Where are you now, Dr Railly?

Cassandra Railly. Virologist, Time Traveler, Bitch. Wait what? Yes that is the term that many fans of the television show 12 Monkeys have used to describe Dr Railly. Especially in the latter part of season two. These fans decry the ‘total rewrite’ of the character into someone nasty and cold. They say it came out of no where, is shitty writing etc. They even go so far as to exclaim that they hope she dies a horrible death and soon.But is it correct to say that Cassandra Railly is a bitch. Certainly she’s been rather bitchy at times. Who among these characters hasn’t? From Cole on down, everyone has ‘one of those days’, often more than once. But to slap a label like ‘bitch’ onto Dr Railly is to oversimplify what is in fact a wonderfully done character transformation that was set up from the beginning of the show.

Let’s revisit the first scene of the opening episode.

A voice speaks out over two figures walking through a quiet, still and desolate snowy landscape.

Where are you right now? Somewhere warm, safe, next to someone you love?
Now what if all that was gone?
And the only thing you could do was survive?
You would right?
You’d try.
You’d do things. Horrible things. Until you lose that last thing you have left. Yourself.
But what if you could take it back. All of it.
A reset switch
You’d hit it right
You’d have to

It’s easy to accept this as a history lesson for the show’s tale. Especially when given more details about said history. And of course it is a summary of the history of James Cole, the story’s main hero. We see over the course of the flashbacks that James was living in a world that has been stripped down to the bones, literally kill or be killed in many cases. We learn that he was placed in horrible nasty situations like being asked to kill his best friend. We discover that he’s given a chance to literally go back in time and attempt to erase the future, and he feels that doing this will earn him forgiveness for his actions. In other words, he found a reset and he had to hit it.

But what is missed by some is that it’s also a perfect summary of the journey about to be undertaken by Dr Cassandra Railly. And when one recognizes this, her transformation is not only not unexpected, it’s totally logical.

Let’s break it down:

Where are you right now? Somewhere warm, safe, next to someone you love?

When we first see Dr Cassandra Railly, she is in her element as a professional. She’s confident, poised. Although she’s speaking of nasty things like viruses and epidemics, she has a knowing smile on her face. She’s got this. Things are good. Sure they aren’t gods, but there is nothing to fear. Not so long as they have a plan. With that smile and her blonde ponytail she’s practically a cheerleader, all she needs is some pom poms.

Even in her personal life, things are great. Cassandra has a well positioned boyfriend who clearly adores her. He works for a high powered official and feels guilt about long nights at the office.. What gal wouldn’t accept his apology and let him make it up to her ‘a few times’. Although not spelled out, it’s pretty clear that they live together and it’s easy money that wedding bells are expected to ring, likely soon.

Life is good. They’ve got a plan.

Now what if that was all gone?

Within a span of seconds, Cassie’s world begins its fall from order to chaos.

It starts with a man and a knife, or at least the threat of one.

But even in those first moments, Cassie is still rather in control. You can see some panic in her eyes, in her voice. Hear her confusion at the questions but she’s not hysterical. She’s not begging for her life or trying to run the car into another car or a tree or such. It’s obvious  that she first believes that this is some crazy, or perhaps high, likely homeless guy and she just needs to keep from getting hurt long enough for Aaron to call the police and them to find her.

But then she hears something that sticks in her mind. His story that a virus will come, a plague that will kill basically everyone. It’s easy to dismiss the tale as madness from a mental patient. After all, Cole is acting erratic, fevered. He’s coughing so much it seems likely he’s ill in one way or another. Her later ploy of claiming he was suffering delusions and psychosis brought on by a viral infection was a possible thought in her mind even in that alley. It fits to the trained mind that has the task of seeing symptoms and sorting out the logical reason behind them.

