That was one hell of an ending last week on 12 Monkeys Season 1 Episode 5 wasn't it?
I had a chance to chat with Terry Matalas – one of the creators of 12 Monkeys – last week, and he was kind enough to discuss "The Night Room" with me. Terry cleared up a few of the more confusing time travel bits, and he even dropped a few hints about what we can expect on 12 Monkeys Season 1 Episode 6 this Friday.
Hope you guys enjoy this exclusive interview with one of the creative minds behind Syfy's 12 Monkeys.
TV Fanatic: Let's kick things off with some background on how you became involved with 12 Monkeys.
Terry Matalas: Travis [Fickett] and I had written a time travel spec, and that ended up in the hands of Atlas – who produced the original 12 Monkeys movie – with Charles Roven and Richard Suckle. When they read it, they really liked our approach to the time travel conspiracy and they had been working on turning 12 Monkeys into a TV series for some time, but were never able to crack it.
Obviously, we took the meeting because 12 Monkeys is one of our favorite films, but we showed a good amount of resistance in the meeting by saying you know 12 Monkeys is a perfect puzzle. I don't know if that's the right thing to do, it's so perfect. So we kind of walked away and said you know we don't think so.
Then later on, we started talking over lunch and we're like, but you know what you could do is this and you can introduce this character and we started asking all these moral questions about changing time. What would other people feel about you changing their future? What came out of it was a really interesting new take on a gritty sci-fi time travel story and we were like okay lets give it a shot. We went back in and said here's how we would adapt 12 Monkey and the rest is history.
TVF: So from those first talks is where changing time and all that came into play?
TM: Yeah I mean, it felt like in the movie there's this rule that you cannot change time no matter what you do. It's a great thing for a time travel movie, but for a time travel series we felt like you're really starting to limit yourself. So that was the first thing to change, and it happens in the first couple of minutes of the pilot. We, right away, say look you can break time; you can change time. Because we just felt like that's where you had to go with it.
TVF: Did you and co-creator Travis Fickett research wormholes, quantum mechanics, paradoxes, that kind of stuff to get this show just right? Was a consultant involved during the writing process? I know Helix has a consultant from CDC on set.
TM: We consulted on all our virus stuff, but as far as the time travel goes there's not one form of time travel. There's a million theories about how time works. And we decided we needed to have our own brand. And our brand of time, really is what Jones says in the second episode, which is, "I've learned enough to fear time, time is a malevolent force." You know, that there seems to be some sort of rhyme and reason to the way it does what it does.
So we kind of went with that and we have different kinds of time travel. A lot people have commented that we have what Jones will call later in the season, causality loops (or Jinns) and that's sort of what you saw in Atari. And it's sort of the loop of Cole being part of Pallid Man's scar, and Pallid Man knowing Cole before him because that has all been part of a loop.
But as you see at the end of the Night Room – leading into episode 6 – is that big changes can happen. That sometimes you can be part of a loop, and time will correct itself, but if you make a big change then something drastic will happen; you can break time, like the watch. And that's what happened at the end of episode 5.
TVF: I was hoping we'd see Jennifer before she went bananas. What a great moment when she saw the Big Burn system and said, "Complete with evening stars." A great call back to 12 Monkeys Season 1 Episode 2. Loving the payoffs!
TM: Seeing Jennifer before she was crazy was kind of a last minute addition to the script. When the script came in, it felt like it needed a new sort of point of view. And the point of view of the episode became, well what if you get to see Jennifer before she was crazy. And what if this is all a ruse, her revenge against Pallid Man and she's going to set them up. So it sort of plays out like a classic spy movie really, where one party is duping the other and the other party is actually duping the other. It was initially supposed to be a bottle episode, in which you save a bunch of money by being in one location and I think it ended up being one of our most expensive episodes [Laughs] by the time we were done.
TVF: It's pretty clear the 13 episodes were meticulously planned out. Was there a giant timeline on the wall in the writers room? Storyboards?
