This 12 Monkeys review contains spoilers.
12 Monkeys Season 4 Episode 2
Revisiting season one of 12 Monkeys from a new perspective is quite simply the perfect nostalgic use of time travel. What an amazing storytelling idea! “Ouroboros,” written and directed by creator and showrunner Terry Matalas, is like a love letter to the series, revisiting moments that remind us of the naivety, cruelty, and hubris that existed in the earlier seasons and how far they’ve come. Everything from Jones’ encounter with herself to Cole’s interaction with Ramse was played beautifully with layered meaning in the conversation but without overindulging in the sentiment of the moment. With Jennifer continuing to struggle in the past and finally making a shocking “irrationally rational” choice at the end, it was difficult to find time to blink in this episode.
There were two time travel touches that really brought home how brilliant this revisiting of earlier events really is. The first is Jones’ realization that their current mission to borrow a cell from the 2043 power core may actually be why they had so much trouble in those initial limited-range runs to the past, necessitating the brutal theft of the other core from Spearhead. The second is the inclusion of a quick cut to Michael Hogan as Dr. Eckland, whose presence serves as a reminder that this is a different timeline than the one we saw in season one, effectively explaining away any inconsistencies we might spot. Very clever!
Another similarly effective influence of the past we’re familiar with happens when Jones realizes that going back in time to kill people like Leland Frost or Olivia needlessly repeats the same useless strategy. After delivering the thematically brilliant line, “How high a wall of bodies must we build before we see the curve of history?” she decides to visit herself, and the results are helpful for both versions of Katerina. The younger Jones gets the “logarithmic spiral” improvement of the tether, and the older Jones is able to “borrow” some hope from brasher earlier self, coming to the realization that she needs to trust those around her as she never did in those old days.
That realization manifests itself in a wonderful moment just as Cassie is insisting that going after Olivia is the only choice they have. Jones wisely asserts that they have the faith that comes from deciding on what to do together, which allows Cassie to splinter to 1971 without any ill will between them. Cassie may be dejected because Cole won’t come with her, but at least everyone was able to make their own choices. The big question: how will Cassie return with no tether and no working time machine that they control? Someone will no doubt have to retrieve her at some point… such fun!
The emotional moments between Cole and Ramse and between Jones and Whitley are what really make this episode such an enjoyable trip down memory lane. Jones is able to express her thanks to Marcus for his loyalty after she saw him die in such a self-sacrificial way in the premiere. But the real poignancy lies in the conversations between Cole and Ramse which are thick with double meanings. When Cole wonders how many trips through time it will take to make up for all the immoral things they’ve done, Ramse says, “Until your soul is saved,” referring to their time as scavs while Cole is thinking of what he did to his brother. Similarly, when Ramse tells Cole that he has to “do what matters in the moment,” it means so much more than he thinks it means in 2043. The scene is almost literary in its execution.
It’s a shame Cassie isn’t able to see the lessons that are all around her before she leaves for the 70s. She had a chance to remember her more hopeful self as she watches Cole viewing an old newscast in which she told a reporter that whenever there’s a plague, “We fight; we learn. We learn; we live,” a philosophy that speaks to their current mission (and, appropriately enough, the same message is being broadcast in Jennifer’s time). But her anger understandably is still fresh as she reminds Jones that Olivia “was never more protected than when she was with you.” Hopefully her determination will carry her through her current mission.
But Jennifer’s experience continues to linger in the background, portending important developments in the time of the plague, both for Jennifer’s personal growth and for the new cycle the team has entered, although its nature has yet to be determined. Shedding (or perhaps incorporating) her more bad-ass alter-ego as she plans to head to the U.S. to meet up with Cassie seems like a great plan, even as the imaginary Jennifer pauses before dying to remind her real self, “Oh, don’t forget your passport.” But of course she does forget, and the bold but frightening decision she makes to jump in front of the 8:12 train seems to be such a desperate action but still leaves us wondering calmly and confidently what Jennifer might be up to.
Whatever the case may be, Conleth Hill’s appearance as Interpol investigator Bonham seems unusual when measuring the theft of a minor artifact against the pandemic spreading worldwide until we realize how intimately Bonham must be involved with the Army of the 12 Monkeys or at least related to the bigger Witness picture when he asks, “Where is James Cole?” The Ouroboros is clearly meant to be deciphered, but by whom? Once Cole and Jones are able to jump start their own time machine, perhaps their paths will intersect, but for now the different stories with Jennifer, Cassie, and Cole are enticing in their own right.
Jones is the MVP of this episode, offering up little tidbits that take her character deeper than we’ve seen in past seasons. Like when Cole realizes they can walk openly around the facility even after Ramse suspects that scavs have broken in, causing Jones to mutter to herself, “Remember, you were a real bitch,” before she yells at a random guard. The need to cover up her encounter with herself with benzodiazepine and whiskey also comes across as a vintage Jones move. But it’s the fact that she’s dying from a fatal dose of radiation that really ups the stakes for this most important character without whom none of this would have ever happened or could ever be prevented in turn.
Despite the fact that 12 Monkeys is airing three episodes at a time, these reviews are being written one-by-one without the benefit of seeing the full picture of each night of programming, but even from this perspective, it’s easy to think that season four is just going to turn out one top notch episode after another. The first two have been so outrageously good that the already epic status that 12 Monkeys has achieved in time travel storytelling over the past three years is becoming legendary before the series even ends and while the final season has barely started. If the tale ends at the beginning, can’t we just start all over again so that 12 Monkeys’ run is eternal?
The author of this review is the host of the 12 Monkeys Uncaged podcast, which features a discussion with showrunner Terry Matalas about Night 1.