Why 12 MONKEYS Is Syfy’s Best Show And Why More Women Should Be Watching

The strongest female roles in television are currently on Syfy’s stellar sci-fi drama series 12 MONKEYS.  Seriously.  The show focuses on four distinct women:  Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), Dr. Katarina Jones (Barbara Sukowa) and the mysterious Olivia (Alisen Down).  Each is vivid, vibrant and downright viciously ruthless when the occasion demands it.  With stakes set at literally saving the world — and manipulating time to do it — there is no room for error or second guessing.  It takes precision and relentless determination, and each woman must fight to either save the future as they know it or bend time to their will to save mankind.  Yet none sacrifices their femininity or personal relationships in order to do it.  In fact, it is because they embrace those qualities and relationships that they are stronger and more tenacious and more resourceful in the battle to preserve humanity and to stop anyone in their path that impedes them.

Strong, Intelligent Women Who Kick-Ass

Dr. Cassandra Railly, aka Cassie, is a virologist who was initially enlisted by a time-traveler known as Cole to stop a viral outbreak that kills off over 90% of the Earth’s population.  While Season 1 saw the transition of Cassie from pure scientist reluctantly swept up in a race against the clock to stop the viral outbreak, Season 2 offers an extraordinary journey for her.  Sent 28 years in the future to save her life, Cassie becomes integral to the time-traveling adventures as she and her cohorts James Cole (Aaron Stanford), and Jose Ramse (Kirk Acevedo) race to stop a super-human breed known as the Messengers from creating a time paradox that would not only erase our heroes from existence, but destroy all time — with no past, no future, only the present with everyone trapped in a time-bubble.  So Cassie goes from scientist to resistance fighter and then to time-traveler and perhaps savior as Season 2 accelerates towards its momentous, jaw-dropping conclusion.  

With Amanda Schull bringing the role to life, Cassie radiates a complex array of emotions.  Cassie can be warm-hearted, yet  tenacious in pursuing a way to save the planet from the viral atrocity about to be unleashed.  Amanda deftly balances showing that Cassie is both vulnerable yet strong, for Cassie had to quickly learn to survive in the “fight or die” world of 2043 and now stands as one of the most bad-ass women in sci-fi today.  Having lost two loves in Season 1, Cassie appears resolute in protecting her heart from ever loving again.  But it is Cassie’s capacity for love in the face of great obstacles and under the most unusual circumstances that gives her the moral fortitude to carry on after each loss and each heart-breaking set back.  In addition, Cassie’s love truly knows no bounds and it ensures that she will never stop trying, whether it is to save a single life or as many lives possible.  

Amanda Schull also brings her long history as a ballet dancer to the role, taking that fortitude and power and channeling it into deadly, lithe fighting moves as Cassie’s role expands.  On occasion, when Cassie is called upon to go toe-to-toe and hand-to-hand in a fight scene, Amanda makes it look believable and real with every punch she takes or uses against her male counterparts — and 12 MONKEYS definitely does not hold back in fight scenes.  It allows its heroines to take quite a brutal beating and then show they can give it right back.  Cassie is absolutely fearless in Season 2 and one should pity any man or woman who stands in her way.  

Even Cole realizes that Cassie is not quite the woman “out of time” that needs saving that he once thought she was.  Cassie continues to challenge Cole’s authority and push back against him when she believes Cole is in her way to achieve her goals — much to Cole’s dismay and justifiably as it gives him reason to worry that Cassie is no longer the same woman he once thought he loved.  So will Cassie be the one to save them or will Cole have to look past his love for her and stop Cassie if she jeopardizes his mission?  Cassie’s personal crusade to find the Witness, and punish him for the torment he subjected her to, spurs her towards a deadly confrontation that risks more than just her life, and Cole may be the only one to stop her.  12 MONKEYS smartly asks its viewers to try to figure out if it will be Cassie or Cole that will unravel the correct path to saving everyone, and it is not an easy choice.  Both appear to be on the right path, yet only one can truly be the savior.  Will Cassie save them or will she doom them all?  It is a relish-worthy conundrum to consider.   As the show nicely foreshadows, Cassie is like the caterpillar that blossoms into a butterfly, and she is magnificent to watch as she transforms.

