No devoted follower of 12 Monkeys should be surprised the series isn’t going down easy. In fact, if the first three episodes are any indication, Season 4 will be sparing no effort to enlighten, entice, and engage fans and leave them wanting more when it’s over.
Our story started with a time traveler tasked with killing the person supposed to create a world-ending plague. The mission was clear. A one way trip to save the world. One life in exchange for seven billion.
But it was never going to be as simple as that.
In the years since the mission spiraled into hurdles and rabbit holes, paradoxes and primaries. Time was discovered not only to be sentient, but to take sides. Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire) was much more than just crazy, and a plague was only the beginning of the destruction to come.
Season 1 explored how fathers/father figures shaped the world and the apocalypse which threatened to end it. Season 2 divided equally between stopping the Time-destroying Red Forest and getting Cassie (Amanda Schull) and Cole (Aaron Stanford) to their destiny at the House of Cedar and Pine. Season 3 focused on hunting The Witness through time and the moral dilemmas which arose from doing so.
And from this early vantage point, Season 4 looks like it will be about revisiting history, reweaving reality and rekindling purpose. Time has taken it on the chin for too long, life itself has dwindled down to a whisper, and much still needs happen for a chance at a happy ending. Clearly, there is work to finish. (Note: There will be spoilers in the story below, and some major spoilers for episode 3. Want to watch 12 Monkeys Season 4 on Amazon? You can get it right here.)
EPISODE 1: The End
Our season debuts with Project Splinter under siege and Olivia (Alisen Down), now known as The Witness, fully in control of both the Army of the 12 Monkeys and Titan. And Titan has arrived at Raritan.
Olivia orders “Kill everyone” as her armed cultists assault the vastly outnumbered and outmatched forces protecting the facility. This is a last stand scenario, guaranteeing that the fighting sequences that follow will be both physically complex and desperately dramatic. And they deliver – but they’d be more purely fun to watch were the situation inspiring them not so dire.
But Katarina Jones (Barbara Sukowa) still has a trick up her sleeve, gasping out “Project Charon” as the facility is breached. This is her escape plan: to splinter a portion of the facility and its occupants to a place of safety. The technology is still experimental and the plan untested. But Jones, wounded and on her sickbed, pleads with James Cole to trust her instincts “one last time”.
Though a slim chance it works, mostly – but not for everybody. Even this early we lose people. Lasky (Murray Furrow), Marcus Whitley (Demore Barnes), Deacon (Todd Stashwick), even Jones herself become casualties of some sort before the episode is done.
At least our primary, Jennifer Goines is relatively safe in 2018 Prague. Though the city is starting its slide into the chaos of the plague, Jennifer is busy planning a heist – again. Fiercely attractive in auburn hair and black pantsuit (think Le Femme Nikita crossed with Black Widow), she prepares to singlehandedly snatch a centuries old relic that holds a key piece of information our heroes need.
Despite huge odds against it, Jennifer’s plan succeeds. The scenes showing exactly how she accomplishes this feat are alternately impressive and goofy and compare favorably with her sublimely silly music video which ensured Season 3 would start off not only with a bang, but a giggle.
Meanwhile the survivors from Team Splinter find they’ve landed in the Emerson Hotel, again serving as their refuge as it has many times before. Except instead of room service they’re faced with a rubble and a debate over what to do next. Cassie, who is feeling defeated, suggests they scatter and hide across various time periods. Cole however will not abandon either hope or their mission. But for a crusade that once started out so black and white it now appears only shades of grey are left.
Notes from “The End”
The ouroboros – a symbol first referenced in Season 1’s “The Night Room”- comes front and center in 12 Monkeys mythology and is apparently staying for the duration.
We see the first time splinter technology is used as an offensive weapon (unless you count Katarina torturing Olivia in the splinter chair during Season 3).
Olivia has grown more comfortable in her role as super villain. Standing on the balcony of Titan, staring down her enemy, she not only recalls scenes from other fantasy and war epics, but also the silent stillness of a cobra about to strike. Yet uneasy lies the head that wears the plague mask.
Notable lines from “The End”
Cassie: We may have saved his [Athan’s] soul but I’m losing mine.
Deacon: Olivia’s got herself a “Death Star.”
