“The End” is the beginning of the end.
12 Monkeys Season 4:
Recap & Commentary One
“Here. We. Go!”
– Deacon season 3
– Jennifer season 4
Minutes into the tease, before the 12 Red Monkeys dance ’round the clock hands, before the iconic opening theme rings through our 5.1 channels of surround speakers – the mythology of 12 Monkeys explodes from the past, setting the stage for the greatest season of the greatest time travel series ever created!
Please forgive my occasional fanboy excitement. Like my recap and reviews of Into the Badlands and The Expanse, 12 Monkeys is one of my favorite shows.
The Wait Is Over!
We waited a long time for the fourth season of 12 Monkeys. I’m sure the cast and crew have felt the same waiting pains and must sympathize with us, the fans.
I remember watching interviews with the main cast and creator / showrunner Terry Matalas during the last Comicon. It’s hard to believe that was almost a year ago. At that time they had wrapped production in Toronto, but shooting the European locations remained before a full series wrap. Of course months of post – where editing, VFX, sound, ADR and mixing still remained back home.
Imagine being in their position, having shot the bulk of your series over a year ago, but only now can you share your work and passion with the world. Sure this is normal for people in the entertainment industry, but still, to have given your all before the lens. All of the emotion, time and effort, sweat and tears, in a monumental team effort of creating a masterpiece like 12 Monkeys. Then having to wait over a year to share it with your family, friends and fans, it must be taxing. For lack of a better word.
Imagine a world with no 4th Season of 12 Monkeys: Apocalypse Now!
The real tragedy would have been no fourth season of 12 Monkeys at all. After season 3 aired, SYFY could have simply cancelled 12 Monkeys and that would have been it. Many shows have been shown the door, abruptly cancelled and left out in the cold. But SYFY channel gave 12 Monkeys a fourth and final season to properly complete the story, time to answer questions and conclude the narrative the best way, by giving it a real ending. Shows like Dark Matter and The Expanse on SYFY and Timeless on NBC have all been at the mercy of the same parent company, Universal.
On average, sci-fi shows do not pull in the same ratings as other types of television shows. Sitcoms, Cop shows, Medical dramas, and reality TV may pull in larger ratings, but these shows lack what a great science fiction show has. A show like 12 Monkeys has a rabid fan base that is loyal, outspoken and committed to the concept, the cast and crew and the ideas that are the foundation of the series. Like all quality sci-fi entertainment, 12 Monkeys demands a level of commitment and intense engagement with the concepts, theories, science and series length storylines. Because the intellectual bar is so high, 12 Monkeys appeals to a smaller subset of audience than most brainless, week in week out by the numbers shows that populate most of the television landscape.
If you’re still reading… 🙂
Thank You SYFY
Thank you SYFY for keeping 12 Monkeys on the air for one final season. Thank you powers that be for playing the season over 4 weeks and NOT during one cramped weekend. Last year killed 12 Monkeys in ratings. Friday and Saturday nights have always been slower nights for ratings, with Saturday being the dead zone of an entire week of timeslot possibilities. Sundays are HEAVY with big TV shows. Having direct sci-fi and fantasy competition from the likes of Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Talking Dead combo, and others only served to sentance 12 Monkeys season three to the doldrums of ratings. They never stood a chance. It’s not 12 Monkeys fault, just the reality of today’s complicated television landscape. We learned a valuable lesson. For now at least, leave the binge watching tos proper streaming services. Not being able to share on social media between weeks, build excitement, have +3 and +7 DVR watching that leads to word of mouth spreading the fan base out, it just hurt the ratings. But I digress, thank you SYFY nonetheless.
Written by Sean Tretta
Directed by David Grossman
If you’re like me, you live and die by your IMDB app. It’s my faithful companion while I watch TV and movies. So of course I looked up the actor who spoke for the 12 primaries in the beginning of this first episode of season 4. This is when I was reminded how much is missing from 12 Monkeys IMDB info for the latest season. It’s been like this since season 4 was listed many months ago and I hope someone can fill in all of the actors, crew, locations, etc some time soon.
