12 Monkeys Review: 'Mentally Divergent'
After two unexpectedly entertaining episodes, I can say this: if 12 Monkeys is only aspiring to be a fun time travel story that excels at internal consistency and engagement with paradoxes, it's doing a wonderful job so far. If it aspires to be anything more than that, then it has potential, but still has a ways to go.
The show so far goes down really easy; there are very few obvious flaws, and it has been successful in anticipating the primary questions surrounding time travel and answering them as much as it needs to for now. The first question on my mind as I began this episode was, "How does Cassandra ultimately leave the message and why doesn't she repeat herself more if she knows that the message starts to cut out?" The latter question will hopefully be answered when the time comes, but the show nicely engaged with the first question when Jones admonished Cole for messing up his timeline.
Unlike less sophisticated time travel mythologies (I'm looking at you, Looper), 12 Monkeys doesn't take the simplistic view that changing the past will have linear, predictable effects. Rather, changing one thing will change everything. This "butterfly effect" isn't a new idea, and the human brain probably can't conceive of it well enough to portray it with complete accuracy, but having the characters acknowledge that Cole messing up Cassandra's timeline could affect the future in ways that they can't predict is sufficient, at least for now. You can find inconsistencies if you think about any time travel narrative long and hard enough, but their handling of the difficult subject matter is solid.
There were only a few moments that stuck out to me as outright mistakes, usually when characters behaved like they were less intelligent than the show would have us believe. Cassandra is a scientist and generally acts like an intelligent human, but she sounds like a simpleton when she asks Cole if Emily "might have meant" that a scientist other than Leland got away. What else could she possibly mean, and haven't they known that ever since Leland's death didn't undo the plague? Also, it's "prime" numbers, not "primary" numbers, which wouldn't have bothered me so much, except that the show is trying to force down our throats that Jennifer is some kind of genius. But it's a credit to the show's relatively smooth sailing that these small moments stuck out so much.
The bigger problem is in the character interactions and development, which leave something to be desired if the show wants to be a legitimate drama in addition to a genre show (although every show doesn't have to aspire to be Breaking Bad or even Walking Dead). The characters tend to speak in exposition, and the conflicts in relationships are externalized to the point that subtext is all but nonexistent. The only relationship that even gives a hint of any complexity is Cole and Cassandra's, but that's more a credit to their chemistry than to the writing.
And speaking of broad strokes, I have serious reservations about Jennifer Goines as she's depicted so far. She's fun to watch, and Emily Hampshire's performance is pretty great, but she comes off as more than a little cartoonish, and her scenes were the most painfully exposition-heavy of all. Plus, the connection between insanity and promiscuity is tired and borderline offensive, but I'll hold off on a real judgment until we see more from her.
-The relationship between Cole and Ramse may not have been complex, but their interactions were enjoyable and believable. I look forward to seeing more of Kirk Acevedo's character in the future, as he adds some much-needed levity to the proceedings.
-On the other side of the spectrum is Aaron and Cassandra, whose relationship seems too boring for words. He's a decent guy, they broke up because he thought she was crazy. That's not nearly interesting enough to make him seem relevant, especially considering that the obvious love story burgeoning between Cole and Cassandra already makes Aaron feels extraneous.
-The "How did you find me?" "The North Koreans called" exchange made me laugh harder than it should have. (I'm guessing they made that North Korea sequence before the whole Interview debacle.)