EPISODE 2: “Ouroboros”
Appropriately for an episode named for an infinity loop, “Ouroboros” begins with a flashback – an extended version of the opening scenes of 12 Monkeys showing Cole and Ramse’s (Kirk Acevedo) journey to the CDC to recover Cassie’s watch from her skeletal wrist. These set the tone perfectly for a chapter of story full of past encounters, call backs and moments of déjà vu.
This episode beautifully highlights something of a pattern for the series: that upon revisiting past events they acquire meanings more profound than in their first go-around. Perhaps this is the least expected and most painful side effect of time travel – the opportunities it creates to play on the heart.
Cole, Cassie & Jones travel to the Raritan Facility on the slim chance they might recover a power source they desperately need to reboot their time machine. But upon arriving, they’re shocked to find not the abandoned ruin they were expecting but an intact complex inhabited by past versions of themselves.
Apparently, their last splinter didn’t only relocate their complex in space, but in time. They are in 2043 again, on the eve of Cole’s first successful splinter. The arc of this story recalls Season 1’s “Atari” and how choices made by unseen time travelers affected events unfolding in time.
But while “Atari” focused on action, “Ouroboros” is more character driven. Our travelers are not confronting random persons or events this time, but their own past lives. No wonder these encounters feel like waking dreams or walking among ghosts. Perhaps the best example of this is Cole’s expression upon seeing Ramse (who he tragically killed last season) alive again – his face a sublime mingle of joy and grief, showing the vulnerabilities hidden beneath his stoicism.
Jones has a different sort of close encounter with an individual who – lets just say – is well known to her. She is given a chance to offer a solution to a critical problem. In return she gains a measure of insight she didn’t realize she lacked.
Cassie’s role in the mission is to provide a distraction at a key moment, which she accomplishes flawlessly. Still scarred from recent events, her grief at her son Athan’s (James Callis) death burn in her like a pure flame transforming her from icon of sorrowing motherhood to avenging angel seeking to destroy a demon. Her plan is simple yet risky: splinter back to the single day in 1971 Olivia was left unguarded by the Army, wait for an opportunity – and then kill her.
Interestingly – while this plan diverges from the mission at hand, it receives little opposition. The exception is Cole, who refuses to join her, even when she tearfully begs him to. Cassie ultimately splinters away alone, a regretful Cole looking on. He’s made his choice: He and Katarina began the mission together and they’ll end it the same way.
Jennifer, still separated in time from her colleagues, is now wanted by authorities after her excellent adventure at the museum. While in hiding, she focuses on breaking the code of the ouroboros relic, but try as she might she can’t. Worse yet, Jennifer also can’t seem to access any of her primary powers any longer. Though this gift has been a mixed blessing, facing a future without it leaves her feeling bereft – an emotional state she deals with by creating an imaginary version of herself to coach and comfort her.
A new character, “Bonham from Interpol” (Conleth Hill) enters the scene, claiming he too is on the track of the museum thief. But his origins are as murky as his motivations. Is he a new ally or a minion of the Monkeys? Interestingly, when he eventually catches up to Jennifer at a train depot, his vaguely menacing demeanor causes her to choose a “gutsy move” over capture.
Notes on “Ourobouros”
While mythological references are no stranger to 12 Monkeys, this episode is brimming with them. Not only are there multiple versions of the ouroboros displayed at the museum, but a tour guide is on hand to explain their symbolic significance. And even Bonham speaks of the Norse myth of Ragnarok, the end of all things and a serpent that encircles the world.
This is also an episode particularly laden with emotional mine fields, intensified by the knowledge of what is to come. But for all the upheavals these encounters and reunions cause, they also offer our characters a measure of closure.
It’s becoming clear that whatever choices our heroes have left from this point may be limited and furthermore, painful and difficult. The mission has grown complex and fragmented and is no longer about just one thing anymore.
Bonham: When the future’s uncertain the past never matters more.
Ramse: Only the dead can forgive Brother. You have to give them a reason to forgive you.
Cassie: We fight. We learn. We learn. We live.
Katarina Jones: We are echoes here, following ourselves, hoping that the fear in front of ourselves is smaller than we are.
EPISODE 3: 45 Rpm
Like the old style vinyl record that opens the episode, “45 RPM” is all about circles.
The strains of the song “Happy Together” introduce this Olivia-centric episode. The year is 1971 and an adolescent Olivia (Holly Deveaux) has run away from home. She is staying with a friend in a flophouse who (in an example of trippy irony) supports herself by stealing and reselling watches!
