“Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,” and 12 Monkeys certainly ripped into it’s viewers this week, achieving new emotional highs and twisting the story on the edge of a knife, yet again. Every time you think you have a handle on where the show will take us, it spins into another mystery, not to mention timeline.
Fresh from his surprise splinter into 2017, Cole is trapped in quarantined Chechnya, though he sees on television that Cassie is still alive and working on a cure for the CDC. At the checkpoint, desperate civilians plead and bargain with military to escape. It is a familiar scene out of any post-apocalyptic narrative but TJ Scott’s direction creates a beautifully impactful beat in which an escaping citizen runs across a bride only to be shot in the back as the camera pans above. Cole is identified by his West VII brand and escorted through by U.S. military. While he is being transported to Cassie at the CDC, we get our first glimpse of the dismantling America in the early stages of the plague. Mobs of people demand information as loudspeaker ask they move towards the Western Manhattan quarantine zone (where Cole knows Deacon will massacre them and create the West VII gang) and in the center of this is Jennifer Goines recruiting women for, well something. It is gut-wrenching to see scenes we have only previously heard of: Cassie dying in Cole’s arms as she reassures him that they meet in her past. She gives him a last message, an address that will save his life, and the scratch on her watch disappears into the smooth finish of the watch recovered in 2043. The futility of protests and picket signs makes the breakdown of society devastatingly real. Juxtaposing this with the turmoil in 2043 brings sympathy to the otherwise reprehensible actions of Jones and the rest of Project Splinter.
The standout performance this week goes without a doubt to Barbara Sukowa as Katarina Jones. Becky Kirsch expertly dismantles the structure we have grown used to, forcing us to confront how much we really don’t know about these characters we put our faith into. The differing philosophy of Jones and Foster come to a head this week over the Core that Jones needs to power her time machine and Foster needs to run his research on a cure. Both figures hold mighty authority and watching them spar is like watching a verbal chess match or two predators face off over the carcass of 2043. Last week Jones intimated that they would seize the Core by force if necessary and 12 Monkeys, fast paced as usual, delivers on that this week. First, however, she goes to Colonel Foster to bargain with him one last time. Though they are at odds, the friendship and respect between them is apparent, as they share what may be the last quietly contemplative moment of the season. Then, she kills him. The music too, flips on a dime from sentimentality to rising horror. Who are we to trust on 12 Monkeys if even the music is deceiving?
What is interesting about Jones is that this episode truly puts into perspective just how unreliable our protagonists are. When we first started the season Jones was a shadowy figure we didn’t see much of, merely the instigator and architect of Project Splinter. As the series progress, so did Jones’ character, revealed as an enigmatic, ruthless, and yet still maternal figure. Yet, we still firmly put her on the side of the angels. Now, we are forced to confront that maybe that’s not where she belongs. Maybe Jones’ interests only align with the side of the angels. Maybe there are no angels here.
Either way, Jones character shifted into a terrifying figure this episode. She, and thus the audience, has discounted Foster’s religious fervor in the search for a cure as nothing more than a delusion but Foster’s fever dream seems close to reality when it is revealed that his people are actually close to finding the promised cure, and Jones’ fanaticism for the past is revealed. She slips into the mantle of zealot proving that there is nothing she wouldn’t do to regain all that humanity has lost, including her daughter. Her line in Fosters office as he reminisces about the people they used to be is chilling, “I was also something else. A mother.” She shoots him without any change in expression. She doesn’t want the future that may be possible after the cure is discovered, because all that she loved remains lost in the past. Foster makes the very real point that the life they have salvaged in 2043 has meaning, and the new life that will grow from that has worth. But 2043 is ghost to Jones already, allowing her to justify the ruthlessness in which she captures Spearhead, murdering anyone who may stand in her way.
It is interesting to see their differing ideologies clash through Cole and Ramse. While Cole, fresh from the horror of watching Cassie die at the CDC and America fall to disease in 2017, sees things as Jones does. He is familiar with all that was lost by now, and having taken a moment to appreciate the life humanity lost, is now more determined than ever to save it. On the other hand, Ramse has just found new investment in 2043 in the discovery of a son who would otherwise not exist. But Jones’ point strikes true here, what are the lives of however many people may thrive in this new world, against the lives of the 7 billion lost? At what point is the cost too high? Does it matter, the lengths to which you are capable of going, if they will have never happened? In an interesting flashback (flashforward?) to 2041 we see that Ramse was instrumental in Cole joining Project Splinter, believing that by helping, Cole’s soul will be saving. How the tables have turned since, with the previously unshakeable friendship between Cole and Ramse on shaky ground over the life of his son. Elena is convinced that Foster was on the right track and Jones lied about that option’s validity. Who wants to bet this will become a problem soon, and that Jones is perfectly capable of murdering both her and Sam if they stand in her way? After all, they won’t exist in the new world she will create.
EPISODE RATING: 9.5/10