We expected craziness, time-looping, wild schemes and plagues on Syfy's 12 Monkeys. But what we never saw coming was Evil Edward Snowden, who's so nihilistic he's willing to consider letting the human race brush up against extinction. Watch for yourself!
This episode, "The Keys," was all about ruthless spies and the former CIA analyst who exposed them. And somewhat surprisingly, the show wound up making the whistleblower look almost as bad as the people he'd blown the whistle on.
The CIA and various other spooks have the M5-10 virus developed by Markridge as a bioweapon (by the science nerd that Leland Goines called "a goddamn Rolling Stone" back in the first episode) using DNA from that skeleton — which we learn was recovered in the Himalayas during a core-sampling expedition. And they want to use it to silence Wexler, the former CIA analyst who has exposed various human rights violations on the agency's part. (Wexler is the guy who we saw last week, saying that he had a hammer.)
The Illuminati decide to unleash the the M5-10 virus on Wexler, who's at a remote compound in the middle of Chechyna, and they sort of assume that the virus won't spread after Wexler and his Russian thug bodyguards are dead. Unfortunately, the Army of the Twelve Monkeys is on to them and plans to steal the virus from the CIA's courier, in order to release it worldwide.
Cole finds out about the details of Operation Troy in Chechyna, a week after it's already happened. So he goes back in time to one week earlier, forearmed with exact details of the operation, and intercepts the courier. But he gets shot at by a Twelve Monkeys sniper, who actually has a monkey tattoo on his hand:
And after Cole takes care of the sniper, he gets captured by the Russians and taken to Wexler, along with the case that has the virus in it. Even though Cole warns them not to open the case, they do anyway — he should have said it had a bomb, rather than a virus — and soon Wexler and the goons are all dying of M5-10.
So the meat of the episode is Cole trying to convince Wexler to do the right thing and prevent the virus from spreading, while Cassandra and Aaron try to warn the CIA that their operation has been fatally compromised and the virus is going to get out.
The common thread of both those plots is people being so short-sighted and concerned with covering their own asses and clinging to their old obsessions with secrecy and transparency.
As you can see in the clip above, Wexler is pretty slow to let go of the idea that the biggest problem in the world is powerful people doing terrible things in secret — the problem that he's given his life to solving. He's almost a bit too cartoony in his insistence that maybe the "digital problem" of covert spying needs an "analog solution," and in fact maybe a real-life non-computerized virus is the best thing for a world that's gotten irretrievably corrupt.
Wexler is stuck on the notion that everything is broken, and maybe killing off a lot of the world's population is the only way to get a clean slate and build a more honest world — except, as Cole already knows, there's no "reset switch." There's just a lot of death and then thugs overrunning everything.
Meanwhile, the CIA and Senator Royce are understandably chagrined that Aaron and Cassandra somehow know all about Operation Troy, and their first instinct is to nail these two to the wall. Except, as Cassandra points out, their courier has been out of contact for way too long and something clearly has gone wrong — and luckily "Mick Jagger" backs her up that the virus could be very nasty if it gets out into a populated area.
In the end, Wexler does the right thing — what changes his mind seems to be Cole's argument that they "have it coming," but that other people don't. And Cole's able to phone Cassandra, allowing the CIA to launch the airstrike they should have launched in the first place instead of deploying a deadly virus. Unfortunately, Cole has to stick around and die in the airstrike — although he probably gets pulled out in time, as we'll discover next week.
In the previous episode, we saw a timeline where Cassandra died after being captured by the Twelve Monkeys, and the virus was released a year early, in Chechnya. So this time around, we presumably glimpse how that could have transpired — without Cassandra there to help Cole and alert the CIA, either the virus would have fallen into the hands of the Twelve Monkeys, or else the Russians would have sent that medical helicopter to save Wexler and his captors/bodyguards.
(Probably the latter, since if the Army of Twelve Monkeys had gotten their hands on the virus, they probably would have just done what they did in the regular timeline, releasing it all over the world simultaneously in major population areas, rather than just in Chechnya.)
We're only just beginning to get into the backstory of why the virus was created — not just the origins of that weird skeleton, which we now now was from the Himalayas, but also why Markridge created it. And on a deeper level, just what's so broken about a world that considers an ultra-lethal bioweapon a reasonable option in response to some minor security breaches and political embarrassments.
Of course, we still don't know what Wexler actually had on Senator Royce and the others — and maybe their crimes really are something that go beyond just violating everyone's civil rights in the manner to which we've all become accustomed.
The frame of the episode has to do with the relationship between Cassandra and Cole, and the question of whether they can take a moment to just be in the moment together, in between beating people up and zipping through time — something that Cassandra brought up a while back. At the start of the episode, they're at a fancy museum gala, where Cole suddenly wants to pause and appreciate pre-apocalyptic joys like stuffing 10 chicken skewers in his mouth at once and slow-dancing with Cassandra (wearing Aaron's tux, which vanishes into the plague future.)
At the episode's end, Cassandra sees Cole, who hasn't yet traveled back to a week earlier to die in Chechnya. She has to pretend nothing's wrong, and not say or do anything to change Cole's future, or else the Chechnya thing might go a lot worse and the virus might get out. So instead, Cassandra tries to have a "moment" with Cole, asking him about where he'd like to end up if the timeline is magically improved — and he won't tell her, because he's embarrassed. But the Cole of a week later (earlier in Cassandra's timeline) tells her the Florida Keys, because he saw it in a magazine once.
In addition to finding out more about the rationale behind this killer virus, we also learn a bit more about the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. Turns out Wexler read about them while he was a CIA analyst, and they have something to do with a 1987 battle against Yakuza in Japan — which means that Cole may finally make the trip to 1987 that Goines told him he'd be making, when they met in the first episode.