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12 Monkeys - The Red Forest - Review

12 Monkeys, “The Red Forest,” was written by Christopher Monfette and directed by Alex Zakrzewski. This is actually Monfette’s first writing credit for television, but he comes from a comic-writing background, having rebooted Hellraiser and worked with both Clive Barker and Stephen King. He describes himself as a lover of genre fiction, and he puts all of that to good use in this episode which is deliciously creepy. He’s the real deal and one to watch – I’m hoping we’ll see a lot more episodes from him! Zakrzewski, on the other hand, has a long list of credits including Salem, Law & Order: SVU, 666 Park Avenue, and Numb3rs. The episode picks up a little before the action ended in “The Night Room.” This episode had me on the edge of my seat the entire time, and really starts to explore the possibilities and consequences of time travel.

All of the leads deliver terrific performances in this episode. The chemistry between Aaron Stanford (Cole) and Kirk Acevedo (Ramse) is terrific. Acevedo does a great job playing alternate Ramse in addition to the one we already know and love. Did Cole have to name the buddy in the future who tells him the story of the two wolves? This is a pretty well known story, and Cole uses it to reassure Aaron, but it’s easy to see how Ramse would have used it to calm Cole. We each have two wolves inside us who fight for dominance every day. One is anger, envy, pride and the other is truth and kindness. The one that wins is the one that you feed. Cole tells Aaron that he doesn’t have to worry about Cassie because she always feeds the good wolf. No doubt, Ramse was encouraging Cole to feed his good wolf because he’s generally more generous in feeding his dark wolf.

Barbara Sukowa (Jones) also plays another take on her character in the alternative future. Amanda Schull (Cassie) has to spend most of the episode stoned, and we finally get to see more of Noah Bean (Aaron). Having worked together on Nikita, Bean and Stanford also have terrific chemistry and it’s fun to see the in jokes as Bean played a covert military agent on that show but here is pretty inept at all the cloak and dagger, guns and violence.

We start to get a pretty good idea that time travel does not come without a cost. The evidence is spread throughout the episode even before Jones states it at the end. Did you notice the blood dripping on the machine before Cole splinters back to 2043? Cole is in more pain than normal throughout most of the episode and it appears to be more than just proximity to his other self. He tells Jones at the end that “Every time I splinter it feels like I’m being ripped apart from the inside.” Jones is convinced he came through the machine by looking at his blood. She says “your molecules are in a constant state of flux, shifting at the quantum level.” That doesn’t sound like it can lead to anything good, but more likely to them shifting completely apart at some point – splintering apart.

In the alternate future, Cole catches glimpses of the future he’s used to – great special effect there. He has trouble remembering things because the timeline is changed. When Noah accidentally shoots him, he suddenly has a flash of a new memory of being sewn up in the future by alternative Jones. In the present, he suffers the sudden pain of the wound, but more importantly, he suddenly gets a nosebleed. It seems like any divergence in the timeline results in more physical trauma to Cole’s body.

I really liked how the alternative future versions were, in essentials, the same as how we know them. Ramse may have only one eye and be the leader of the West VII, but Cole tells him, “You’re a good man in any reality” when he agrees to drain the core to bet on a better future than to play it safe. Ramse in the alternative future has killed Deacon – sorry Todd Stashwick, I did miss your crazy! – and lead the West VIIs to safety. Ramse is all about the greater good, and he has faith enough in Cole to put him back in the machine, knowing that it could be jeopardizing his present. I loved the Cole and Ramse reunion at the end of the episode. The writers have captured their bro-mance, but it’s the chemistry between Cole and Acevedo that really makes it work. I love how they tease each other – “Who took it?!? Who took my eye?!?!” but then Ramse continues to be concerned for the obvious physical toll the time travel is taking on Cole.

It was sweet revenge to see Whitley (Demore Barnes) having to answer to Ramse. But Whitley is still the same in this reality. He takes orders well, but he has no sense of the bigger picture. He’s only focused on what he can see and hear. He kills the alternative Jones and Ramse breaks alternative Whitley’s neck.

Alternative Jones can tell us a lot about the more secretive and closed off Jones we know. Cole discovers scars on her wrists that indicate she tried to commit suicide after her experiments failed. We learn that Cole was killed before he could be a part of her experiments. She tells him, “If you can’t be right, at least be brave.” Clearly, she gave in to despair. The alternative Jones clearly doesn’t live as well nor take as good care of herself – her hair is a mess and her glasses broken. She’s lost control in every way.

