Pilot Review: 12 Monkeys

Pilot ReviewThere have been a lot of great shows popping up this season, but 12 Monkey‘s definitely had one of the best pilots I’ve seen this year. I love it when–after one hour of television–I’m completely invested in characters and a story, and 12 Monkeys definitely succeeded in doing that.

If you’re unfamiliar with the basic plot of 12 Monkeys, let me enlighten you:

In the year 2043, most of the world’s population has been wiped out by a virus. Over seven billion people are dead and the virus is starting to mutate. All of humanity will be killed off within a couple of generations. . .unless our hero, Cole, can go back in time and stop the outbreak from happening in the first place. All he has to go on, unfortunately, is a name–Leeland Frost–left in a message by a Dr. Railly. To save the future, he “splinters” into the past and tracks down Cassandra Railly. Together, they try to put a stop to the virus before humanity’s clock runs out.

How the Future Looks: 1995 Vs. 2015

Of course, 12 Monkeys the show is based on Twelve Monkeys the movie (which I hadn’t actually watched until relatively recently). I’ve got to say I enjoyed the bizarre puzzle the film created, and thankfully, the television show does just a good of job creating puzzles for the audience to solve. It does do it, however, in a completely different way.

I don’t think anyone was expecting a recreation of Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film. He has a very strange grotesqueness to his work and there is not one bit of that visual eccentricity left in the show. The new versions of characters live in a world that will be familiar to anyone who’s watched a dystopian Scifi movie or show in the last ten years.

Basically, we’re introduced to a world that looks desolate, violent, and lived-in chic.

I liked the relative familiarity of the post-apocalyptic world. This is a show that’s going to have a lot of brain-twisting going on and the look of the world doesn’t really need to be over-the-top strange to have interesting components (like time travel) to it.

I could, of course, be jumping the gun on all of this because we haven’t seen a lot of the world yet. I look forward to spending more time in the future and seeing what sort of difficulties this particular post-apocalyptic universe has in store for the characters.

Getting to Know You: Cole and Cassandra

While watching the movie, I felt so uncomfortable for Kathryn (Cassandra’s film equivalent). Bruce Willis’s Cole has none of the vulnerability of Aaron Stanford’s. He’s threatening and kind of insane. (He bashes a man’s head in, for goodness sake.) These aren’t things that are easy to overlook. At no point in the film was I 100% certain he wouldn’t harm Kathryn. The filmmakers even played off that by teasing a body found in the woods.

The change in the television show made me feel so much more comfortable with that particular aspect of the story. Aaron Stanford has these puppy dog eyes that make him easier to commiserate with. It helps too that he never appears truly insane. As a viewer, you know Cassandra will be safe with him from the first moment you see him looking at her picture on that wall of newspaper clippings. There’s a bond between them, and he doesn’t ever completely underscore that in his treatment of her.

Of course, above and beyond that, it’s clear to Cassandra and the audience that he is a time traveler from the first ten minutes of the show. Cassie, unlike Kathryn, doesn’t work with Cole because he threatens her but because she believes he is who he say he is. That distinction makes all the difference in the TV show’s set up. I am interested in Cassie and Cole’s relationship–unlike Cole and Kathryn’s.

I foresee Cassie/Cole’s bond being a source of tension in future episodes. Right now, Cole is more than willing to embrace oblivion for the sake of Mankind’s future. If he and Cassie develop a relationship, I wonder if his choice will be so cut and dry. I’m also not so certain he’d be willing to sacrifice her for 7 billion people if it comes to that.

Cassie’s also a much more proactive heroine than Kathryn. I’m glad she makes the decision to work with Cole, track down Leeland Frost, and crash a fancy party herself. She’s not someone who’s being dragged along for the ride, and that makes her interesting.

Kill the Virologist, Save the World?  

Another change from film to how that I found particularly neat is that, in the television show, the past is not presented as unchangeable. (Of course, we’ll see if that plays out as true as the story goes along.) From the very beginning of the film, Cole has no hope that he can stop the outbreak from happening. He only wants to track down the source of the disease and it’s early progression. TV Cole believes he can change the past.

I do already find myself asking if Cole truly knows the laws of time travel that govern his existence. Can he really know if he and Cassandra are creating the world in which the outbreak happens or if they’re actually going to be able to be instrumental in stopping it? Of course, the answer could be neither. There’s always the option that, no matter what they do, the future will correct itself so nothing ever changes.

Have I mentioned how much I love wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff?

There’s so much potential in the the universe of the television show. I like that there’s no set rule that the past is written in stone.  For Cole and Cassandra, there is hope.

In Conclusion

If you’re a fan of Science Fiction or the Dystopian genre, I highly recommend checking out Syfy’s 12 Monkeys. It is a fantastic show so far and definitely worth your time.

You can check out the pilot now on Hulu or Syfy.com. The next episode will air on Syfy this Friday at 9:00pm.

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