12 Monkeys (Season 1)

12 Monkeys is an American science fiction television series based on the 1995 cult film of the same name. The series, that is a complete re-imagining of the franchise and not just a remake of the original film, premiered on Syfy in January 2015 and stars Aaron Stanford as James Cole, the time traveller who is tasked to save the human race from the outbreak of the deadly virus, Amanda Schull as Dr. Cassandra ‘Cassie’ Railly, a virologist, Kirk Acevedo as José Ramse, Cole’s best friend and later in the series his major antagonist, Noah Bean as Aaron Marker, Cassandra’s embittered ex-partner, Barbara Sukowa as Katarina Jones, the official in charge of the time machine, Željko Ivanek as Leland Goines, the corporate figure who seems to be the source of the viral plague, Emily Hampshire as Jennifer Goines, a deranged math genius and a daughter of Leland Goines, and Todd Stashwick as Deacon, the leader of a brutal group of survivors called the West VII.

James Cole (portrayed by Aaron Stanford) is a time traveller who is sent back in time with a task to stop the release of a deadly virus that killed 7 billion people.

The story starts in the year 2043, when James Cole and his partner search the ruins of the post-apocalyptic Earth devastated by a viral plague. They discover a skeleton wearing a wristwatch, which Cole takes, seemingly knowing the wearer intimately.

We learn that in the year 2017, a deadly virus is released, killing 7 billion people worldwide and causing civilization to collapse. In 2043, a team of scientists led by Katarina Jones invent time travel and recruit James Cole to go back in time and kill the man responsible for the release of the virus and start of the plague, in a one-shot-attempt to reverse the disaster and save humanity.

Cole travels back to 2013, where he kidnaps virologist Cassandra Railly and interrogates her about the whereabouts of Leland Frost – the scientist responsible for the outbreak. Cole explains Railly that he is from the future and that he needs to stop an impending viral pandemic. At first, Railly takes Cole for a lunatic, but she starts to believe his story when he shows her the watch he found in the future, which is completely identical with the watch she is wearing. As she looks in amazement, Cole etches a groove onto the glass of her watch, causing one to appear instantaneously on the watch from the future. Upon discovering that Railly does not know anything about the scientist, who according to his knowledge is responsible for the plague, Cole asks Railly to meet him again, at a hotel in Philadelphia in two years time, and disappears right before her eyes, but not before being shot by the approaching police.

Virologist Cassandra Railly (played by Amanda Schull) at first does not believe James Cole, but she gradually comes to realise that he indeed came from the future.

Two years later, in 2015, Railly hangs out in the hotel bar, fruitlessly waiting for Cole to arrive. She has been waiting for him here the whole week and finally decides to check out, when Cole stumbles in, still wounded. Railly takes him to her room and, as she begins to treat his wound, Cole passes out. When he comes round, Cole explains Railly that in the future she had worked for the CDC, trying to contain the outbreak. He adds that they had discovered a garbled voice recording made by her which points to Leland Frost as the one responsible for the outbreak. Railly still insists that she does not know anyone by that name, but she takes Cole to see a retired NSA operative and a friend of her father’s, who finally has some answers. It turns out that their man is Dr Leland Goines, the CEO of Markridge Laboratories, a bioengineering firm, who has the security codename ‘Frost’.

Cole an Railly bluff their way into a party with Goines in attendance, where Cole attempts to assassinate Goines, but Railly, who has qualms about killing an unarmed man, shouts out and Cole is subdued by security guards. The police arrest Railly and Cole and then drive them to a deserted area where they hand them over to Markridge security personnel, who take them to one of the company’s facilities. After Goines arrives to interrogate Cole, he says that he knows that Cole is a time traveller as he and Cole already met once before in 1987, when Cole, looking exactly the same, had been asking him about some ‘Army of the twelve monkeys’. Cole, however, has no recollection of this meeting, as from the perspective of his timeline this hasn’t happened yet. He then creates a distraction by touching the two versions of Railly’s watch (from the present and from the future) together, creating a time paradox that causes first an apparent slowing down of time and then a small, but powerful explosion. Dazed Goines staggers out of the room, fires a gun at escaping Cole and Railly, and then collapses on the floor. Cole walks over, takes Goines’s gun, and shoots him dead.

Mentally disturbed math genius Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire) is visited in her cell in the psychiatric hospital by the sinister ‘Pallid Man’ (Tom Noonan).

Upon returning to 2043, Cole discovers that the virus was still released and the pandemic has not been averted. He and Jones study an evidence wall with news clippings about the early days of the outbreak. In the background of one picture, Cole spots a graffiti featuring a big monkey’s head surrounded by twelve smaller monkeys and deduces that Goines was not alone and that others must have been involved in the release of the deadly virus. Back in 2015, Goines’s daughter Jennifer is visited in a mental institution by one of Goines’s employees and informed that she inherited her father’s fortune and company, the Markridge Group. She appears to be completely unmoved by the news, and continues frantically drawing a picture of a monkey’s head on the wall of her cell…