Unfortunately no list of symptoms and causes explains the watch. Or Cole disappearing before her eyes. And Cassie wasn’t dosed with anything. It’s likely she was thoroughly examined after the attack and there were no head injuries or such found that would explain what she saw. So they would be written off as PTSD or similar. They couldn’t have happened. As a doctor, Cassie is basically a scientist and disappearing men and self damaging watches are essentially magic. Or at least that’s what she might tell herself. Along with believing at first that she was remembering wrong. Nothing happened to the copy cat watch that looked a lot like hers and Cole just ran off and she was so scared she didn’t notice which direction. It’s logical. It makes sense. It fits with the facts of the event and all known science. She was the victim of an attempted car jacking by some crazed guy suffering a paranoid delusion who attached himself to her because she’s a virologist. Nothing more or less. He was shot and will likely be found dead in an alley in a few days. It’s over and done.

But she can’t move on. The weight of what he said presses on her. A virus. Everyone dead. A Whooping Cough outbreak had overrun them, thus provoking Dr Railly’s creation of a containment plan that would become part of standard protocol 7 years later. But that was likely 200-300 folks. Nothing like the world’s population of over 7 billion people. So many deaths in the mind of someone who spent years becoming a doctor to help, to heal. It’s a maddening thought.

And the only thing you could do was survive?

So in the face of such madness what is one to do? Well there’s dismiss Cole as a lunatic and his disappearance as a trick of the light. There’s believe him and give up. Do nothing and just let the world burn. After all, how do they fight something that can kill the world. Or there’s believe him, find him and help. And Cassie being who she is picks the latter. How can she not? Cassie spent years training to help people, to save lives by stopping disease. Viruses are her speciality, her nemesis. She’s a super hero and her powers are her knowledge and her plan. While the thought of 7 billion people being killed is maddening, at the same time it’s exactly why Doctor Cassandra Railly exists. And as a wise man once said, evil merely needs good people to do nothing. A virus that can kill the world is as close to evil as anything and Cassandra is certainly a good person. At least she believes she is and acts accordingly.

So although perhaps she doesn’t believe that Cole traveled through time, she does believe that there could be something to his story of a plague.  And she chases that truth the only way she knows how. By searching out possible situations of outbreaks that could be Cole’s virus. Searching so much that she alienates her boyfriend, who believes she’s in the midst of some kind of nervous breakdown. And then she totally loses her shit during the outbreak in Haiti and basically does have a nervous breakdown, such that she’s sent home and apparently cut off from the CDC for several months, perhaps also her hospital work. Her career, her life plan destroyed. It would appear from the latter encounter at the party that some time shortly after returning to Haiti she moves out of her home with Aaron Marker and doesn’t speak to him for months.

But even with all that, she still believes. She seeks out someone who can help her search for information about Cole’s alleged evil mastermind, Leland Frost. And she goes to Philadelphia to try to find Cole. She could have chosen to give up and assume she was just temporarily crazy. But that isn’t who she is. She doesn’t give up. And something in her gut tells her she needs to do this. She needs to find answers. She needs facts, like searching all possible leads and finding no Leland Frost exists,  her analytical mind won’t accept anything less. It’s the only way she can survive the ending of everything she had, everything she had worked for.

And then just when Cassie is about to admit that she’s acting illogically, Cole appears. And more surprising is that he’s practically bled to death from the same gun shot she saw two years ago.

Proof right there in front of her that she can see, feel, smell. She hasn’t been attacked. She hasn’t been drinking for hours. She hasn’t taken any drugs. She has no physical illnesses that she is aware of that could account for how she’s seeing that wound.  She heard others speaking to Cole so he’s not a delusion. Occam’s Razor would tell her that the best explanation is that it’s real. It is the same wound from the alley.

