12 Monkeys Review: 'The Cassandra Complex'
The third episode of 12 Monkeys, "The Cassandra Complex," opens and closes with either Cassandra or Cole pulling the trigger on another person, but in circumstances that demonstrate both the parallels and contrasts between the characters. In the opening scene, Cassandra is barely able to pull the trigger on Cole, even though her gun isn't loaded. Although it may seem that this scene is lacking in suspense or consequence, the fact that Cole is worried about Cassandra's ability to pull the trigger, rather than her aim, is very telling. Cole has been hardened by living through the apocalypse, and is willing to do absolutely anything to prevent the plague, while Cassandra is still a gentle soul who is slowly coming to grips with her situation.
But it's a credit to the show's character development that the contrast between the two characters isn't absolute. Cassandra isn't always the sentimental humanist, as she demonstrates when she's willing to kill innocents in order to stop the plague from spreading. There is a question of whether she could have killed those people herself or whether she would have simply ordered others to do it, but the scene in which she faces off with a gun-wielding gang member in order to defend Henri shows that she has some true grit. So there's a possibility that she's growing into a philosophy that's closer and closer to Cole's brutally consequentialist mentality.
That being said, the final scene between Cole and Cassandra showed that there is still a great distance between the characters, one that will likely cause serious conflict in future episodes. Henri's fate was pretty much sealed when Cole said "If I can find you, so can they," but Henri's death was still the most affecting scene of the episode by far. Although we had seen Cole kill Goines in the first episode, this was a different animal entirely. Cole gained Henri's trust, he saw that Henri was a devoted relief worker, and he clearly understood that Henri was an innocent. Furthermore, this was a much less straightforward situation than in the pilot, when Cole genuinely believed that Goines was personally responsible for the deaths of billions of innocents. For all Cole knew, Henri would never tell the Army of 12 Monkeys where the virus is, but he killed him just to be safe. That's a much colder character than we've met thus far, and he lied to Cassandra because he knew she would be horrified at his actions.
Hopefully, this will add some dimension to Cassandra and Cole's relationship, which has been somewhat disappointing so far. The actors have chemistry, and I'm completely supportive of a romantic subplot over the long term, but the show stumbles when it tries to overtly emphasize their feelings for each other. Their friendly banter was amusing in this episode, particularly the "General Tso" joke, but the "guy teaches a girl how to do something and gets all up in her space" trick made me roll my eyes a whole lot. The writers should really lay off of the typical "building romantic tension" contrivances and just let the rapport between the actors speak for itself.
And speaking of contrivances, there were a couple of annoying ones this week. First, Cassandra just happens to know the "one who got away." Not only does she know him, but she can pinpoint his location at an exact period of time. This, of course, hands Cole a time travel mission on a silver platter, which is awfully convenient. Then, they once again give the brilliant doctor Cassandra a randomly idiotic line; Cole says he needs to talk to Henri, and Cassandra deadpans that "he's dead." Really, Cassandra? It's been three episodes and you still don't get that you have a time machine at your disposal? These contrivances don't occur often enough to ruin the show on their own, but I still hope they'll be ironed out over time.
What does have the potential to ruin the show is a loss of internal consistency. In this episode, we see Cole "retracing his steps" and making events that we've already seen in the future happen. Between killing Henri and giving the Pallid Man his scar, Cole is maintaining the timeline we've already seen. So if, in the current timeline, Cole has already traveled back in time, doesn't that imply that changing the future is impossible? But we know this can't be the case, both because we saw him scratch Cassandra's watch in the pilot and because this would invalidate the entire premise of the show. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now, because they seem to have a lot of the time travel details down, and it's not a complete disaster like Project Almanac, but it seems like they would need to introduce some sort of "certain actions change the future and others don't" caveat in order for the show's time travel mythology to be coherent.
-An AV Club commenter pointed out that the "time travel unfair assassination" plotline was much more movingly handled in Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles. I agree with this assessment, but to be fair, that plotline occurred far later in the show than three episodes in, when it had had time to get its bearings. I'm not sure 12 Monkeys will ever be as good as TSCC was at its best, but I still think it has potential.
-The Pallid Man, as we're calling him now, is such a great and creepy villain. It's a little strange that he's so reminiscent of Zeljko Ivanek (who's more pallid than Zeljko?) but Tom Noonan is absolutely killing it.
-Some have been saying that Cole killed Henri in order to maintain the timeline, rather than to prevent Henri from revealing the location of the virus, but I don't think that really makes sense. It had been well-established that there was gang activity in the area. Cole had every reason to believe that Henri would have been killed by gangs after he left.
-The 2043 plotline was boring, as we don't know or care about Max. But one of my dissatisfactions with the show has been that they don't really paint a picture of the apocalypse that they're trying to prevent. The stakes will be raised much higher if the writers can impress the devastation and desperation of the future on the viewers, so I'll reserve judgment on this plot for now.