Then polar opposite to Cassie is Jennifer Goines, zealously portrayed by Emily Hampshire and who is clearly having a ball in every scene.  Jennifer Goines went from being the brilliant yet mentally unstable daughter of Leland Goines, who Cole befriended and enlisted her help in unraveling the mystery to where the virus could be found and eradicated, to the Season 2 startling discovery that Jennifer is a “primary” — a person genetically blessed with seeing “fixed” events in the time-continuum and knowing which people are instrumental in achieving a specific result in order to preserve time itself.  In Season 1, Jennifer was a lovable, well-meaning, yet very unstable young woman who seemed to always be at the wrong place at the right time.  She was the unexpected ally in a very thorny web of time-travel events that Cole had to navigate.  But without her father or Cole around to provide guidance, Jennifer was recruited by the Army of the 12 Monkeys and told it is her fate to release the virus.  In Season 2, Jennifer and Cole are thrown together again and Cole persuades her to destroy the virus. Then we learn that Jennifer’s previously thought insanity is instead a carefully construed vision of reality that shifts as time changes as a result of Cole, Cassie, and Ramse’s interference in timeline events.  Jennifer, also like Cassie, is a scientist — a mathematician — who helped her father build his bio-weaponry empire until that fateful day with the tragic killings at her father’s lab fractured her grasp on reality and put her in a mental ward, a prison she gratefully escapes after her first fateful meeting with Cole, which set off a chain of events that bind Jennifer and Cole’s fates. 

Emily Hampshire’s performance is scintillating. She effortlessly shifts her performance within each scene as if she were a human kaleidoscope.  She can appear utterly unhinged and insane one second and then as if she were the only sane person present in the next.  The role of Jennifer Goines gives Emily a blank canvas from which to paint one electrifying color of emotion at a time to create a dazzling display of performance art.  Season 2 gave her even more latitude to paint even more brightly as Jennifer’s role becomes more finely-tuned and strung across the multiple timelines.  There is Jennifer in 2016, who adores Cole and who slowly wakes up to her mission to help preserve the timelines.  Then there is Jennifer in 2044, who will do whatever it takes to ensure Cole’s survival and assist in his mission against the super-human Messengers and the omnipresent Witness who are intent on freezing time itself for their own diabolical purposes. And just you wait, Jennifer like Cassie embraces her physical power and will rain down terror and pain as she deems necessary — and it will simultaneously terrify and thrill when she does.

Similar to Cassie, Jennifer is pivotal in the unfolding tale of 12 MONKEYS.  It would be wise to keep a close eye on Jennifer and listen very carefully to her chaotic ramblings as she holds many clues as to how time itself can be saved from the Messengers and the Witness.

The third woman of power and significance in 12 MONKEYS is Dr. Katarina Jones.  Dr. Jones pioneered the research and creation of temporal shifts, aka “splintering”, using a time machine that her late husband built.  She effectively made time-travel possible with the use of genetic markers and a serum used to “tether” each person so they could be sent to specific points in the timeline and still have a way to return.  Dr. Jones is not quite a mad scientist; it is more like she is a scientist fixatedly obsessed with saving the human race from extinction. After losing her daughter Hannah in the viral outbreak, Jones single-mindedly spent the next 28 years simultaneously researching potential cures and solving the riddle to time-travel; and while a cure to the virus continued to elude her, Jones did crack the mystery of time-travel and created “splintering.”  

Credit goes to Barbara Sukowa for her carefully-crafted performance as Dr. Katarina Jones.  She also portrays her character across the numerous timelines superbly.  She appears effortlessly young in one timeline and significantly older and time-worn in the future timeline.  Knowing that her character Jones has given up everything in her quest, Barbara wears the aura of a woman unaware of her own self anymore and who only sees one thing:  the mission.  She lives, breathes and practically sleeps focused on the machine and finding the one point in time that she can send Cole back in time to stop the viral outbreak.  Once that is accomplished, she then turns her laser-like focus on tracking down the Messengers who hijacked her machine to jump back in time to create time paradoxes by killing “primaries” on order to freeze time and create a perfect, timeless utopia.  Unlike James Cole who stands to still lose someone he loves, Jones has already lost her greatest love:  her daughter Hannah — and no one is going to stop her from resetting the timeline so that her daughter may one day live again.   

Curiously, it is Jones’ obsession with Cole and his destiny that opens her heart to caring for another person again.  From a maternal perspective, Katarina Jones ferociously protects Cole and his mission — and only protects those that Cole cares for out of expediency.  Fortunately, Cassie and Ramse innately understand that they only have value to Jones because she sees them as tools to keep Cole on track with the mission. 

