12 Monkeys is SyFy’s newest television series, an adaptation of 1995’s Terry Gilliam production starring Bruce Willis; to show how different this show is from the movie, though, they’ve gone ahead and changed the title from Twelve Monkeys to 12 Monkeys, ensuring that anyone having a hard time reading can simply look at the number and figure out that there will be a dozen apes in this show. Either that, or the “monkeys” stand for something else? No way!
Whatever the case, I can’t comment on the similarities between the show and the movie, not that it matters anyway. I haven’t seen the Bruce Willis project, but I can imagine that SyFy is taking a lot of liberties with the source material for the show – it’s been nearly twenty (read: 20) years since that film released, and the change in technology and science is going to be significant to the plot. Since 12 Monkeys is a science fiction story about time travel, current refinements in science will help to establish a more realistic idea of how someone could travel from 2043 back to 2015.
Aaron Stanford stars as James Cole, the time-traveling dude who first jumps back to 2013 to meet with Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), a top neurologist giving a lecture to a group of doctors. Quickly he kidnaps her without explaining much, causing her to call the police and get Cole shot before much can go down. What he does explain, though, is that there is a terrible virus that has destroyed much of humanity in 2043, so he needs to come back and stop the guy who develops it before the shit really hits the fan. Railly is one of the scientists who will work with the CDC to stop the virus, so he’s coming back to use her to find a guy named Leland.
12 Monkeys starts with a pretty impactful opener, and it doesn’t really let up from there. The show attempts to explain its conceit without stooping to too much exposition, and Stanford is pretty good as Cole, especially after he begins to open up to Railly later in the episode. Likewise, Schull carries the character of Railly very well, acting surprised as you would expect but also scientifically intrigued. She is, of course, a neurologist, and Cole’s odd antics would obviously pique her interests.
The narrative jumps to 2015, which for the show is present day/past, with a meet-up with Cole and Railly again. She has since lost her job and all of the respect she once had as a doctor, but she still heads to her meeting spot with Cole to see if it really happens. Whoa – he shows up with the same gunshot wound! – and the two decide to track down Leland via some helpful clues.
All of this moves rather swiftly, with Railly jumping right into the action with nary a question. She’s seen him splinter in time, I guess, so there’s not too much to ask Cole. He does explain, though, that there is a group of people in 2043 looking for a cure to the virus, and they’ve sent him back knowing that if he succeeds in changing time, he won’t be coming back. Actually, the future will change accordingly, and since everyone is dead in the future anyway, he has little problem killing Leland when he finds him at a government facility.
“Splinter” poses some interesting ideas for 12 Monkeys, one of them being the lack of feeling when killing someone who is already dead in the future. Cole has no remorse, even stating that it doesn’t really matter if Railly dies since she’s already dead to him anyway. More than that, 12 Monkeys has the option of continuing indefinitely thanks to actions in the past causing things to shift in the future. Obviously, stopping the virus will not be as easy as taking out Leland: Cole does that in this episode, and nothing of import happens. It’ll be interesting to see how 12 Monkeys pursues this idea, and what they do with paradoxes; they could lead to some very entertaining scenarios, including some of the characters accidentally coming in contact with themselves in the past.
So far, 12 Monkeys is far less terrible than you’re probably hearing. If you enjoy time travel at all, the show does it pretty well without going into scientific specifics. The biggest issue with this pilot is the lack of secondary characters; with just Railly and Cole to hold it down in “Splinter,” the show is missing some key subplots that will keep the show moving later. But this is expected from an initial episode of the series; later episodes will definitely need to involve more minor characters. For now, though, the premise of 12 Monkeys is intriguing enough to hold my interest for a few more episodes as the show pieces its parts together.