Previously on 12 Monkeys . . .
Last week we learned that the Witness and his followers known as the Twelve Messengers and/or the Twelve Monkeys are no longer interested in destroying billions of people with a global pandemic. It was never clear why they wanted to wipe out most of the world’s population with a global pandemic—you know, other than the obvious reason of humans essentially spreading like cancer across Gaea and killing the planet.
Instead, the Witness and his followers are now interested in destroying the fourth dimension so existence will be infinite . . . or eternal . . . or eternally infinite . . . or some stupid mumbo jumbo. The destruction of time (which Jennifer Goines refers to as “the collapsing of time”) will take place by destroying the Primaries (of which Jennifer is one) with time anomalies that create temporal explosions.
We also learned that the Primaries are “Pillars of Time” because they are Time Incarnate . . . or some such stupid mumbo jumbo.
Obviously, it makes sense that if enough of a building’s pillars are destroyed then the building will collapse, or be destroyed. However, what doesn’t make sense is the way time is conceptualized in this series. Time is not a construct; it isn’t a building. It’s a dimension—just as height, breadth, and depth are dimensions.
Yes, the former is a temporal dimension and the latter three are spatial dimensions, but all are dimensions nonetheless—and the temporal dimension has more similarities with the three spatial dimensions than it has differences; time only seems different to us due to our limited perspective.
In other words, claiming the Witness and his followers are going to “destroy time” is akin to claiming they want to destroy height or breadth or depth. It’s entirely nonsensical.
Of course, mathematically, dimensions can be eliminated or “destroyed.” We can mathematically eliminate height in a conception of two-dimensional space. However, actually eliminating height in the universe (or “collapsing” the dimension) to change existence into a two-dimensional spatial reality is ludicrous—particularly if such destruction hinges on destroying people who are considered the “Incarnation of Height.”
Most people will instantly realize the ridiculousness of such a concept as “Height Incarnate,” which means the only reason the concept of “Time Incarnate” can make any sense to a person is if that person is completely ignorant about basic aspects of the physics of space-time—such as the notion that dimensions can “evolve,” which is another ridiculous idea that was presented in this episode.
The stupidity of the temporal concepts in this season of 12 Monkeys is what caused me to state in my review of the previous episode (2.04—“Emergence”) that the series had “jumped the shark.” However, while I maintain these new plot elements are indeed stupid, I may have jumped the gun in my claim that the series had jumped the shark.
The intriguing aspects of 12 Monkeys still far outweigh the stupid concepts—though the ridiculous notion that time is a construct that can both evolve and be destroyed is now the engine that is driving this series (which is not a good thing).
Mathematically, the elimination of a spatial dimension results in a three-dimensional universe of time and the two remaining spatial dimensions. Similarly, the mathematical elimination of time results in a static 3-D spatial universe—which would be pointless for any reason other than the desire to study “existence in stasis.” However, the Witness and his followers don’t seem to be interested in studying a static reality.
If their ambition is to create an existence that will be infinite . . . or eternal . . . or . . . whatever, then their real goal should be to create more Primaries, not destroy the ones that already exist. It would be the ultimate example of Emersonian Transcendentalism—for all of us to become Emerson’s Transparent Eyeball:
Standing on the bare ground—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. (Nature, Chapter One: “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Of course, a person attempting to enlighten everyone into a transcendental perception of reality doesn’t really make for a great villain in an action-adventure series, so I understand why presenting the Witness as a temporal transcendentalist isn’t the direction the show’s creators want to take. We need the Witness to have a nefarious plot rather than a virtuous plan.
Thus, instead of eliminating time as the fourth dimension, it would be more interesting to see the Witness and his followers attempt to manipulate time by accessing a fourth spatial dimension in accordance with M-Theory. Obviously, due to 12 Monkeys being a time-travel science fiction series, time must still be the key to the Witness’s plans, but the notion of manipulating time through its connections to extra spatial dimensions would be an interesting new twist on an old science fiction concept:
However, despite my doubts about the way the fourth dimension is presented in the series, I am now willing to suspend my disbelief a bit more to see if the creators can make some sense out of their nonsensical concept. Perhaps they can develop the C-Theory of Time to add to the A- and B-theories of time that have emerged in philosophical studies.
I am intrigued by the notion of certain people as Temporal Primaries—but not as Time Incarnate or Temporal Pillars. Instead, I like the idea of these Primaries being Emerson-esque “Transparent Eyeballs of Time”—or, perhaps as the Übermenschen Friedrich Nietzsche conceived in Thus Spake Zarathustra (in part due to the influence of Emerson on Nietzsche’s philosophy). These Primaries are Übermenschen who have achieved the divine perspective T.S. Eliot wrote about in his epical meditative poem Four Quartets:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
(Burnt Norton Lines 1–5)
In this case, the Primaries in 12 Monkeys are people who exist in the actual world but who have an external perception of existence, which Ronald Moore expresses in The Metaphysical Symbolism of T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets as the “Absolute viewpoint” that Eliot conceived of Jesus possessing:
Given Eliot’s devout Episcopalian beliefs, Moore’s claim that “Eliot did not wish to uphold the unredeemability of time” is undoubtedly correct. There is no chance of redemption if “time is eternally present”; yet, Einstein’s conception of time in both general relativity and special relativity holds that time is indeed eternally present—which means human beings who have achieved external perception of time are Messianic in the Nietzschean sense of the Übermensch.
