“Cassandra Complex” is the first time that 12 Monkeys has split up its two protagonists Clay and Cassandra, and it shows: for whatever reason, this episode is slower-paced and lacking the quick punch of dialogue that Clay and Cassandra deliver together. In a way, that’s a positive criticism for the show; if Clay and Cassandra feel less interesting when they’re apart, then 12 Monkeys has definitely done a good job of cementing their relationship to each other. At the same time, the show can’t always have them working together, and “Cassandra Complex” is an example of how 12 Monkeys needs to do some more work to craft Clay and Cassandra, apart, into more interesting people.
Part of the lag in this episode is due to the plot. Clay and Cassandra find out that there’s a man named Henri Toussaint (yeah, like the painter) who was part of the massacre in Jennifer Goines’ lab that got her thrown into a mental asylum. They realize that this was the Pallid Man’s doing, not Jennifer’s, and since Cassandra knew Henri when she worked in Haiti helping with a serious outbreak, Clay realizes he needs to go back to 2014 and find the guy.
This is where the separation occurs, and it’s a smart idea. Since Cassandra met Clay in 2015 at the hotel, Clay can’t meet Cassandra again in 2014 or else his actions could affect whether she meets him in 2015. That means that she might not save his life from a bullet, and “Cassandra Complex” makes a big deal about avoiding past actions that could cause a ripple effect and undo progress in the future. Like last week’s episode, 12 Monkeys is proving that they can handle the possible conundrums of working with past-future time travel: the group in 2043 takes so long to deliberate whether Clay will be able to do much in 2014 without messing everything up, and it feels like this might also be what it’s like to sit at the writers’ table.
Once Clay heads back to 2014, he does see Cassandra, and he does his damnedest to stay away from her, even sporting a fantastic Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses in the process. “Cassandra Complex”, though, is less about Clay’s pursuit of Henri than it is about showing how Cassandra lost her credibility with the virology field. Ever since she met Clay in 2014, she’s been jumping at the chance to get into the field and explore viral outbreaks, thinking that it could be the virus that wipes out the world in the future.
It makes her jumpy, and a poor doctor, and during a fit of madness Cassandra breaks down and tells the head doctor that he should quarantine the whole site or shoot anybody trying to leave. It’s an interesting conflict for Cassandra, since she really does think she could be saving the world; it mimics the newest global terror, the ebola crisis, and the problems with uneducated masses attempting to flee quarantine zones. When the labs come back as a simple River Fever, it makes Cassandra look crazy and jumping to conclusions, and likewise it makes her lose any prestige she might have earned beforehand.
On the other side of things, Clay is forced to do a dirty deed when he kills Henri rather than let him escape to another place. Clay knows he can’t allow Henri to leave with the knowledge he has of the Night Room, since the Pallid Man will continue to track him down. This is an important moment for 12 Monkeys because of Clay’s relationship with Cassandra – she thinks Henri was gunned down by gangs, but in reality Clay’s time travel is the reason Henri is dead. Clay can’t tell her that, and already they have a secret among them. It’ll be interesting to see how the show works this angle.
Back in 2043, there’s another problem afoot. A group called the West 7, apparently a tribe of scavengers Clay and Ramse used to run with before they were drafted into the time travel scheme, want to take over the facility because of its sustainability, and it’s all because of Ramse that this occurs. He meets up with a woman from his past named Max, accidentally revealing a lot about what he and Clay are doing. Again, Ramse and Clay together has better narrative structure than Ramse alone, but I like how 12 Monkeys is at least attempting to tell a story in multiple time periods. With so much going on, the show definitely has many subplots to rectify, meaning no shortage of stories to tell.
“Cassandra Complex” isn’t as good as the show’s first two episodes, but it still showcases some of 12 Monkeys’ best qualities. Its handle of time travel is very good, and with the lack of Cassandra/Clay relationship in this episode, it reminds that so far the show has done a great job of molding them into partners. The pacing issues aside, this episode continues 12 Monkeys’ unique take on time travel, and attempts to characterize secondary personalities in the process.