12 Monkeys on Syfy is one of those TV shows that sneaks up on you and before long you get hooked on it. By no means is it a perfect sci-fi program, but it hits all the right buttons to make it worth binging on. It’s inventive, rarely dull and has many captivating characters. In fact, it is safe to say that the characters and the stories are what make the show.
In its second season, 12 Monkeys continues the saga of James Cole (Aaron Stanford) who is a time traveler from a dsystopian 2044. In his time, mankind is nearly extinct because of a virus released by a cult called the Army of the 12 Monkeys in our present. During his travels he meets and falls for Dr. Cassie Railly (Amanda Schull) from our time. She, herself becomes a time traveler during the second season which is part of the inventive nature of 12 Monkeys. It is kind of ironic that for a show about time travel, it is always changing. That is a large reason why 12 Monkeys show feels fresh at least for now.
Railly joining Cole in his temporal journeys wasn’t the only change. The entire killer virus plot early in the second season was de-emphasized. By the second episode, “Primary”, Cole’s actions delay the virus’ release until 2019. This alters future history. The virus still decimates mankind but not as badly. It is also revealed that the cult was more interested with destroying time. They see time as an enemy that must be eradicated and cult members in the future send several people back in history to kill certain people they call Primaries and create paradoxes to destroy the linear nature of time and prevent death. Now the images of time unraveling are wildly trippy with time apparently having a quasi-sentient nature, at least to the cult members. Many scenes seem like 1980s music videos running amok, but in a good way, with scratched film, time-lapsed imagery and fields of red foliage.
That is quite a head spinner and a welcome surprise. Apparently the people behind the show must have realized that the virus angle could only go so far before it became tiresome. So this soft reboot worked to the show’s advantage. Of course, care must be taken not to go too far with this new layer or else it can get confusing and convoluted.
Now the icing on the cake that makes the viewing of 12 Monkeys so enjoyable are the character dynamics. Last season Cole and Railly were on the verge of becoming a couple but that got curtailed this season when she was stranded in the future. When she returned to the present she became a hardened person and their relationship changed. Then there is a budding triangle between them and Ted Deacon (Todd Stashwick), a warlord in the future that became an anti-hero this season. Fortunately, it is very subtle but the tension is noticeable.
Another relationship worth mentioning is the bromance between Cole and his buddy and José Ramse (Kirk Acevedo). They were at odds last season because Ramse found out he had a son and didn’t want to change time out of fear that his son would be erased and tried to stop Cole. But he couldn’t go through with completely thwarting Cole. It worked out in the end, his son didn’t disappear when history changed. It is a good thing because the two actors have some great chemistry together and Ramse is a very compelling and troubled character.
Speaking of troubled characters, let’s briefly mention Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), who is mentally insane. Last season she was annoying but now is a comic highlight whenever she appears.
The only complaint is that 12 Monkeys doesn’t spend much time on certain subplots. In the episode “Emergence” Cole, Railly and Ramse meet an FBI agent (Jay Karnes) in the 1940s who realizes they are time travelers. He too quickly came to this conclusion but it was almost forgiven at the end of the episode when we saw his wonder and befuddlement when the trio blinked out of existence. Then there is Dr. Katarina Jones (Barbara Sukowa), who invented time travel. When time was altered, she kept her original timeline memories, but was unaware that in the new timeline she was romantically involved with Dr. Eckland (Michael Hogan), a fellow scientist. In the most recent episode “Meltdown” he made the ultimate sacrifice because he loved her even though she didn’t feel the same way. What could have been a bittersweet moment felt hollow because so little time was spent on this subplot.
Aside from those quibbles, 12 Monkeys is running wild with its premise, so let’s hope they can keep it up as it concludes its second season.