When Syfy’s time-travel drama 12 MONKEYS debuted its first season, it felt like a familiar tale of a hero from the future sent back in time to save the world from a deadly viral outbreak. Then Syfy’s 12 MONKEYS turned into was something so much more: it offered more romance, more adventure, more time-loops, more ethical and moral conundrums, and even better, more kickass characters than you would have expected — of which, surprisingly, the majority were women. Its first season finished in a glorious race to save the planet, save the future, and save the girl. Then 12 MONKEYS did something even more mind-bending in its second season — it raised the bar and introduced a complicated mythology involving mysterious characters known simply as the Witness, the Traveler, the Mother, the Daughters, and the Messengers. The tale of preventing a deadly viral outbreak morphed into a labyrinthine mystery where fanatical time-travelers from the future were dead-set on destroying time itself.
In its third season, 12 MONKEYS jumps further down the “rabbit hole” as the Mother and the Father are revealed to be our time-traveling heroes Cassie (Amanda Schull) and Cole (Aaron Stanford), whose love story across time had unknowingly created the one person they sought to stop: the Witness. The Season 2 finale ended with the jaw-dropping revelation that it was Cassie and Cole’s unborn child that would one day grow up to be their arch-nemesis known as the Witness. So Season 3 opens with the search for Cassie, last seen being abducted by the Army of the 12 Monkeys, to a point in the future where she will presumably give birth to the Witness, and Cole’s frantic efforts to search through time to rescue her and stop their son from setting off a chain of events that not only decimates human life across the planet, but which could rip a hole in the fabric in time.
In an effort to introduce new viewers, as well as the faithful fans, to the basic elements necessary to understand the 12 MONKEYS characters, mythology and mysteries, I have compiled a handy A to Z list:
A is for Army of the 12 Monkeys. Just who is the Army of the 12 Monkeys? At the end of Season 1, it is revealed that it is comprised of followers of a person known as the Witness, who releasesd a deadly virus that wipes out nearly everyone on the planet. Season 2 is the search for the Witness and his elite kill squad known as the Messengers and it is revealed in the Season 2 finale that the Witness is Cassie and Cole’s unborn child. Season 3 is the search for Cassie and the child, who were abducted by the Army of the 12 Monkeys. (A is also for Aaron Maker (Noah Bean), who was Cassie’s fiance in Season 1, who died in a fire after revealing Olivia (Alisen Down) was an investor in the Markridge Group.)
B is for butterfly. The symbolism comes from a favorite quote of Cassie: “not every caterpillar becomes a butterfly.” It inspired Cole to give her a butterfly hairclip as a Christmas present at the end of Season 2 and serves as the trigger that reminds Cassie of the alternate timeline where she and Cole fell in love and lived in the House of Cedar and Pine. (B is also for booze as James Cole’s favorite drink is a whiskey sour.)
C is for Cassie and Cole aka “Casserole” (the name for Cassie and Cole as a romantic couple). Dr. Casandra Railly, a virologist from 2013, and James Cole, a man sent from the future to meet Dr. Railly and stop the release of the virus, are the star-crossed lovers destined to meet, save the world from a deadly virus, fall in love and then, terrifyingly, their child rises to be the Witness, who orchestrates a complex time-travel story of destroying time itself. At the end of Season 2, Cassie and Cole are separated when Cassie is kidnapped by the Army of the 12 Monkeys and taken into the future, leaving Cole behind.
D is for Deacon. Theodore Deacon (Todd Stashwick) is the ruthless leader of the Scavs, a survival group that Cole and Ramse (Kirk Acevedo) briefly team-up with before Cole gets sent back in time. Deacon later earns a chance at redemption when he teams up with Cassie and Cole to defeat the Witness and the Army of the 12 Monkeys. Deacon is presumed dead at the end of Season 2 after he is struck down and stabbed repeatedly by the Army of the 12 Monkeys at Titan.
E is for Emerson Hotel. The Emerson Hotel becomes the fixed location and safe haven for Cole, Cassie, and their friends to stay at through their many time jumps back in history.
F is for Red Forest. The red forest is a sign that time is disintegrating and collapsing in on itself. The leaves from the red forest can be used to make a tea to disconnect a person’s consciousness. It allows Cassie to see the Witness and glimpse her future at the White Pine House. It allows Olivia a means to communicate with the Witness. It further allowed Cole to untether himself to his current timeline and reset events as they should be in the end of Season 2.