So imagine Jones’ surprise when she discovers one day that she has fallen in love or had a great love when the virus is finally destroyed and a temporal anomaly is created which establishes an alternate timeline.  The mixture of surprise, curiosity and curmudgeonly stubbornness that Barbara infuses in Jones throughout those scenes is a hilarious delight.  For, as a woman of science, Jones believed that her life held no more surprises or her — and when it does, she is simultaneously awed by it and suspicious of it.

The fourth woman who emerges from the shadows and who also demonstrates extraordinary insight and power is Olivia.  The mystery of just who Olivia is and what is her true mission unveils itself slowly over Season 1 and 2. To everyone’s surprise, Olivia seems to know what is going to happen before anyone else and is eerily omniscient when she appears.  But is Olivia friend or foe?  Olivia had initially befriended Jennifer Goines and took Jennifer under wing for a period of time in order to persuade Jennifer that it was her destiny to release the deadly virus.  Olivia also befriended and helped point Ramse in the supposed direction of his destiny.  But Olivia’s alliance with theTall Man (Tom Noonan) makes her seeming friendliness suspect.  In addition, Olivia helped orchestrate the kidnapping of Cassie, where Cassie was introduced to the Messenger while in a drug-induced haze.  So there are many mysteries surrounding Olivia and her true identity that 12 MONKEYS has not yet revealed, but those answers are forthcoming as Season 2 unfolds and many will be confounding and not at all as expected.

The performance by Alisen Down as Olivia conveys the perfect balance of omniscience with a maternal love and yet is still a ruthless strategist.  After all, Olivia left Ramse stuck in prison for 8 years before getting him released so that it would serve her specific needs in maintaining and manipulating the timeline as needed.  In Season 2, when a critical event happens, even Olivia’s faith will be tested and she will question whether her purpose aligns with destiny or if she serves only the will of the Witness, who may not want to ultimately save the human race. Thus, the question of who Olivia loves and why, and what that means for Cassie, Cole, Ramse, Jennifer and Jones, will be revealed and it is sure to shock and surprise.

Four tremendous woman portraying four riveting characters.  Each is educated, intelligent, desirable, valued equally for their minds and their spirit, and each holds a critical key to the ultimate fate of humanity.  12 MONKEYS not only showcases these women for their strengths, but allows the actresses portraying them to shine throughout the series.  It knows that the appeal of the entire show rests on the shoulders of women and rightly features these remarkable women at its core. 

The Men That Stand With Them

12 MONKEYS is not just all about the women in it.  The show also chose four able-bodied, intelligent men to stand with them and work with them in attaining their goals.  The show starts out from the perspective of James Cole (Aaron Stanford) and then subtly shifts so that it encompasses the perspectives of Cassie, Ramse, Jennifer, Dr. Jones and the nefarious Theodore Deacon (Todd Stashwick).  Then, as of this season’s second episode, it also introduced is a new member to the team: Dr. Vance Ecklund (Michael Hogan).

James Cole is a man who happens to have a unique genetic make-up that makes him the ultimate time-traveler. He is the first person that Dr. Jones found that could take her serum and successfully “splinter” through time.  In Season 1, Cole is the hero that the show depends upon to stop the deadly viral outbreak, a mission he unfortunately fails and he uses his last chance to return home in his time in 2043 to save Cassie’s life.  In Season 2, Cole and Cassie are unexpectedly reunited many months later as they stop Jennifer Goines from releasing the virus.  Yet, as Cassie and Cole return to 2044, a bigger problem has been unleashed — the Messengers infiltrated and used the machine to travel back in time to create time paradoxes by killing people known as “primaries” in order to achieve the perfect utopia where there is no time at all.  Cassie and Cole are tasked with tracking down the twelve Messengers and stopping them before all timelines are destroyed and they cease to exist.  

Cole is an unassuming hero — just a man who had the right genetic make-up to travel through time.  But he is also a man who fell in love with Cassie and would do anything to ensure she lived a long, healthy, happy life — even at the expense of his own life.  Cole’s selflessness and relentless pursuit of his mission is the stuff heroes are made of, and the fact that that his one weakness is love — his love for Cassie and love for his best friend Jose Ramse — only makes him more heroic.    

