Terry Matalas, showrunner and co-creator of 12 Monkeys, has made no secret of the fact that he’s a big fan of time travel. Whereas season 1 made plenty of references to the Terry Gilliam film that inspired the series, season 2 has acknowledged other time travel movies and shows through a series of hidden elements that only the geekiest of viewers will be able to spot but everyone can appreciate. But don’t worry; this guide to the seven homages will help sort it all out.
First of all, Matalas is a self-professed fan of the Back to the Future films, so that’s a good a place to start as any. Have you spotted either of the following tributes to the classic time travel film?
In the lobby of the Emerson Hotel in 12 Monkeys, a central fountain features a decorative clock. It might be assumed that whoever’s in charge of winding it has fallen down on the job as it appears to be stuck at 10:04, but that’s no mistake. The clock tower atop the Hill Valley Courthouse was struck by lightning at exactly 10:04 p.m. on November 12, 1955 in Back to the Future.
Doc Brown remembers the moment very well! He spent a harrowing few minutes climbing the tower during an approaching storm trying to re-connect the wires needed to send Marty McFly… well, back to the future.
When the intrepid time travelers in 12 Monkeys went back to 1944 they ran afoul of the FBI, but the agent in charge of the investigation ended up hearing the truth about where – or when – his suspects came from. The helpful official was named Agent Robert Gale, an homage to the screenwriter and co-creator of the Back to the Future franchise, Bob Gale.
Agent Gale also famously referenced another time travel great when he admitted, “I’ve just read too many H. G. Wells stories.” Agent Gale returned later in the season to assist with a 1960’s mission to Berlin where he insinuated that he and Cole had known each other a long time, but that little fact hasn’t paid off… yet.
Back the the Future isn’t the only classic 80’s movie that gets a nod; 12 Monkeys tips its hat to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as well. In a recent episode, it was revealed that resident future bad boy and head of the West 7, Deacon, was visited as a child by Ramse during his stay in the past. In his research to find how Deacon ended up his evil self in the future, Ramse found out Deacon’s full name.
What was the name that Cole and Ramse now taunt him with? Theodore William Deacon! Or “Teddy” as a tease. Not to mention viewers should remember that Ted Logan’s little brother who took Napoleon to the Waterloo water park was named – you guessed it – Deacon.
In 12 Monkeys, Jennifer Goines can see the connections between timelines and sometimes appears to predict the future, but she’s also pretty good at referencing the past in the form of a well-timed movie quote. When Dr. Jones visits her in 2044, Jennifer is an old woman, but she remembers Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure fondly when she acknowledges the odd red storms outside by saying, “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K!”
Unfortunately, Jones doesn’t get the joke, nor does Cole later when Jennifer quotes Ghostbusters: “Dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria!” Poor Jennifer – no one appreciates her geek humor.
It’s not just the silver screen that gets the homage treatment. 12 Monkeys also pays tribute to one of its time travel predecessors on Syfy, Continuum. Viewers recently found out that there are other seemingly crazy people like Jennifer Goines who are connected to time called Primaries. So who’s more connected to time than the inventor of time travel from another show?
Cast in the role of Primary Tommy Crawford was one Erik Knudsen, whom sci-fi fans will recognize as having played Alec Sadler, the tech genius who sought to change history in Continuum. Ironic that Tommy was “paradoxed” with his own bone, and Alec was also killed by another version of himself!
Having doled out several movie references at this point, Jennifer Goines is not giving up on getting Cole up to speed on late 20th century pop culture. In the time looping episode in which Cassie and Cole are unable to change young Dr. Jones’ history in any way, the comparison’s to 1993’s Groundhog Day are inevitable.
As such, the Jennifer of 2020 snarkily quotes from the morning drive deejays that awaken Bill Murray’s character each morning in the film: “Okay, campers, rise and shine! Don’t forget your booties because it’s cold out there today!” Always the meta character, Jennifer also refers to being “in a reboot” in that same episode, which in the case of 12 Monkeys – based on Terry Gilliams Twelve Monkeys – is true.
Finally, in the season finale, Jennifer Goines pulled out all the stops, making a speech designed to inspire her followers, the Daughters, to assist in the fight. Pulling immediately recognizable quotes from movies such as Braveheart, Return of the King, and Independence Day wasn’t quite enough to stir them to action, though. It wasn’t until she decided to go with or without them that they realized she was willing to sacrifice her own life for those of her friends.
So where’s the final time travel reference? Young Jennifer imparts a final bit of wisdom that she feels her older self failed to give the Daughters. That bit of wisdom comes from George Carlin’s Rufus in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure: “Be excellent to each other,” Jennifer says. It’s a good thing she didn’t add the other half of the quote: “And party on, dudes!”
With the amazing heights that 12 Monkeys reached in its second season, it is poised to join the lexicon of great time travel stories on the big and small screens. With the above references to its genre peers, the show is giving a wink and a nod to the viewers who enjoy a good brain-twisting tale of paradoxes and causal loops.
12 Monkeys has ended its run, but it has been renewed for a season 3 on Syfy. The series will return in 2017.