Pilot: 12 Monkeys

It’s been a while since we did one of these and I’m feeling nostalgic, so today we return to premier/pilot episodes and we’re going to look at the SyFy series 12 Monkeys. When I first came across the serial adaptation of this story I was surprised because of all the wonderful films that could have been chosen, this just felt like a weird choice to me. Then again, it’s just another in a long line of serial adaptations that have been gracing our screens lately… Shooter (WTF is that show even about?), Lethal Weapon (I love you Damon Waynes but the jury is still out on this one) and Fargo (can’t stomach Kirsten Dunst, will probably never watch this) to name a few. Personally, I’d like to see Jumper adapted for television because that movie had potential, despite the wooden acting, and the novel was pretty damned impressive as well. But I digress…

I’ll preface by saying that I was not a fan of the film adaptation by Terry Gilliam. I’m not sure what it was that put me off, Gilliam’s trippy directing or Brad Pitt’s over-hype, but it certainly wasn’t the concept. I know I watched it more than once, wanting to love it, but I just never quite got over the line; much as I loved the scene with Madeline Stowe holding Bruce Willis as he bleeds out in front of a strange little boy who turns out to be young Cole.

Unlike other serials which we have discussed in previous posts, I haven’t seen this whole series and am not writing this in retrospect and with full knowledge of how the plot line will develop. As a result, I can’t really tell you too much about the plot, apart from what I know from the movie and what I have divined from the initial installment of the series – obviously. That is that a strange man named Cole comes from the future in order to try and prevent the release of virus that will wipe out the vast majority of humanity. Unlike your typical time travel film though, Cole jumps back and forth between 2043 and any date in the past. In the pilot episode he spends most of his time in 2013 and 2015 respectively, but the nature of the film plot was that he can jump into any time (sometimes by accident) so I guess that’s going to carry across here. Rather than time travel, jumping or looping this practice is called ‘splintering.’ I believe that has to do with the fact that as minor changes happen Cole doesn’t change or doesn’t perceive that he has changed and that his present time also remains relatively static. I am unsure of the last though, as this is the first episode, so we will have to watch and see. In any case, it’s another example of one of the time travel paradoxes that we see so often in time travel themed shows.

castWe break the past the future follows… but does it?

Cole is working on the assumption that if he can kill someone in the past then this will prevent the release of the virus and hence erase him from the future (his present). Life is so crappy in that time that he seems totally okay with this option. The issue that I have with this kind of plot line is that if one believes in destiny, does it not nullify the whole reason for the mission? Destiny or fate come up a little bit in this first episode and traditionally both suggest that certain events will come to fruition in the fullness of time; that there is nothing we can do in order to prevent this certainty. Sure the heroes of these types of plots may go around killing past versions of future villains, but they are surely enough always replaced by other villains, who step into the role in order to fulfill the immutable nature of destiny. Considering that Cole comes from a time where science is smart enough to have riddled out the particulars of time travel, how have they not worked this out?

Cole and Cassie
Do you believe in fate? If I say yes, does that mean that Cole and Cassie will become my newest favourite sci-fi couple?

I feel like this time travel adventure slips into the same kind of vortex as Terminator – except Terminator is darker and Kyle Reese is more dynamic than Cole. Don’t get me wrong, I see Cole maybe growing on me, but if he came back from the future and landed in the back seat of my car right now, I just don’t know if I could respond to him in the right way. Even though he is apparently immune to paradoxes, I just wonder if that negates the actual paradox issue and even though he does that cool thing with the watch and the knife, I just don’t know if I’d be buying what he was selling. I guess the problem with all time travelers is that the nature of traveling through time makes them skittish and unreliable, dirty and disheveled. Cole is guilty of all of these things in the pilot – we will have to see if he can overcome.

Not even a paradox can hold you back. Convenient.. but I guess it is a fine line between convenience and annoyance. Time will tell what side of the line this paradox avoidance will fall on.

Neither of the presumably main characters (Cole and Cassie) in this series are known to me as actors. This is beneficial because, unlike the film, they’re not carrying with them any social expectation or any shit like that. There’s no prior work to compare this to and so it is easier to accept them in these roles. Still, I don’t know how I feel about either of them. Are two unknowns compelling enough to carry a series? I guess David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were relatively unknown when the X Files was released and look how that turned out.


The paradox watch demonstration Cole uses to discuss the relationship between past and future is kind of cool, but is it cool enough for me to come back for episode two? I don’t know. I wish there was some way of contacting future Racheal, so that I could ask her.

Sidebar: Why does everyone in the post-apocalyptic future have such good teeth? All our post-apocalyptic friends in this show, just like in Terminator, have great teeth – but no access to a good diet, clean running water or medical attention. This is a big issue for me. I feel it sets unrealistic expectations for when I finally meet my own time traveling love interest.

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