12 Monkeys: "Shonin" (Season 1, Episode 11)


"Hope is the luxury of those unburdened by fate." That's as good a line as any for a show that's literally swallowing its own tail in a fairly impressive manner. The future's attempt to stop a historical plague is, in fact, causing it to happen. So what do you do? I guess that will be up to Cole to figure out in 2015. At least this time he knows how twisted the game has become.  

Picking up from last week, we're in the Tokyo of 1987. Leland Goines, head of the Markridge Group, is a drunken clod being offered a rare find in the middle of a wild and crazy nightclub. Some crooked Japanese guy is offering him the remains of a thousand year-old corpse for $500K, said remains being the source of the lethal virus M510 we saw in The Night Room several episodes back. What's really wild is that they wheel the transparent container holding that horrific sight right out on to the nightclub floor.

Leland's unimpressed. It may be 1000 year old tissue, but it's necrotic tissue. Bacteria, rats, and every other varmint in the area got to it before it froze. Himalayan road kill, as Leland memorably notes.

Cole's entry on the scene screws everything up. His attempt to intervene with Leland lets slip the fact that this particular road kill has a virus, thus changing Leland's mind. He'll take it. That opportunity arises because Ramse shows up from the future to further screw up Cole's intervention. They wind up in a Yakuza-style fight to the death.

Cole is the one stabbed.

Hold that thought. This episode is primarily the story of the mysterious Witness (aka Ramse). Ramse spends the next eight years being brutalized in a Japanese prison, his only comfort being select books and notes from a mysterious woman named Olivia. She calls him The Traveler and says they have known of him for some time. That goes on until Ramse engineers the murder of one of his prison tormenters, a success that earns him one final note: "Traveler, your time in the desert is over. You are who you were meant to be. Time to join us."

Olivia is, of course, that lady associated with the Army of the 12 Monkeys whom we've seen twice before. Ramse is still carrying the pendant Jennifer Goines gave him in the future, the one she took from The Pallid Man in the past. Bringing those two pendants together creates a distortion in reality. It causes all the leaves in the garden of Olivia's wealthy estate to turn red. That would be the red forest from several episodes back: "You are walking through a red forest, and the grass is tall. It's just rained. Most of the blood has washed away." Remember that?

So Cole was being manipulated all along. Ramse believes Cole died back in 1987. Thus all the Army of the 12 Monkeys had to do to realize the great Plague was ensure the events of Cole's time travel happened exactly as Ramse remembered. That's how the loop of interference closes out with the M510 virus in hand and Cole eliminated.

Project Splinter thus betrayed itself. Jones' desperate gambit to save the past is being used by Ramse to cement it in place. And the Ramse at the end of this episode is clearly a man Cole no longer even knows. He's lived through 28 years since he last saw Cole.       

The rest of this episode consists primarily of seeing things we've already seen from a new perspective. Interesting tidbits are interspersed. For example, Ramse no longer seems to age but his hands are disfigured. Olivia emerges as the one unexplained piece of this puzzle: how has she known of The Traveler for some time, why would her father be proud of her for finding him, and what is her interest in decimating mankind? Olivia also picks up Jennifer Goines, playing on Jennifer's damaged psychological relationship with her father to become a sister/mother/mentor figure. Lastly, she's helping fund an initiative with Senator Royce to create a Selective Survival Protocol. That would be the nascent Project Spearhead.                  

All of this would actually be a nasty yet clever way to end a book. But this is a TV show, so Jones succeeded in zapping Cole from 1987 back to 2015 before he died. That, however, cost Project Splinter its tether to Cole. With nothing left to believe in, the future is falling completely apart. Ramse has betrayed everyone to keep his son alive in a doomed world without hope.

Thanks a lot, Dad.

Cole and Cassie in 2015 are the only fly left in this wretched ointment. The Army of the 12 Monkeys thinks Cole is dead while Cole now knows how he was being played. And Ramse no longer has the blueprint of everything that will happen.

Sort of a Splinter in the Mind's Eye, don't you think? With apologies to Alan Dean Foster.

This show is better than anything on the current SyFy has a right to be.