Syfy's TV version of 12 Monkeys continues to play around with the question of whether Cole's time-travel is changing the past, or whether it "already happened." That ambiguity leads to some pretty interesting story possibilities, as last night's episode "Atari" demonstrates. Spoilers ahead...

The heart of "Atari" has to do with Cole thinking he's able to change the past, whereas he's actually caught in a closed loop where his actions help to cause the future he jumped from.

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In a nutshell, the West 7 scavengers show up and attack the facility where Dr. Jones keeps sending Cole back in time. And when the facility is overrun (because the West 7 thugs know a secret entrance somehow) Dr. Jones decides to try and send Cole back in time permanently. But she only manages to send him back a couple days, so he gets captured by the West 7 scavengers, and winds up telling them about the secret entrance. (Cole thinks he can change the events that caused him to be sent back in time, but instead he just causes them.)

But luckily, the Cole who went back in time is able to get back to the compound in time to save Ramse from his apparently certain death, and then rescue Dr. Jones — so that even though his time-travel didn't change the past, it still allows him to be in two places at once during the attack.

At the end of the episode, Ramse suggests that they made a mistake not killing the leader of West 7, Deacon, back in 2035 — and maybe with the time machine, they can get a do-over. But Cole says these short jumps are basically impossible, and it only happened this time because the machine was damaged in the attack. But also, this episode leaves a strong impression that there are no do-overs.

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As Cole says, maybe some things are just meant to be — to which Ramse asks, why bother to try and change things? Which is a good question. Maybe Cole's time travel is actually futile, and he can't actually stop the plague, after all.

On the one hand, we already saw a demo of changing the past and affecting the future in the pilot, when Cole scratches the past watch and you see the scratches appear on the future watch. On the other hand, there have been several examples now of people having already met Cole on a journey through time that he hasn't made yet, from his standpoint. So maybe he can change the past sometimes, but not in other instances — or maybe it's always futile.

I guess we'll find out, eventually.

Meanwhile, we get a series of flashbacks to 2035, which are our clearest glimpse yet of the chaos after the plague wiped out most of the human race. And we see how Cole and Ramse were lost and starving on their own (but still unwilling to kill a cute dog), until they got strong-armed into joining West 7.

Life in West 7 is pretty sweet, as long as you're willing to kill innocent people and take their stuff. Deacon, the leader, is kind of a psycho, who believes that if you leave any survivors of an attack, you create an enemy. He also spouts the usual kind of post-apocalyptic philosophy about how it's a new world, and only the strong will survive, and they can't afford to be merciful. But as Ramse points out, Deacon is actually killing for power, and because he enjoys it.

One of the nice aspects of being in West 7 is the dating pool, and Cole strikes up a relationship with Max, a girl who was forced to join when she was 13. Max is the same girl who attacked Ramse and Whitley last week, and she's the one who's now led West 7 to the compound.

In the flashbacks, we see how Ramse finally got tired of killing defenseless people who've already been robbed successfully. And he openly challenged Deacon, who responded by ordering Cole to kill Ramse. What's chilling is how close Cole comes to finishing the job, and how much Cole seems to buy into Deacon's "survival of the fittest" rhetoric. (And how similar that is to Cole's ruthless "break a few eggs" approach to changing history.)

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In the end, Cole is won over by Ramse's argument that even after the apocalypse, the world doesn't have to be a total slaughterhouse. But when he and Ramse flee, they leave Max behind — because they don't believe she can make a clean break from West 7, or they don't want to make her a target for Deacon's wrath.

Two days before the attack, Cole gets captured by West 7, and Deacon drugs him into seeing a lurid trip, including Cassandra Railly and the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. In his confused state, Cole begs Max to help him, and inadvertently gives Max the info on how to get inside the compound — but at least he wins her over enough that she saves him later and sets him free.

And even though Deacon gets away after the attack (meaning he'll try again soon), Max helps turn the tide enough that she gets to come live at the compound. Which should be interesting.

The framing story for the episode involves Cassandra Railly, who's otherwise absent apart from the aforementioned hallucinations. She starts pressing Cole for more info about the future, and trying to get him to open up about where he comes from, and his life story, and stuff. Cole doesn't really want to share anything with her — but after his near-death experience in the future, and witnessing how much his dickery hurt Max, he decides to be more forthcoming with Railly.

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Except that when Cole gets back to 2015 and starts trying to do a personal share with Cassandra Railly, she's already got other stuff on her mind — because she's found the Night Room, the secret lab where Goines was developing the deadly virus that destroys the future. Which means we may already be closing in on finding out if Cole's time-traveling shenanigans can actually change history, or just fulfill a pre-existing pattern.