While 12 Monkeys spends each week answering some questions only to ask just as many new ones, “The Keys” instead focuses on the characters at the heart of all this time-traveling insanity.
Cassie and Cole’s relationship has been paramount to the series, but the show only recently began to dive into their connection. And “The Keys” pushes them to the extreme, as the two are faced with Cole’s impending death and the possibility that the world will (FINALLY) be saved.
It all starts with the title, which is not a mythical laboratory or a hallucinogen-induced vision but the Florida Keys. Before explaining their importance, it’s best to start at the beginning, where the trail of news on Operation Troy has dried up for the moment.
Thankfully, Cole and Cassie find a lead in the picture Cole swiped from the greenhouse in “The Red Forest,” which connects them to an archaeologist who is conveniently giving a speech at a nearby art exhibition not long after their discovery. The two infiltrate the event—Cassie fits in with natural ease, while Cole looks so uncomfortable his suit appears to be holding him hostage. The two take a good cop/bad cop approach to interrogating the archaeologist.
Cassie approaches him first, not outright flirting but buttering him up with questions about his work (he mentions a fanatical religion in Chechnya), but when she brings up the 12 Monkeys, he shuts down and runs away. Cole goes for a different tack, cornering the archaeologist in a back hallway, pinning him to a wall, and forcing him to talk. At least he gets results, but unfortunately the guy knows about as much as they do.
More importantly, the writers use the gala as a smart opportunity to pepper in Cole’s deteriorating health and his fears about the mission. Cole grabs every skewer off a food tray, wants to pause and observe the artwork, and even dance with Cassie for a few minutes. She’s incredulous, thinking this behavior can’t be coming from the Cole she’s worked alongside all this time, but she doesn’t know about his talk with Jones last week or the ever-dwindling number of time jumps he has left. Cole wants to enjoy his life, because if the mission doesn’t succeed, it’ll kill him, and there’s few people he wants to enjoy life with more than with Cassie.
Aaron is still in the picture, however, and he and Cassie seem, at the moment, to be on again in their relationship. He appears back at Cassie’s hideout to comfort her, and the three commiserate on the lack of information until Cole is pulled back into 2043. The team appears to have hit a dead end… until Cassie receives a call the next day from Cole. He’s in Chechnya, and Operation Troy has already happened. More than that, he has the virus in hand, but is under fire by an unseen gunman.
Cole reveals on the phone that he comes to Cassie a week from that point, only to find Operation Troy has already happened, jumpstarting the apocalyptic virus. So Cole splintered back to 2043, and then back to a week earlier to stop the operation before it happens. Unfortunately, Wexler, the Edward Snowden-approximate who has been leaking government secrets, has a hired group of Russian mercenaries kidnap Cole shortly after he evades the gunman.
Things aren’t going much better for Cassie or Aaron, the latter of whom has been snooping around his boss’ office for intel on Troy. He finds enough information to report to the CIA about the viral outbreak, which lands him and Cassie in a room full of government officials who are behind the virus and its planned use—to kill Wexler. The CIA officials on hand attempt to bully Cassie and Aaron into helping without much hope for their future, but Aaron copied enough documents while searching through his superior’s files to blackmail everyone involved. He secures them their lives, but Aaron and Cassie still have to help stop the virus from being released.
Next: A tearful farewell, but is it for good?
How do they go about doing that? Cassie and Cole’s connection. The two have been growing closer over the weeks, and Cole’s affection for Cassie was on full display when they were at the gala earlier in the evening. The CIA wants Cassie to connect with Cole and stop the virus at all costs.
By the time she can make a connection, however,the virus has already been released. Cole, with virus in hand, is brought to Wexler’s castle hideout, where the foolish leaker lets his hubris get the best of him. Refusing to listen to Cole’s protests, he opens the case and unleashes the virus on himself and his men. Their health rapidly deteriorates, while Cole sits in the middle of the room looking like the peak of human health in comparison.
Wexler and Cole discuss the virus, the former going on about the world needing just such a plague, a “reset switch” that will weed out the worst of mankind. He may not have the chance to see such a world. as the soldiers surrounding them radio home to trade medical assistance for Wexler. They ignore Cole’s assertion that they’re all as good as dead, instead handing a pistol over to Wexler and ordering him to kill Cole. The tension breaks when firefight breaks out, Wexler refusing to shoot Cole. They both are shot in the process, but Cole takes out every soldier that hasn’t given in to the virus already.
Using the momentary relief, Cole calls Cassie telling her they need to destroy the building because he won’t be able to burn it. Some slight radio interference breaks up their call, which allows Cole to mine the dying Wexler for information. He knows about a briefing in 1987—the year Leland Goines said, way back in the pilot, is when he met Cole—when he learned of a war with the Yakuza and the 12 Monkeys. He dies before he can say much more (that seems to be a habit of anyone Cole meets), giving Cole the opportunity to reconnect with Cassie.
Cole tells Cassie the CIA has to bomb the building—it’s the only way to wipe out any trace of the virus, but she doesn’t want to approve of Cole’s death like this. He eases the situation by telling her the answer to a question she won’t ask for another week. Cole tells her he always wanted to visit the Florida Keys when he was younger. He and a few other refugees in the aftermath of the plague would discuss their dream vacation spots, at a time when the idea of vacation was becoming as extinct as humanity. She’s been looking for this type of insight into Cole’s life since they first met, and she finally learns a bit about him… in the moments before the CIA’s missile strikes his position.
Losing Cole makes their meeting a week later all the more difficult. On the phone, Cole told Cassie she couldn’t mention his death at all when they informed him Operation Troy already happened. And she doesn’t. But her final words to him suggest she may have altered the timeline once again. Cassie can’t help from stopping Cole from splintering for just an extra moment to say goodbye.
And so the episode ends, presumably with Cole enacting the plan that played out during the episode, but Cassie’s final farewell, during which she could barely conceal her pain, suggests that it wasn’t so final after all.
- The show is really taking liberties with the time travel, and it’s nice to see 12 Monkeys not fall into a formula. 2043 was absent from the main plot of the episode, but that didn’t stop Cole from jumping back and forth through time in an exciting—and occasionally confusing—way.
- I’ve said it in previous weeks, but I haven’t been quite sold on Cole and Cassie’s friendship/relationship. The banter between them early on felt forced, and Cole wasn’t quite developed enough for me to understand why she would care for him so much. But “The Red Forest” and particularly “The Keys” have done some fantastic work in making their relationship believable. Aaron Stanford has really grown in his role as Cole, and the writers have found a nice groove for their relationship that allows the dramatic beats, and even a few of the lighter ones, to land with a surprising punch.
- As for the ending, it’s certainly a cliffhanger that has me dying to see what happens next, but I assume we can attribute whatever saves Cole from certain death to Cassie’s understandably tearful goodbye.