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12 MONKEYS Asks: Can Nature or Nurture Change the Future?

12 MONKEYS Asks: Can Nature or Nurture Change the Future?

Editor’s Note: This story contains major spoilers from season 3 of 12 Monkeys — you’ve been warned!

Well that was certainly a ride, now, wasn’t it? After the binge-able premiere of the third installment of Syfy’s epic time travel tale, 12 Monkeys, all that we thought we knew turned out to be a lie: The Witness isn’t actually The Witness at all, but rather just another primary connected to time, a red herring for the true Witness, Olivia (Alisen Down). And, it seems, the series has been playing at this for a long, long time, with the Army of the 12 Monkeys using Cassie (Amanda Schull) and Cole’s (Aaron Stanford) son as their window into the resistance against time’s demise. But in upending everything we’ve come to believe about how and why the Army exists, did the series just tee up the ultimate nature versus nurture causality experiment? What part does does nature or nurture play in dismantling a time loop?

It’s like Cassie herself said: “Whoever you are today is not who you have to be tomorrow.”

12 MONKEYS -- "Masks" Episode 308 -- Pictured: (l-r) Aaron Stanford as Jame Cole, Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly -- (Photo by: Dusan Martincek/Syfy)

With the reveal that Olivia is, in fact, the The Witness of it all, the story opens up “this real mythology, [with] new rabbit holes to journey down and explore,”  Schull explained to us in an interview. One of those has to be the idea of fate. After all Athan (a.k.a. James and Cassie’s son, the previously thought Witness, played by Battlestar Galactica‘s James Callis) was raised believing he was the man who would undo time and end the world. Well: turns out that’s not true. And though he may not be The Witness, the question remains: could his lifelong belief that he would turn into someone he never wanted to be, ultimately send him towards the direction of changing the fates? Which is a more powerful force: the human spirit, or time itself?

The ouroboros of it all is certainly weighed on Schull’s character throughout the season season. “There’s a line in episode seven where somebody says to Cassie, ‘Nobody wants to think that what they can have will be bad.’ Nobody wants to think that something in it can be bad, and it’s true. Nobody wants to think that they’re giving birth to a serial killer or some sort of sociopath.”

12 MONKEYS -- "Witness" Episode 310 -- Pictured: James Callis as Athan -- (Photo by: Dusan Martincek/Syfy)

But in looking at The Witness (when we all believed it was her son) as this evil entity, did Cassie actually help more than she realized? Or, as Schull put it, “does she need to cut her losses and try to stop everything before it happens?”

It’s an interesting question when put into the context of what causality actually is and what it means: we see at the end of season three there’s a drawing of a literal ouroboros in a children’s book James’ father was reading to him as a kid—one that looks identical to Jennifer Goines’ drawings from throughout the season. If you’re like us, you may take this to mean that Jennifer Goines is actually Cole’s mother (which, omg, wouldn’t that sort of looped reveal be delicious?). But even if you don’t, you could also look at it another way: if the snake is always going to eat its tail, are the end points inevitable conclusions with machinations and movements you cannot change (unexpected though they may be), or fixed goal posts between which anything can happen?

“They don’t answer that question, which I think is very honest,” Stanford told us in an interview. “A lot of these themes of fate or freewill, of nature or nurture; I don’t think this show makes any definitive pronouncement because they’re incredibly complicated questions that we don’t entirely know the answer to. I think Cole goes back and forth between thinking that everything is predetermined, there’s nothing they can do, and deciding no, they actually can fight.”

12 MONKEYS -- "Higher Power" Episode 306 -- Pictured: (l-r) Hannah Waddingham as Magdalena, Jack Fulton as Young Athan, Dylan Colton as Sebastian -- (Photo by: Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy)

That, it seems, is the magical question at the heart of humanity: can we fight the future? And, really, the answer can only be discussed through looking at causality loops in the way 12 Monkeys so artfully plays with them. Maybe the only way to answer that is by looking back at how what happened in season three, well, happened.

“When we first find [Cassie] at the start of season three, a lot has happened off-camera for her: a lot of soul-searching and racking the brain to figure out how to resolve this both personally and on the holistic level, with the fate of the world at hand,” Schull explained. “Choosing, at one point, suicide over having the child—for the greater good—and then having that taken from her [takes that even further] into ‘what would you dare try to mold in nature versus nurture?’ and how much say do you have on the character that we could reverse?”

“There’s a lot of that playing throughout the entire season, in particular with Cassie, the nature versus nurture,” Schull added. And considering how much the series likes to look at time as a re-contextualizer, maybe that‘s the point of the ouroboros: that time may repeat, but what you think you’re seeing or experiencing can change when you exist outside the confines of time’s linear thrust.


For example, Stanford explains how Cole is “just so ready and willing to take the weight of the world on his shoulders; he just decides that it makes perfect sense that his nature is rotten and horrible and that’s what went into this child to make him capable of these horrible acts.” But once he’s turned around by the part of Athan over which he had no control, Cassie, the context of The Witness changes for Cole. “He understands that the child can’t be all bad if he has part of her as a piece of him. And that’s what really turns him around.” His inevitable fate turned out not so inevitable at all. Time may be strong, but free will is stronger.

What do you think the future holds for the final season of 12 Monkeys? Let us know in the comments below!

Images: Syfy

Alicia Lutes is the managing editor of Nerdist, creator/host of Fangirling!, and frequent Twitter over-user.

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