Terry Gilliam directed 1995's 12 Monkeys, which serves as the inspiration for the Syfy series launching its second series. The premise of the film (which stars Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe and Brad Pitt) and the show deals with a future reality in which a virus has been unleashed by the Army Of The Twelve Monkeys, resulting in the decimation of the vast majority of human life. James Cole is sent back from the future to try and destroy the virus before it's put to use.
The TV series cast
Aaron Stanford: James Cole, a "chrononaut" who wants to save the human race and redeem himself from his troubled past.
Amanda Schull: Dr Cassandra "Cassie" Railly, a virologist in the past who Cole turns to for help.
Kirk Acevedo: Jose Ramse, Cole's best friend.
Barbara Sukowa: Katarina Jones, operator of the time machine and coordinator of Cole's mission.
Todd Stashwick: Deacon, introduced as the leader of a brutal band of scavengers in the year 2043 called The West 7.
Noah Bean: Aaron Marker, Cassandra's former partner and political insider.
Emily Hampshire: Jennifer Goines, math genius with mental issues but an important key to Cole's mission.
Tom Noonan: The Pallid Man, and face of the Army Of The Twelve Monkeys.
Michael Hogan: Dr. Vance Eckland, described as a charismatic and intelligent scientist from the future (season two).
Scottie Thompson: Mantis, a dangerous time traveller (season two).
Jay Karnes: Robert Gale, 1940s FBI agent who suspects Cole of murder (season two).
Brendan Coyle: Dr. Benjamin Kalman, a bioengineer filled with guilt over the birth of the deadly virus that came from his team (season two).
Season 1 video recap
Behind the scenes on Season 1, episodes 1-13 (spoiler alert)
Executive producer Terry Matalas takes Empire on an exclusive look back at each episode of 12 Monkeys' first season.
Episode 1.01: "Splinter" - synopsis: 27 years after a virus wipes out most of humanity, scientists send a man (James Cole) back to 2015 to stop the plague from ever happening. Cole's only lead is a virologist (Dr. Cassandra Railly), who knows the dangerous source of the outbreak.
Terry Matalas: It was a very hard shoot, because we shot it in Detroit in the dead of winter in what truly felt like apocalyptic ruins; a city that is in economic crisis. We were in an abandoned hospital and a lot of abandoned automotive plants. It was a very challenging shoot, but I know for a fact that for me, Aaron, Amanda, Barbara, Kirk... anyone who was there, it was an opportunity for all of us to bond. If anyone would say, "What do you remember about the pilot?", we just remember it being cold. Which is why the first shot of the pilot is of Cole and Ramse walking through the apocalypse and snow. It's just the first thing you think of. Also, we didn't want to be insulting to Terry Gilliam and try and crib his style. To try and pretend that we could do his surreal thing, so we had to go make our own version of it and hope people liked it.
Episode 1.02: "Mentally Divergent" - synopsis: Cole returns to the year 2015 to gather knowledge from a patient inside a mental institution. Jones believes that the 12 Monkeys are somehow involved in the pandemic that wiped out the population of Earth, thus making Cole's attempt to extract the information from the patient imperative. Dr Railly feels that her intervention in Cole's case has given her incentive to continue to help him in his mission, much to Cole's compliance.
Matalas: I remember the introduction of Emily Hampshire was a big deal. We wanted to make the femaile version of the Brad Pitt character special and we looked long and hard for the perfect Jennifer Goines. It was a case of the second I saw Emily do her audition, I was sold. I didn't want to see anybody else. I knew we had found her. She had the right energy I was looking for. She was somebody who could be crazy and scary and funny and lovable. So she was perfect. For the second episode, I also remember Tom Noonan. It was where we get to meet the face of the Army Of The 12 Monkeys and just being so delighted that he came onto the show to do that. We had moved to Toronto, which has been like a second home to us. It was a great place to shoot.
Episode 1.03: "Cassandra Complex" - synopsis: Cole is led to Haiti in 2014, where a dangerous outbreak proved to be a devastating moment in Dr. Railly's life.
