The sci-fi series 12 Monkeys with three seasons so far is based on the movie that debuted in 1996, also called 12 monkeys. However plot lines have deviated from the movie as the show progressed into successive series.
The only link now between the movie and the series is the premise to “unmake history”.
Critics have dubbed 12 Monkeys, as the “best show no one is watching”. But the fourth and final season to be released this year could change that. It seems that the writers and producers of the series have finally found the right strategy to get viewers hooked till the end, taking the cue from sci-fi channel Sfyf that got viewers to binge watch season 3 in one weekend.
12 Monkeys, now available on Netflix, is a story where the beginning is the end and the end is the beginning.
The year is 2043 and nearly 40 years earlier, a lethal man-made virus spared only 1 percent of the world’s population.
The series kicks off with scenes from a laboratory located somewhere in Philadelphia in 2043 where James Cole, played by Aaron Stanford, is being prepared to splinter back into time to “save seven billion souls”.
At first watch it seems Cole’s mission to go back in time is pretty straightforward. He is tasked to kill a certain Leland Goines (played by Zeljko Ivanek), the owner of a mega pharmaceutical company and the man responsible for the apocalypse. However, it slowly evolves into a complex understanding of time and time consciousness, which also includes evolved human beings with direct connections to time itself. These people are called primaries throughout the show.
The pilot show of 12 Monkeys has Cole go back to 2015 where he kidnaps a virologist named Dr. Cassandra Railly, played by Amanda Schull. This virologist is pre-destined to help Cole to find Goines and Coles is sent back in time to kidnap her because from the year he comes from, there is a collection of historical documents and recordings that could help save 7 billion lives. In these documents is a recording from Dr. Railly mentioning the name of Goines.
The labyrinth of timelines creates so many possibilities making each turn seem like an impossible enigma. The timeline enigma becomes apparent when Cole kidnaps the wrong timeline version of Dr. Railly who has no idea who Goines is and what his intentions are in creating the lethal virus.
Not to fear he is able to give Dr. Railly a message to meet him 3 years later with the name and location of where Goines would be, to carry out the assassination.
Cole first learns about the army of the 12 Monkeys from his assassination attempt of Goines. In a twist of fate, even though he manages to eliminate him, it is not enough to change the course of history to prevent the deadly plague caused by the virus.
Now, “Project Splinter” scientists led by physicist Katarina Jones (Barbara Sukowa), must use Cole in a new mission to stop the 12 Monkeys to prevent the destruction of the world.
It soon becomes clear that the 12 Monkeys are not human but created by someone called the Witness. At the end of season one, there are 12 newborn babies who have been genetically engineered to start a 28-year cycle before they are to become soldiers for the Witness.
Mystery surrounds the exact identity of the Witness and his end game – and this is what makes 12 Monkeys binge worthy. The Witness has the Holy Grail to time and the ability to know what will happen on every timeline, so defeating him/her and the army of 12 Monkeys is almost impossible because they are able to manipulate any outcome in their favour.
There is however a wild card when it comes to time, and these are the primaries. Cole and Dr. Railly encounter one, earlier in the show. Jennifer Goines, the daughter of Leland Goines, who hates her father like poison, is a misunderstood traumatized genius who has been made a schizophrenic because of her gift. Her sanity wavers as she has been brainwashed and manipulated by the 12 Monkeys to spread the very virus Cole is trying to stop.
We soon find out the reason the group goes by the name of the 12 Monkeys is because the biological weapon is to be released on Chinese New Year’s day coinciding with the Year of the Monkey.
Before you know it, there are a number of time travellers with a myriad of timelines weaving in and out of the show’s storyline. In the name of family loyalty and so much more, we soon see things unravel as heroes and villains divide and switch sides. The path to hell is paved with the best of intentions gone astray and this is something that becomes evident, as each of the key players is somewhat responsible for how things come into existence.
By season 3 there are gigantic time-travelling cities, labyrinth upon labyrinths of paradoxes, and topsy-turvy familial relations crossing time or dimensions. It’s no wonder then that the end of season three pays homage to the mythical ouroboros, or rainbow snake, consuming its own tail.
“There once was a serpent that travelled forward and never backwards until he met a demon that drove the serpent mad. But a few were seers who knew the serpent’s true path. They made him a weapon that would kill the demon and put it in the snake’s den. He waited in madness because the seers soon discovered the only one who could wheel the weapon was the demon himself.”
12 Monkeys exploits its time-travelling possibilities to the fullest and does not gloss over the complexities that time travel could have. Most time-travelling storylines get oversimplified and don’t seem to have the brilliance that this show has. From start to finish, 12 Monkeys, has been so well thought out. By season 3 you see that the outcome was planned so intricately that I personally was left speechless.
Season 4 is slated for release in a couple of months and it would help answer who the snake and demon are.
For this Chinese New Year, “splinter” your imagination with a show that is that is sure to put the concept of time in a year in a whole different perspective. 12 Monkeys is my top pick for binge worthy as we enter the Year of the Dog.