12 Monkeys is filled with moments between or beyond the dialogue—often the moments easily missed. I’d like to share a few of them with you so that we can fully appreciate them.
Today we’re taking a closer look at episode 1×02 “Mentally Divergent”. And before I get into what I want to point out about 12 Monkeys, the episode title strikes me as an interesting but probably unintentional parallel to the Divergent book series by Veronica Roth. Because coincidentally, the parts of Tobias in the audio book version of part 3 and the Four spinoff were read by Aaron Stanford. I enjoyed them very much. So much that I wouldn’t mind listening to more audio books read by Aaron. (Give him another reading job, please, someone?)
But on to what I’d like to highlight about the second episode of the show. We’re looking at Cole and Ramse coming back to the Temporal Facility after they’ve been out looking for files at the J.D. Peoples ruins. They need to go through some kind of decontamination procedure in a decon room before they’re allowed back in to make sure they’re not carrying any mutated forms of the virus. (And I’m not even gonna hazard a guess how on earth that can be detected in the matter of a few seconds without any kind of sophisticated physiological test.)
While they’re being scanned, there’s a moment where Cole reaches out towards a set of cages, and lo and behold… there are canaries in there. I mean, WTF? Who feeds them, cleans their cages? Also… why?!
For a while, I was drawing a blank on any kind of plausible answer to that question. If the birds were carrying a mutated form of the virus, why would they be in that room to potentially contaminate the people going through it? If they’re not contagious or dangerous, why are they in that dark, windowless room?
But then I threw that question into the ring when I watched the episode with a friend, and she made a rather clever comment. (Cause, yes, she’s the smart one among the two of us.) She mentioned that back in the day, miners used to bring so-called “animal sentinels” with them into the mine shafts, often canaries or other small, warm-blooded animals. They would serve as an alarm system to warn the miners of toxic gases such as carbon monoxide. Due to the difference in body size, the birds would show the effects of these toxins a lot quicker than humans. This could warn the miners early enough to don protective masks or get the hell out.
So of course that begs the question… are the birds in the decon room there to warn the Temporal Facility inhabitants of danger? If so, of what? Toxic gases seem implausible. A warning system for the virus after all, expecting the birds to die a lot faster than humans? That would require for whatever strain of the virus to jump easily between species. And is anyone frequently monitoring these birds? How probable is all of that? So, uh, any other ideas, anyone? Theories?