'12 Monkeys' Season 2 Review: Syfy Series Raises the Stakes with a New Threat

"12 Monkeys" is back tonight on SyFy, and SPINOFF got an early look at the first eight episodes of season two. While this review won't contain any major spoilers (unless you haven't seen season one of the show), it will explore the twists and turns the series will take in its second season, including the new time periods Cole and Cassandra will visit, how each character has changed since season one and how the team has more to worry about than just the plague.

Season Two Ups the Stakes By Introducing a New Threat

The second season of "12 Monkeys" has increasingly higher stakes. With three time travelers -- Cassandra (Amanda Schull), Ramse (Kirk Acevedo) and James Cole (Aaron Stanford) -- there are definitely more opportunities for time to be changed and even damaged. The pacing and danger continues to grow with each episode in season two, and the series continues to be both a time travel-based drama and a psychological thriller. This season the threat of world annihilation grows, as Dr. Jones' (Barbara Sukowa) team is not just trying to stop the from plague claiming lives in the past, but also to stop time from collapsing in on itself in the future. The Witness, the Daughters, and the Army of the 12 Monkey's Messengers all play greater roles this season, as each of their purposes begin to come into focus.

The first episode of the season, "The Year of the Monkey," acts as a perfect bridge between season one and season two. When season one ended, Cassandra and Ramse were both shot and almost died. Cole made the decision to save both of them, first by sending Cassandra to the future so that Jones could save her, and second by going back for Ramse instead of leaving him for dead. When "Year of the Monkey" opens, Cole and Ramse have been on the run from the Army of the 12 Monkeys for months, hiding underground, leading them on a wild goose chase all across Europe. Cassandra makes it to Jones in 2043 right as the painted-faced Messengers lay siege to the compound. With Cole in the past and Cassandra in the future,  Cole is forced to track down the virus with a very reluctant Ramse. As Cassandra begins to recover from her gunshot wound, she makes a unique ally in Deacon (Todd Stashwick), and together they attempt to help Jones prevent the Messengers from using the time machine.

Cole and Cassandra's Roles Reverse in Season Two

Cassandra and Cole are both in very different places this season, and it's interesting to see how they adjust to their new lives. Cassandra's loyalties begin to shift from Cole and his mission, to Jones and her mission and Cassandra's desire to protect every human life begins to change. Ramse also goes through a difficult transformation this season, as he must decide if he's going to find and destroy the virus with Cole. If Ramse does help Cole find the virus, then he could lose his son forever -- which is why he helped create the virus in the first place. Ramse and Cole's quest in "The Year of the Monkey" leads them to "Downton Abbey" guest star Brendan Coyle, who holds vital information to the 12 Monkeys' plan. That information leads them to Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), who again holds the key to stopping the 12 Monkeys' plan for Armageddon. At the end of the episode, Cole, Cassandra, Jennifer, and Ramse all hold each other up at gun point, each determined to either protect or end the world as they know it. Cole is the only person who can save the timeline and his friends, and is forced to make a tough a sacrifice. Cole, who in the first season was a ruthless and cold blooded killer, now has a sense of deep compassion and value for human life. While he learned that trait from Cassandra in season one, Cassandra is no longer that person, as her time in 2043 has worn away much of her love and patience for humanity. It is in this moment, on the rooftop with guns pointed, that you really understand just how much Cole and Cassandra have truly switched places.

Jones' Understanding of Time Changes This Season

In the future, Dr. Jones is forced to deal with the invasion of Deacon (Todd Stashwick) and the Messengers, who commandeer the time machine. Jones attempts to stop them, but half of the Messengers get sent back to different places in time. When Cole, Cassandra, and Ramse do eventually make it back to the future, they are tasked with not only stopping the creation of the virus, but they must also track down these rogue time travelers. Why and where the Messengers were sent creates the mission of season two. Once Jones discovers why they were sent back, she realizes that the release of the virus was just one part of the 12 Monkeys plan to destroy the world.

Jones and Jennifer also share some interesting connections in the future, which are explored more fully this season. There are certain times when both women need each other, despite playing very different roles in 2043. Jones also experiences some personal traumas this season, as the death of her daughter is revisited in one episode. Hannah's death shaped Jones' mission forever, and this season explores the question, "If someone went back to the day Hannah died, could Hannah have been saved?" And if Hannah was saved, would Jones have pushed as hard to send someone back in time?

Jennifer's Mental Illness Becomes Her Mental Ability

Jennifer Goines also undergoes a unique transformation this season, as more of her mental abilities are revealed. Making Jennifer a constant throughout the timeline allows her value in the series to really shine. Emily Hampshire perfectly walks the line between genius and madness in her performance. This season explores her mental illness and presents the idea that the voices she's hearing doesn't mean she's crazy, but tuned in, in away most people aren't. Because of her mental super powers, Jennifer becomes a powerful ally in both the series' past and future.

Cassandra also experiences an alarming psychotic trauma this season. By making her drink the tea leaves again, the woman from the red forest puts her in a suggestive trance. This leaves Cassandra's mind open to the 12 Monkeys no matter where she is in time. Both the red forest and the woman become greater threats this season, as more of the world begins to feel the effects of the 12 Monkeys plans. What Cassandra sees and experiences while in the trance leaves Cassandra and her team exposed, with someone on the team paying the unexpected price.

Time Can Change This Season

This season ultimately tracks Jones, Cole, Cassandra and Ramse's movements as they play a precarious game of cat and mouse with the 12 Monkeys all across time. In one episode Cole and Cassandra find themselves in the dazzling 1940s. In another episode, Cole and Ramse track down a messenger to the swinging 1970s. The music and costumes for each era are fantastic, and so are this season's guest stars: Scottie Thompson ("NCIS"), David Dastmalchian ("Ant-Man") and Madeleine Stowe ("Revenge") who starred as Dr. Railly in the "12 Monkeys" film. It's hard to say where the end of the season will go, but based on the twists and the turns of the writing, likely somewhere completely unexpected. I said this about season one and it remains true for season two, "12 Monkeys" flips the script on every time travel drama I have ever seen. The writers of this series continue to pay homage to the 1995 film and other time travel films like "Terminator" and "Back to the Future," but they cover so much more ground than those films ever could. While most time travel narratives deal with trying to change or restore a single point in time, "12 Monkeys" season two deviates from that goal in an attempt to save time itself. Has any other film or television series ever dealt with such a grand task?

"12 Monkeys" season two premieres tonight at 9 on Syfy.

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