Monday, April 25, 2016

12 MONKEYS: Meet Whitney Ness…

Okay. This is gonna be quite the ramble. I’m gonna try and walk and talk thru some notions I’ve got regarding the nature of the timeline in 12 MONKEYS, as much to sort them out for myself as for anyone else who's curious. This will include rambling about the viral plague, the discovery of time travel, the extinction of life on Earth, and what a Witness to all of this might be up to…

SPOILERS (events up to the season 2 premiere) and CRAZY TALK follow!



One of the things I dig about 12 MONKEYS is that the show has been thoughtful and clever about its treatment of time travel and its effects. Sure, there *are* some "magical" phenomena. The two most significant have got to be paradoxes (and their resolutions) and Katarina's super-soldier Splinter serum. But they're applied consistently (at least to my mind =).

Oh! And maybe a special kind of "selective" memory (i.e. 2043 Katarina not telling or remembering that she's already met Cole and Dr. Railly in 2015), but I'll allow it for storytelling purposes, and explain-away-able by age, forgetfulness, willful caution when it comes to interfering w/future past events, maybe a visit to a hypnotist who specializes in retconning memories (perhaps w/the assistance of a certain red-leafed herb?), or the cosmos, tickling people's synapses to forget until it's safe to remember again (Katarina finds the Northside Garage business card).

The writers have been very good about the care and feeding of the single precious timeline in the world of 12 MONKEYS. Sure, the phrase "alternate timeline" has been thrown around within the show, but that's subjective to the characters that use it. When Cole Splinters back to the alternate 2043 in which One-eyed Ramse is leading the West 7, there is no other, original Ramse waiting for him in another universe. That universe is gone, overwritten from 2015 on by the one he arrives in. Cole can only "return" to it by re-creating it, undoing the change that destroyed it, the death of Cassandra Railly. And when he and Aaron save her, Cole Splinters back to a 2043 that is essentially identical to the one he originally left. Pirate Ramse's universe has been deleted, overwritten. He never was, except in the memories that Cole retains.

It's kind of creepy. When Cole Splinters—when ANYONE Splinters—interacts w/history and then returns, well, the people s/he returns to are not truly the same ones they left (BACK TO THE FUTURE, anyone? =). The butterfly effect at work. Still, over 28 years, the interactions by Splinterers so far have not rippled in such a way that significantly alters the histories and personalities of any of our favorite characters. Will be interesting, entertaining, and perhaps traumatizing to see such effects on the fly in the course of season 2, as it promises to wreak more than a little havoc on history.



Even a world in which humanity has been decimated by a virus is better than one in which humanity is extinct, right? What if the plague (or some phenomenon like it, that catastrophically reduces the human population) is the lesser of two evils, the other being extinction?

How could anyone KNOW that this extinction is the alternative? Because they lived thru it, witnessed it, and somehow escaped it.

So… Let's say some guy—we'll call him… Whitney Ness—grows up in a world very much like ours, until the early 21st century, when a viral outbreak ends civilization as we know it. He lives a life similar to James Cole's, a survivor of a plague, eking out a life in the post-apoc. When in his 2043 he's found by a group like Jones's Project Splinter, a team of scientists and military who seek to change history and save the world from the virus, he takes the job as their agent of change. He Splinters back in time to kill whomever needs killing, destroy whatever needs destroying, and/or save or convince whomever needs it in order to prevent the creation and/or release of the virus in his past. And—Huzzah!—Whitney is successful! However, for some reason*, he doesn't wink out of existence as expected and promised…

* Let's say the Splinter serum, which turns out to be stronger than its creator knew.

Instead, he Splinters back to 2043 (the way Cole did after Cassie died in 2015), to an abandoned Splinter facility. After some exploring, he discovers that not only the facility, but the city, the entire world, is abandoned. Lifeless. In a world without a plague to catastrophically check human overpopulation, conflict over resources leads to wars that devastate humanity and the environment. The Earth is rendered uninhabitable. No one, perhaps nothing, is left alive. As best he can, the Witness learns as much as possible from his post-apoc vantage point about the events that led to the end of humanity. He concludes that without the virus, or an event like it, this end is inevitable. Whit Ness's new mission: save life on Earth by ensuring that the plague happens.

So Whit conjures a plan to ensure that the virus is released. He must undo what he's just done in his previous Splinter mission. Luckily, a working Splinter device with a Core energy source (did we ever hear/learn what the Core's tech is? fusion?) is still intact in the "new" uninhabited post-apocalypse. He Splinters back in time to prevent himself from doing what he did the first time around, whatever it was that prevented the plague. He succeeds! The virus is released and humanity is decimated, but not extinguished. Humanity saved—Woo-hoo! This is the universe in which the events of 12 MONKEYS unfold, one that's already been overwritten and rewritten.

One wrinkle in time, tho… In the process of undoing his earlier deeds, putting the plague back on track, he encounters and apparently kills his earlier Splintered self.

