12 Monkeys has kept 2043, for the most part, an absolute mystery. The show hasn’t done much to expand the world’s fiction in the post-plague world, instead focusing on the present as we know it, 2015, before the planet’s human population nearly goes extinct.
“Atari” solves that problem by taking place almost exclusively in Cole’s present. Other than scenes bookending the episode, “Atari” is all about shining some light on not just the world in its ravaged state, but specifically Cole’s view of that world.
And the show’s writers know how stingy they’ve been on information about Cole. The episode opens on Cole and Cassie investigating the night room in 2015. Just as intriguing as the mysterious locale is to Cassie, she’s just as interested in knowing about Cole’s life, but he slingshots back to 2043 before he can reveal anything.
Ramse and Jones are concerned that the West 7 scavengers, Cole and Ramse’s old crew, are preparing to attack their base. Rather than just pay lip service to their past, the episode flashes back to 2032 on a younger, thinner, and mangier Cole and Ramse. The duo are fending for survival on their own in a sequence that also gives the episode its name. Ramse brings up the term Atari, from the game Go, which is used when there’s only one move left to make. And it seems like they are certainly in Atari when a group of scavengers storms their makeshift camp.
That group happens to be the West 7, led by Deacon (Todd Stashwick, only glimpsed briefly last week). Rather than killing Ramse and Cole after the two take out some of Deacon’s men, Deacon decides to offer them a place in the West 7, and they accept. Bringing them back to their home base, Deacon introduces the two to Max and just the briefest of sparks flies between her and Cole as they tour the camp. Ramse voices some concerns over Deacon’s willingness to raid and kill with reckless abandon, but for now, he’s happy enough to have a tent over his head.
While 2032 Cole is busy flirting, 2043 Cole is prepping for battle. Jones brought him back abruptly from 2015 for fear that their headquarters may soon be under attack.
Her concerns are justified, as Cole and Ramse, pulling rooftop surveillance duty, spot an armored truck heading toward them. Under gunfire, the truck crashes into their building and explodes, but Deacon’s forces are far from done. As they fend off stragglers from Deacon’s crew, Cole and Ramse suspect this frontal assault is just a decoy, and they know their old leader well. Deacon is simultaneously sneaking in through the tunnels beneath the building.
Whitley and Ramse head off to fight some of Deacon’s men while Jones and Cole go to protect the time machine. The former duo unfortunately finds itself outgunned while the latter has locked down the time travel room with Deacon attempting to knock down their door. Over the radio, Ramse tells Cole that he’s in Atari, and the next thing Cole hears is a burst of gunfire.
Believing Ramse to be dead, Jones attempts to send Cole back to 2015. He can still reverse the current timeline and prevent this all from happening. Unfortunately, Deacon breaks in and begins firing as Cole initiates his jump, interfering with the machine. Cole is sent back in time, but not to 2015.
Before discovering where exactly Cole ended up, “Atari” fleshes out Cole’s past with the West 7. Ramse continues to find Deacon’s methods abhorrent. Deacon believes if he let’s a survivor live that he’s stolen from, he creates an enemy, so they all must die. But Ramse sees murder and theft as a move to be pulled when you’re out of options—when you’re in Atari.
Next: Cole gets by with a little help from… Cole?
Cole goes along with Deacon’s methods, and how does the West 7 leader reward Cole’s loyalty? By asking him to kill Ramse. If he won’t follow the rules, he’s got to go, and as Deacon said, he isn’t the kind to let someone go with their life. Cole can’t bring himself to kill his best friend, though, and the two instead flee camp that night, much to the dismay of Max, who Cole has already hooked up with in his short time as a West 7 member.
Cole has the chance to confront his past, though, because the machine threw him right into the path of the West 7, conveniently only days before their raid on his compound. They capture him and torture him for information, but Cole doesn’t start spilling secrets until Deacon drugs him, sending him on a crazy trip. He accidentally tells Max mid-trip about the tunnels below the base, and Deacon, just out of sight, uses the information to begin their assault.
Max stays behind, however, and, after explaining how hurt she was when he left the West 7, comes around and decides to help him stop Deacon.
The two rush off to the compound watching events play out as they did earlier in the episode. Cole avoids the other version of himself as he goes to save Ramse. In doing so, he discovers that the gunfire he heard on the radio wasn’t from Deacon’s men. It was from him, killing them before they could hurt Ramse.
He single-handedly kills off all of Deacon’s men, pulling Ramse out of Atari just as Max turns on Deacon in the time-travel room. The West 7 leader escapes thanks to some dilapidated machinery that comes crashing down around him, but considering Cole, Ramse, and Jones all made it out alive, the endeavor wasn’t a total loss.
Cole takes his newfound lease on life seriously. When he returns to 2015, after a pep talk from Ramse, he opens up to Cassie about his life. He wants her to know him, and she appears genuinely happy that he’s willing to finally let her into his life. But Cassie has found the night room in Cole’s absence, so their sharing session will have to be put on hold until at least the next episode.
- Again the show takes any opportunity it has to make a joke via the editing rather than through the characters. Cole is faced with the decision of killing a dog so he and Ramse can eat. The scene builds to a tense standoff, his gun pointed at the canine, until… it immediately cuts to the dog resting by the duo’s fire.
- Whatever romantic duos the show is setting up for Cole, his best relationship is with Ramse. The two’s bromance is on full display in the episode. Aaron Stanford and Kirk Acevedo play wonderfully off each other, selling every moment between the two, whether it’s a discussion about girls or about if Cole is going to kill Ramse.
- Whitley believes there’s no way someone could find the tunnels, and voices this fear moments before Deacon breaks in through those tunnels. Whitley’s presence among all these scientists is becoming more questionable by the week.
- Cole also shares a nice moment with Jones, as they reveal their first names to one another before she sends Cole back to 2015 for what she believes is the final time.
- Aside from Acevedo’s frequently great turn as Ramse, Todd Stashwick brings another fantastic presence to the supporting cast. Stashwick sells Deacon as a threatening villain, but also as someone who truly believes he’s right in his pursuits. Hopefully, even if less time is spent in 2043, Deacon remains an integral part of the season.
- Another cool editing trick: The night Cole and Ramse flee the West 7 is edited to appear like it is the exact same night as when Deacon tortures Cole for information.
- Less impressive is the show’s arbitrary time-travel rules. Cole reveals that the short jump he made was only possible because of interference with the machine. Normally it can’t jump to such a close point in time. But it also can’t jump too far back in time. That seems, at least with the information the show has given so far, maybe a little too narratively convenient?