12 Monkeys: Mother


Since 12 Monkeys began, one characteristic of its storytelling that has impressed me most is its unapologetic dedication to presenting more than one side, approach or tactic to every circumstance. Every mission, every conundrum, provokes fatalism from one character (and, often, defeatism) and idealism from another. Interestingly, neither side succumbs to a passive approach to their missional objective. Of course, forming characters that respond to a philosophy of inevitability or to a total rejection of believing we can know anything independent of the mind with passivity would lead to a very uninteresting story.

As the great King Solomon once wrote: with great wisdom comes great sorrow. One of the greatest aspects to season two was this added component of knowing so much more than they did in season one. The more we know, the more we don’t know. But knowing more isn’t enough to build an entire season on, and they brilliantly introduced a scenario in which Cole and Cassie effectively switch places, physically and philosophically. And it is from that dynamic, including the intricate web of dependency between Cole, Cassie and the entire team, that makes this story so engaging.

Season 2 drove home the notion that love cannot be undone. Ramse’s love for his son, Cole and Cassie’s love, the Ramse-Cole brotherhood, etc. Love, ultimately, is why we do anything or feel anything, even if we don’t know it or understand it. Even in a world that unravels in a linear fashion it is difficult to understand complex emotions as they’re developing, it is difficult to reveal them once we can actually call them by name, and it is difficult to frame the past as the present continues to flow.

And so, here we are… Beginning of season 3 and me sitting down at my computer deciding that I’ve taken too long of a hiatus from analyzing good science fiction. Instead of going back to the beginning of season 1 and blogging all the way through, I’m just starting at season 3… knowing it will likely be necessary to drink some red tea, but I’m not convinced I can add anything new to the already stellar discussions that have been had about the first two seasons.

If this is your first time reading one of my analyses, please note that I will spoil everything leading up to the episode I’m writing about (but not beyond that episode without due warning); I also will not recap the episode. There are plenty of recaps out there, so if you need a refresher… go find one of those.


At the beginning of Mother, Katarina gives us a recap of her last three years. In her last three years, Ramse lived, what? An additional 30 years (’87 to ’16)? Cassie lived at least 6 (2 waiting for Cole to return to the hotel, plus the year that was “erased”). Don’t hold me to that math, but the point being… though Katarina’s recap is a basic summation of the events that occurred in that time, it far from tells the full story about what went on in each character’s journey. I think that’s why the most impactful part of her recap was a description of the 12 Monkeys, an organization that isn’t just out to destroy all humans but also time.

We thought we knew how cult-like the 12 Monkeys were prior to season 3, but this first episode was enough to tell us that we barely brushed the surface of just how committed these people are to The Witness. When we started on this journey, the task was pretty straight forward: discover the origins of the virus and eliminate that threat before it is unleashed on humanity. It wasn’t as simple as taking out Leland Goines and as each episode unfolds, the conspiracy around the virus grows. The mission, to stop the virus, stays the same, but it grows arms and legs, becoming enigmatic and evasive. Eliminate the witness, avoid the 12 Monkeys, stop the virus, find Titan, save everyone.

Generally, my frustration with most television is that in order to keep moving forward, the stories and paths of individual characters become increasingly convoluted in order to avoid repetition or redundancy. It’s impossible to keep things neat and tidy, particularly in the science-fiction realm, because of how much literally and figuratively feeds the proverbial beast. Increased complexity isn’t sure-fire for convolution, however, and the premiere of season 3 does such a fantastic job of defining (and refining) the parameters of the stage we’re playing on.

The Main Stage

The scenery of the main stage is changing. Where for the last two seasons we’ve always returned to the splinter chamber, because that’s where the machine is, it doesn’t feel as much like home base anymore. Titan and this splinter vest that future Cole is wearing seem to be introducing an untethered paradigm coming up for the team.

When is now? Is now even relevant anymore? A causal, linear sequence of events is unfolding irrespective of time wherein those involved hide inside, or fight against, the folds of time. Cole has spent months searching for Cassie, but is there any urgency, really, in time travel? It’s an interesting dichotomy, isn’t it? Because yes, it is urgent. Even if there is some degree of control over when you travel to, you can’t control what you’re going to find or the evasive tactics of your target. Through Cole’s many jumps, if he finds Cassie… he’s probably not going to abandon his mission because he found her when she’d experienced more time than he had. Does that make sense? There are so few instances (I can only think of one effortlessly) when the team actually changed time. It isn’t probable for Cole to find Cassie and expect that she provide him with information that would lead to recovering her at an earlier moment in her time stream. Generally when a situation like that does happen, one or the other of the travelers knows a deeper reason why they cannot provide the other with the information they’re looking for. In the massive Jenga game that is time, you pull out the wrong piece and you break more than you could even expect to fix.

