If you’d told me when I finished season 1 of 12 Monkeys that I’d be here, talking about season 2 of the show and lauding it as one of the best things I have ever watched, I …well, I might have believed you, because I do have friends who kept saying it, and I did enjoy season 1 a lot, but I’m not sure I would have been able to understand what kind of magic had to occur to take a show form good to “this is my baby and I will protect it”
To be honest, I’m still not quite sure how it happened. Especially because, as my season 1 review will attest, I really enjoyed the show in season 1, and one things show rarely do is start out good and get exponentially better. In fact, shows often do the opposite – or, if we’re lucky, they maintain a level of excellence all throughout.
But season 2 of 12 Monkeys is a much better season than the already great season 1, and it might just be one of my favorite seasons of TV ever.
Part of it has to do with Cassandra Railly, and I’ve already written about why her arc in season 2 means so much to me, but I cannot, in good conscience, write a season review without mentioning, once again, the wonder that is her arc in season 2. As a whole, though, it’s important to mention how much her arc complements the other characters’ journey, and the way the plot of the season is set up.
Like pieces in a very, very complicated puzzle.
Cassie gets harsher in season 2 is the easy way to explain it, but it’s more than that. Cassie is allowed to become what she needs to be, what the circumstances demand of her, what’s logical, without the narrative, or the other characters blaming her for it. In the same vein, Cole is allowed to become a little more like season 1 Cassie without that being seen as a weakness – at least no more than it has ever been.
Our problem with Cole, after all, has never been that he’s all heart, it’s always been that he’s all heart at the detriment of, you know, actual logic and plans.
His arc compliments Cassie’s beautifully, because he is allowed to break out of the constrains toxic masculinity sometimes places on male characters, and make emotional decisions again and again, all while Cassie is allowed to become the logical, the end-justifies-the-means kind of character. This also plays into the dynamic between the two of them, and makes the relationship, if possible, even more interesting.
My biggest TV gripe is always that characters that spend a lot of time together, that care for each other, never seem to influence each other enough. When you spend a lot of time with people, you pick up things – some good, some bad, but you inevitably change, grow, adjust. It’s the way of life. And it’s the way of 12 Monkeys.
Every second of the journey these two are on, every stumbling block in a relationship that started when they were two different people, feels real. Never did I feel like the show was just throwing silly stumbling blocks their way to keep them apart, instead I felt like these two were always growing the way they were meant to, and that would, at some point, bring them together.
Good writing doesn’t need to be rushed.
This translates to other characters, as well. Jennifer Goines was fun in season 1, but in season 2 she absolutely steals every scene she’s on, and if it were not that every other character on this show is likeable in their own right, she would absolutely steal the show. Being amused by her was easy in season 1, but in season 2 we’re actively rooting for Jennifer, in every respect. We’re rooting for her to find her way, to form lasting connections, and yes, we’re rooting for her to become part of this team.
Need an example? I will point to episode 2×05, “Bodies of Water,” an episode that is centered on Jennifer and Cassie, two women the narrative had pitted against each other over a man. Any other show would have let them continue to be adversaries, would have played up the idea that they both had feelings for Cole. This show, however, goes much deeper, because it understands that people can care for the same person without hating each other.
Oh yes, and because it understands that women are, more often than not, allies instead of enemies.
In a way, it’s the same situation with Deacon, a character I would have bet good money I was never going to come to like. Thankfully, I didn’t make that bet, because I would have lost, and lost badly. And dear reader, I haven’t even gone into Ramse, who I have absolutely abhorred at times, and who might never make my list of favorite characters, but is still someone I now understand, sometimes even relate to.
Every character feels like it has more depth in season 2, everyone is more relatable. Katarina Jones is allowed to be morally grey without the usual judgment reserved for women in her position, and yet she’s also allowed a win – Hannah, thanks to an episode I have already rewatched three times, and that if I had to make a list of my favorite episodes to TV ever, would be near the top of the list, “Lullaby.”
The magic of 12 Monkeys, however, isn’t in delivering one good episode; it’s in how the show never really lets up. There are no ups and downs, no wasted moments. And yes, there isn’t that much happiness either, something I have complained about before (see every review of Fringe), but that in this case, I don’t mind at all.
Turns out my problem wasn’t with angst per se, it was with badly written angst that went against characterization. 12 Monkeys has broken my heart more times than I can count already, but every decision, every twist, every turn of the story, has made absolute sense. More importantly, plot decisions don’t feel like they’re serving just the plot, but the characters as well.
And I’m only halfway through!
Part of me is sad that now I’m closer to the end than to the beginning, but another – bigger – part of me can’t wait to finish this journey. Here’s to more good storytelling, and more character growth.
12 Monkeys is available to stream on Hulu.