12 Monkeys is running through a pretty solid second season. The show might not have Terry Gilliam’s aesthetic, Bruce Willis’ confused gruffness or Brad Pitt’s all too convincing insanity, but it is providing consistently gripping narratives and a whole host of insights into the characters.
In an effective development on the original plot, the virus that drove the first season and the original movie has been defeated and yet the future still looks bleak. The ability to navigate the thin line of consistency and change is one of the show’s strengths.
The post-apocalyptic world is crucial to the narrative, but to suggest that time travel changes nothing undermines the whole narrative. Balancing the two produces those mind-squeezing moments when you think you know how time travel works and then it slips away.
The show has included a number of excellent moments of the future defining the past. As the Traveller, Ramse defined Cole’s actions for the whole first season and still gave us a redemptive moment when Cole and Ramse were reunited. The existence of the Witness as a time travelling manipulator with the objective of collapsing all time, is a threat who seems to be connected to an irreversible existence of time alongside changes that define the problems encountered by the opposition to the Army of the 12 Monkeys.
The ability of the show to throw up questions of indirect causality is one of its higher-function achievements.
When Cole and then Ramse and then Cassie travel back in time, do they merely enact what has already happened or what was already going to happen or do they merely support the events that have already happened because they went back in time?
The most recent moment was when Cole and Charlie saved Victoria Mason from Slade, the serial killing primary in episode 6 Immortal. Do we think a little Mason is going to appear as a significant figure in the army of the 12 Monkeys?
However, episode 8 Lullaby creates a time loop experienced by Jennifer Goines (thanks for the Groundhog Day reference, Jennifer’s 80s film references are great. The future intention to kill Jones and stop time travel creates a problem with Cole and Cassie repeating the same day until they are able to change the day while keeping it the same. They leave Jones thinking her daughter is dead while saving her daughter and leaving her in the care of Jennifer. In the future, Jones is reunited with her daughter. The actor who plays Jones’ daughter interesting appeared in a previous episode. Beyond the question whether the writers already preparing for this eventual plot line is the real question about time travel driving the show, had the change already taken place? Was Hanna always alive or was Jones and Cole experiencing a timeline without Hanna until Cole and Cassie return to save her?
Maintaining this balance between time travel change and consistency is what is making 12 Monkeys compulsive watching. How long can 12 Monkeys keep up the balance between change and the irreversible nature of time? Hopefully long enough to show us the identity of the Witness. Then who knows what the future holds…