Matalas: We shot the Haiti stuff in the Dominican Republic, and it was very, very hot. Poor Tom Noonan was in a three-piece suit, sweating through it in 100 degree humidity. One of the scenes I love the most in that episode is the argument of the scientists, where Jones is smoking and arguing with her staff about casualties and what the next step of the mission should be. I think that was a truly great moment. It was also a clear demonstration that Cole is willing to do anything for the mission, including killing seemingly an innocent man. That is who he is and he's willing to do what needs to be done, which is obviously something that changes throughout the series.
Episode 1.04: "Atari" - synopsis: A fight for the future ensues when a dangerous band of marauders hunting for Cole and Ramse threatens the mission to save the past.
Matalas: We were excited about spending the whole episode in our post-apocalypse and introducing Cole's backstory and seeing it play out. That was a fun episode to do and then immediately after that, we went in and did a rewrite of episode two, Mentally Divergent. The writing order was actually the pilot, Atari, and then Mentally Divergent. It was kind of crazy. The episode also introduced Todd Stashwick as Deacon, which was pretty great.
Episode 1.05: "The Night Room" - synopsis: Cole and Dr. Railly face off with the Army Of The 12 Monkeys when both discover the Night Room - an off-site, black ops lab that houses the virus that will one day destroy the world.
Matalas: That one I remember shooting and being set in cramped, tight conditions with Emily, Aaron and Amanda for two weeks and not knowing if it was going to work, because it was a bit of a bottle episode. One location, the mythology really opens up, they're face to face with Tom Noonan, we get to see Jennifer again and sort of establish our Scooby Gang of the three of them. It was a pretty great shoot, actually. The three of us really bonded and I think found the characters in ways we hadn't expected yet in that episode. Story-wise, that's the episode where Cassie learns that Cole killed Henri and that deep resentment about what this guy is willing to do starts to really show itself. Also story-wise, I think it was the first episode that drove down into Barbara Sukowa's character, Jones, in which you understand what she did for the mission by sacrificing scavengers as experiments, and is another example of these people are willing to do.
Episode 1.06: "The Red Forest" - synopsis: Cole finds himself in the future of an alternate timeline and desperately pleads with that universe's Jones to send him back so he can set things back on course, otherwise the plague will be released earlier than history shows it does.
Matalas: This is the first real introduction of our villains, the Army Of The 12 Monkeys, in which we get to meet Olivia, in which Cassie is captured and she first hears of something called The Red Forest and the house made of cedar and pine. These are important mythology beats that we laid down that we knew we were setting up for season two and beyond. That was great and also we had the dynamic where we had a little bit more fun. Where Cole teamed up with Aaron Marker and they became Butch and Sundance for an episode. Shooting of the episode was fun, because we had an alternate 2043. We got to mess with the look of the time machine room and hang laundry from it and show a scavenger-occupied facility. I remember we shot scenes from episodes five and six at the same time, because there's a time travel cross when they're outside the Night Room, so we had two directors simultaneously, so it was a pretty crazy shoot to be able to do that.
Episode 1.07: "The Keys" - synopsis: Cole, Railly and Aaron race to stop the virus from being deployed as a bio-weapon in Chechnya.
Matalas: That's where we really start to see the connection between Cassie and Cole in that he is forever changed by meeting her and, faced with her dying, he now has a different point of view and really starts to connect. I think it's the moment the audience really starts to connect to Cole. In that episode we shot in Macedonia - any chance to give the show scope is, we think, a good thing. We shot the Chechnya stuff, which bled over actually into episodes eight and nine in Macedonia. That was a pretty crazy shoot. We also had a party sequence that looked really warm and a place you wanted to be. That dance between Cole and Cassie was an important moment for the show, I think.
Episode 1.08: "Yesterday" - synopsis: The core that powers the time machine is fading. To get Cole back from the past, Jones must convince her former colleagues at the military operation "Spearhead" that her mission is worth saving.
Matalas: That's the Spearhead episode where we get to learn a little bit about Jones' history when she was in this facility, and we get to meet somebody who knew her before she was hellbent on sending people through time. We get to learn a little bit more about her daughter, Hannah, and how that is the reason she does what she does. It's also where Ramse finds out he has a son and now motivations are starting to shift for everybody. Production-wise, we actually shot that up at Niagara Falls, right on the border of Canada and New York at this military academy place. It was pretty great.
