Pilot: 16 Jan. 2015 We're just getting our first glimpse at the characters and a feel for the show. It's also nigh-on impossible not to compare this first episode to the film but after about halfway through, we settle in and enjoy the ride. The episode also ends in such a way as to leave you wanting more.

Episode 2: Grade: B+ Mentally Divergent: 23 Jan. 2015 Cole is sent back to 2015 where he needs to track down a mental patient, Jennifer Goines. Goines could have very important information that could lead them to the virus. Even though Cole's been warned to stay away from Cassandra incase the timeline is disrupted, Cassie tracks him down and helps him with his latest mission. A strong episode that I found to be a bit better than the pilot. Tom Noonan's Pallid Man becomes the shadowy figure who seems to be working hard to get his hands on the virus, but to what end? This character is reminiscent of the The Smoking Man from The X-Files.

Episode 3: Grade: B Cassandra Complex:30 Jan. 2015 Cole must go back to a time in Cassie's past, while she's working in Haiti to help with a viral outbreak. Cole must try to avoid being seen be her, which isn't easy because Cole's mission involves one of her co-workers. We also get to see a more ruthless side to Cole. Cole also has a run in with Pallid Man and we get our first hint at Cole's former life.

Episode 4: Grade: A- Atari: 6 Feb. 2015 This episode is a sort of Cole and Ramse origin story. Before the pair started working with the scientists in the facility, they both joined up with other immune plague survivors, only these guys were marauders, led by the ruthless Deacon. Because Cole and Ramse deserted the band of killers, Deacon and his 200-strong band of marauders, track them down and now want payback. This encounter also endangers the entire facility and Cole's ability to save the human race. There was some nice time travel conundrums involved this week, which is something I hope that gets used in future episodes.

Episode 5: Grade: B+ The Night Room: 13 Feb. 2015 Cole and Cassie finally track down the The Night Room, the lab where the virus is stored. Because Jennifer is the only person who has the codes to get into the lab, Pallid Man and his team, attempt to coerce the insane woman into opening it up for them. A suspicious Ramse searches through Katrina's property and finds photos of test subjects who were brutally killed by the time travel device. They were always led to believe Cole was the first and now Ramse's worried for Cole's safety. Another good episode, with Emily Hampshire's performance giving Brad Pitt's Goines' a run for his money.

Episode 6: Grade: A The Red Forest: 20 Feb. 2015 This was a very good episode, where Cole returns to an alternate timeline after seeing Cassie being abducted. He splintered before he had a chance to save her, and now thanks to Cassie being murdered, it results in the entire future timeline being altered. There's a big surprise waiting for Cole in the new lab, as it's no longer Katrina who's running things but someone very unexpected. Aaron is drafted in by Cole to help save Cassie's life and repair the timeline. Aaron still refuses to believe Cole is from the future, but he does realise the CIA are up to something. We're also introduced to a new character, a woman who appears to be Pallid Man's boss and who also drugs Cassie with something hallucinogenic. I really like the direction the show is heading now.

Episode 7: Grade: A+ The Keys: 27 Feb. 2015 Another fantastic episode, involving Cole having to deal with the live virus in Chechnya, and Cassie and Aaron are forced to work with the CIA to get their help. Cole starts off with information he knows he will receive 7 days in the future from Aaron. The problem is, if Cassie and Aaron don't give Cole the info that causes him to go back 7 days, to destroy the virus in Chechnya, they'll be back at square one with the plague about to destroy 7 billion people. They already know the outcome and what's about to happen to Cole, however Cole himself can't know about his future and warns Cassie not to tell him. But can she allow him to die? We're used to seeing Cole being the one with all the answers to the future, but now the tables are turned on him. The CIA are responsible for setting off the virus in a very remote building in Chechnya, just to kill an ex-CIA analyst turned whistleblower. But the Army of the 12 Monkeys are planning to take the virus and use it for their own end game. This show just keeps getting better.

