Chapter in Edited Collection: “Time … it’s going to take what it is owed:” Destiny and the Apocalypse in 12 Monkeys

Status: Currently struggling through the first draft of this project. It’s turning out to be a lot tougher than I was anticipating, perhaps because I am so wrapped up in the series. I’ll push on and hopefully have something with the editor by the end of the month.


Much like its cinematic predecessor, the televised re-imagining of ‘12 Monkeys’ focuses on time traveler James Cole, and his quest to prevent a biological plague which destroys humanity. Aided in both the future and the past by a network of travelers, Cole begins his journey with a single-minded focus to prevent the end of the world, even to the detriment of his own existence. His attitude around the Apocalypse is tried and tested however, as the relationships he shares with those in both times begin to reveal oppositional attitudes about the event. These changes are frequently impacted by Cole himself, and his attempts to prevent the plague. For the viewer, this poses questions around fate and destiny as fixed principals and presents the idea that rather than being prevented, the Apocalypse needs to take place.

This chapter considers the relationship between two of the primary characters in the series, Cole and Ramse, and the differing attitudes which each has towards the apocalypse. Testing the strengths and weaknesses of the oppositional stance that each man holds will illustrate how the ’12 Monkeys’ narrative uses the Apocalypse to pose larger questions on fate, destiny and human inclinations towards self-destruction and/or redemption. While consideration will be given to other important relationships within the series (Cole and Cassie, Cole and Jennifer, Ramse and Cassie, Jones and Jennifer, Cole and Jones), the primary focus will be the dynamic between Cole and Ramse. It is in the relationship between these two that the audience sees the most staunchly differing attitudes about apocalyptic destiny. An analysis of seasons 1-3 will outline how the evolution of Cole and Ramse’s relationship is used as a parallel to the changing timeline of the plague and the subsequent mission of the Army of the 12 Monkeys.

What this study will show is that, in the case of ’12 Monkeys’ there is a futility in trying to prevent the end of the world and that, unlike other texts which take the same subject matter, it is an event which wants to happen. As Jones tells Cole ‘time will take what it is owed.’ While this is spoken in relation to the impact which time travel is having on his wellbeing, it also speaks to a larger truth; which is that time, like fate and/or destiny, cannot be avoided. In this sense, it is through the apocalypse which humanity will find redemption. With the knowledge that ’12 Monkeys’ is a story that ‘ends at the beginning and begins at the end’, the audience too are aware of the futility of Cole’s mission. As such, it must be concluded that it is not avoidance of the event that is compelling to them to keep watching as the narrative unfolds, but rather a fascination with how and when the Apocalypse will inevitably take place.

Link to CFP.

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