And Cassie’s world suffers another drop. She has a choice to make in that moment. Help and believe, or reject him and try to come up with another explanation. Cassie chooses help. She knows when he says no hospitals he’s right. A gun shot wound would have to be reported and if they figured out who he was she’d never get her answers. She saves him, she gets his story and she chooses to continue. Just as she chooses to reject Aaron’s attempts to reconnect and goes to the mental hospital. And that’s after the whole Markridge thing and the death of Jeremy. She knows her life will be in danger but she chooses anyway. Why? The logical decision when faced with surviving in the face of very real and immediate threats to her life would be to run and hide. It’s even what Cole tells her to do when they flee Markridge. But Cassie can’t make that choice, she can’t run or hide. It goes against her nature as much as the notion of killing someone does. She has to make the choice to fight, she has to be a part of this. Because the only way to survive the madness of thinking about those 7 billion people is to try to save them.
You would right? You’d try.

So Cassie pushes her way into the whole messy affair. She basically dares Cole to try to keep her away.

She resists Aaron’s repeated attempts to pull her away from it, even to the point of seeming rather nasty to him. But perhaps it’s not really nastiness that motivates her, it’s actually love. She does care for Aaron and clearly in the beginning she’s trying to protect him from the truth and the madness it can bring. A spin on the whole ‘do no harm’ oath she took as a doctor?  Then once he’s pulled into the whole thing she tries to help him adjust and even understand when he’s resistant. Because she understands how maddening the whole notion is. She’s felt it herself. And Aaron lacks the tools she does to really try to help. Despite his position. he’s really basically a glorified personal assistant. He has a few contacts of note but that’s it. Cassie has to try to protect him from the truth because of her nature as a caring person. Protecting Aaron is another part of her survival.

You’d do things. Horrible things. Until you lose that last thing you have left. Yourself.

The trouble is that protecting people comes with a cost. And that cost can weigh heavy on the heart and the soul. For Cassie, who was still a doctor despite what she said in that hotel room, pointing a gun at someone is not an easy task. It’s unnerving to do, it’s unnerving to need to do. Again, her first oath was “do no harm”. And that is an oath that parallels her own personal feelings that you ‘can’t just kill someone’. She’s being asked to do exactly what she swore not to do. And she’s asked again when it comes to pressing that button in the Night Room. Cassie hesitates and it’s not just because at first it’s unclear if Cole has a plan to protect himself and Jennifer. Cassie’s nature isn’t such that she can press that button without hesitating. As she tells Cole “You’re willing to do what needs to be done. I’m not. I just want to heal people.”

That she takes these actions is a wound to her heart and soul. Just as it is a wound to have to get Cole on the satellite phone and listen to his last words because they need the signal active to target the building properly. She cares about him. Maybe it’s not love like she felt for Aaron two years before, but Cassie cares. That amplies the notion that she’s actively doing harm to someone else. It increases the guilt and the madness. But it’s what they must do to survive the coming plague by destroying it. And then to hear Cole say that she can’t try to warn him, that she has to let him die. One can almost hear her heart breaking in that moment. To ask her to knowingly and willingly send someone to his death is almost more than she can take. But she does it. And then she’s driven half mad by the need to validate that she made the right choice. That it’s okay that Adult Cole died because the virus is gone and he’ll grow up in a different world. That they reset the future.

Only that reset doesn’t last. Cole wasn’t killed, the virus still gets out. Cassie still has to survive the upcoming future. And again the only way to survive it is to fight. But she is starting to lose her hope and her feelings. She’s becoming bitter and cold about the whole thing. She is losing her patience with Aaron, who is just trying to survive by protecting the one person that matters to him. But Cassie won’t go along with his goals. She’s still got the madness of 7 billion people in her mind. She’s beginning to understand Cole’s math, even to the point that if she’s the 1 for 7 billion she can live with that, even if Aaron doesn’t understand. And she still cares about Cole, perhaps even deeper than she understood before. Maybe it’s some kind of true love fate thing, maybe it’s just developed out of being ‘brothers in arms’. Who knows. But it pushes her to not give up on him in the face of a ‘disease’ unlike any she’s ever seen. A disease that is killing Cole from his very atoms up. And she knows that if there’s to be any chance to save the world, she has to save him. So she points a gun at Katarina Jones, considers kidnapping a child etc. This is not the old Cassandra Railly. She’s becoming something totally different. A path that takes her to watching as Cole beats the shit out of Aaron for his betrayal, saying nothing. Even giving her approval for him to continue the beating.  A path that leads her to wanting Ramse dead for his part in everything that lead up to that point.

