Note: This is a spoiler-free review of the first three episodes of 12 Monkeys: Season 4: “The End,” “Ouroboros,” and “45 RPM” airing Friday, June 15th on Syfy.
12 Monkeys ends its brief but brilliant run this summer, and based on the first of its final four nights, fans are in for a wild ride. “The End” is 42 minutes of action as things pick up pretty much where they ended last season and our heroes must escape the clutches of Olivia, the (for real) Witness. “Ouroboros” is a quieter, more reflective hour that sees Cole, Cassie, and Jones face a sort of “dark night of the soul,” and “45 RPM” is an absolutely bananas backwards-kinda origin story for Olivia that will have you picking your jaw off of the floor before it’s done.
This is a story, we’ve been told many times, that begins at the end and ends at the beginning. So, it’s shouldn’t exactly be a spoiler to say that Season 4 begins, in part, by revisiting some of the events of its pilot episode. What was once the present is now the past, and our heroes are shaken not just by their recent failures, but also seeing past triumphs cast as defeats by the harsh reality of hindsight. Olivia’s recent murder of Cole and Cassie’s son, Athan, and the realization that she, the real Witness, has been toying with them (and herself) for about a 100 years or so also weighs heavily on them.
Having spent most of last season on opposite ends of the Kill Athan debate, Cole and Dr. Jones are now reunited in purpose, though both face a crisis of confidence born out of so many deaths, so many plans gone wrong, and all the plans that went right but didn’t change anything or didn’t change the right things (or at least enough of the right things) anyway. They each seek out counsel from mind-bending sources in order to get right.
Cassie, meanwhile, reaches a breaking point and leaves Cole and the others behind to pursue a bleak and selfish mission, a seemingly far cry from the altruistic doctor we’ve come to rely on to do the right thing. But fear not, as there is a really cool moment in “Ouroboros” (also involving a mind-bending source of advice) that points to Cassie finding her way back to herself eventually.
Olivia, like Cole and Cassie, wants to move forward without making the same old mistakes. She’s also having a hard time convincing some of her followers that her non-Primary self is worthy of being the Witness. It’s classic Olivia that she kills people for having the same “Where the hell is my Red Forest?” doubts that led to her own crisis of faith. The lengths that Olivia goes to in “45 RPM” to come into her own as The Witness are as extreme as they are surprising. There’s a really nice symmetry between Cole and Olivia’s journeys from foot-soldiers, to deserters, and now, finally to the Hero and the Villain poised to face each other in a battle for all of Time.
Of course, the main reason we know that Cole is on the correct path is that he’s convinced (finally!) that Jennifer has all the answers, though unbeknownst to him, the visions and voices are not coming as easily to her as they once did. Stuck in 2018, Jen is warring with herself, literally, as she tries to boost an ancient artifact from a museum while bantering with an alter-ego (one who seems to reveal that Ms. Goines was a huge Alias fan back in the day). Of course the Jennifer stuff is hilarious, but the look on her face when she catches a glimpse of Cassie on a news program will also tug at your heart.
Showrunner Terry Matalas has stated that not everyone will survive Season 4, which can’t be that surprising to anyone considering the series began with Cassie as a skeleton and Cole signing on with Jones in the hopes of just erasing his miserable life from existence. I think the best we can hope for in the end (aka “The Beginning”) is something bittersweet and beautiful, and based on these first three episodes, plus a vision I had after drinking some weird red tea, I’m confident we’re going to get just that.
The final episodes of 12 Monkeys: Season 4 air on Syfy over four consecutive Friday nights, beginning June 15th.