Here we are, at the start of the end. For four seasons, 12 Monkeys has proven to be some of the finest modern science fiction on television, and is the only show I’ve ever seen get time travel and the complications of the paradox right. The plot is tightly written, and as these first three episodes show, even with the causality loops still in play, there is more that we don’t know.
While the plot in a show like this is important, it all comes down to the characters. We see our heroes (and anti-heroes) scattered to the wind, with the villain close behind. Each new episode this week has given us a small piece of the bigger puzzle, but it is still uncertain how it will all play out.
401 The End
The first episode of the season did an excellent job setting us up for what is to come. The End introduced us to the idea that primaries have been passing a relic (a puzzle, a key) down through the ages, knowing that they have to get it to Cole, one way or another.
The cold open is set in the middle ages, which means that we’ll end up there before the end of the season. The Witness is there, fully masked and wearing one of the personal transportation devices. We don’t know when in the time loop this occurs, but it doesn’t matter. This is simply another point on the timeline we haven’t experienced yet.
After the credits (I’ve always loved the music and the monkey clock shown in them), we’re taken back to 2046, where we ended the last season. Cassie is still as cynical as before, with the added layer of knowing that her son is now dead. She’s hardened to the point where she nearly doesn’t save Jones from dying; it’s both amazing and a bit sad to see how far she’s come over the past four seasons. I went back and watched a few of the first episodes, and it was amazing to see how full of hope and light Cassandra was…and now she’s the most bitter of them all.
True to that, Cassie thinks they all need to leave before Olivia (as the Witness) arrives, but Cole still wants to fight fate, fight the future, and stay. As he was the bitter one at the beginning…his hope, his drive to try and find something salvageable in all of this is admirable. I think the show does an excellent job of showing what a crucible can do to people; it can turn the kindest people bitter, and the most cynical people kind. It just depends on how one’s nature twists through time.
It seems that Jones has one last trick up her sleeve, and has worked on creating a system like Titan to transport the entire facility proper through time. It works, but it isn’t without sacrifice: Jones is dosed with radiation that will now slowly kill her, and Deacon ends up left behind.
What remains of the group also realizes that they are back at the beginning: 2043, right before Cole jumped to encounter Cassie for the first time. This Cassie is right–they are going in circles.
Again, it’s heartbreaking to see how much Cassie is struggling at this juncture. The amount of bitterness that has built up within her is monumental. While it’s clear that Cole and her still love each other, the death of Athan has only given Cassie anger and a drive for revenge, while it’s spurring Cole to find a solution that doesn’t involve more death.
And of course, any solution like that would involve our dear Jennifer, who has left them clues in drawings: a serpent eating its own tail, with a screaming monkey in the middle. As is typical, others seem dismissive of the idea that Jennifer might hold the key, but Cole isn’t–their friendship has long been the key to the show, as it is now.
Back in 2018, Jennifer has been living alone, struggling by herself to the point where she’s created an imaginary friend of herself to keep her company. Her loneliness has always been a painful aspect to her personality, but instead of wallowing in it as she did back in France, it’s clear she’s using this alter-ego to assist her, this time. She steals the key we saw in the pre-credits, knowing she has to get it back to Cole, somehow.
The key is in the shape of the Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail. The end is the beginning is the end…and what a wonderful beginning of the end this episode was.
The second episode spends most of its time bouncing between 2043 and 2018, focusing on the team’s exploits, and Jennifer’s own solo adventures in the ‘past’ (though really, in a show like this, is there really a past or future? It’s all relative!).
Spending time in 2043 allows us to see characters like Ramsey again; I suspect some of this was done to give the characters a final ‘hurrah’ before the show ends. Their appearance may not end up mattering in the long run, but it gives future!Cole a chance to speak to Ramsey, and make peace with him in a way he never was able to just before he had to kill him.
Now while I usually understand time travel on this show, Jones makes a point that when they jumped with her Titan-like machine, it was apparently only supposed to jump via location, not time. How she was so sure of that, I’m not positive, but it doesn’t matter. To repair their machine they need to steal a core from the ‘past’ machine.
This isn’t going to happen, though, until Cassie gets what she wants–which is a jump back to 1971, when Olivia was arrested by the cops. She thinks it’s the only chance to kill her, but really…time is a loop, and the team has rarely ever broken it. Cassie is so blinded by her need for revenge that she can’t see past that. To Cole’s credit, he doesn’t argue, doesn’t stop her–he just lets her go. I appreciate how this show always lets characters make their own decisions, and never minimizes those of women, especially.
