Last night's episode of 12 Monkeys went to an incredibly dark place, showing both Cole and Cassandra Railly doing things that are basically unforgivable. It's actually hard to say whose transgression was worse. And yet, we still manage to sympathize with both of them, which is kind of impressive. Spoilers ahead...
In "The Cassandra Complex," 12 Monkeys finally cashes in on Railly's first name and its mythological implications. And it shows Cassandra going to a crazy place, and making decisions that could have disastrous implications. Meanwhile, Cole just straight-up murders a good, decent man to keep him from falling into the wrong hands.
Last week, Jennifer Goines told Cole about the Night Room, the secret lab her father built where they were developing lethal viruses — including the one that wipes out most of humanity in 2017. Now Jennifer is in the hands of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, so it's up to Cole to find the Night Room before the Army gets there. The only other lead on the location of the Night Room is the doctor who "got away" during the attack that killed almost everybody — a guy named Henri Toussaint. The only catch is, he died in 2014 in Haiti, fighting an epidemic that Cassandra was also working on.
So Cole has to go back to 2014 to talk to Henri before he dies — and right away, the idea of him meeting an earlier version of Cassandra raises problems. Dr. Jones is worried that if Cole interacts with the 2014 version of Cassandra, he'll change something so that she doesn't decide to go to the hotel and meet Cole in 2015 — and thus, she won't treat his bullet wound, so he'll be dead. But Cassandra is also worried about Cole seeing her in 2014, for a different reason: Because she knows she was a total mess then.
Ever since Cole grabbed Cassandra and told her about the coming plague apocalypse, she's been chasing disease outbreaks all over the world, each time believing that this will be the one that starts everything. Her boyfriend Aaron worries that she's losing it, and he's right — even though we know she's right about the time travel and the future plague. She actually is going kind of insane, which is a refreshingly bold and disturbing twist on the "nobody believes me about the future apocalypse" trope.
From the moment Cassandra arrives in Haiti, she starts assuming the worst — and not just jumping to alarmist conclusions, but pushing a radical agenda. She faces down gunmen and acts the hero. And then she starts pushing for a quarantine of the tent facility where this disease is being treated, when she's still pretty much fresh off the airplane. She doesn't even have time to assess the situation before she starts going into paranoid mode.
There's a fascinating sequence where Cassandra and Henri bond over fatalism — they both became doctors to save people, but as Henri says, you can't control nature. Nature doesn't break, it bends. Henri became a doctor after his little sister died of measles, because he thought he would have the power to save everyone. Meanwhile, Cassandra insists that the disease they're dealing with in Haiti will be much worse than they could possibly imagine.
The irony is that Cassandra's fatalism and Henri's probably come from the same source, to some extent — Cassandra knows about the future pandemic, and Henri worked in the lab where that pandemic was apparently developed (and watched all his colleagues die over it.) They bond over their shared pessimism and yet their determination to try and save people anyway, and then they hook up.
Before too long, Henri's gone off to get some meds, and meanwhile Cassandra goes way off the rails after a woman dies in her arms. Cassandra bugs out and starts seeing the sick people and armed guards around her as the first stages of the apocalypse, rather than just a scary episode. She wants the guards to start shooting anyone who tries to leave — which could easily lead to a mass slaughter. And she starts ranting about how she's the only one who knows what's really happening. And then... it turns out the mystery disease is just a regular disease, River Fever, and it's just a rare but treatable strain. Cassandra nearly had a lot of people shot for absolutely no reason.
As for Cole, he tracks down Henri (doing a fairly crappy job of staying out of Cassandra's way) and runs into the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, who also want Henri. And because of solar flares, Cole's time projection isn't stable — which leads to a sequence where he keeps "glitching" like Vanellope von Schweetz and he has to figure out how to use that to his advantage in a fight:
So in the end, Cole saves Henri from the Army of the Twelve Monkeys — while also giving the leader the scar on his face that he has in 2014 (another sign that sometimes Cole's time travel has "already happened," and he's just seeing it out of order.) And then, Henri finally trusts Cole enough to give him the scoop on how to find the Night Room — there's a special containment system called the Big Burn, which they should be able to track.
And then Cole warns Henri that he'll never get off Haiti — the Twelve Monkeys have apparently bought off the military, and they'll keep looking for him. Henri insists that he'll just find a dark corner someplace where they need a doctor. But this doesn't convince Cole, who — apparently — blows Henri's brains out.
The fact that all of the fucked-up stuff in this episode involves white people deciding to execute black people for the greater good is just one of the things that makes it so hard to watch, and adds to the sense that we're seeing how the savior complex can go horribly, unacceptably wrong. It's interesting that they chose to set this episode in Haiti, as opposed to, I dunno, someplace in Eastern Europe.
But at the same time, part of why we (probably) keep investing in Cole and Railly after seeing them at their absolute worst is because we understand their reasons. Cole really believes that everybody he's meeting in 2014 or 2015 is already dead, along with 7 billion others. These people are just walking ghosts to him, and if he can kill one person and save 7 billion (as he keeps saying) that's pretty good math. Meanwhile, Cassandra has been convinced that Cole is telling the truth, and that she has an important part to play in all this, so it's hard for her not to see the apocalypse around every corner.
It's exposing the unpleasant truth about apocalyptic fantasies — it's not just that you get to be special because you survived when everyone else didn't. It's also that you get to kill other people, either because they're zombies or because it's you or them. The apocalypse makes conventional morality irrelevant, in the service of pragmatism. (The episode is framed by two sequences where Cole teaches Cassandra to shoot, which for some reason necessitates her aiming an unloaded gun at him, before moving on to live rounds.)
Meanwhile, back in 2043, the soldiers find a knife that Cole and Ramse recognize as belonging to the West 7, their old crew. And later, Ramse goes out on patrol with Whitley, a soldier who believes Ramse and Cole are moochers, and they run into Max, an old friend of Ramse and Cole from the West 7. Max insists that she's left the West 7 behind, the same way Cole and Ramse did — but she's awfully curious about the facility Ramse just came from. He sends her on her way, even though he's pretty sure there's going to be trouble.
And he's right. Max goes straight back to the West 7 camp, which is crawling with heavily armed scavengers, and tells their leader, Deacon, that she's found a sweet pad... and Cole.