The tease of The End was exciting because it opened up a new chapter in the big book of time, the story of 12 Monkeys. Cole is basically the chosen one and he has been known to the families and lineage that have protected the Ouroboros puzzle for centuries.
It appears that there are two major groups, or factions, on the two sides waging war over time. The Primary group and the Army of the 12 Monkeys, or AottM, seem to be at war for centuries, possibly longer. The silver armor of the Witness looking person was really cool, but I wonder, is this the SAME Witness, is this Olivia?
So the AottM has been searching for this relic, the puzzle that they call a weapon. Obviously it’s a weapon because it can be used to undo the great cycle, stop the endless loops, and in effect stop the Witness.
Cole v Olivia
However, isn’t both Cole and Olivia after the same thing? Cole wants to stop the great cycle of time, the great djinn, and put an end to this war by stopping the Witness, Olivia. Olivia wants to also stop time, complete the great cycle and make it that time doesn’t really exist. If she really thought about it, she would also seize to exist. Both want the same thing, but have very different perspectives and ways and means of approaching the fight. The search for the puzzle weapon by the AottM reminded me of the episode Causality, where Olivia is after Constance and the Word of the Witness.
When Olivia arrives in the backyard of the Raritan Facility a huge battle takes place. Katerina is on the mend and keeps repeating Project Charon, her plan to “splinter everything.” I correctly predicted this back when I saw Season One of 12 Monkeys the first time. Terry Matalas replied to my tweet and theory of splintering the facility and confirmed this a couple months ago on Twitter. Thanks for replying that day Terry.
As the battle wages on, Deacon commits a very selfless act by risking his own life to bring their smokestack crashing down on part of Titan. Later we’re lead to believe Deacon dies after they splinter off. However we never see him die, we only get the rules of crossing one of the time streams addressed, you enter, you’re BBQ.
Deacon does have one of the great lines of the night when he says, Olivia’s got herself a Death Star. More on Olivia becoming like Darth Vader later.
Lasky dies, again. That’s 4 seasons in a row. Four for four, poor Lasky.
Cole and Cassie the Dynamic Duo
How about that action sequence in the splinter chamber, where Cole and Cassie took out a room full of Monkeys. The action was so kinetic and frantic, it was so good that it easily stands next to Daredevil. No higher praise can be given. Great scene! To all who made that happen.
Deacon was denied again. He begs Cassie not to leave him in his final moments, which is uncharacteristically vulnerable moment for him. He knew his time was up and then Cole rejects his last request. Cole rushes to protect Cassie and deny Deacon again of Cassie.
As usual, Jennifer brings the fun to another episode of 12 Monkeys. This time it’s double the Jennifer, double the fun! Would this be her 4th alter ego we’ve on screen? The fourth counting real Jennifer. With addition of this super Jennifer, the Jennifer Bond, we actually see a voice inside of her head. This all reminded me of Legion, in more ways than one.
Who was that?
After a well-deserved cameo by Terry Matalas as the voice in the Ouroboros exhibit, we’re treated to the reality of the situation, the alternate Jennifer only exists in her own mind. As she exits the museum, the music used is also from the very funny Causality episode from last season.
Right before they jump the facility, it’s very interesting that Hannah is the one who sets the splinter in motion. Hannah was down on the machine before, blaming it for many bad things. Now Hannah uses the machine to save their lives and their home.
Will we ever find out WHY the underground river was boiling? Was this simply a precursor of Titan’s arrival, or something else?
Jones saves the Day
Katerina manually cooling the core with her bare hands was brave and a huge sacrifice. Better than anyone, she knows what this would mean for her, radiation sickness from massive exposure. What’s fascinating about 12 Monkeys, also sets it apart from other time travel science fiction. In 12 Monkeys you can not travel to an advanced, often utopian, future. This is because from the outset, 12 Monkeys has always been about a destroyed future world.
12 Monkeys meets Rick and Morty
I thought about an episode of Rick and Morty. As Morty waits in agonizing pain with two broken legs, Rick jumps to an advanced future reality, where he can buy leg fixing medicine from any corner drug store. Upon his return, one shot later and Morty is fixed and feels amazing. There is no such instant cure all on 12 Monkeys, no future to use as a crutch. Ironically, it’s the past that offers more resources and cures than the future.