During the course of the next twelve episodes, Cole, in order to try and prevent the outbreak, is sent to many places and multiple timelines, including: North Korea in 2006 (where he is arrested and tortured by military interrogators); Philadelphia in 2015 (where he finally tracks down mentally disturbed Jennifer Goines in the psychiatric hospital, questions her about the ‘Army of the 12 Monkeys’ and learns about the ‘Night Room’, a top-security lab where her father carried out his most secret experiments); Haiti in 2014 (in order to interrogate Dr. Henri Toussaint, the only person besides Jennifer Goines who knows about the ‘Night Room’); Chechnya in 2015 (where CIA plans to use the virus to cause a localised outbreak in order to eliminate Adam Wexler, a runaway ex-CIA analyst); Philadelphia in 2017 (where Cole gets stranded in a timeline where the plague is well underway, and where he visits dying Railly, who is spearheading the futile fight against the virus at the CDC); Tokyo in 1987 (where Cole tries to stop Leland Goines from acquiring the original specimen of the plague virus – a centuries-old human torso preserved in permafrost – but is stabbed, almost fatally, by Ramse who travels here on his own to stop Cole, after he turns against him and Jones, when he realises that the stopping of the outbreak would also mean that his family is erased from the timeline); Philadelphia in 2015 (where is Cole sent by Jones in a desperate attempt to save him and where, after being found by Railly, he finally grasps that the person who helped the ‘Army of the 12 Monkeys’ always remain one step ahead of them, is, in fact, his best friend Ramse – it turns out that Ramse was imprisoned in Japan for 1987’s stabbing of Cole, but while in prison, was contacted by Olivia, the mysterious female member of the ‘Army of the 12 Monkeys’, who helped him through his ordeal, and, upon his release from the jail in 1995, initiated him into their sect); all the while he is often crossing paths with the uncanny ‘Pallid Man’ of the ‘Army of the 12 Monkeys’, paying regular visits to Dr. Cassandra Railly in 2015 with whom he starts to develop a relationship, and periodically returning to his timeline in 2043 to be debriefed by the head of the time-travel project Katarina Jones.

Enigmatic Olivia, a senior member of the ‘Army of the Twelve Monkeys’ (brilliantly portrayed by Alisen Down) seems to be always pulling strings in the background.

When in 2015 Railly finds gravelly ill Cole sent to her by Jones, she contacts the much younger version of Katarina Jones from her timeline and convinces her to help Cole, who is dying from the side effects of time travel. Jones says that the only thing that can help is blood from the young 2015 version of Cole. Cole’s father is at first dismissive and highly suspicious of their intentions and motivation, but when Railly and Jones bring him and young James Cole at the bedside of the adult, dying Cole, Cole senior, to his amazement, recognises in the dying man his, even though now mature, son, and agrees to help.

Unfortunately, the ‘Army of the 12 Monkeys’ is also after Cole and converges on the building. While Cole’s father dies defending the younger version of his son from the ‘Pallid Man’, adult Cole injects himself with the blood sample, causing a time paradox that cures him and causes an explosion that scares off the sect. 2015 version of Jones then informs grown-up Cole that he no longer has the ability to travel through time and is forever stuck in this timeline.

In the meanwhile, mentally-unstable Jennifer stages a hostile takeover of the Markridge Group and installs herself as the new CEO, while 2043 version of Jones is attempting to restart the time-travel project, when a group of twelve mysterious hooded figures, led by Deacon, the leader of ‘West VII’, assault the Temporal Facility housing the time machine.

In 2015, Cole and Railly break into Raritan National Laboratories, which house the prototype of the time machine, where they come face-to-face with Ramse, who also plans to use the time machine in order to return to 2043. In an ensuing shootout, both Railly and Ramse are seriously injured. Cole uses Ramse’s supply of the time-travel serum to send Railly to 2043, in a hope that Jones will be able to save her, and helps the less-gravely wounded Ramse to escape the facility.

The season’s finale sees the mysterious group of twelve cloaked characters, presumably the ‘Army of the Twelve Monkeys’, assaulting the Temporal Facility.

The season’s cliffhanger sees Olivia inspecting 12 newborn infants, preparing them to be ready in 28-years-time for the sect’s plans, while Jennifer is embarking on a plane trip, seemingly to spread the plague virus around the world. Meantime in 2043, Deacon, and the mysterious group of twelve, seize the control of the time machine, just as badly injured Railly arrives from 2015…

12 Monkeys definitely has its bright moments, but the series ultimately fails to re-capture the magic of the 1995 film. Even though it is hard to put a finger on just what exactly went wrong, one of the factors could be the (presumed) low budget of the series, causing the overuse of the show’s sets. Whereas one can understand that the production companies want good value for money on their substantial financial investment, there does seem to be a rather disproportionate amount of time spent on just two sets: Dr. Railly’s grandparents’ old bookstore, and the room in the Temporal Facility housing the time machine (and can somebody please explain me why is someone constantly welding in the latter ???).

Another factor could be bad casting of the main characters – in particular two of them: Aaron Stanford may be a good-looking bloke, but he unfortunately lacks the male lead’s charisma of Bruce Willis, while Barbara Sukowa is unconvincing as the head of the time-travel project.

Luckily, these miscasts are partially redeemed by strong performances of the supporting cast, so even though Aaron Stanford comes across as rather underwhelming rendition of James Cole, Tom Noonan and Alisen Down excel as the wonderfully sinister ‘Pallid Man’, and enigmatic Olivia of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, respectively. One can but hope that these characters will get more exposure as the series develops.

12 Monkeys was renewed for a second season, returning in spring 2016.