With An Astounding Season Three, '12 Monkeys' Proves Itself Worthy Of Your Time
Some of my hesitation to embrace the program was the fact that I wasn’t thrilled with the source material: while many folks sang praises to Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys (1995) – itself a remake of a French short film – I found it offering good performances and great visuals but hamstrung by an all-too-convenient finish that kinda/sorta overworked the feature’s premise. Still, I’ve found an awful lot of Gilliam’s works to be an acquired taste – one I’ve struggled with over the years – and I held out hope that Syfy’s variation would bring something new to the time travel fold.
That first season offered lead Aaron Stanford ‘channeling’ the Bruce Willis character from the Gilliam film all too often; and co-star Amanda Schull while likeable seemed far too young to be the acclaimed, established physician somewhere near the heart of a globe-spanning virus. Those first ten episodes were well-scripted, offering up some welcome deviations from the 1995 film, and it definitely looked like showrunners had a roadmap for getting from Point A to Point B and maybe – yes “maybe” – it wouldn’t all involve hopping through time and avoiding certain death via paradox. The show was good – “good” in that way it was just interesting enough for fans to want to hang around and see what they did with Season Two.
In short, Season Two was nothing short of phenomenal, largely in that the program engaged in some serious character development as well as expanding the broader universe in which these people interacted. New alliances were forged – as well as new villains were introduced – and the show took great pains in crafting a deeper mythology upon which the past, present, and future were desperately and deliciously interconnected. Friends became enemies (for a time), and enemies became allies, all in the service of broadening this unique world for an even wilder ride than perhaps even Gilliam could’ve conceived. And all of it led up to a season finale not so much about “the end of life as we knew it” as it was “the life you never thought possible.”
The show became a bit of a phenomenon. Online groups sprang up (as they tend to do around stories where answers are in short supply). Message boards discussed and dissembled the episodes, much of which revolved around the secret identity of ‘The Witness,’ and oft-mentioned but still shadowy character tied closely to the program’s new mythology. And – as can happen when the stars properly align – a Season Three renewal was delivered to rabid fans, with the program’s stars even teasing what big events were coming the next time they stepped up to the plate.
That’s what I thought when I read they were doing this with one of their signature shows. Why? Why would you do this with a property that deserved to be spread out the way traditional television programs are done ... with viewers having to wait and wait and wait (well, “wait” at least a week between episodes) to have their appetites satiated … OK, hold up there … I think I’m seeing the logic in this …
These days, binge-watching has really grown to be all of the rage. My wife and I ignored the phenomenon until we ‘discovered’ FX Network’s Sons Of Anarchy in its fourth season (or so): we then spent the time to go back and review the first three seasons on home video, and we were hooked, not only with that particular program but with the whole ‘binging.’ Streaming outlets have gone to great lengths to take similar advantage when unveiling their original properties: this new approach to storytelling has helped fuel (in my estimation) TV’s greater Renaissance, giving talented storytellers from all genres the opportunity to do the same.
So that’s what Syfy did: the unveiled this new season in a weekend.
How was it received?
Well, I’ve seen a few differing accounts of it, but I suppose – as a viewer – ratings have never been “my thang.” I’ve always been more of a plot person – give me something to watch, and give me good characters to tell it – and in that respect Season Three was downright unimaginable. So, so, so very much happened in the scope of ten hours, and God Bless the suits at Syfy for delivering an incredible season in a three-night event. It was everything a 12 Monkeys’ fan could possibly have hoped for. Fickett, Matalas, Stanford, Schull, and company hit one out of the park … maybe even one for the ages in terms of SciFi storytelling.
All of the questions raised in Season Two were answered, but – even better – these new stories forced every one of the show’s players to up their game. Even secondary characters were granted opportunities to shine, often with an hour uniquely sculpted to give added depth. Newcomers were even tasked with stepping into an already vast universe, make some space to call their own, and raise the bar. Not everyone was given equal time, mind you: they were given “equal weight,” and that requires stronger commitment both in front of the camera and behind. In that respect, 12 Monkeys proved it’s possibly one of Syfy’s best efforts yet.
Well, despite obviously being a Science Fiction show exploring the possibilities available to mankind should we ever develop time travel, 12 Monkeys is a constant human reminder that life is not pretty and rarely -- very rarely -- does it come with a storybook ending. Still, James Cole and Cassandra Railly have persevered, breaking the rules and defying both friendships and the odds if for no better reason than to assure those watching that the pursuit of that storybook ending is still and will always be worthwhile, despite whatever cost it may leave on your person much less your soul. In a day and age where reputations can be destroyed in a single Tweet, dare I say that lesson remains refreshing?
Now, maybe it ain’t perfect. Maybe it’s become all too easy to hop, skip, and jump through time in order to fix what went wrong that should’ve gone right. I’ll grant you that the first two seasons time travel seemed a bit more complex – a bit harder to manage if not pinpoint accuracy – than it did in this third go-round; and maybe that’ll prove narrative problems once the show returns in 2018 for its promised fourth and final season.
But I suspect Monkeys’ fans will be there ‘til the final credits fade.