And then to really screw Cassandra over, the only way to save her life is to send her 30 years into the future. To a place where she has no real clue how to survive and, thanks to Cole losing his tracer through the negation of the serum’s active powers,  no one she trusts to have her back. So she takes up with a man that old Cassie would have likely thought loathsome and criminal. She learns how to hunt and shoot and whatever else she needs to survive. She shuts off her feelings because it’s the only way to handle what’s happening. Even after Cole returns she resists acknowledging what she felt before. Feelings have no real place in that world. They will just get you hurt. It makes her seem cold and callous. She has moments where she comes off as pissy because she thinks they aren’t respecting her or all that she’s learned because she hasn’t been around that world as long as she has, that she needs to be rescued etc. Asserting her knowledge and skills helps her to cope with her change in circumstance and helps her to deny her inner feelings and what’s been lost.

But she can’t totally shut those feelings off. She’s angry, she’s hurt. She didn’t ask for any of this and it boils up and explodes out at times. Especially at Cole who made the decision to send her there, alone. Perhaps that anger gave an opening for the Witness to get into her head and control her. Certainly anger plays a part in her reaction to the event. Cole is right that he knows her. He knew that she couldn’t stand by and watch someone hurt and needing help she could give. Thus his ploy to have Ramse shoot him. That instinct and her feelings towards him (which she had admitted to even when she admitted she wasn’t going to act on them in that place and time because it would be wiped out with the virus) he counted on to save his life.

But he perhaps didn’t count on those same instincts fueling her anger over what was essentially a mind rape. Like sexual rape it was about power and control, making her do something she didn’t want to do. And the Witness made her do things that would hurt people she cared about. Doctor Cassandra Railly was still deep in there and the ‘do no harm’ oath with her. That loss of control made her angry and likely also scared. Sure Jones had a serum but they had no idea how the mind trick worked so no idea if the serum would. The only way to be sure was to destroy the attacker. Not unlike sexual rape victims that hunt down their attackers when the police fail. That need to regain power and protect herself and those around her was an obsession Cassie needed to survive the guilt of what she did. And in that obsession she resorted to lying and even, albeit relatively minor, assault on someone she supposed cared about by being complicit in the drugging of Cole.

By the end of their adventure in 1961 it was clear, even to Cassie, that mistakes had been made. In the battle over where to attack first, she’d chosen her personal obsession over the greater good. A huge jump from the Cassie that pushed in at the mental hospital and smiled when Cole agreed that they were better as a team. Nothing made this more clear than Cole bluntly telling her that there was no more ‘We’. He felt betrayed and hurt by the people he loved and cared for the most and couldn’t trust them. So he’d rather they piss off, just go and do their own thing and leave him to the mission he’d be told from the start was his alone. He’d learned his lesson and the sadness was all over his face. Cassie saw it herself. And in that following moments potentially realized exactly what she had done and how far removed she was from her old self.

But what if you could take it back. All of it. A reset switch. You’d hit it right. You’d have to.

Now the only part that’s left is the reset. From Cassie’s look at Cole it seems rather obvious that she will try to find one. The only questions are when and how. Does she realize at this point that she wants that reset or when it take a bit longer for that to click. And how will she go about it. Are we perhaps leading up a situation where she goes off with Ramse and maybe Deacon and they find Titan and the Witness and shut that down so there’s no more interference but then discover that Cole is in trouble back in 1957. Might they somehow find proof that he stopped the paradox but was killed in the process. Could Cassie and even maybe Ramse go back to save the friend they hurt so much with their betrayal. It’s hard to know exactly what the details will be but it seems clear that something will happen. The cycle will be completed.

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