The Emerson Hotel – A Home away from Home
It was a stroke of genius moving the facility to the interior of the Emerson Hotel. For years I’m sure the two main sets have been right next door to each other on some massive soundstage in Toronto. Now the facility interior has become part of the Emerson and the characters can walk between them with ease. This also opens up the use of their suite 607 as well, all without making a time jump to get back and forth.
The facility proximity to the Emerson also explains why Future AHole Cole brought Cole to the rundown future Emerson and why Cassie was there as well. The Emerson was, or is, an extension of the facility, the time machine, and their home now, or is it then, or will be? The point is it’s all connected, by place and by events and now we know why. So good.
The story of the serpent and the demon is a major theme in the first three episodes of season 4. Time will tell if we learn more about Cole’s mother, but it seems she’s part of the lineage that had sworn to protect the puzzle and the name of James Cole. Imagine being his mother and knowing who he is and that you’re the mother of a legendary person who may save the world someday.
It’s clear that each of the characters are in a different place as the season begins. Cole is trying to be optimistic, Cassie is consumed by revenge and Jones and Cassie both are tired of the circles, the loops, of making the same mistakes. This gives each of the major characters a place to start their journey from and a place to go as the season progresses.
The End circles around to The Beginning
Finally, this episode is called The End and by the end of this episode the story has circled around to the beginning. The facility was splintered through space to the Emerson, but the time part was not left out. They went back in time to 2043, just before Cole makes his very first jump to go back, find Cassie and kill Leland Frost. This thread is continued in the next episode.
Written and Directed by Terry Matalas
Going back to the beginning of the series, in a way, at least revisiting the early days had a strange effect. An unintended side effect of seeing Ramse and Cole walking outside, the early days of the mission and things as they once were, suddenly gave me a sense of comfort and hope. These good vibes were unexpected and exciting, but also kind of strange. Perhaps it’s simply coming to grips with where we’re all at right now. We’re on the last leg of a long journey with 12 Monkeys and seeing the past again, to reminisce and reflect, was overwhelmingly nostalgic.
As Cole and Ramse made their way to the CDC, it wasn’t long before I realized that we were being treated to fresh footage, an expanded and enhanced journey, different but the same as the Pilot of 12 Monkeys. Of course this meant that Ramse, Kirk Acevedo was back. After watching him as a ruthless bad guy last season on CW’s Arrow, it was refreshing to see Kirk playing the Ramse we liked. So amazing is a show that has the ability to “bring back” characters and actors who have officially died on screen. Also amazing is having Kirk back in the fold, nice.
Bonham, Agent Bonham
After the events of episode one, The End, Interpol agent Bonham shows up looking for Jennifer because she stole the Ouroboros puzzle. When he shows his badge, he simply says “Bonham.” I wonder if this is a slight wink and a nod at Supernatural. In Supernatural, Sam and Dean show their fake IDs at crime scenes and always use names from various rock bands. My favorite one was when they said the last names from Rush, “We’re agents Peart and Lee.” Let me know if you thought of this when Bonham flashed his badge.
More Game of Thrones
The second thing that crossed my mind was, “that’s cool, another Game of Thrones actor on 12 Monkeys.” This time it’s Conleth Hill, who is our favourite bald servant of the Dragon Queen, Lord Varys. Clearly Bonham knows things, but until next episode we wait to learn which side of time for which he’s playing.
Many Returning Favorites
Also among the guest stars is Julian Richings, who actually played Death on Supernatural. Julian has a knack for finding the most chilling and creepy roles in TV and Film and landing these roles. His sidekick to Olivia notwithstanding.
Returning to the show are Faran Tahir as the ill fated first officer and red shirt among the faithful monkeys. He’s back on 12 Monkeys, but for how long?