Episode 8: Grade: B+ Yesterday: 6 Mar. 2015 Here was an interesting episode where we get to meet another group of survivors led by someone from Katrina's past. Cole finds himself stuck in the demolished Chechin building with a wounded leg. He should have been killed by the missile strike that was sent to destroy the virus but he somehow survived. The splinter machine's core is damaged beyond repair, and the only other core belongs to Katrina's rival, Col. Jonathan Foster (Xander Berkeley). Foster isn't prepared to part with his core because he's working on a cure for the virus. Ramse meets an old flame and they both thought the other was dead. She has a big, or perhaps that should be "little" surprise for him. Cassie isn't convinced Cole is dead and that the virus has finally been destroyed, prompting her to travel to Chechnya to make sure Cole's body isn't in the rubble. The surprise at the end was good and totally unexpected. This episode had a bit less momentum than the last few but it was no less enjoyable.

Episode 9: Grade: A+ Tomorrow: 13 Mar. 2015 I would have to say that this was by far the best episode of the show thus far. Cole found himself stuck in 2017 Chechnya after the Splinter's core was damaged. Katrina's rival, Jonathan Foster, was the only one with another core. The scientist resorts to murdering Foster and half his people to get at the replacement, in order to get Cole back. And while Katrina claimed Foster was lying about finding a cure for the virus, and that he could keep up with its mutated form, we learn that he was actually telling the truth after all! Are Katrina's actions in any way noble, and do the ends justify the means? Katrina wants the old world back while Foster wanted the current one cured.

Cole eventually makes his way to some aid station, where he discovers that he's been expected. He finds Cassie towards the end of the episode, and the room the couple are now in looks suspiciously like the one Cole found Cassie dead in the first episode. He learns that he still has much to do, and that he and Cassie are far from finished their adventure. Cassie also mentions that Cole will find what he's looking for. That can really mean anything. I still want to know if that's Cole's body in the glass case. Maybe he's the one responsible for the plague to begin with! I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Episode 10: Grade: A- Divine Move: 20 Mar. 2015 Earlier in the week it was announced that the show was renewed for a second season. Although it will be new showrunners, all that's important is that we get to continue this compelling saga.

In a dramatic turn of events, Ramse has just become enemy number one with Cole and the Splinter group And he also meets up with the 2043 version of Jennifer Goines. Ramse realised that Katrina had lied about Foster and the cure for the plague, then he'd also learned he was a father. If Cole's mission ever succeeds, Ramse no longer has a son. This forces him to attempt to put a stop to Cole's time travelling by stealing the serum that's needed to splinter back and forth. Ramse then meets up with a group of female-only survivors, that have the red monkey symbol emblazoned on the side of their wagon. He learns that he too will play a part in the group's past when he meets back up with the young Jennifer Goines. After his new partner is killed during a failed attempt at getting the serum back, Ramse ends up jumping into the machine and splintering back to 1987, thereby ensuring what Goines had imparted to the rogue survivor, comes to pass.

Cole has been treated for his rapid deterioration, allowing him to splinter to 1987 ... one last time! I doubt that, as the whole show is based on Cole time traveling, so something must happen that fixes the damage to his body.

While out searching for the virus with Cassie, Aaron comes across the mysterious woman that used the hallucinogen on Cassie in an earlier episode. She's trying to subvert him in some way. But in what way wasn't revealed. This episode was all about relationships, like Ramse and his son, Katrina and her dead daughter, and Aaron and Cassie. Not as good as last week and the writing was also a bit slack. However, it's still going strong.

Episode 11: Grade: A+ Shonin: 27 Mar. 2015
Ramse takes center stage in episode 11, after he stabbed Cole then splintered back to 1987, Tokyo. All the guessing as to who the secretive organization was being controlled by is answered, with most things falling neatly into place. It turns out that Pallid Man and "Striking Woman" (Alisen Down) have been working for Ramse all along. How's that for a twist?!

