Review of '12 Monkeys' 4-7.9

by Paul Levinson about a year ago in tv review

One-Bettering the Movie

Review of '12 Monkeys' 4-7.9

I've been saying for years—well, since 1995, when Terry Gilliam's movie, starring Bruce Willis and Madeleine Stowe first came out—that 12 Monkeys (based on the 1962 short, La Jetée) is the best time-travel movie ever made. This gave the television series, which came out in 2015 and I've been reviewing ever since, a lot to live up to. Up until tonight's penultimate three episodes (4.7-9), the best it did was sidestep the movie, and tell us other time-travel stories. Especially in this final season, some of these stories were as good, in their own ways, as the movie.

Tonight, the TV series did something very different. It took the mind-blowing, gut-wrenching, paradox-respecting ending of the movie [spoilers ahead]—in which time-traveler James Cole, haunted all of his life by something he saw happening at the airport, discovers that what he saw as a little boy was his own death, of his older self, trying to stop the plague, as a horrified "Kathryn" Railly who loves him holds him in her arms and can do nothing more than exchange glances with the little boy—and daringly throws this ending in our faces and turns it on its head. By which I mean: in the three hours on last night (actually, the third hour, 4.9, which was one superb hour of television), Cole and "Cassandra" Railly (the same character as in the movie, with a new first name) realize that in order to stop the Witness and her plan to end all of time and existence, they must not stop the plague but make sure it's set loose in the airport (changed in the TV series to JFK from whatever the name of the airport in Philadelphia in the movie). The Witness knows this and tries her best to stop this by killing Cole—which she fails to do because Cole's mother takes the assassin's blow and dies in his stead. So, Cole dying in Railly's horrified arms in the movie is replaced by Cole's mother dying in Cole's arms and Railly looking on horrified in the TV series. Now that's what I call a pretty good twist. (Okay, maybe not better than the movie's, but certainly in the same league.)

The other part of this twist is that Hannah, not Emma, is Cole's mother. I did see this coming. I'm not sure why, but when Hannah and Emma were making their escape (again, from the Witness's assassins), it popped into my head that, hey, if Emma is killed it could well be that Hannah is Cole's mother. This, of course, makes for a much more meaningful and satisfying lineage, with Jones being Cole's grandmother.

So here's where we are for the two-hour finale next week. Deacon and Hannah are gone (with heroic deaths by both). The plague was released and kills seven billion. And Jones doesn't have much longer to live. I'm rooting for the plague not to be released (I'm with Cassie and her reticence to release it—she's a doctor, but any normal human being should feel that way), and for Jones to somehow recover. That, of course, in addition to the Witness being stopped.

And I'll be back here next week to let you know what I think of how this all turns out.

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Paul Levinson

Paul Levinson's novels include The Silk Code (winner Locus Award, Best 1st Science Fiction Novel of 1999) & The Plot To Save Socrates. His nonfiction including Fake News in Real Context has been translated into 15 languages. 

See all posts by Paul Levinson