Rebooting movies on television is without a doubt one of the biggest trends in the medium right now. We’ve got Hannibal, Bates Motel and Fargo, just to name a few, and last night SyFy threw its hat into the ring with the television reboot of 12 Monkeys, based on the Terry Gilliam film from 1995 starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in an Academy Award nominated performance. Gilliam’s film was also based on a pre-existing property as it expanded French filmmaker Chris Marker’s short film La Jetée into the hit feature. This recap of the pilot episode of SyFy’s adaptation is going to be just that: a recap of the series. There may be the occasional reference to the feature but be these writings will be about the series in question, not comparing and contrasting the show to the movie.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I very much enjoyed Friday Night Lights and Helix director Jeffrey Renier’s spin on the premiere episode which was written by Terry Matalas & Travis Fickett who developed the series for television. We open in 2043 listening to Cole, played by Aaron Stanford, paint a picture of the post-apocalyptic world that humanity finds itself in. We see images of death everywhere and the only people left are scavengers. Quickly, we’re transported back to 2013, where we meet Dr. Cassandra Railly giving a lecture to her medical counterparts asking them to consider the idea that perhaps a global pandemic might not be as unimaginable as we’d all like to think. Considering that the Ebola virus has been ravaging parts of Africa and made its way to the United States last year, I’d say the series is topical, for sure.
After the lecture, Railly is walking to her car when she is abducted by Cole who doesn’t want to hurt her but tells her to identify a man named “Leland Frost.” Unfortunately, Railly doesn’t know such a person and Cole realizes that he may have come back before she has met the person in question. The person who Cole claims is responsible for unleashing the plague that destroyed most of the worlds population. Cole tells her to meet him in two years and she listens. We find out later when Railly and Cole are reunited that things haven’t been going so well for her and that when confronted by the police the night Cole first came back Railly told the truth — that a guy named Cole held her captive and then disappeared in front of her eyes. I know with fantastical shows like this one we’re supposed to willingly suspend our disbelief but this was the one thing out of all of the shenanigans that took place on our first venture into the 12 Monkeys television universe that made absolutely zero sense to me. Why wouldn’t she just lie? Giving an official statement to police that a man time traveled or disappeared in front of her would obviously cause more trouble for her than help, but for now I guess we’ll let that one go…
In any case, Railly has had two years to think about who the mysterious “Leland Frost” could be, only to find that the person they are looking for is Leland Goines, the head of a medical company who was, as far as the public knew, working on a malaria vaccine. Railly and Cole attend a schmancy party in hopes that Goines will be there too and Railly tells Cole that he is not allowed to try to kill Goines. Of course Cole doesn’t listen and tries to kill Goines but Cole is foiled by his personal security and he and Railly are taken out of the party by the police. Once they are away from the party, the two are removed from the patrol car and taken into custody by Goines’ security. Cole and Railly learn that Cole has previously met Goines in 1987, a fact Cole doesn’t remember. Goines is in on more than he originally let on when it comes to Cole and tells Cole about the “The Army of the 12 Monkeys,” a phrase that Cole also doesn’t know yet. Cole pulls a time altering trick and creates a diversion allowing him to take Railly out of Goines presence before a huge explosion is created. Cole shoots Goines and kills him, however, nothing happens as a result of Goines death. Something is wrong.
In the final scene, Cole travels back to present day 2043 and he informs the people who sent him back in time that something is wrong and that he did complete his mission despite the outcome not having changed. Cole then notices for the first time on the information wall the red 12 Monkeys logo in historical photographs throughout the pandemic. Meanwhile in 2015, a character in what appears to be an insane asylum is crazily scribbling on the wall of their cell. The person is informed that their father, Leland Goines, has died and that he has left them his money and had hopes that they would be his legacy. This person is revealed to be Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), a switch-a-roo from the Brad Pitt role in the Gilliam film who was named Jeffrey Goines.
It was certainly a lot to take in at first but the quality of everything that went into the pilot episode of 12 Monkeys is a clear step in an alternate and positive direction away from the Sharknado‘s of SyFy channel past. Not to say there is anything wrong with a goofy B-movie now and then but I really enjoyed the first episode of the series and am looking forward to the rest of the first season! Here’s hoping that SyFy will be able to strike a balance between silly and strong and continue to offer different kinds of science fiction offerings on the network.
12 Monkeys, starring Aaron Stanford, Amanda Schull and Emily Hampshire, airs Friday nights at 9PM on SyFy.