Olivia and her companion engage in some 70’s era counter culture activities like sharing a joint and dancing to tunes from Olivia’s record collection of vinyl 45’s. But in flashback we also see Olivia’s induction into the Army of the 12 Monkeys: the ritual branding with the Titan symbol, presentation of the Titan medallion and first serving of Red Forest tea.
WARNING – MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD
But perhaps the most important Season 4 revelation so far is that Olivia is pregnant.
This is clearly not an easy time for Olivia. Not only is she having intense morning sickness, she’s being hunted by two different parties. One is headed by her mother, the messenger Mantis, the other is Cassie, looking to avenge the murder of Athan.
Ironically, both women are captured by police (Cassie after engaging in a shoot out with unnamed assailants) and end up in the same prison, in adjoining cells. Cassie briefly revisits the idea of killing Olivia, but changes her mind once she realizes she is with child.
There’s little of the intense determination of Witness Olivia to be found in her wide-eyed 70’s era self. Likewise there’s little of refined, pacifist Cassie to be seen in the grim sniper patiently tracking her prey. However motherhood gives both women enough common ground for a brief honest interlude.
Cassie uses the opportunity to interrogate Olivia, but only learns that her child was conceived to further the plans of The Witness, whose purposes Olivia’s mother is beginning to question. Olivia also doesn’t answer when Cassie asks about the identity of the baby’s father.
Eventually Olivia is released to her mother and Cassie let off with a promise to stop playing with guns. But only minutes later, Cassie is off invading Monkey Mansion, leaving several dead and Olivia’s mother wounded. Yet after the dust clears (and a twist too big to spoil occurs) Olivia, not Cassie, is the victor.
Life is also growing complicated for Future Olivia. Her followers are increasingly skeptical about her possessing neither the sight nor skills of a Primary. An advisor (Julian Richings) counsels her about acquiring such to secure the Red Forest, then presents her with a mechanism he developed which he says will give her those abilities.
Jennifer has survived a brush with death and is busy meeting with two different versions of Cole. The first is splinter vest wearing “future a$$hole” who just saved her and wants to be briefed on the significance of the ouroboros. The second is “present day” Cole, who several hours (and one cheeseburger) later joins her back at the museum to re-steal the ouroboros Jennifer left behind during her escape.
Instead they run into Bonham and his crew. The good news is that he’s not a Monkey minion, but an ally of the Primaries. He explains the ouroboros relic is a codex, a puzzle kept safe for generations waiting to be handed on to James Cole. And Cole proves he’s more than a pretty face when he solves the puzzle in a Raritan minute. The clue? A date and location for an event in time and their next mission.
Back at ruined Raritan, Deacon is found buried alive, mostly unhurt and mad as hell. In his version of recent events, Deacon believes he was abandoned by his former comrades and left to die as they splintered away. Olivia immediately senses the advantage of a Deacon hostile to his old crew, so instead of killing or imprisoning him, drafts him as a new advisor to the Witness and her right hand man.
Notes from “45 RMP”
The phenomena known as the Great Jinn – the unbreakable cycle — is mentioned several times and also briefly explained, though the concept has yet to be fully integrated into the storyline.
The shape of the medallion, the symbol of Titan, is finally explained. It is the number “12”, mirrored.
The museum exhibit at the center of events in Prague is called “Ouroboros: At the Circle’s End”. And circular images are everywhere in this episode. Besides the relic we also have close ups of: the large wall clock in the police station, the round faces on the watches stolen by Olivia, a magnified image of Olivia’s eye, the camera lens that takes Olivia’s mugshot, Olivia’s face observed in the scope of Cassie’s rifle and finally, the spinning disks of Olivia’s beloved 45 records.
Titan advisor: Certainty is the faith of cowards.
What We (Think We) Know So Far
It is pretty obvious by now that everyone in this story is caught up in an unbreakable cycle. And if a solution to this isn’t found and the pattern unchanged, a perfect storm of badness that starts with a pandemic and will continue until we come to the end of time and all things – a contemporary Ragnarok.
What is less clear is if Time is still engaging with primaries, passing messages and directing events. Frankly it is a little disconcerting that Jennifer is no longer communing with the “Old Girl”. But though the stakes are high and disaster just around the bend, there are subtle clues throughout the beginning episodes which to suggest that Time is very much still on the side of our heroes.