(Amanda Schull, Aaron Stanford) (Photo: Steve Wilkie/Syfy)

“What on God’s green earth happened here?” asks the G-man tracking James Cole and Cassandra Railly from the Columbia awards ceremony to the Mission Cross Mental Asylum. But “One Hundred Years” isn’t concerned with the green earth. It’s red forest time on 12 Monkeys.

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“Our entire lives have led to this moment. The world will be forever changed,” says Messenger Vivian (Scottie Thompson) as she and her escort arrive at the gala on September 1st, 1944. That change is already echoing through time. In “Primary,” 2044’s reality begins to flicker and shift, but now Dr. Adler reports an unprecedented spike in temporal anomalies, as space-time collapses.

In its last act, “One Hundred Years” shows the source of the disruption. When Vivian plunges her bone dagger into the chest of Tommy Crawford (Erik Knudsen), she brings together sternum scavenged from his grave with the same bone in his living body. It’s the paradox to top all paradoxes: Time unmade, life destroyed, by an impossible collision. In its wake, reality explodes, striking Vivian and Tommy dead, knocking Cassie and Cole senseless, and sending reverberations through time.

“Everything seems to be increasingly unpredictable,” says Dr. Jones, and she doesn’t just mean Adler’s disturbing data. Ramse’s return to 2044 has destabilized her team and split Cole’s loyalties. “If this mission is to continue,” she tells him coolly, “balance has to be restored.” She sends Deacon to dispatch Ramse Miller’s Crossing-style, but when the forest bursts into red blossoms of destabilized reality, Ramse takes advantage of the chaos. Escaping death, he drags his captor with him as Deacon’s henchmen collapse in agony.

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This episode, written by Michael Sussman and directed by David Grossman, conveys most relationships quietly, with smart action and smarter reactions. Jones’ team argues over whether to send Cole and Cassie to 1944. Is it even possible travel back a hundred years? Would they be safe in a nation on the alert for interlopers? Is Dr. Crawford even a valid target for the Messengers? What does all this have to do with a plague in 2016, or 2018? But when Jones quietly says, “We should go,” the debate stops and her technicians rise as if on command.

Similarly, body language and placement show that Deacon is protective of, but deferential to, Cassie. When she walks in on Cole and Deacon slugging it out, Deacon retreats. From behind Cassie, he snaps at Cole like a dog barely held at heel, but she restrains him with one light touch. The impression of a vicious but loyal dog deepens when Deacon growls, “You raise your voice to her again, I will chew your goddamned face off.”

Not everything in “One Hundred Years” is so well-told. Sensibly enough, in 2044, Cassie insists she and Cole plan how they’ll infiltrate a wartime military ceremony. When he says they’ll improvise, she reminds him how badly that’s gone before: “No, not on the ground, Johnny Night Room.” She’s resolute, so it doesn’t make a lick of sense that they shoot off into the past without a plan, or that they do so in their conspicuous garb despite Cassie’s rant about “paranoid” Americans on the lookout for spies.

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This episode explicitly parallels Tommy with Jennifer, who hear the same voices and repeat the same phrases: “Everyone dies, everyone lives,” “green to red, everything changes,” “the mother becomes the daughter.” But Tommy Crawford is no Jennifer Goines, or maybe Erik Knudsen is no Emily Hampshire. Tommy doesn’t have Jennifer’s wild-eyed charisma or her weird alchemy of panic and joy.

It also implicitly parallels Cassie and Cole (and their tampering throughout time, together and separately) with the Messengers. Not only are they two teams of time travelers, a glamorously clad man and a woman, sent to the same time and place, and therefore easy for the FBI and future researchers alike to confuse; they’re both showcased walking past the same eerie poster. “Keep our children safe” means something different to everyone: to the Messengers, to Cole and Cassie, to Ramse, to Dr. Jones.

The dynamics at the compound are unsettled, and so is the dynamic at the heart of the show. As they bicker over Tommy Crawford’s place in their mission, the episode digs into Cassie’s resentment of Cole. She reminds him—and viewers—that his restraint, his reluctance to kill or torture to save billions of lives, is new. As she remembers it, “Aaron died protecting me. From you.” That’s the crux of Cassie’s grim pragmatism, and of her anger.

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“One Hundred Years” doesn’t just blow up its relationships and its future; it blows up 12 Monkeys’ premise. When the paradox of Tommy’s breastbone meeting Tommy’s breastbone cuts through space-time, it also cuts through Cole and Cassie’s lifeline. Their tethers to 2044 are lost. They’re stuck in 1944 with limited resources and flimsy identities, wanted for murder. A few episodes ago, this development would have been chilling… and thrilling. But given how readily “Primary” tossed aside previous limitations the show imposed on its time travel mechanics and its narrative, it’s hard to invest emotionally, or even intellectually, in a new constraint.

Stray observations

  • It’s the end of the world as we know it: We’re halting weekly reviews of 12 Monkeys. But who knows what the future holds? (Those of you with time machines, please refrain from spoiling what the future holds.) Thank you for reading, and for joining me in this loopy, dark story.
  • Cassie resists being sent to 1944, telling Jones, “I’m not a time traveler.” Lady, you’re standing in 2044.
  • That’s a great double-take between Cole and Cassie when the hotel clerk announces a phone call for Mr. Cole.
  • 12 Monkeys missed a chance to dress Cole in Aaron’s tux, which traveled back to 2043 with Cole last season.
  • Neither I nor the colleague (and greater classic-rock fan) I played it for could place the song Eckland plays in the first act. Searching for the snatches of lyrics I could make out yielded no results. Did any of you recognize it, or is this a new post-prog-rock composition, included as a nod to the new timeline?

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