Can history be altered or, as Stephen King might say, is the past obdurate? That question looms not only over the engaging second season premiere of 12 Monkeys but over the series as a whole.
And for those who may be unfamiliar with the series itself but decide to check in on the premiere, a nice narrated primer sums up the entirety of season 1 at the episode’s onset. The world ended, and in 2043 a group attempts to prevent that from ever happening while the Army of the 12 Monkeys, led by a cultish devotion to prophecy and fate, wants to ensure history goes as ordained.
“Year of the Monkey” picks up the tale of Cole, the man sent back in time to save the world, who fell in love with a doctor named Cassie from 2016 (who is now stuck back in 2043), and Ramse, also from 2043 but who for a time sided with the 12 Monkeys to keep history as planned so his son would stay alive. He did so after traveling back in time to the 1980s… look, it sounds complicated, but it’s a blast to watch (you can catch up with the first season all available on Hulu).
And while the primer may leave out some of the finer details, “Year of the Monkey” is as accessible as a jumping-on point into a series so intricately wrapped up in time travel can be. From the start, Cole and Ramse are working together, not back to the brothers they once were but still chummy and aligned enough to fight against the 12 Monkeys together. (One of the best aspects of season 1 was the camaraderie between the two future fighters, and though they may still have their differences, it’s nice to see that spark of brotherly love isn’t wholly lost.)
Currently in Budapest, the two have found themselves hunted down by the Monkeys, who are hoping to kill Ramse as destiny has ordained his fate. They escape this latest entrapment and head underground for a bit, assuming the Witness (the mysterious figure who can see the future and to whom the 12 Monkeys devote themselves) has used his powers to stay one step ahead of them this entire time. But the secret to the Monkeys’ frequent appearances is not some mystical knowledge of the future — they surmise it’s likely a tracker embedded in Ramse.
Cutting it out will require some back-alley surgeon work, so Cole calls on an old coworker of Ramse’s who, despite some initial hesitance, decides to come assist the two at their hideout. He successfully pulls the tracker out, but also injects Ramse with a temporary paralyzer. This old co-worker believes if he turns Ramse into the Monkeys he can ensure safety for himself when the inevitable cataclysm comes. He expects it to arrive via Jennifer Goines, who is currently in New York and set to unleash the world-ending virus on Chinese New Year.
All he has to do is sneak Ramse out of the hideout, but unfortunately for him, as he goes off into another room to find Cole, he’s met at gunpoint by Ramse’s compatriot. While the duo may have agreed to split up after Ramse was freed of his tracker, the two still care enough for each other to fight for and protect one another; Cole kills the stand-in surgeon before going to rescue Ramse.
Recovering from the paralytic substance, Ramse denies that the man who intended to trade him for salvation gave away any intel, and so it seems later on that the two are in fact destined to split up. Cole genuinely apologizes for Ramse’s son, and that combined with the guilt of letting Cole possibly get himself killed goads Ramse into revealing Jennifer’s situation.
The two might still not be back to the place they once were, literally and figuratively, but they make an important step toward repairing their friendship on that bridge in Budapest before they head off to New York.
Jennifer is in fact in Manhattan, walking around in a daze, the virus kept in a vial with her wherever she goes. She knows what she has to do, but she wants the world to step in and stop her. She doesn’t believe she has a choice in the matter, but if someone were to make the choice for her, killing her and stopping her from ever releasing the virus, then maybe the world can still be saved. She attempts to make some sap at a speed dating event (which she walks into thanks to a sign that fully reads “Being Single Is Not the End of the World,” the latter half catching her eye) her murderer.
Placing a gun on the table between them, Jennifer asks the guy to do something with his life, put his mid-life crisis to good use, but he can’t bring himself to do it. She leaves, after which point he calls the cops to alert them of some lady walking around with a gun and declaring the end of days.
NEXT: Cole finds Jennifer[pagebreak]
Yet despite her attempts, Jennifer makes it to Chinese New Year, where Cole chases her down, holding her at gunpoint and demanding she hand over the vial. She wants him to kill her, to free her, but he won’t. And it seems he won’t have the chance as a few of the Monkeys’ foot soldiers watching Jennifer appear to ensure the timeline plays out as it is intended to with Goines unleashing the virus.
An unknown assailant stops them from carrying out that plan, though, and plans to kill Jennifer. Cole won’t let that happen, even though this unexpected third party is the woman he loves, Cassie, who says she comes from 2044, having been stuck in the future for eight months.
“Year” only showcases the initial moments of her time in the future. Cassie, having traveled through time, spends a few days passed out before waking up in an unknown world. There she meets Dr. Jones, Deacon (the Scav King), and the Messengers, the group that has taken over Jones’ facility to send various members of their group to different points in time.
The whole situation looks doomed, even as Jones tries to interfere and kills one of the Messengers with a splintered time-travel attempt. Luckily, Cassie forges an unexpected alliance with Deacon, who is initially working with the Messengers. He’s sick with Wilson’s disease, and she says she can go back to her time and retrieve medicine for him to ensure he stays alive. Though at first incredulous, Deacon buys into what she’s saying and agrees to help take down the Messengers.
The two, with the help of Deacon’s group the West 7 and one of Jones’ remaining soldiers, take down a few members of the group before making their way to the sealed off time-travel chamber. They decide to overheat the core, causing the machine to explode while taking out everything else in the room.
Except for Jones, of course, who Cassie is able to warn to hide right before the core ignites, breaking the machine. One last Messenger needs to be killed before they find temporary salvation, six Messengers having traveled through time. But there’s hope. Sure, the machine will take months to repair, but Jones knows she can in fact fix it.
We know she eventually does (or another method of time travel is discovered), as Cassie makes it back to 2016 after eight months in the future, but what happens in that period is a mystery. And it remains a mystery as the premiere ends. Cole and Cassie have each other at gunpoint, Jennifer to the side, and Ramse mysteriously knocked out in the streets below them.
It’s a cliffhanger ending that should work for both fans of the first season and any newcomers (who, again, will be less confused by watching season 1). What started off as a fairly average time-travel story with the specter of its source material looming large developed into its own confident, thrilling ride of interconnected time periods, mysterious lore, and a strong ensemble cast.
Some relationships took more time to fine-tune than others (as mentioned before, Cole and Ramse’s friendship was a bright spot from the start), but season 1 did some great work in fleshing out Jones, Cassie, Jennifer, and others that make the implications of this season premiere all the more exciting.
And the promise that the show is going to move beyond the plague into larger machinations of the 12 Monkeys is an exciting one, as by the end of season 1 that MacGuffin was already starting to wear out its welcome. The show teased out the various tendrils of its lore in season 1, and now it’s time to explore those concepts in greater detail, something the season premiere seems on the precipice of accomplishing.
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“Year of the Monkey” is very much a setup of the status quo going into the season, but it works as both an enjoyable crash course on this world and its characters as well as a signal that the show hasn’t lost its touch for keeping its viewers on their toes. Allegiances change, characters jump from one decade to three further in the future, and visions can be loaded with foreshadowing imagery. While certainly not one of the show’s most ambitious or affecting hours, it’s likely to be a key cornerstone in the arc of season 2 as the characters test the limits of their destiny.
But is it all following a preordained path, or do those fighting for and against the salvation of the world as we know it have the power to affect the tides of time? It’s a question that is inherent to the series’ story, but one the series looks to be delving into with aplomb. Whatever the answer to that core conundrum is, 12 Monkeys’ second season premiere is certainly an indication that this mystery is one well worth sticking around to uncover.