TV REVIEW: Humor, Action and Emotion in 12 Monkeys “The Keys”

After playing with time(lines) the last two episodes, 12 Monkeys expands its past plot by generating even more threats. In the end, the creative choice to offer tangible consequences creates the series’ most cohesive episodic storyline to date.

It feels like an understatement to say that the universes in which 12 Monkeys exists are full of danger. Everywhere you turn a new enemy springs up. With every decision you make, you can literally create a new risk.

All the while, it constantly raises the question: Can you really alter fate? Or is fate not an unyielding natural law as we are taught to believe, but simply a series of decisions ? “The Keys” explores this cycle of hazard, delivering a solid 42 minute story that marks the series’ first literal ending.

The episode starts in a CIA meeting during which the government agency is being briefed by the man behind Leland Goines’ infamous night room virus. It seems that he’s teamed up with the rather morally unrepentant spy organization to take down a citizen four of sorts.

While the CIA plans to deploy the weapon and shut down the threat, the army of the 12 Monkeys has some ideas of their own. Before the army can be stopped, however, Cole, Cassandra and Aaron must first piece together what’s happening with Chechnya.

It wouldn’t be 12 Monkeys if we weren’t dealing with some sort of time loop shenanigans. This week it was watching the past, present and future literally happening moments apart. After attending a fancy event to locate a man who could identify a key symbol, Cole and Cassandra – with Aaron’s help – work to determine where the apocalyptic virus is heading.

Before Cassandra and Aaron can get anywhere, Cole is calling to tell them that the very mission they are trying to stop is happening at the very moment. The rest of the episode sees Cole dealing with the virus and brute protection force of a traitorous American hacker. Meanwhile, Cassandra and Aaron take on the nation’s scariest (and shadiest) government agency to stop the virus from getting into the wrong hands.

The end result of their mission is something many probably didn’t see coming: Cole dies. Well, as much as a main character in his position can die in a show about time travel, fate and the choices we make, right? For as throat lump inducing as his first goodbye is, the show really drives his death home for viewers when we see Aaron and Cassandra literally setting him up for that death. It’s a necessary evil in order to stop the virus from leaving the hacker’s remote compound, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

This episode’s nice balance of relationship development and action gives this moment its strength and weight. As we see each character taking serious, life altering risks for the greater good, we also see them share very tender human (and sometimes humorous) moments. Neither of these aspects of narrative development overtakes the other. Instead both worked in tandem, increasing our investment in the characters and their fates through rising action and emotional stakes.

Moreover, “The Keys” wonderfully utilizes each member of the newly minted “team past/present” and their own special skills to retrieve intel and intercept the army’s scheme. Cassandra’s knowledge of viral development and institutional connections, Aaron’s proximately to big government players and secrets, as well as Cole’s connection to the future and his raw determination make them the perfect end of days halters.

For Aaron in particular this episode was a stand out. Unlike past episodes, this week actively used the character and his occupation to successfully weave together the CIA and 12 Monkeys threat. With Aaron’s insider status to the government and its biggest secret, he becomes an interesting and necessary addition to the team.

The finality of the episode was a nice change from the cliffhangers the series normally delivers, making “The Keys” storylines feel a tad more whole. And while we got more action than question answering, the episode had no problem prodding a curious mind. What did the hacker mean when he said the 12 Monkeys work like “hours on a clock”? Did they actually stop the virus or has the thread of fate simply mutated? Oh, and is Cole dead? If he isn’t, how many jumps until he is?