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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

12 Monkeys: “Divine Move”

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Let’s start with the simple fact: I liked this episode. Liked it, the way Cassie might like to go skydiving, the way Cassie and Aaron like that wine they’re sipping before Cole shows up. It’s pleasantly exciting to watch. It sticks close to principal characters without abandoning the broader horizons of “Yesterday” and “Tomorrow.” It sets up some vital story lines for the last three episodes of the season. And it passes the time until the plot really gets rolling again. It fills the void.

That’s what Aaron says when Cassie wonders what draws them to skydiving and rock-climbing and other adrenaline-pumping pastimes. “Filling the void,” he says, and there’s a flicker of bleakness in their cozy evening of wine, soft music, and dim lights. He’s more right than either of them wants to admit.


When Cole walks in, their faces say it all. Aaron’s appalled. “You can’t be here!” he blurts out. But Cassie’s expression of dismay is mingled with something softer, more confused, as she walks away from Aaron and embraces Cole.

I’m glad Aaron’s along for the ride. Noah Bean’s easy chemistry with both Amanda Schull and Aaron Stanford brightens the show, and the body language and blocking in scenes with all three of them reinforces the connection between Cassie and Cole. Look at that dinner scene: Cole and Cassie sit at the table. She drinks wine, he eats the meal Aaron cooked for their romantic evening, and Aaron looks on from across the room, mostly out of frame or out of focus.

“Divine Move” explores the tensions laid out last week between the personal and the cosmic, between saving the world and saving the ones you love. Jones wants her daughter back, and she’ll destroy this world to have her; Ramse fights to keep his son’s life intact, though it’s built on the death of seven billion. Aaron’s incensed that the world’s only hope is “a time traveler who doesn’t know what he’s doing,” but his real outrage springs from Cole endangering Cassie’s life—and endangering Aaron’s place in her life. Oliver Peters cooperates with The Army Of The 12 Monkeys, helping them engineer a plague so they’ll spare his husband’s life. When Cole returns to 2015—and to Cassie—he’s the harbinger of catastrophe, but he’s also just a man returning to the woman who taught him to dance, and he knows a successful mission means never seeing her again.


Everyone’s confusing the individual with the universal , but Jennifer Goines isn’t everyone. When Ramse, infiltrating their camp, asks her, “Who are you?” Jennifer answers not for herself, but for her entire sect. “We’re The Daughters—of mothers and midnight and fathers.” As always, Jennifer’s ramblings are obscure but intriguing, right on the edge of clarity. “It’s all out of order,” she tells Ramse, “but there’s still time for you and me. We have work to finish.” Together, they have to “undo what I’ve done, you’ve done, what Cole’s done.” She says even Cole “can’t undo the plague,” so what she’s entreating Ramse to undo, only time will tell.

And Ramse has time at his disposal. Not everything is preordained in this universe, or so Jennifer says, but some things feel inevitable. Ramse stole the time travel serum as “insurance,” as one last bargaining chip for his wife and child against the wrath of Jones’ soldiers. (Again, 12 Monkeys quotes the 1995 movie, but using “insurance” so pragmatically, and especially repeating it, strips it of the resonance it has in the film.) From the moment he chose not to destroy the hypodermics—and, as Cassie points out about Peters, even a meager choice is a choice—it was just a matter of time before Ramse plunged into a desperate, last-ditch journey through time. If he can’t protect his son in his present, he’ll try to do it from the past.


The conflict between individual and universal becomes explicit at the episode’s end, when Aaron forgives Oliver Peters’ choice. Cassie’s horrified: How can he sympathize with a doctor who would craft a plague to save one person? “One person that you love,” Aaron replies. “In the end, isn’t that all that matters?” She snaps out her one-word answer: “No.”

That’s easy to say, but Cassie’s answer and Cassie’s actions don’t correspond. As soon as the bookstore door opens, she grabs a knife; she’s ready to cut and maybe kill to defend herself and Aaron. But when Oliver Peters puts her gun barrel to his head and pleads for her to execute him, she can’t—or she won’t—kill one man to make the world safer.


Cassie’s reactions are plausibly complex. She’s distraught that their apparent success in Chechnya didn’t stop the outbreak. She’s discouraged by the work ahead. She’s filled with existential horror at the repeating cycle: “Splinter, apocalypse, rinse, repeat.” She’s sickened to realize the violence isn’t over yet. She’s dazed to see the man she’s been grieving on her doorstep.

And under it all, she’s alive with excitement that he’s back. She tells Aaron, “If Cole is right, you and I don’t have a future,” but as a couple, they haven’t had a future since Cole first appeared in her life. They’ve just been marking time.


Stray observations:

  • Dr. Adler is savvy enough to ask “Are you lying to me, Mr. Ramse?” but not savvy enough to expect a punch in the nose.
  • 12 Monkeys’ action scenes still feel slack, but it’s better at crafting tension in quiet moments. My notes for the seconds before Cassie opens that cargo container are ALL CAPS.
  • Cassie is getting a noseful of smells in this episode.
  • Aaron doesn’t want to go skydiving. “They strap you to instructors, I don’t like it.” Like a tandem jumper, Cassie’s future is tethered to Cole. He jumps, she follows his instructions.
  • “Turns out, whiskey doesn’t stop the apocalypse.”
  • I don’t really buy that Cole would choose “Don’t Fear The Reaper” from a jukebox (or even know how to operate a jukebox), but it’s so hilariously on the nose, I can’t even be annoyed.
  • Bye, Elena! Bye, Max! You deserved better, even though you were both just half-characters sketched out to give the leads more backstory.
  • Like “Atari,” “Divine Move” takes its title from the game of Go. It’s a rare, inspired move that turns the tide of a seemingly inevitable loss. We have three more episodes this season to see how the endgame plays out, or if it’s the endgame at all. After all, season two is in the works.
  • Chekhov’s monkey: The Monkey Lady (look, the show didn’t give her a name yet, so here’s where we are) reiterates the central question of “Divine Move” when she pits Aaron’s personal desire to protect Cassie against his larger obligations: “Dr. Railly is very important… to us and to you. So tell me, what are you willing to do to keep her alive?” Well, Aaron? What are you willing to do?