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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

12 Monkeys: “Tomorrow”

Aaron Stanford (Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy)
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“Tomorrow” is largely about faith, including the faith that tomorrow will come. In every time, at every turning point, characters take it on faith that their needs will be met and disasters averted. Appropriately, the language of this episode is suffused with religious overtones.

Transporting Cole from Chechnya to Baltimore’s CDC, his military escort insists, “They’ll find a cure. They have to.” A lone woman in the mob outside the barricade cries “Where’s the cure? Why are you hiding it?” She’s so certain of salvation, she thinks only a conspiracy could delay it. Throughout the episode, people fall into the same specious reasoning: There will be a cure, because there must be.


Even Jones falls into this beguiling trap of illogic. Whitley, who’s sacrificed so much, including his own father’s beliefs, to the splinter program, asks for reassurance that it will succeed. “It will,” she promises him. “It has to.” That isn’t science. It’s wish fulfillment.

For all her pretensions to rationality, Katarina Jones was always perfecting her operation in anticipation of a savior’s arrival. She hears Cole’s name on a recording made by the long-dead Cassandra Railly, and hangs her hopes on him before they ever meet. Showing Cole (and Ramse, who’s along for the ride) the splinter chamber in 2041, she tells him it’s “our salvation” and he is “the key.” In this first meeting, she speaks with the fire of a zealot. “This dark time must be sacrificed to restore a brighter one. We have no other choice, and if all this disappears, so to shall we, and you and I, we will start anew.”

Jones (Barbara Sukowa) and Cole (Aaron Stanford), savior and sacrifice (Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy)
Jones (Barbara Sukowa) and Cole (Aaron Stanford), savior and sacrifice (Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy)

The Cole of 2041 doesn’t take much on faith. He challenges Jones’ assumptions, and especially that he’s the sole savior of the past. That’s just some chick saying a name, and there are a million guys named Cole. How can Jones possibly think she meant him? But Jones’ faith never falters. She knows because she knows, “just as I knew that someday I would find you. This mission is preordained, Mr. Cole.”


Despite its technological refinements, Katarina’s program depends on the faith of her colleagues and her test subjects: faith that the objective—undoing the past, resetting the present—is possible; faith that it’s worth the sacrifice of lives and resources; faith that the virus is incurable, as she insists; faith that her data is honest and her motives are pure.

Katarina Jones’s mission is driven by faith as surely as Foster’s little oligarchy, where he read his own scripture over the computer server. When those two negotiate, it’s not a meeting of scientists wrangling over resources, but two autocrats, each claiming to lead their followers to a better world. They’re equally deluded, equally deceptive, equally certain of their righteousness.


“There are families here, children, a whole generation,” Foster tells Jones, trying to persuade her to join his small kingdom. But Jones only cares about her own child, dead in the plague, and she only knows one way to reclaim her. She’ll overcome Foster’s resistance through persuasion or violence. Whatever it takes, she has faith that it’s justified. She’ll unmake the whole world to have Hannah back; killing one man–one once-fond colleague, maybe even a lover—won’t give her pause.

Elena’s right about Jones. Her facility operates under the imprimatur of science, but it’s really a doomsday cult, working to wipe out this world and everyone in it to remake it in her vision. “All humanity depends on us,” Jones tells Cole, but it’s a lie. With Foster’s core secured and the time-travel program resumed, Jones burns the lab results documenting a cure—documentation with her name on it. She’s known for years that the virus is curable, and she’s withheld both the cure and the proof… because Katarina never wanted a cure as much as she wants her daughter back, no matter the cost. The splinter apparatus gives her godlike power and she’s using it selfishly, convincing herself it’s for the good of humanity.


Others delude themselves with half-logic and wish fulfillment, but the Ramse of 2041 knows that faith can be a choice, and that like most choices, it’s often self-serving. Urging Cole to stay, Ramse hopes this scientist with “a screw loose” really can save the world, but his other reasons are all hard-headed practicality. They can return, gearless and starving, to scavenging the wasteland and fending off attackers, or they can spend the winter in Jones’ bunker, warm and fed. He’s made the pragmatic choice, and he’ll make it for Cole, too, if necessary.

And it is necessary.

Two years later, it’s Cole who’s operating on faith. Returning from the plague of 2017 to learn Jones has murdered half of Spearhead to commandeer their core, he defends her. “She did what she had to,” he says to Ramse. “The mission is all that matters now.” Ramse blurts out, “You’re blind and you’re selfish. What about me?” That’s the crux of this episode, as everyone seeks their own ends: your desires are selfish, what about mine?


Like Jones, Cole now has an emotional investment in the mission. Jones only remembers the world she wants back; Cole visits that world every time he jumps, and it’s where Cassandra Railly lives. In that past world, he’s visited her, danced with her, run and fought and laughed and dined with her. He’s fallen in love with her. And he’s seen her die.

“There is no future,” Cole tells Ramse at the episode’s end. He’s speaking of the mission’s aim to dissolve their timeline, and also of his lost love. No matter what he does, it seems there is no future for Cassie. “No matter what I do, you always die.” Dying in his arms, she tells him they have more life together in her past, in his future. And he believes her, because he has to.


For all its scientific trappings, 12 Monkeys has always been a show about faith. In its first episode, Cole had to prove to Cassie that he came from the future. But once he convinced her of that seeming impossibility, she accepted his mission—the information fed to him by Jones, the source of the plague, the need to sacrifice lives of today to save those of tomorrow—as gospel. She didn’t always agree, but she rarely acted on her doubt. From that first episode to tonight’s, which invokes unskeptical spiritual certainty over and over, 12 Monkeys has been about belief, about hope… about faith.

Over the past nine episodes, watching the series evolve from a stripped-down sci-fi procedural to a nimble story that knows how to have fun with its grim world without muddling its sometimes complicated timelines, I’ve learned to have faith in it. Usually, that faith is rewarded with a strong narrative, if not with consistently compelling character dynamics. Syfy must have faith in the show, too. This week, they renewed 12 Monkeys for a second season, so when this season’s 13 episodes are done, we’ll still have more adventures to share with Cole and Cassie.


Stray observations:

  • The visuals of the Chechnyan bridge scene are admirably clear: the clamor of the crowd outside the barricade, the long expanse of bridge above wastelands, the people reduced to dots of color, and the U.N. soldiers always readily identifiable by their uniform helmets. It’s a God’s-eye perspective, which fits neatly with the religious tone of the episode.
  • “Tomorrow” displays a great range of emotion between Cole and Ramse, from their riffing as Jones shows them her project to their confrontation at the end. Cole and Cassie are the heart of the story, but Aaron Stanford and Kirk Acevedo make Cole and Ramse the show’s most fascinating, relatable relationship.
  • “You don’t want to be Donovan, Cole!”
  • Cole delivers a gentle kiss to Cassie’s forehead as he cradles her corpse. Presumably there are plenty of kisses ahead, but from Cole’s perspective, their first kiss is post-mortem.
  • Jones’ gunshot took me by terrible, wonderful surprise when it interrupted that quiet, reflective moment. Xander Berkeley’s shocked gurgles, and the way he staggers and slumps, make it feel gracelessly, shockingly real to me.
  • Chekhov’s monkey: Are Katarina and Jonathan just two once-friendly academics quoting Shakespeare to each other? I’ve tossed around lines of the sonnets (that’s the volta of “Sonnet 19” they’re reciting) with a colleague, not always flirtatiously. But their intensity suggests to me that there is more, much more, in their history. She says good bye to him “for now,” so we can hope to learn more in their past, in the show’s future.

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