Episode 1.09: "Tomorrow" - synopsis: Cole finds himself in 2017 at the height of the plague. Out of options, Jones faces an impossible choice to replace the core, threatening everything.
Matalas: That's kind of the most important episode of the season in a lot of ways, because that's where Cole and Ramse realise they're on opposite sides of this mission now. Ramse discovers he had a son, also we see that Jones will do anything it takes for this mission, including a military coup, so it was the turning point for our characters in which you see that they are all shades of gray.
Episode 1.10: "Divine Move" - synopsis: Opposing forces come to a head when Ramse takes measures to protect his newfound family, leaving Cole to deal with the fallout.
Matalas: Possibly my favorite episode of the season. We're really starting to see the character shift. It's getting a lot more emotional. It's getting a lot darker. And everybody's fantastic in it. Barbara to Emily to Aaron and Amanda will make you cry in that episode, they're so good. I think we did pretty well on that one. It's where everything changes. That is where Ramse goes back in time and makes the decision when Elena is killed to protect his own future. And for Cole, he's faced with the fact that this mission is literally killing him, and it's our first glimpse of old Jennifer Goines and the daughters, which are important characters in season two. We shot the old Jennifer and the daughters scene with Ramse at this old abandoned amusement park and it was just really cool, because we didn't have to do much. It used to be this Canadian amusement park that had been around for years and shut down, so it was overgrown and it was perfect.
Episode 1.11: "Shonin" - synopsis: Cole splinters to Tokyo in 1987 in a last chance effort to stop the Army Of The 12 Monkeys.
Matalas: The return of Leland Goines from the pilot. We were so excited to have Zeljko back. He's so good. We knew we wanted to do a Tokyo club in the '80s. That was really fun. It was ambitious time travel to send Ramse back in time and leave him there and see him throughout the years. So much happens. We find out that he had been secretly advising the Army Of The 12 Monkeys this entire time. We got to meet and see more of them, to understand Olivia a bit more and learn her name is Olivia.
Episode 1.12: "Paradox" - synopsis: With Cole dying from the effects of time-travel, Railly must find the one person who can save him.
Matalas: I wrote the story for this one, so I have a deep connection for it because I thought there was just something really beautiful about Cole being able to see his father again and for him to come across his younger self. It was the payoff of the images he had been seeing in his head, these memories, as he's been dying of the time travel. It's the first time we see how far Cassie is willing to go to save Cole. And being able to see young Jones was fun. And for Cassie and Jones to finally have scenes together was a great dynamic.
Episode 1.13: "Arms Of Mine" - synopsis: Cole and Cassandra try for a final confrontation with the Witness, while Jones faces a new threat to the mission.
Matalas: This is it. The introduction of the 12, where Cassie's boyfriend Aaron is seemingly killed and where Cassie is really starting to embrace her descent to the dark side. She also has flashes to the Red Forest and the house. It's the final showdown between her and Cole and Ramse. For us, it was a satisfying finale to shoot. It's a big cliffhanger, for sure. We definitely set up the characters emotionally. Cole has gone back to save his brother; he's not so willing to let people die. Cassie is. Cassie is pretty quick to pull the trigger. Jennifer, the last time we saw her, she was manipulated by Olivia to be part of this conspiracy. And the 12, which we know are these genetically bred twelve babies, have grown up in the future with a purpose and we don't know what that is yet, but they and Deacon occupy our temporal facility. So it should be interesting to see what they have planned.
Season 2 in brief
Matalas: In a lot of ways, the scope of season two is a lot bigger. It is where the show opens up and now that the characters have been established and their betrayals and their dynamics have all been executed, season one really does become a prequel to season two. The story becomes a lot more of an epic with trips to the '40s, the '50s, the '60s... we're everywhere this season. It's a conspiracy that spans centuries, so you get a sense of that.
12 Monkeys returns for its second season in America on Syfy beginning April 18, and in the UK on Syfy UK April 27.