I previously thought that in the last episode, Ramse met with the 2043 version of Jennifer Goines, as her face was mostly hidden by that large-brimmed hat. However, it was Striking Woman who would turn out to be the leader of the band of women survivors, and it was she who gave Ramse a necklace that would serve 2 purposes. After Ramse served 12 years in prison, on his release he would meet up with the woman, and using her necklace and the one Ramse brought back from the future, they were put together in a sort of ceremony. This caused time to momentarily fracture, as we saw Cole do with the watches in an earlier episode. But it also made all the surrounding vegetation turn red. This is obviously the Red Forest that was alluded to in episode 6, when Cassie was drugged.

Now leading the group -- and I'm not yet sure if it's the Army of the 12 Monkeys -- Ramse is being called The Traveler. Cole refers to him as The Witness, when he finally makes a late appearance at Cassies home. In order to save Cole's life, Katrina had to splinter him from 1987 -- where he was seconds away from being executed -- to 2015. Cole had actually made it to the right place, with the virus-infected corpse only inches away from him. But thanks to the knife wound inflicted by Ramse, Cole was in no fit state to do anything about it.

Katrina's people have all abandoned her, leaving her the sole person in the base, and wide open to attack by anyone passing. It's believed Cole can't make anymore jumps without it killing him, and now Ramse is on the opposing team. However, Ramse made a seemingly throwaway comment to Pallid Man, about his future supposedly being set. And the now unemployed Aaron spotted Striking Woman entering his ex-boss's office. These two late events could be foreshadowings of the tide turning for Cole. Jennifer Goines still has an important part to play in the story, but what it is we'll have to wait and see.

Episode 12: Grade: A Paradox: 3 April. 2015
Dying and unable to return to his own time, Cole makes his way to Cassie, where she turns to someone unexpected for help. Last week saw Ramse join forces with the mysterious Pallid Man and Striking Woman (I hope this pair are eventually named!), where he would offer his futurists insight, helping guide them towards whatever their goal ultimately is. For all we know, this shadowy organization may be on the right path, although their tactics leave a lot to be desired.

This week involves a double paradox of sorts, as Cassie tracks down the 2015 version of Katrina. We first meet the German scientist as she's having lunch with her elderly father, as they discuss her research. Later, as she opens her her front door, Katrina is forced to listen to Cassie at gunpoint, as she explains about Cole, Splinter and how she's responsible for time travel. Katrina takes a bit of persuading, however, she accompanies Cassie to her home, where she gets to meet Cole for the very first time. This then explains Katrina's reaction to meeting Cole in an earlier episode, and how she always knew to expect him.

After Cassie tells Katrina how she and Cole first met, and how she was persuaded by his wild tale when her future wristwatch makes contact with her present watch, causing a paradox. The women then reason that if young Cole's blood from 2015, is introduced into 2043 Cole's body, it might be enough to create another paradox, and hopefully reverse the damage caused by all the splintering his body has been subjected to.

Aaron almost screws the entire plan up, thanks in part to his jealousy over Cole, and partly to do with wanting to save Cassie and himself. The final scenes involve Cole's flashback of a dropped glass of milk. Pallid Man arrives to try to put a stop to Katrina's attempt at fixing Cole, after Aaron makes a deal with Striking Woman, but Cole succeeds, losing his father in the process. We also learn that Cole is now a permanent resident of 2015, just like his new nemesis, Ramse.

I have a feeling that Cole and Ramse will eventually settle their differences, especially after we get to see how the pair meet. Back in 2043 at the lab, Katrina and the scientists are about to face a new danger. A group that look and dress exactly like the good vampire from Guillermo Del Toro's new TV show, The Strain, are set to try to take over the base. By what their leader says, it sounds like he wants the splinter technology. There are also flowers growing around the splinter machine, adding to the mystery.

Episode 11 Paradox Trailer

Image Courtesy of SyFy

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