This 12 Monkeys review contains spoilers.
12 Monkeys Season 4 Episode 10
Once or twice a decade, there comes along a show like 12 Monkeys that takes viewers to a world that they just never want to leave, mostly because of the beautifully conceived characters that become as familiar to fans as close friends but also due to the sense of wonder that the story creates. The 12 Monkeys series finale is one of the most satisfyingly complete episodes ever to grace the small screen, not only because it plays like a feature film but also because it brings characters and their arcs full circle almost as though we were reading a carefully crafted novel rather than watching a television series that evolved in seasons of writers rooms separated by months or years of discontinuity.
What wasn’t there to like, for example, about the return of several beloved characters, including James Callis’ Athan Cole, who visited Jones in 2037 to plant the seed in her mind that ended up being the most unexpected saving grace for his father, James, the demon himself? Just before the Djinn begins with the journey of the first time traveler, Athan (who incidentally wouldn’t exist without the Djinn) makes one last attempt to prevent the whole thing by asserting, “This world is, and who are you to say it should be any different?” But in the end, he just wants to ensure an exit strategy for “the one,” dear old dad.
It was great to see Romina D’Ugo back as the under-appreciated season one character, Max, who would’ve been right at home alongside Cassie and the Daughters. Her appearance heralded the arrival of the West VII of 2043, which elder Jennifer somehow convinced to go to war against an unknown enemy. Even after Max and her fellow scavs showed up to protect Jones and the facility, it took awhile for the implications to sink in: if she were there in Titan, so would an earlier cigar-smoking, swaggering version of Deacon. His appearance was an inspiring boost during a dark time in the battle to take Titan.
Not that the lopsided conflict didn’t have its lighter moments. The return of Ramse (another quite unexpected turn of events, one that carried its own consequences for his eventual return to die on schedule) brought with it some brotherly moments that 12 Monkeys has been sorely missing in this final season. The “borrowing” of Matthew Cole’s hot rod from the past and the storming of the castle to the rousing chorus of “Time of My Life” was joyful enough to elicit cheers at the television.
Then there was the simple act of closing the book on the Future Asshole visits with the splinter vest. Just showing Cole taking care of these housekeeping causality tasks helped the series finale feel more finished. We got to see the conversation with the Cole of season 3, and a whole new meaning was given to Cassie’s statement about giving the younger Cole hope. At the time, we thought she was referring to the ordeal with Athan, but now we realize she was talking about the impending erasure of Cole. What an amazing reframing of the scene!
And, of course, Cassie doesn’t have that much hope herself about saving the man she loves. Some fans may criticize Cassie for giving in to the temptation of the Red Forest, but this woman has been through so much that to erase the loss of her life in 2017, the loss of her son in 1959, and the entire existence of a man she never had a chance to have a life with is too much for any human. Cole should also be applauded for being so sensitive about her doubts, saying simply that the sun is beautiful because it sets, an especially apt metaphor in the Keys, land of amazing sunsets and a perfect place to propose.
Jennifer also had some wonderful moments at Cassie’s side, but she also excelled by herself when she lured Olivia to New York City by taunting her with penis jokes. The takedown of Titan’s power center was only accentuated by Jennifer heralding Deacon’s return with a rousing reprise of “Don’t You Forget About Me” over the conveniently-placed public address system, and elder Jennifer came up with the perfect way to persuade the Deacon of 2043, who knew nothing of time travel, when she paradoxed the blade given to her by the self-sacrificing scav king of 1491.
Too bad Jennifer wasn’t conscious to view the awesome sight of the Witness being defeated by a stray beam of splinter energy, ending her cycle by sending her back to 894 A.D. to become the Origin corpse from which Markridge harvested the M-510 virus back in season one. And that wasn’t the only closed loop here in the finale! We also got to hear the full recording of Dr. Railly that started Jones on her mission to find James Cole in the apocalypse, and we even finally got an answer to the perennial fan question, “Where does Jones get her cigarettes?”
If we had only been given the individual goodbyes of the characters as they returned to their timeline of origin, it would have been enough. Ramse saving his farewell for the Cole that really needs it was a poignant as it gets, and Jennifer’s actor’s departure to applause was priceless. Even Jones gasping out her final breaths as her grandson told her that he really had two mothers softened the blow of her inevitable demise. Only if viewers looked at the clock did they realize that Cole erasing himself with the Primary code couldn’t possibly be the end of the episode, but if it had concluded, perhaps we still would have been satisfied.
Fortunately, there was not one but two epilogues to take this finale up a few thousand notches. The fact that Cassie of 2013 immediately noticed that something was not right when there was no James Cole in her back seat after her symposium speech set us on a path of closure long before she gained any sort of happiness. The montage of Ramse with Sam, Jennifer with the unicorn, Jones with Elliot and Hannah, and even Adler playing chess with Lasky played like individual instruments in a symphony of emotions as the tale drew to a close.
But the moment of triumph in the midst of overwhelming perfection was the second epilogue, in which Cole appears like a paradoxical miracle on the beaches of the Keys where Jennifer awaits, still with her Primary powers of perception, to tell him that Jones programmed in an exit point for the man who can’t exist, and Time allowed it, figuring he’s owed. It was almost too much to bear when Otis Redding began his refrain and Cole delivered his “Where are you now?” voiceover. There are no words for how undeniably right that ending felt as Cole and Cassie embraced outside the house of cedar and pine. It’s hard not to tear up just writing about it!
Is it too grandiose to say the 12 Monkeys series finale was flawless? Definitely not! In fact, “flawless” fails to reach the heights of praise this episode — and this show as a whole — deserves. There are many wonderful shows whose finales have left fans disappointed; 12 Monkeys stands alongside these science fiction greats with the further distinction of nailing its landing. Fans will be talking about this tour de force for years to come, and all those who come to the series after its stellar end will be kicking themselves for not being there before the cycle ended.