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?