While 12 Monkeys has primarily been about Cole, with Cassie on the side, its later episodes have put his time-jumps on the backburner to explore the secondary characters around him. It’s never more apparent than in “Shonin,” which focuses on just about every character besides Cole and centralizes its plot around Ramse, stuck backwards in time after splintering to 1987 Tokyo. It’s not just a good episode because it cuts Cole out of the picture; it also creates a villain’s origin story by literally jumping back in time, juggling multiple timelines and past meetings all at once.
12 Monkeys has been so successful because Terry Matalas and his group of writers understand what it takes to craft a compelling serial about time travel. The small things noted earlier in the series need to be addressed later, especially because all of them have bearing on what happens in the future. It seemed, for a moment, like the show had forgotten about its doppelganger effects: putting a watch from two different times together, for example, creates an explosive effect, and that was used in the series premiere only to be cut out of the story so far. But it comes back in “Shonin,” as do a number of familiar events in a hodgepodge of scenes that works sort of like a recap of what’s happened so far in 12 Monkeys, this time in helpful order.
Leland Goines is the first guy to make a reappearance, this time in 1987 at the White Dragon. This is where he first comes into contact with the deadly virus, offered the opportunity to buy the Himalayan corpse to secure a legacy for Jennifer. Both Cole and Ramse bust in on this buy, fighting to either stop the virus (Cole) or let things play out as they should (Ramse). 12 Monkeys has forced Ramse into an incredible tailspin – in a matter of moments, he’s gone from Cole’s best friend to wretched rival. In most cases, this would be a ridiculous turn of events, but the show has been able to sell his change because of how much stuff Cole has messed up in the past.
Before Ramse and Cole’s fight, Goines isn’t going to buy the virus. He doesn’t see the worth in it. But once two guys throw themselves into the ring over it, he changes his mind – if these two guys want to kill each other, it’s got to be worth something. Here again we see Cole actually influencing the future, accidentally compelling Goines to buy the virus despite his initial reticence. It seems 12 Monkeys is, at every turn, continuing the trend that Cole’s meddling actually leads to the viral outbreak.
Ramse delivers a near-fatal wound to Cole, though, and that’s where “Shonin” branches away from 12 Monkeys’ regular routine – instead of following Cole, the episode puts Ramse into perspective. He spends a few years in jail (in 1987) until he’s pulled out by members of the Order of the 12 Monkeys. It’s that Mysterious Woman, working in tandem with the Pallid Man, and not only are they able to recruit Ramse, they’re also able to influence important people in office, leading to Aaron’s loss of a job.
“Shonin” is a particularly effective episode at putting all of the events of past, present, and future into perspective. Its use of Ramse through the decades gives him a reason to work against Cole, whereas his initial standoff was mainly anger at the way things were working in 2043. Given a place to channel that anger with the 12 Monkeys, he’s becomes a new threat for Cole in a way that should most likely affect the future just as much as it does 2015. But it’s even more compelling because of the way “Shonin” takes the time to show the effects of Ramse’s imprisonment, slowly whittling him down with the help of the Mysterious Woman until he’s a Sun Tzu-spouting warrior using smarts instead of violence.
Ramse’s done a complete change, but “Shonin” also finds time for some of the other characters. In its time jumps, it shows the effects of Leland’s work on his daughter Jennifer – influenced by the 12 Monkeys and also manipulated by them, it’s no wonder that she’s as crazy as she is. Likewise, Katarina continues to be the bad guy in 2043, unswayed by her peers’ anguish and doing everything in her power to keep Cole alive. In a twist, she pulls him back to 2015, risking Cole’s life and the power of the time travel device in order to get him to Cassie’s side.
“Shonin” is one of the most important episodes of 12 Monkeys thus far, cementing various plots in the past, present, and future together. It’s pulling all of those seemingly disconnected events into a cohesive whole, also putting it into perspective, and that’s to the show’s benefit – as we work towards the finale, there’s a fantastic plot developing that puts Cole head-to-head with his old friend. The Order of the 12 Monkeys is showing ridiculous foresight, but so is the show itself – that they’ve been able to keep all of these events organized is a profound achievement, and one that continues to get better with time.
- Time-hopping puts most of 12 Monkeys‘ various encounters into perspective
- Focus on Ramse creates a villain origin story
- Leland Goines’ toupee
- Everything is really coming together for the season finale
- No more Cole/Ramse buddy talk
- Need more explanation about the Order of the 12 Monkeys
- Cole’s time-jump to 2015 seems too risky considering his fragile state