        She does, however, warn Cole that “Sacrifice is the only way. The other me knows this. Ask her about it.” We start to see a more open and caring Jones in the real 2043. She sees in the debriefing that Cole isn’t feeling well and lays a comforting hand on his back. When he pushes her about the ultimate consequences of splintering, she concedes that they are breaking the unwritten rules of the universe: “time, it’s going to take what it’s owed. Eventually, it will kill you.” She doesn’t know how many jumps he has, but it’s not as many as she’d like. This puts a bit of an urgency on the whole show, however. If Cole is already showing signs of wear, how long does he have?

Cole goes back to 2015 to try to fix things. Once again, I really liked how smart the writing is. There are lots of time loops and coincidences as things fall into place. Aaron sees the brief on Operation Troy at the Senator’s (Bill Timoney) office, and the Senator is secretive about it, so that when Cole brings it up, it’s enough for Aaron to ignore the police at the door and try to help get Cassie out of the Night Room. We also learn that as much as he might not believe Cassie about Cole – or Cole when he talks about the future – Aaron was looking into Goines’ death. He also lies to the Senator, telling him he was only protecting him as Goines was a campaign contributor.

The show does a really good job of reminding us that Cole isn’t from this time. He has no idea what 911 is – no police in 2043! Or at least not to come to your rescue. Cole also has no idea what a license plate is, but he does appear to have a photographic memory. I also loved him figuring out where the Pallid Man (Tom Noonan) had gone by equating landscaping with flowers – even if he wasn’t too sure what landscaping was.

One of my favorite scenes is when Aaron asks how to take the safety off the revolver. Cole then thinks to ask, “Have you fired a gun before? Point it and pull the trigger.” It’s basically a complete role reversal to their characters on Nikita and Stanford is clearly enjoying the irony. Honestly, Aaron is pretty ineffectual at all the “tough” stuff. I loved when he thought he was being badass and drove the car into another one, resulting only in bloodying his own nose. Cole simply reaches forward and slashes the airbag – “Got that out of your system?” It’s a perfect way to demonstrate the different worlds – with different stakes that the two come from.

         I also liked the scene where they play good cop/bad cop to find out where Cassie is. Aaron tells the guy, “I don’t know this guy, but if you don’t know, you’re of no use to him and he’s just gonna do this for fun.” Meanwhile, you can see Cole playing with a tree trimming tool in the background and the threat is clear. Of course, Aaron’s negotiation skills come in handy. They also find a picture at the landscaping site of a piece of broken pottery with the picture of the monkeys on it.

Another funny moment was Aaron asking about a plan, and Cole complaining, “Everyone wants a plan. There’s no time.” And Aaron points out – as Ramse did last episode – that Cole’s a time traveler and therefore has all the time in the world. Though as we learn in this episode, Cole may be running out of time. Cole appears to shoot the Pallid Man in rescuing Cassie, but it’s not until he shoots one of the other guards that she is truly safe. He does give her the picture of the pottery with the command to find out what it is. Aaron finally becomes a believer as he sees Cole splinter. I laughed at the combination of Bean’s face and his “Holy shit!”

Cassie is drugged by our new big bad – described as Striking Woman (Alisen Down) on IMDb. Do we want to give her another name? She wants Cassie to talk to the Witness. She talks Cassie through the red forest to a house to meet him. Cassie is about to meet him – she tells Aaron that he was wearing a “plague doctor mask.” I thought Schull particularly good in this scene as she runs through a gamut of emotions. She’s still a little stoned and freaked out and afraid. You can also see her determination to keep going against these forces and then her happiness and gratitude that Aaron finally believes her – she’s vindicated.

It would seem that all roads now lead to operation Troy and Chechnya. The key seems to be beating the Army of the 12 Monkeys to that punch now. The Striking Woman seems to value Cassie more than the Pallid Man, but she also appears to be the one in charge. One thing that wasn’t explained in the episode was what the breaking glass of milk meant. Is it simply a metaphor not to cry over spilled milk? Does it have a more significant meaning, is it tied to some event? Is it something that didn’t happen because Cole fixed the time divergence?

Another great episode with lots of time twists to keep us thinking and some great performances. A quick shout out to the FX department as well for the trippy scenes – especially the boiling floor! What did you think of the episode? Do you think Aaron will be helpful going forward or cause problems due to mistrusting Cole? Do you think they’re going to need to find a way to “fix” Cole sooner rather than later? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

About the Author - Lisa Macklem
I do interviews and write articles for the site in addition to reviewing a number of shows, including Supernatural, Arrow, Agents of Shield, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Forever, Defiance, Bitten, Glee, and a few others! Highlights of this past year include covering San Diego Comic Con as press and a set visit to Bitten. When I'm not writing about television shows, I'm often writing about entertainment and media law in my capacity as a legal scholar. I also work in theatre when the opportunity arises. I'm an avid runner and rider, currently training in dressage.

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