Jones, for her part, keeps watching her past self, lamenting how foolish and sure she was. “How high of a wall of bodies must we build before we see the curve of history?” she asks herself…and she’s right. Only Primaries have been able to see things from above, and as none of them are that, they are just hearing the echoes of themselves.
Cole and Jones make a pact to see this through to the end, whatever the result, and I think that will matter by the end of the series. They started this together, and they will end together, I’m sure. Jones hasn’t told anyone she’s dying…but she won’t make it. As long as she can see Cole and her daughter through safely, I think she won’t care. Like Cole, Jones started this show both thinking the ends always justify the means, and now they are at the other end of the spectrum. I am curious to see where they will end up when this is all over.
Back in 2018 we see that INTERPOL is interested in the item that Jennifer stole. A smart person will note that the agent keeps speaking about the past and future in ways that no ‘normal’ person does on this show. The show does an excellent job laying the groundwork for us to think that he’s part of the 12 Monkeys, determined to keep the key from Cole.
Jennifer, for her part, is struggling to sort out what the key actually is and how it works. For some reason, the voices aren’t speaking to her any longer–and as a primary, that means that she is basically completely without her gift. While that isn’t explained within these three episodes, I would be genuinely curious to find out why Jennifer’s lost her groove. Even her alter-ego ends up disappearing, with a final message: find Cole.
Jennifer ends up cornered on a train platform and in typical fashion she flings herself in front of a train rather than let herself get captured, full of faith that she “isn’t alone.” We end on that note–but let’s be honest. Since the lowest point for Jennifer last season, she’s always had faith that Cole would be there for her if she fell. There is no doubt, voices or no, that she knows Cole is going to be there for her again.
403 45 RPM
While this episode focuses mostly on Olivia (both past and present) and the consequences of revenge, we also gained some powerful insight on the group we saw in the first episode, and what the key might mean for Cole.
Olivia, love her or hate her, has always been one of the most interesting characters on the show. Prior to this season, she has seemed more grey than truly evil, but even in this episode, with all the drive she has to wipe out our heroes and gain the Red Forest (and therefore the end of the world), she is more than what she appears to be.
In 2046, Olivia is struggling with her own doubts; without being a Primary, she can’t see the path, and the followers are starting to lose faith. Apparently one doesn’t have to be ‘born’ Primary; however, one can become it–and with the power of Titan, she gains the power she previously lacked.
It’s interesting to watch current!Olivia speak to The Witness, and to see The Witness in the past, knowing it was always her. It fits so well, but I’m still so curious to know if that choice was always decided from the beginning of the series, or something made later on.
This episode does an excellent job using cuts and emotion to spin a story that is believable until the final reveal. While Cassie is utterly ready to kill young Olivia, once she finds out that she’s pregnant she hesitates.
Olivia explains that she ran away from her mother to keep her child from being sacrificed to The Witness, which of course appeals to Cassie’s sense of loss. Despite being so cynical, she isn’t without a heart, and decides that helping Olivia might be the right course of action–a way to change time.
So when her mother takes her back to their house, Cassie follows after, determined to alter the timeline–except that isn’t how things work. It was all a lie, and it was Olivia’s mother who wished to save the child…and Olivia wanted to sacrifice the child. After all, The Witness said she would lead them all one day, and after having no power for so many years, it’s what she craves the most.
Olivia’s eyes turn black, and manipulating Cassie with her desire for revenge…all that has happened comes to pass, again. The circle remains complete. At least in 1971.
In 2018, Cole does save Jennifer (well, the most future!Cole), and tells her to find current Cole. Again, I love that no matter what version of Cole and Jennifer exist…in time they always end up saving each other.
We find out the man from INTERPOL is part of a group that has protected the key, the Ouroboros, knowing that it’s always been meant for Cole. I like the idea that the group contains both Primaries and those who know of them–as long as you want to save the world, you’re welcome. After having dealt with the 12 Monkeys for so long, it’s nice that there has been another group throughout time trying to thwart them.
The key opens after Cole remembers the story his father told him…the story that his mother left him (man what I’d do to buy one of those puzzles as a prop or a bracelet/necklace), and it reveals a place and a date: Blackleaf, May 11, 1852. We’re going to the 19th century, kids!!
And if you were worried about Deacon…well, don’t be. It seems most of the good in Deacon is gone now, after being left behind again. Boy is ready to take out anyone who left him behind (everything is a cycle it seems), and in a not-so-stunning turn of events, Olivia makes him her second in command.
Looks like the Scav-King is back. I’ll miss what he used to be, the heart-of gold guy who finally realized the right side…but given his backstory, this isn’t a surprise. I can only hope he’ll come to his senses before it’s too late.