The West 7 attack pretty quickly into “Atari,” pulling Cole back from 2015 and forcing him into a gunfight to help protect the facility against Deacon and his henchmen. It’s a moment where 12 Monkeys threatens to get rid of the one thing that makes it stand out from other shows, and I must admit that I felt a twinge of regret at the thought that maybe Cole wouldn’t be able to timehop anymore. In fact, as “Atari” hints at the destruction of the facility in general, I found my patience for the show slipping away – if Cole is stuck in 2015 the rest of his life, then things are bound to get pretty stale.
And yet that discouraging event doesn’t come to fruition, since Cole is accidentally sent back to a time right before the attack on the facility, and directly into the hands of the West 7. It’s another one of those fortunate coincidences in 12 Monkeys that happen because it’s easy. At the same time, though, the inclusion of so many coincidences seems to be a theme for the show, not just a deus ex machina.
In “Atari,” Cole’s miraculous jump back is in itself a loop in time, always meant to be. The episode shows us, from Cole’s perspective, what happens during the insurgence, and then it jumps back in time to show us what happens from Cole’s perspective as an insurgent. It’s an interesting device for storytelling for sure, but more than that, it allows the writers of 12 Monkeys to show that they’ve got their plot details down to a science. “Atari” skillfully incorporates the looped events that seem to presage what’s to come in the conclusion of this show – that time travel is actually the cause of the virus.
Because Cole jumps back to a time when he could possibly encounter himself, he’s got to be careful. But his mission is also very clear – he’s got to stop the West 7 before they destroy the facility and kill everyone in it, or else he can’t jump through time anymore. He’s also got to save Ramse, his friend and scavenger buddy before they made it into the facility’s good graces.
While the show is preoccupied with Cole’s short trip, it also makes room for flashbacks to a time when Cole and Ramse were drawn into the West 7 camp. Both Cole and Ramse have a great buddy-cop relationship, and “Atari” plays off of that by forcing them at odds – Ramse doesn’t like Deacon’s power-hungry dictatorship, but Cole understands that it’s one of the only ways to survive. When Deacon gives Cole the ultimatum to either kill Ramse or find themselves ousted from the West 7, Cole mulls it over before deciding that it’s not worth murdering his only friend. Likewise, his relationship with Max factors into her decision to go against Deacon when he’s storming the facility.
“Atari”, then, neglects Cole’s relationship with Cassandra yet again, although it’s at the expense of solidifying time with Ramse. But it’s not all bad – Ramse gives Cole some advice about pursuing Cassandra in the future, which very nearly comes to fruition until Cassie reveals she knows where the Night Room is located. It’s meant to build tension for the will-they-won’t-they ‘shippers, but right now their romantics aren’t strong enough to make this feel wholly suspenseful.
Still, I’m rooting for 12 Monkeys to further explore its Cole-Cassandra territory, and to keep its time-jumping plots strong. The West 7 development is probably the weakest and most generic thing about the show, but as long as the writers can prevent that element from becoming a major part of this season, I think things will be just fine. Bring Tom Noonan back, guys!