G is for Agent Gale. Agent Robert Gale (Jay Karnes) was introduced in Season 2 as an FBI agent who gets swept up into the lives of Cassie and Cole, who then sacrificed himself to save them while on a mission in Berlin. (G is also for the Guardians, who play a vital role in Season 3.)
H is for Hannah. In Season 2, Hannah Jones is revealed to be the long-lost daughter of Katarina Jones, who was raised by Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire) and the Daughters. (H is also for Hyenas, who was Jennifer Goines’ first group of young women recruited to hunt down and eradicate members of the Army of the 12 Monkeys. H is also for the House of Cedar and Pine, which is the house Cassie sees in her visions in Season 1 and the house which she and Cole lived in at the end of Season 2.)
I is for Intersection Points. One of the more mysterious aspects of unraveling the time-travels of Cassie and Cole through the various timelines is the map detailing all the pivotal intersection points through history where they show up. Each intersection point plays a key piece of the story. The map was first seen when Cole and Cassie encounter Olivia as a child at the facility she had been created in and was being experimented on. That map plays another key part in Season 3.
J is for Jennifer Goines. Jennifer Goines starts off as the crazy daughter of Leland Goines (Zeljko Ivanek), but she becomes much more important to Cassie and Cole as their fates intertwine throughout history. In Season 2, Jennifer initially founded a group of young women known as the Hyenas to track down and kill members of the Army of the 12 Moneys, but when that comes to a deadly conclusion, Jennifer is put on a different path. After Cassie rescues Katarina Jones’ baby daughter Hannah and entrusts her to Jennifer’s care, Jennifer begins gathering young women together during the viral outbreak and they become known as the Daughters, who act as Jennifer’s protective army until they encounter James Cole in his own timeline in 2043 and the events of Season 2 play out, including the death of Jennifer Goines after Deacon mistakenly knifes her, prompting Cole to travel back in time and bring back an earlier version of Jennifer from the past to replace her and lead the Daughters to Titan. Jennifer and Cole are linked through time and she affectionately calls him “Otter Eyes,” a nickname that drives him crazy. Jennifer was stranded in France during WWI at the end of Season 2 after getting caught in a time-splinter.
K is for Katarina Jones. Dr. Katarina Jones created the time machine and figured out the method by which to send people through time and retrieve them back by using “tethers.” Jones is also the mother of Hannah, who Cassie rescued as a baby and gave to Jennifer Goines to raise. Jones and Hannah are reunited in Season 2 and Hannah travels with Jennifer Goines and the Daughters to Titan for the showdown with the Army of the 12 Monkeys.
L is for Leland Goines. Leland Goines is Jennifer Goines’ father and founder of Markridge Group, who created the Kalavirus that wipes out nearly the entire planet. (L is also for Lilian, portrayed by Madeleine Stowe — who starred as Cassandra Railly in the film version of “12 Monkeys” — Lilian is who is the woman that Cole talks to at the psychiatric hospital in the Season 2 finale, who tells him that he does not need a time machine to travel through time.)
M is for Messengers. In Season 2, Cole and Cassie race against the clock to track down the Messengers who hijacked Jones’ time machine to hide in the past in order to stalk people known as Primaries with the intent to create time-paradoxes to destroy time itself. (M is for Mother. In the Season 2 finale, it is revealed that Cassie is the mother of the Witness. M is also for Masks. The Witness and his followers, the Army of the 12 Monkeys, wear these terrifying masks — the significance of which will be revealed finally in Season 3.)
N is for Night Room. Leland Goines’ company Markridge Group had a secret lab known as the Night Room, where Jennifer Goines worked until everyone was killed there and it fractured Jennifer’s grip on reality and she was put into a psychiatric facility where she first meets James Cole.
O is for Olivia. Olivia and her brother the Tall Man were created from genetic material obtained from one of the Messengers sent back in time, who escaped from a bloody encounter with Cole and Ramse in 1944. Olivia lived as a test subject most of her life and is indoctrinated to believe in the Witness was her all-knowing benefactor and that she was born to serve him. Olivia later recruits Ramse to work with her and then years after that, she stumbles across Ramse’ son Sam when he gets inadvertently caught in a time-splinter. Olivia broke off her connection with her brother and the Witness after a falling out and at the beginning of Season 3, it seems that Olivia and Tall Man are working against each other.
