“12 Monkeys” and Splintering through the SyFy Stigma
Standing among all the zombies, dragons, and comic book–adapted television shows stands 12 Monkeys. A post-apocalyptic time-traveling drama that has helped its host channel, SyFy, experience a resurgence and has revitalized science fiction television.
When most people hear the channel name, SyFy, they immediately think Sharknado and for good reason. The made-for-TV movie has developed a cult following that rivals the likes of The Evil Dead for a new generation. While the silly B movie that spawned three sequels is seen as campy-good fun, it has also left the SyFy network with that same stigma. This in turn has left a lot of its original programs getting unnecessarily pushed to the background and not given much of a chance to resonate with the mainstream audience. 12 Monkeys is leading the SyFy charge to help change that stigma during its second successful season.
Adapted from the movie with the same name, season 1 saw a show that stretched the original story into thirteen mind-bending and engaging episodes that paved the way for compelling story arcs. The plot of the show plays like this, “Follows the journey of a time traveler from the post-apocalyptic future who appears in present day on a mission to locate and eradicate the source of a deadly plague that will nearly destroy the human race.” The great thing about this vague description is that the show is so much more complicated and multilayered in the best possible way. It’s almost misleading but in such a way that it reels you in and never lets go. Characters time travel, or splinter, back and forth from the future to the past constantly. Storylines never falter, and the writing improves with each episode.
Season 1 was a great starting point for this show. The writers did a terrific job of introducing the core characters, James Cole (played by Aaron Stanford), Cassandra Railly (played by Amanda Schull), José Ramse (played by Kirk Acevedo), Katarina Jones (played by Barbara Sukowa), and Jennifer Goines (played by Emily Hampshire). The relationships formed among this group were all well balanced along with major story arcs and subplots that followed. In short, the show accomplished a lot, and the season finale only paved the way for even more crazy adventures to come in season 2, and boy did they.
A lot of shows stumble and fall during its second season; some have a few missteps and eventually find its footing. It’s called the sophomore slump, and many shows go through it. 12 Monkeys had none of these problems. In fact, I would say its second season was far superior to the first one. That’s not taking anything away from its rookie year, but the writers brought their A game in every single episode that’s aired this season.
In turn, we’ve been treated to great character development, most specifically in Emily Hampshire’s portrayal of Jennifer Goines. A character gender-swapped from the theatrical version and who was played by Brad Pitt. Nothing against Mr. Pitt, but her performance makes you forget his Jeffrey Goines character, which he played extremely well. Not to be left out is the character, Deacon (played by Todd Stashwick). He’s a character who we met in spurts during season 1 but has played a key role during season 2.
But, the story really centers around the mission taken on by Cole, Cassie, and Ramse and led by Katarina. The writers have done a masterful job introducing subplots that engage the audience and open up the mythology without overpowering or taking away from the main story arc. When characters travel to the past, their actions always end up having an effect on what transpires in the future. This is where the show has gotten into Lost territory and in an amazing way.
Whereas flashbacks really drove character backstory in Lost, the same can be said when a character splinters back in time—whether it be 1944, 1957, or even 2016. The actions the characters take, whether they be the protagonist’s or antagonist’s, twist timelines in such a way that the audience members often find themselves wondering how closely connected these characters really are. The biggest question posed during the first two seasons have been “Who’s the witness?” Unlike other shows that drag out a major plotline like this, we were fortunate enough to get a resolution to this big question during the second season. The show has also done a nice job of not letting potential romances become the focal point of the show. #Casserole, the ship name for Cassie and Cole, and a favorite among fans, has resolved itself with a moment that was juxtaposed with team members coming into contact with the witness and giving us one of the most unforgettable scenes in the entire series. I’ll steer clear of revealing too much if you haven’t caught up yet.
Most important, what I want to emphasize about this brilliant show is how in two season it’s managed to fill the Lost void that Hollywood has been so desperately trying to fill. On a network that doesn’t boast the highest rating and doesn’t have the financial legs to stretch, 12 Monkeys has created another cult-following hit that deserves to be talked about just as much as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. SyFy has earned its place at the cool kids table.
So, the next time you hear SyFy channel and quality television in the same sentence, don’t be so quick to shrug it off. The network is ushering in a new wave of science fiction television that is focusing on fantastic storytelling and intriguing characters that’s quieting the campy SyFy stigma.
Now is the time to “initiate splinter” sequence and catch up on the first two seasons. You won’t want to miss season 3.
Let us know what you think of 12 Monkeys on Twitter: @PacingPete, @The_GWW or @SplinterBackPOD