[Warning: This article contains major spoilers for the 12 Monkeys series finale. Read at your own risk!]
12 Monkeys wrapped up its many, many timelines and time loops in an epic series finale that brought back more than one familiar face.
In a final stand against Olivia (Alisen Down) as the Red Forest began to take over the world, Cassie (Amanda Schull) and Cole (Aaron Stanford) called on an old friend to help them one last time. Using the splinter vest, Cole went back and grabbed Ramsey (Kirk Acevedo) from the moment before his death, reconciling with his old friend in a scene that was cathartic, to say the least. With the gang back together — they even grabbed Deacon (Todd Stashwick) from a time before he knew any of them! — Team Splinter stopped Olivia's plan, defeating her once and for all. And how perfect was it that Olivia turned out to the be the corpse from the Himalayas that carried the virus from Season 1? You've got to love a story that comes full circle!
When the time came, Cole bid his friends farewell and climbed into the Primaries machine to erase himself from history with one final "initiate splinter sequence." Apparently Jones (Barbara Sukowa) had a different idea, though, and in her final moments, she programmed the machine to erase him and reset the timeline — and then spit one last version of him out in 2018, where he could live happily ever after with Cassie. Huzzah!
TV Guide spoked to Aaron Stanford about Cole's happy ending (or is it???), his last ride with Ramsey and his last days filming the 12 Monkeys series finale. Keep reading to see what he had to say!
Did you know ahead of time whether or not Cole was going to survive this finale?
Aaron Stanford: No, I wasn't at all sure that he was going to survive. I don't know if Terry knew for certain — Terry Matalas, the showrunner. If he did know for sure, he didn't tell me about it. I think there was some discussion in the writers' room, people going back and forth about what was the optimal way to finish this story and give it its due and be true to it. Obviously, they decided that Cole should live, but that was something I didn't know for certain until I cracked a script for the first time.
I like that we kind of got two endings: the sad version in which he sacrifices himself and then the next ending in which he washed up on the beach and got a happily ever after.
Stanford: Yeah, you kind of get to have your cake and eat it too. For sure. Cole gets to have that well-earned moment of self-sacrifice that the entire series seems to be leading up to, and people also get their happy ending with Cole and Cassie settling down in the house of Cedar and Pine together.
What was the mood like on set in that scene in which Cole sacrificed himself?
Stanford: It was very heavy. There was a real sense of finality to it. We were at that stage, wrapping up the last few days of production in Toronto, and there was definitely this feeling of finality in every scene that we did. This was going to be the last scene that we shoot in this room. This is the last scene I'm going to shoot with this actor. I do remember the day when Cole has his final line before walking up to the splinter chair when he says Jones' line for her, "initiate splinter sequence," and Terry, who's a very emotional guy anyway, came out from behind the monitors quite dewy eyed. It did the trick for him.
Cole did get to have some really heart-wrenching goodbyes with everyone, which one was the most emotional for you?
Stanford: The real gut punch is when Jones dies, because that's a goodbye on an even deeper level. He's just said goodbye to the love of his life, which was gutting enough. Then he goes to have his final moments with this woman who he's forged this bond with and has recently discovered is actually his grandmother, his own flesh and blood. Then she just passes. Shooting that was very emotional, and I think [it] had a big payoff.
In that moment in which Cassie hesitated to destroy Titan so she could be with Cole forever in the Red Forest, do you think there was any part of Cole that sort of wanted that too, damn the consequences?
Stanford: I think obviously there was a piece of him that wants that for himself, but I think Cole very much from the beginning of the entire series has been on a suicide mission, ready to sacrifice himself. He's always known this is the direction that things were going. I think he's well aware that they need to take it over the finish line.
I loved that everyone got to come back for the final battle, especially Ramsey. Were you glad that he and Cole got a second chance to settle things and say goodbye?
Stanford: Oh, yeah, it's great. Of course you want to have some sort of closure for that relationship. I think that absolutely was provided especially with the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid scene when they're speeding into battle listening to, "I've Had The Time of My Life." That's a highlight for me for sure.
Were you surprised to find out that Olivia turned out to be the skeleton from the Himalayas from Season 1?
Stanford: Yeah, I was. I wasn't sure how they were gonna pay that off. I think there were different options on the table as to who that was gonna turn out to be. But it worked well with her, and yeah, they figured out a clever way to tie all that up.
Did you have a favorite scene from the "where are they now" montage that showed each character's life on the reset timeline?
Stanford: I enjoyed Jones' where are they now moment. She was easily one of my favorite characters. I enjoyed seeing where she landed in the new timeline.
We did see that red leaf on the tree in the final shot. Is that a hint that this might not be happily ever after, after all?
Stanford: It's absolutely intentional ambiguity. That's the question you're meant to be asking, and I think everybody has to answer that for themselves. But they certainly put that in there for a reason to suggest that maybe, just possibly, the loops haven't quite finished yet.
Looking back, what are you going to miss most about making this show?
Stanford: The people. A cast and a crew like this, when you spent four years of your life with them, working all day, every day together in the same space, you really forge bonds, and you really do become a family, and it's always tough to say goodbye to that family at the end of a shoot.