TM: It's kind of just in our heads. Everybody asks if we have like a big timeline to keep track of where we are. You write all these scripts really close to each other, so "complete with evening stars" we had literally only written that two months earlier and then we went and shot it, and then you hear Emily say it out loud and you see if it works. You've heard it in the auditions a million times so, "complete with evening stars" becomes a thing, you know? So when she walks into the room, you're like of course she's going to say that to reference the Big Burn. So it all becomes, hopefully, of a piece. Jennifer has a lot of sayings that you'll hear and some of her craziness isn't so crazy, as you'll come to see by the end of the season. There's a lot more going on there than just crazy.
TVF: At the end of 12 Monkeys Season 1 Episode 5 we obviously have an alternate reality. Folks seem confused by this and the events of Atari, the two Cole's running around. Can you speak to that a bit?
TM: I don't know, it's just Back to the Future really. He's at the mall, he goes back to 1955, he goes to the clock tower comes back to 1985 a few minutes earlier and he sees himself leave. It's exactly the same.
In this case, I think what's a little bit more complicated is the fact that Cole was always part of this loop. That he always heard Max, and that he always saved Ramse. Ramse never truly died, he was hearing himself save Ramsey. So that this loop was always part of the continuum.
It's totally reasonable to take a minute and try and wrap your head around it. I think that's half the fun. We hear a lot from people that after the show, they turn it off and they're talking about it with friends. I mean, that's great they're talking about it. And not every episode is going to have some twisty time causality loop or a big change that requires diagrams and sculptures to figure out. But it is fun sometimes to have that kind of puzzle. To be honest with you, the whole season is a bit of a puzzle as you'll come to see. Some of the things that you're watching, you will be asking questions and you won't know until the end of the season and you're like that is why this all happened.
TVF: One of the things that bummed me out about the film, was the 12 Monkeys being just a red herring. How did you guys decide to make them a real threat?
TM: Well, it was very very early on. I mean, I remember being in the movie theater and just being really intrigued by the name the Army of the 12 Monkeys. It's so bizarre and it really just felt like the right way to go. Like what if there was an Army of the 12 Monkeys and it was baffling as to why they were doing what they were doing? It was a mystery, a conspiracy mystery as to why would they want to destroy the world. What would their point of view be? It just seemed sort of naturally to be the right thing to do. So that's what we went with.
TVF: Now that several episodes have aired, have the skeptics changed their tune? Have you noticed a difference on social media?
TM: I think the people that are watching are into it for sure. I think there's definitely going to be some people who consider this a sacrilege to do.
I've said this before, a remake or reboot doesn't erase the original. You can always go back and enjoy the original. I mean, I go back and love the original Total Recall or the original Star Trek or whatever. Then again, I was one of those people who if they announced 12 Monkeys I probably would have said, well I don't know about that. Or Fargo, but you know I enjoyed Fargo Season 1 more than I enjoyed Fargo the movie.
So, to each their own. It's totally within everyone's right to feel that way. I totally understand, but we hope that they give us a chance. Because we think we're doing something a little different and cool. Hopefully, we'll get it to season two and you're going to really love where we're going.
TVF: You've directed several webisodes that are up at on Syfy.com. Any plans to direct an episode of the show next season?
TM: You know, if they would let me I would definitely be up for it. It's a lot of fun. I had a really great time working with Emily Hampshire and Alisen Down – who you haven't met yet – on the ones that I did. Alisen Down you won't meet till episode 6, but she is one of the figure heads of the Army of the 12 Monkeys. So I did a couple of webisodes with her, and a bunch with Emily as Jennifer Goines, which two of them are already up I think. Yeah I would love to.
TVF: This week's episode 6 is titled "The Red Forest," what can you tease about it and the new alternate reality?
TM: What can I tease about it? The very last scene, changing time and changing the future to something you don't want it to be is not the only consequence Cole will face. And the last scene in episode 6, will tell you very much what the stakes are for Cole for the rest of the season.
12 Monkeys Season 1 Episode 6 is titled "The Red Forest" and airs Friday, February 20 at 9/8c.