P is for Pallid Man aka the Tall Man (Tom Noonan). Tall Man is the brother of Olivia. They were both genetically created from one of the Messengers sent back in time and experimented on. It means they age slower than normal, seemingly ageless, throughout time when they are encountered. After a falling out with Olivia, the Tall Man takes on the mantle of being the loyal servant to the Witness. (P is also for Primary. Cole occasionally runs into people who are known as Primary — meaning that they can see events that have not yet happened. Primaries see events as if they have already happened. It is as if their consciousness can travel outside of the timeline. Thus, it makes them seem unhinged or insane to those around them. Jennifer Goines is Primary and it gives her insight into events that will occur before they actually do. P is for also paradox. One of the goals of the Messengers is to kill Primaries to create a time paradox and destroy time itself. They believe that by destroying time that it will freeze everything in an eternal present.)
Q is for quantum mechanics. What would a show about time-travel be without some basic quantum mechanics? (Yeah, it is beyond me too. Look it up!)
R is for Ramse. Jose Ramse is Cole’s best friend. They met during the harsh times after the death of Cole’s father and the outbreak of the Kalavirus. Ramse and Cole were inseparable and even once Cole began his time-travels, it was not long before Ramse became swept up in time-traveling too. It led Ramse to encounter a timeline where he found he had a son named Sam. During a freak temporal anomaly, Sam was splintered through time and ended up being found by Olivia. Sam and Olivia’s fates are revisited in Season 3.
S is for splinter. Project Splinter is the name of the time-travel project that Dr. Jones spearheads in order to first send Cole back to stop the deadly viral outbreak. It is called “splintering” whenever they use the machine to travel through time. (S is for scavs. Back in their scavenger days of surviving after the viral outbreak, Cole and Ramse were known as “scavs.”)
T is for Titan. Titan is the location of the Messenger and the Army of the 12 Monkeys that Cole, Cassie, and Ramse travel to at the end of Season 2. It is where they discover that Titan is not just a city, it is a time machine created by Dr. Jones’ husband for the Witness so the Witness can travel throughout time. (T is for Traveler. When Olivia recruits Ramse to work with her, he becomes known as the Traveler. T is also for turtle. Jennifer Goines is given a turtle by Cole to keep her company and it keeps her company through the long years of waiting for Cassie and Cole to reenter her life.)
U is for untethered. Jones’ time machine uses a chemical injection method known as “tethers” by which Jones can track Cole and bring him back no matter where he travels in time. At the end of Season 2, it is revealed that James Cole does not always need a time machine to travel through time. He just has to drink the red tea from the leaves in the red forest and it allows his consciousness to travel to the point in time he seeks and then just choose to travel there.
V is for virus. The deadly virus that sets everything in motion is the Kalavirus aka M5-10 created in the Markridge Group labs.
W is for Witness. The Witness is the architect behind the Kalavirus, the Messengers’ quest to end time, and ultimately, his own creation — being born out of time when his parents Cassie and Cole finally consummate their relationship in the House of Cedar and Pine. In Season 3, the Witness is more fully introduced. (W is for watch. In the very first episode, James Cole shows Cassie the same watch that she already has and he proves it by touching the watches together to create a time paradox that results in an explosion.)
X is for xerox machine. In a pivotal scene coming up in Season 3, a xerox machine has a specific part to play.
Y is for Young Jennifer. Also significantly featured in Season 3 is an episode where Jennifer Goines and Deacon travel back in time and meet Young Jennifer, who has accompanied her father Leland Goines to an auction event. It leads to some extraordinarily funny and endearing scenes that are definitely “must see”!
Z is for zealot. The over-arching theme of the show is how zealotry propels people to blindly follow orders that not only lead to their own deaths, but the destruction of humanity itself, if not stopped. But how far does one go to stop them? It leads to a never-ending cycle of zealotry fighting zealotry.
Syfy’s 12 MONKEYS is a phenomenally crafted and executed story of love and time-travel that makes one wonder where it exactly starts and where it could possibly end. But that is the fun of the show: you will watch and wonder with amazement. So be sure to tune in for the special 3 night binge-event starting Friday, May 19th, that continues Saturday, May 20th, and then concludes Sunday, May 21st with the final episodes of Season 3. It is a deliriously exciting and mind-boggling experience and you will love where the entire journey takes you. It is also the perfect set up for 12 MONKEYS’ final season when the show returns for Season 4 in 2018.
To read more about 12 MONKEYS, here is my prior article from Season 2:
Why 12 MONKEYS Is Syfy’s Best Show And Why More Women Should Be Watching
You can also watch my video interviews with the cast of 12 MONKEYS taken at the end of Season 2:
12 MONKEYS at PaleyLive: Interviews with Amanda Schull, Aaron Stanford, Emily Hampshire, Todd Stashwick, Kirk Acevedo, Terry Matalas at the Season 2 Finale Screening