The ability of this series to engage me in philosophical meditations is why I am not giving up on 12 Monkeys. After all, I enjoy watching DC’s Legends of Tomorrow—the other contemporary television series about time travel—even though it does not engage me intellectually at all. In fact, the first season finale of Legends of Tomorrow presented a similar “destruction of time” concept, as the supervillain Vandal Savage was going to “destroy time” so he could re-set reality to 1700 BCE.
However, rather than kill three Primary Pillars of Time Incarnate, Savage was going to destroy time by pouring blood on the same meteorite in three different time periods. In other words, the plot made even less sense in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, yet I enjoy watching that series even though it does very little to engage me intellectually.
Ultimately, I suppose I expect more from 12 Monkeys than I expect from Legends of Tomorrow—but I must also remember to allow for the minor annoyances I experience when I watch this more intellectually engaging series.
Another thing that intrigued me about this episode (in which Cassie and Jennifer go on a quest to locate more Primaries before the Twelve Monkeys can find them first) is the notion that the Primaries are diagnosed as schizophrenics due to their temporal visions. To control her visions, Jennifer has been prescribed three or four pharmaceuticals including Aripiprazole, which “is used to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia . . . in adults and teenagers 13 years of age and older.”
Jennifer Goines’s situation in 12 Monkeys made me think of Philip K. Dick’s 1964 essay “Drugs, Hallucinations, and the Quest for Reality” in which the noted science fiction author and postmodern intellectual wrote about the hallucinations of schizophrenics:
Up until the last three or four years it would have been generally agreed that these invasions of the orderly continuity of world experience beyond doubt originate in the person, at some level of the neurological structure, but now, for the first time, really, the body of evidence has begun to swing the other way. Entirely new terms such as “expanded consciousness” are heard, terms indicating that research, especially with hallucinatory drugs, points to the probability, whether we like it or not, that . . . the percept system of the organism is overperceiving, all right, and undoubtedly presenting the judging centers of the frontal lobe with data they can’t handle, and this is bad because there can be no judgment under such circumstances, and no interpersonal life, due to the breakdown of the shared language—but the overperception emanates from outside the organism; the percept system of the organism is perceiving what is actually there, and it should not be doing so, because to do so is to make the cognitive process impossible, however real the entities perceived are. The problem actually seems to be that rather than “seeing what isn’t there” the organism is seeing what is there—but no one else does, hence no semantic sign exists to depict the entity and therefore the organism cannot continue an empathic relationship with the members of his society.
Dick based his views on schizophrenics “over-perceiving” reality (which is similar to the actual definition of surrealism—the conception of “super reality”) on the work of Czech-American psychiatrist Jan Ehrenwald and his 1948 book Telepathy and Medical Psychology. Whether you accept Ehrenwald and Dick’s premise or not (and I am somewhat skeptical), Dick’s summary of the concept is such an accurate description of Jennifer that I suspect the creators of 12 Monkeys have read Dick’s essay.
One final note of interest for me in this episode is the change in the appearance of the Witness from the way he was depicted last season. I knew something was suspicious when Cassie and Jennifer visited Jennifer’s childhood home, which has been left undisturbed (save for a maid who dusts and vacuums semi-regularly) ever since Jennifer’s mother was sent to a psychiatric hospital after she tried to drown her daughter in the bathtub when Jennifer was a young girl.
In her childhood bedroom, all of Jennifer’s sketches of her hallucinatory time visions are still on display, and Cassie picks one up and instantly recognizes it as a sketch of the Witness. However, I could instantly tell it looked nothing like the Witness, whom Cassie saw in her own first-season vision of the House in the Red Forest.
In other words, Cassie has had her own vision of the Witness, and she should not know who is depicted in Jennifer’s childhood sketch. The problem is compounded later when the Striking Woman once again forces Cassie to have a vision of the House in the Red Forest, and the House-that-Communicates-by-Drawing-Words-on-Its-Own-Walls showed her a vision of the Witness once again—and this time he looked like Jennifer’s childhood sketch:
The problem is that last season the Witness looked like Morpheus from the Vertigo-DC Comics series The Sandman by Neil Gaiman—a connection that was reinforced in episode 1.02 (“Mentally Divergent”) by the presence of a character named Dr. Sandman, a psychiatrist who worked at the J.D. Peoples Mental Hospital where Jennifer was institutionalized. He was a minor character who only appeared in that one episode; yet, it was clear during the first season that aspects of the story were at least “inspired by” Gaiman’s Sandman comic book series.
I suspect the change in the headgear worn by the Witness (and Cassie not commenting on any such change having occurred) is due to 12 Monkeys being given a cease-and-desist order for trademark infringement by lawyers for DC Comics and/or Warner Bros. It’s too bad, as I would have liked to have seen what other allusions to Gaiman’s Morpheus were going to be included.
Perhaps at the end of the series we would have discovered it was a mass, overlapping dream being shared by Cassie, Katerina Jones, and Jennifer Goines—all under the watchful eye of the mysterious Witness, who had become a part of Greek mythology as the god of sleep. Now, however, if the House-that-Writes-on-Itself is to be believed, we know who the Witness is under his changed headgear.
After we learned that the Visitor was actually Cole’s best friend Ramse, I started to wonder if the Witness might be a future version of either Cole or Cassie. However, the House-that-Vandalizes-Itself revealed to Cassie that the Witness is none other than . . . her supposedly dead fiancé Aaron Marker.
Just as we learned in this episode that the Pallid Man survived the temporal explosion at the end of the first season, so too (apparently) did Aaron. How’s that for a time loop paradox?