CRAZY paradox, right? How is the cosmos going to resolve this one? How about by creating a bubble of weird spacetime out of the region affected by the discharge of paradox energy? Thusly removing the timeline-contaminating paradox from the universe. Could this be what happens to every the "extraneous" matter involved in any and all paradox events? Ideally, this would be a sphere centered on the location in which Whit confronted and killed his younger self. A region that happens to be home to a house on the edge of a forest, a forest whose leaves have turned from green to red in the wake of a (bloody?) paradox event.


Maybe present-future Whit confronted his younger self and convinced him that he had to die (and likely delete himself). Familiar with the energetic discharge associated with paradoxes, together they choose to kill/die in a remote location and eliminate any collateral damage. But "now," a reconstituted Whit Ness is a permanent resident of this Red Forest bubble universe, existing outside of our space and time, but "reachable" via a form of astral projection to anyone who's mind and senses have been expanded via the chemicals of the red leaves left behind.

Whoa… Is the blood of the Red Forest (some of it, anyway) James Cole's "superfluous" blood, ejected from the universe when resolving the paradox caused by injecting himself w/his younger self's blood? Wack!



I'm not sure about how Whit could actively interact w/the universe from outside it, but maybe… Maybe he didn't succeed in killing himself and saving humanity on his first Splinter back from the empty Earth future. Maybe he learned that one fix wasn't enough, because other forces and events—Even other Splinterers, perhaps other versions of himself—end up leading to one non-plague extinction event or another. So, he keeps track of these events, and concludes that he needs the help of agents native to the timeline, to counter them. So, he makes visits to various points in time to plant seeds, and the seeds of seeds. Perhaps he only make one deep Splinter, to the beginning or early days of the Druze tribe, to help establish the Pact of Time's Custodian.

Using superior technology and knowledge, Whit could influence the tribe to adopt his orders/directions and the protection and delivery of certain artifacts as part of their sacred traditions. Living outside of and apart from modern civilization, the Druze would inject Whit's influence as needed according to a plan spanning centuries. And with the rise of modern tech and society, the Army of the 12 Monkeys would form to clandestinely shape events such that they lead to the creation of time travel and a certain deadly virus (among other things). These are the two ingredients necessary for Whit's plan to even be conceived after all.

Huh. Maybe the first thing that Whit tried to do, before interfering with his earlier Splintering self, was eliminate time travel completely. But he learned that it was impossible. For whatever cosmic-logical reasons, once time travel exists, and is used to influence events, it must always exist.

Yeah, let's just say that.

So, at the end of season 1, we've just seen the Army succeed. It seems that the Witness's long game plan has come to fruition. However, Olivia explains that this is only the end of one Cycle, and that a new one is beginning with the entrance of the Messengers…



I think that Whit's existence outside of time has become unbearable. His, life, such as it is, may be unending, a Jinn, or series of Jinns. His curse, to observe the universe without living in it. Maybe he's actually done his task—is always doing his task—hundreds, thousands, millions of times over, and he wants it to end. He wasn't born a cosmic entity. He was born a human. This Sisyphean existence would surely drive anyone mad. Not so hard to imagine mad enough to want to end everything to escape it, right?

Or, perhaps instead of growing mad, he's grown wise, adapting to his cosmic role and senses. In that wisdom he's gained an understanding that his task IS Sisyphean, that he must always be developing measures and countermeasures to time traveling interference native to the universe, new and different versions of Project Splinter, as well as the dice-rolling decisions of human geopolitics and technology over unfolding history. Understanding that in continuing down this path his task will be never-ending, he decides on a new course. A reboot. Time travel in this universe is persistent and once created, necessary. In order to remove time travel's influence on events, this universe must be removed, and a new one created in its place.

How to end everything? Not just humanity, but the world, the universe, the timeline? That's where the Messengers come in.

Six of them have been sent from 2043 to other time periods. Katarina immediately suspects that they have designs on changing events in the past, and so gives herself an injection of serum, apparently to stay "in sync" w/her original timeline (shared with Cassie, Cole, Ramse, and probably the higher-ups of the Army). Katarina says that with the serum in her bloodstream, she will be able to recognize changes in her environment and history compared to her memory of them.

How do you destroy a massive construct? To be most efficient about it, you attack its most structurally vital point or points. I think the Messengers have been assigned to do that to the timeline. They have been sent to different eras to interfere with key events that shape the human world. This may involve assassination, meddling, and/or the triggering of physical paradoxes to such a degree, and ideally, in concert*, that the cosmos cannot heal itself. Instead, the timeline will be wounded, broken. Perhaps these paradoxes are so massive that they break through the barriers that separate the Red Forest from the mainstream universe, unleashing more paradoxical events, resulting in a chain reaction in which the universe and the Red Forest eat each other and themselves… Leaving nothing but the void, ready for a new Big Bang.

* The Witness being the Witness and all, I expect that his plans for the Messengers would allow for any ONE of them to succeed in order to kill the universe. Additional Messenger successes would hasten the demise.