It’s always great to see Scottie Thompson playing Vivian Rutledge. I know she’s always with the Monkeys, but for some reason I still like her. “But I’m the Messenger” – she’s into older men clearly, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Speaking of returning actors, one that we haven’t seen for a while is Dr. David Eckland, played by the great XO Michael Hogan. In a brilliant attention to detail, Dr. Eckland was there among the scientists working for his lady, Dr. Jones. He didn’t show up until time was reset in season 2 and then he gave his life later that season. You may ask, why is he there if this time is before the destruction of the Markridge 5-10? Time was reset and Eckland was always part of her team in the new world order.
Time to Meet Yourself
As promised, the hallucinations that Jones mentions last season happened in this episode. 12 Monkeys has gotten so good at staging, shooting and compositing these body double scenes. Last season premiere with Cole and future AHole Cole still blows my mind.
Could Jennifer not having access to her primary powers be because of having the other Jennifer around? Or is there something larger at play that we’re not privy to yet?
“You can’t juggle with one ball.” – Ramse. If you’ve been paying attention in past seasons, then you know what this is about.
Seeing Cole watch Ramse and his younger self from above is very touching. Beautifully played by Aaron Stanford. “I’m fine.” Cole, no you’re not and that’s okay.
We learned more about the genesis of the tether, how it wasn’t completed until the night before and how Ramse kept the pressure on Katerina, like he always did, to protect his brother.
Watching Jones’s speech about one life for seven billion, followed by older Jones lamenting the loops and the chasing their own tails, followed by seeing Cassie on the TV – clearly addressing herself in that interview – all of this got me thinking.
I’m not comfortable with this line of thought, but it has to be addressed. Cassie on the TV was clearly older, the Cassie who has completed the mission, presumably saved the world and stopped the great djinn – if Cassie was to remain at her post, keep working for the CDC, is dying there her ultimate ending? After all is said and done, must everyone, but especially Cassie return to their own point of origin? More on this after I’ve given it more thought…
There’s a very important message in this episode. A message that everyone needs to hear and take to heart, especially the youth of the world.
The Importance of Failure.
All who truly succeed in life have failed many times before they find success. Unfortunately in a world run by clocks, the internet, instant information, instant gratification, and lightning fast communications and technology – these most recent generations expect their success to be instant. They expect the instant, job, the big raise, the big bonus, and all of the big success and they expect it instantly. They expect it now. Life doesn’t work like this and success does not come instantly. Most instant success will eventually fail anyway. When people have these expectations and then they’re met with a failure, they give up. The first time! At the first sign of failure, they give up. Most people who find great and lasting success have failed countless times and always got up and tried again. Like Miriam said, “if at first you don’t succeed, you have to back up and swing again.”
Written by Sean Tretta
Directed by Chris Byrne
First and foremost, let’s recognize the brilliant contributions of 12 Monkeys writer/producer Sean Tretta. Through the years he has written some of the best episodes and clearly he’s one of the starting players on team Monkeys.
Cassie’s mission to 1979
Cassie heading off on her own “one way” mission of revenge reminded me of Cole’s first missions. She’s determined to kill Olivia on the one night they know for certain she’ll be away from the protection of her mother and the Monkey Army.
In the end it was Olivia who was pulling the levers and manipulating events from the future to ensure the history she desired and her own creation. Locked in the adjacent jail cell, next to a young, pregnant, but not impressionable Olivia, once again Cassie tried to save someone from becoming the dreaded Witness. It worked with Athan, but does not work with Olivia. By episode’s end, we learn that Olivia is 100% team Witness, ready to sacrifice her body, herself and her own baby.
VFX & 12 Monkeys
Visual Effects, or VFX, have become so good in recent years that TV shows can now equal what we see in the theater. Coming to mind are all of the scenes in 12 Monkeys where Olivia is channeling her consciousness through time and the layers upon layers of composited images, graphics and filters that go into a sequence only a couple minutes in length.
Also majorly impressive are the scenes with the time doubles. When Cole meets future Cole or Jones talks to past Jones. These scenes are brilliantly executed with flawless VFX, green screen work and compositing. Additionally impressive is the staging, acting, lighting and writing of such a scene.
