12 Monkeys final season goes back to the start to break our hearts and save the timeline


12 Monkeys final season plot to save the timeline goes back to the start, but the emotional journey of our protagonists charges forward into hopelessness.

To set right what once went wrong…12 Monkeys has always lived and died on this trope. The central idea of the series has always been the same: use time-travel to stop the release of a genocidal plague. In the first two seasons, this was a simple idea to follow. Despite the complexity of following the ever-shifting timelines, even the casual fan could anchor to the essence of this central idea. Our protagonists, Cole and Cassie, are trying to stop the apocalyptic agenda of the army of the 12 Monkeys.

It’s not a new concept. Besides the fact that the series is an adaptation of a 1995 Terry Gilliam film by the same name (which was itself based on a French short film), there are plenty of films and shows that utilize similar tropes. What separates 12 Monkeys from the others, is the way it plays with this tool.

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In the third season, their simple mission became emotionally complex. The leader of the army of the 12 Monkeys was revealed to be the unborn child of Cole and Cassie. The protagonists would now be forced to either kill their son or save him.

The conflict through the season was how to interpret the central idea after this revelation. As they struggled to retrieve their son throughout time, their actions inadvertently helped shape him into the villain we feared he would become. Must they set right the timeline by killing their son or could they redeem his soul and accomplish the mission all the same?

The boy’s life was an odyssey of its own, told over the course of season three. In a sweeping sequence, we saw him as a grown man trying to save the woman he loved. He went back hundreds of times to save her, only to watch her die in every attempt. It was a beautiful tragedy.

By the end of season three, we saw a complete resolution of the son’s arc. He turned against the 12 Monkeys, saved his parents and found redemption. The show’s final villain, Olivia, kills the son and takes his place as the true leader of the 12 Monkeys.

Side note: one of my favorite parts of the show’s adaptation of the cult classic film is the way they’ve altered the motivations of the 12 Monkeys. In the film, they simply wanted to wipe out humanity. In the show, the organization wants to abolish time itself. Without going too deep, they also have a time-traveling city called Titan. It’s sorta like a SyFy channel version of the Island on Lost, though at times the low-budget nature of the show makes Titan look like a location from an episode of Power Rangers.

We now arrive at the season two premiere. Our protagonists are simultaneously dealing with the fallout of what happened to their son while preparing to fend off a 12 Monkeys invasion. The city of Titan arrives outside their home base and unleashes wave after wave of generic soldiers. Our small band of characters tries to hold off the attack, but the enemies keep coming.

If they lose the facility, they lose their time machine. If they lose that, they lose the mission. If they lose the mission, everyone died in vain and the 12 Monkeys win. They don’t have the manpower, ammunition or any other advantage. This series has always pitted our characters against seemingly impossible odds, only to have them miraculously squeeze out at the last possible moment. The final season premiere is no different.

Their only hope is to use an experimental device (applied phlebotinum) to relocate their home base, similar to the technology that Titan uses to move through space and time. But as far as our characters understand, this would only move the facility to another space, not to another time. For whatever reason, this isn’t the case. The facility successfully relocates, but it’s placed in another place and time.

When and where? 2043, underneath the Emerson Hotel. For those who have watched the show from the start, this is the exact time and place in which the story began.

The premiere episode of the final season, titled The End, takes us back to the very beginning. Except when it comes to the emotional journey our characters have gone through. Cole and Cassie’s arc is the linear thread that carries this entire series. Cole was a dirty, ignorant scavenger from the post-apocalypse and Cassie was a clean, calculated scientist from the civilized past. They were reluctant to work together, even more-so to trust one another. But they grew together and eventually fell in love. They had a kid and then, of course, they saved that kid from becoming the time-traveling Anti-Christ.

The season premiere once again revitalizes that central idea: to set right what once went wrong. On the surface, we have a final push scenario. They’re at a disadvantage. The odds are against them. Most of their associates are dead, dying or missing in time. But we’ve seen them squeeze out at the last moment, so why should we worry about their latest disposition?

We care because the success of the mission means the end of Cole and Cassie. It’s something they’ve long known or theorized. If there’s no bad future, there’s no Cole. In order for them to set it all right, they not only have to overcome overwhelming odds but they have to say goodbye to one another. Sweet dramatic conflict. Set right the timeline by killing your love story.

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Also, Jennifer Goines is back in the present day. She steals an ouroboros artifact from a museum that’s connected to the past and Cole’s future. But I’m sure we’ll learn more about that in the next episode, titled “Ouroboros”.

The final season airs on SyFy in three-episode chunks over the next few weeks. Clear up a few of your Friday nights and come along for the final ride through space and time to see, once and for all, if Cole and Cassie are willing to pay the ultimate price to set right what once went wrong.