Aaron Stanford brings a nuanced portrayal of an “everyman” to the role, making it believable and root-worthy that Cole would take a suicide mission 28 years into the past to save the human race, who then discovers a love that transcends time and that perhaps there is another way to save the world other than killing everyone that could be a potential threat.  Thus, Cole just may ultimately save mankind by embracing his own humanity.  It is not because Cole has nothing to lose that makes him invincible in the face of fear, it is because he has so much to lose if he fails.  Cole and Cassie make perfect foils for each other.  When one doubts, the other believes; and when one falls, the other rises to carry the other.  Star-crossed or even when at cross-purposes, their path always leads them to each other. It is a love story that blooms slowly and beautifully with bumps and bruises along the way.  For, as strong as Cole or Cassie are on their own, they are always stronger together.

Jose Ramse is Cole’s best friend, and occasionally, his worst enemy.  Ramse’s discovery that he has a son sent him racing into the past on a dangerous mission to stop Cole; for if he doesn’t, his son Sam may never be born.  It is heart-breaking watching Ramse struggle with his love for Cole versus his love and desire to protect his son.  It is an internal tug of war and one that consumes Ramse.  He desperately seeks an answer on how to save his son and keep his best friend in the process.

Superbly portrayed by Kirk Acevedo, Ramse’s dilemma is keenly felt and the viewer agonizes with him.  We never forget the deep, abiding bond between Cole and Ramse and the lengths they will go to for each other.  So it hurts all the more each time Ramse betrays Cole and sticks a literal or figurative knife in Cole’s back.  There also develops an interesting rapport between Ramse and Cassie in that they both will do anything to protect Cole, even when his mission diverges from their own.  Ramse and Cole are evenly matched in skills, wits, and determination, and that makes it a joy to watch how Cole and Ramse’s friendship stands each challenge and comes out stronger for it.  It is a friendship and bond that we all yearn for and strive to have in our own lives.

Then there’s Deacon.  Theodore Deacon walks a fine line between friend and foe as he always leans towards whatever serves his self-interest and self-preservation above all else.  Yet, interestingly, a chink in his armor seems to be Cassie.  Whether because she saved his life and cured him from an agonizing death at the hands of Wilson’s Disease (too much copper in his body) or because she turned to him as a protector and teacher in a world where she felt completely alone, Deacon holds a soft-spot for Cassie.  It has made him a changed man as now he strives to be one of the good guys even at the expense of his own existence.  With the “red forest” threatening to destroy them in 2044 while the Messengers stalk “primaries” and seek to kill them in order to create another temporal anomaly, Deacon aligns himself with Cole, Cassie, Ramse and Jones.  

Todd Stashwick very cleverly balances his portrayal of Deacon between self-interested survivalist and a man learning to love and discovering the value of true friendships. It also does not hurt that Todd always seems to be smiling through the most brutal scenes and that impish twinkle in his eye makes you believe that Deacon cannot simply be a devil inside — devilish, yes; but not pure evil.  Credit to Todd for striking that note so perfectly.  Makes his scenes as Deacon delicious to watch.

Last, but not least, is newcomer Dr. Vance Ecklund.  Recently introduced in Season 2, Michael Hogan’s character Vance Ecklund is the unexpected lover of Katarina Jones — one that Jones did not know she had as the future timeline was suddenly altered by Cassie and Cole’s destruction of the virus in 2016.  Once the virus was eradicated, the future timeline should have ceased to exist, yet only a potion of it changed.  And that is how Jones suddenly finds herself with a lover — albeit one that she is not sure she wants.  But as Vance declared, he successfully wooed her once, so he is confident he can do it again.  It is his unwavering love that jump-starts Jones’ long-thought frozen heart again.  And just wait and see what happens when he does.

12 MONKEYS is a tremendously exciting show with clever, well thought-out storylines infused with highly engaging and, better yet, addictive characters.  It is also incredibly smart and trusts that its audience is just as smart.  It dares to tell a complex tale of time-travel and confidently does so.  It embraces fearless storytelling and rewards its viewers with one of the finest science fiction stories to ever grace the television screen.  12 MONKEYS is certainly Syfy’s best show currently on air.  The careful craftsmanship from the writing to the production to the phenomenal performances of its gifted cast makes it a pleasure to watch. It is the epitome of must-see TV and cannot be recommended highly enough.  

Syfy’s 12 MONKEYS claimed the top spot of my Top 10 TV Shows of 2015 list and is looking to do it again this year with its glorious time-traveling adventure. It is a complex, twisty time-travel story with fascinating paradoxes and a deeply embedded love story that transcends time. Simply put: it is just amazing.  If you are not watching, you should be.