The meeting with Cole and Future Cole, therefore, is super interesting. Based on Cassie’s look, my guess is we won’t see the other side of that moment this season (if ever). Cassie’s look actually looks super duper similar to the one she was wearing at the time of her death, back in the season 1 episode “Tomorrow”. This meeting was instrumental in taking Cole’s mind off the urgency of finding Cassie now (his “now”) and instead sending him off to find Jennifer. Because even though Cassie is never directly the mission, she is so wrapped up in it that all roads seem to lead back to her. At least, that’s the vibe I get from Future Cole.

The Horseman

Horsemen, no horses.

Jennifer Goines is one of my favorite characters on television. I compare her appeal to that of Walter Bishop. It takes special attention from an actor to fully embody someone as genuinely insane as they’re being asked to be. In Walter’s case, he was missing a piece of his brain that was vital to both recall and, at times, retention. It made for some very unique circumstances to play out. Jennifer, on the other hand, is primary.

In context, being Primary is not an illness. It manifests in similar ways, but it is described to us sort of like… a connection to the infinite while still confined to the finite. To oversimplify, I find it so similar to how using really old versions of IE, or even dial-up, contributes to the user experience on the Web. You wait and wait and wait for a page to load, then when it loads it only loads the text without the style or formatting. You know kind of what you’re looking for, so you click on the link that looks the most correct and you’re brought to the next page. The next page only partially loads, but it’s enough because you see what you need and you click on that. The next page, for whatever reason, loads perfectly fine. All images, styles and text appear as you’re expecting it. Woo hoo! But then you click away from it and it doesn’t render the next page. WTF.

When your mind renders at dial-up speed in a quantum-processor era, it’s no wonder it yields the behavior it does! But because Jennifer’s does, we get amazing mini music videos of 99 Red Balloons followed by a series of connections that only a Primary could make. It all starts here, Jennifer says. It all starts here in the past. While she has this dawning realization, that we still are only half-privy to, we see four figures all wearing splinter vests and carrying a large box with the sign of the witness on it. Box is an understatement. It’s like the Ark of the Covenant, really.

Conceived Out of Time

Every time Pallid Man speaks I want to gouge out my ears. In a good way, if that’s possible (Tom Noonan does his job perfectly). Near the end of the episode, right before Cassie’s attempt at suicide, he says this:

“The Witness, conceived out of time, in the house of cedar and pine. Born of two travelers. He who hath ensured his own creation, despite the father’s attempt to undo him. The blood, travels serum from both the mother and the father, miraculous beyond words.”

The Witness is safe. We first heard that phrase in the season 2 finale. The way each follower utters it makes it sound just like some crazy rant of a cult (and, yeah, I guess it still is no matter which way you slice it), but moreso it seems to me representative of a person’s complete alignment with fate. The Witness is safe; as Magdalena says… it’s already happened. All of it. It doesn’t matter what Cassie does, the Witness has already orchestrated his birth and there is no act she can take to stop it.

Interestingly, however, while the cult clearly believes in fate, it’s not so much a predeterministic philosophy as it is simply a deterministic (or casual deterministic) one (where their god — lowercase g — is the Witness). The chain of events that bring about the birth and/or life of the witness are not necessarily maktub, but the outcome itself is. The Witness will be born of two travelers, he will be raised to lead his people to the red forest and abolish time. The Witness is safe; our future is safe. There are no surprises.

This is an incredibly dubious discussion to have when living in a linear timestream. Just in the last month I’ve taken up debating this topic on a more theological than philosophical level. Looking at what is inevitable and what is orchestrated is fascinating in the context of this episode and yields a much more immediately-gratifying conversation… and it might be because the components of time travel make it feel more tangible. The events we’re witnessing on 12 Monkeys, in my limited capacity to understand it, unfold as they do because there are people loyal to the cause of bringing them about. Without the extreme loyalty of members like Magdalena, Cassie’s attempted suicide would not be merely an attempt. There are no surprises because unexpected, or undesirable, actions can be undone… back-tracking free will and instead forcing situations to happen in spite of the unpredictable human spirit.

And yet, Pallid man says, after time is undone, that the Witness is no longer safe. Hmm.


Are events fated because people believe in Fate and, thus, carry out Fate’s agenda?

Next: Season 3 Episode 2 “Guardians”


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