Well, until/unless the Witness reveals himself to them, they probably won't understand his motivation. It seems like the teases of season 2 show us that our Agents of Splinter will be following the Messengers to thwart their plans. But what if they shouldn't? What if the greatest good is for everyone and everything to be wiped clean to allow a reboot? Given the relentless burden of responsibility laid upon the Witness—the survival of humanity across millennia of its history—what other option is there? The Witness will crack or fail at some point, as individuals like our heroes do their (mostly) pure-hearted to save the world from a plague, only to usher in the extinction of life on Earth. Or, the Witness can relieve himself of the pressure and destroy the timeline, letting the universe and humanity try again. Humanity or intelligent dinosaurs, whichever.

You know what might lessen the burden of the Witness?

How about a partner? Maybe a team? =)

Probably just a partner, tho.

Or… Someone willing to take the Witness's place.

But, y'know, depending on where adventures take our characters, a partner would likely be very satisfying. A partnership that becomes a family, maybe?



It's still a tough call. It’s not someone named Whitney Ness, sorry. =)

For now, I’m going to take the Army’s references to the Witness as a “he” to denote a typical human male (if there is such a thing). So, who fits the bill?



An original (or at least “earlier”) "alternate" Cole does have its appeal. One that has experienced most of what our Cole has so far, but also much more, and perhaps many times, interfering with his younger doppelgangers in the process. But is the kind of long game machination implied by the Druze, the Army, and the Messengers really in Cole’s character? He certainly IS adaptable, but pretty exclusively in a man-of-action way. Subtlety and manipulation are not exactly his strong points. =)



I gotta say, after his burnination, being left for dead by Cassie and Cole, having Aaron Marker be the Witness definitely has some melodramatic Phantom-of-Project-Splinter appeal. When he finally comes around to understanding that Cole’s story is true, he focuses on two things: Cassie and survival. When he steers his professional career down a path that leads to post-apoc survival, he encounters Olivia (the investor) who labels him as just that—a survivor. This is a man who can understand wheels within wheels, although practical and selfish goals seem to outweigh the altruistic. With the right help and access, I can see him Witnessing.

When you consider how Olivia passes on such glad tidings from the Witness when Cassandra Railly falls into her hands, it certainly points to someone who doesn't just care for her, but may be obsessed with her. Sounds like Aaron, right?  And the Witness's plans (and the Messengers' demonstrated "faith") seem to guarantee her safety until she dies in 2017 at whatever age she is.

Aaron's certainly a possibility. But if it IS him, I think he must have somehow hijacked a Splinter opportunity from one of our heroes. Perhaps he has survived to 2043/2044 and knowing everything that he needs to know about the Project and how to Splinter, he may have Splintered his aged self back in time to interfere with events, or contact himself with intel wherever he retreats to recover after the fire.

Could he, under his proto-Spearhead authority, have gained access to Project Splinter—legitimately or not so much—after Cassie was sent forward and before it was apparently mothballed? Then he could have Splintered forward, knowing that there would be a machine in operation waiting to receive him.



I feel like of the characters we know and love, Ramse has the mind, temper, and motivation for the work of the Witness. And he's already so wise and OLD, right, Cole? =)

It would be a nice reveal because he is already the Traveler. If the Witness ever revealed himself to Ramse, Ramse would immediately get it. Of course, an older Ramse-Witness would name his younger self the Traveler to hide himself from himself, a la Ethan Seki vs. Jose Ramse.

And yes, the Army *is* currently motivated to kill our Ramse. Why would Ramse-as-the-Witness want that? Because he's not the same individual, and a Ramse on the loose poses a legit threat to his plans. Or maybe this is exactly as it's supposed to happen. Witness Ramse plants the false history of Ethan Seki's death next to his time travel device, just as he remembers it happening (during one or most of his previous Splinters).



A long shot, which of course makes it my favorite right now—What about Elliot Jones? He's one of the people—or is he THE PERSON?—who actually developed the technology that enables time travel. Yes, Katarina and her team understand it, and knew enough to get it up and running after decades in sleep mode or whatever, but Elliot pioneered it. AND, he was super keen on Splintering a live human subject into the future.

And in all of history, who would you pick as a person most likely to be in league with some kind of schemer, benevolent or not, from the future? I'd have to go with the inventor of time travel.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Okay, I think that's enough crazy talk to chew on for now, eh? If you made it to the end, hopefully I didn’t completely lose you in parts. I'm afraid that's the nature of my fan conjecture—it works best in my head, where, believe me, it's best no one else ventures. =)

Unmake history!

Keep on keepin' on~

P.S. I’ve got a bull-pucky half-baked notion that the only part of the timeline that matters is that part that supports sentient life forms who observe and remember and record it. A kind of “quantum physic-y” take. The timeline is changed—charged, alive, somehow even—because humans are present to observe it. This premise makes the scale of things just a little easier to deal with, altho, for a human mind and lifetime, what’s really the diff between a couple millennia and infinity, right? It’s kind of a sad notion because it assumes that we’re the only life in the universe, or if there is other sentient life, that we never make contact with or influence it in any way. Sad.

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