In the end VFX for the sake of VFX is pointless. This is not the case with 12 Monkeys. VFX are used to advance the story, show an impossible situation that defies physics and known reality, and enhances the plot and characters. When used to achieve a true artistic vision, VFX can be a powerful tool, plus they look really cool. Too often summer movie tent poles, those VFX extravaganzas that play like a 2 hour video game, in the end the VFX drive the story. While 12 Monkeys use VFX the right way, most of the 3D, some superhero, most action sci-fi, and all movies based on video games use it because they can, the story seems to come last.
Primary Jennifer – No Straight Lines
When Jennifer stepped backward onto the train tracks in the last episode, it seemed like a bold and crazy move. But then you have to think like a primary and this move makes more sense. Primary thinking saved Jennifer, or better put, allowed her to trust in a future Cole saving her in that moment. This raised an interesting concept. Future Cole, the one after almost everything has been resolved, the Cole near the end, this Cole will then surf through time and complete all of the events we’ve seen along the way. Future Cole will travel through time to be the connective tissue of events in the middle of the story. One question remains, what will the last Cole do after he’s connected all of the errant pieces?
Mr. Terry Matalas played a trick on all of us Twitter fans during the first episode. By thanking Todd for his work on 12 Monkeys, following his “death”, he pulled off the dying Deacon trick one last time. At the end of season two we see Deacon shot and stabbed mercilessly in Titan. In season three Mallick nurses him back to health. The supposed death scene worked twice. I know the rule, unless you see a body… But still, Kudos to the 12 Monkey team for pulling this off once again. Terry’s tweet helped to sell the “death”, nice.
Cole saves Jennifer next to the train tracks, but across the way is Bonham holding the Ouroboros puzzle. Why doesn’t he simply splinter over, grab it and then splinter away? Well, if this is future Cole, he obviously knows that they have another scene at the museum later. A scene in private, where Bonham can hand Cole the puzzle without raising suspicion. I’m joking of course, but some of this is the truth.
With doubt growing and faith declining among the faithful of the Witness, Olivia, she makes a desperate and bold decision to basically alter herself to become like the Witness. What’s really interesting is that Deacon joked about Olivia having a Death Star and later she basically becomes Darth Vader. All of the life support, mask, breathing apparatus, she’s Vader after Anakin lost his duel with Obi Wan. Eventually this reliance on being exposed to the time stream, plus the excessive drinking of the red tea, will turn her into the demon in the story. Olivia will become the Witness with the glowing red face.
Mark my words, at some point in this 4th and final season of 12 Monkeys, something will happen to Olivia’s eye. The right eye I believe. You read it here first. Why? Rewatch the Night Room episode…
The Long Con
Remember what Deacon says when he went looking for Olivia in the cage room of the facility? “This was all a long con for you?” Or something like that. I really hope and kind of think that Deacon is playing a long con on Olivia. He’s not that angry at Cole and Cassie and Jones. Deacon is simply conning Olivia to stay alive until he can escape and join the fight again. That’s my take.
I loved the full serpent story and how it unlocked the Ouroboros puzzle. This was executed and written well enough that the puzzle eluded becoming a dreaded macguffin. Well done.
I also loved that Bonham turned out to be one of the good ones. He’s part of the lineage of primaries that swore to protect the puzzle and put it in the hands of Cole, the man who could save the world.
We finally got to see Olivia working through time to ensure continuity and her own personal creation to become the real Witness. Now that she has this ability, she can fill in the pieces, which like Cole is the connective tissue to so many events.
Olivia’s time spengalli worked so well, she was able to control her younger self. This is quite frightening. Because of this Cassie’s mission took a quick, but satisfying turn. What a twist. The mom was unfaithful and Olivia was the team player the entire time. Well done.
Keeping Up With Athan Cole
Although Olivia killed Athan, we haven’t seen a body yet and I’m holding out hope of seeing James Callis sometime this season, I believe she still stands in his shadow. She struck him down, she burned his word, she cursed his name, and yet, I believe she still feels inferior. Olivia is not a natural Primary, not a seer by birth, so to become a little like Athan, Olivia begins to destroy her own body and eventually possibly her mind as well. We know she’s stronger than most humans, built like a tank and very intelligent, she’s wonder woman, but still what she’s doing to her body can not be good over time.