The Badass Women of Science Fiction: 12 Monkeys

Some of the strongest characters on television today are women. And they’re in science fiction shows.

Perhaps no show embodies this more than 12 Monkeys.

I am a huge fan of the original Terry Gilliam film and was extremely skeptical when I heard that SyFy was going to turn it into a series. In fact, “extremely” may be an understatement. I was afraid of what might be done to my beloved movie. It’s one of those I can’t help but watch whether I turn it on 5 minutes after it starts or 5 minutes before the end.

Bruce Willis embodied the somewhat unwilling time traveler James Cole, and Madeleine Stowe had a slow-burn evolution from scared hostage Dr. Kathryn Railly to invested aide. Brad Pitt? Marvelously insane as Jeffrey Goines. Mesmerizing, in fact.

How could a TV series, even from the network that brought us the elegantly remade Battlestar Galactica, ever hope to live up to its namesake?

The series has given several lovely nods toward the movie, remembering where it came from. But the true stars of the series have become a trio of strong-willed women who change more about the past and future than all other characters combined.

Amanda Schull as Dr. Cassandra Railly, courtesy of SyFy

Amanda Schull as Dr. Cassandra Railly (name change, here), Emily Hampshire as Jennifer Goines (name and gender change) and Barbara Sukowa as Katarina Jones (she got a first name and a helluva bigger role) – these are three of the strongest female characters I’ve ever seen.

While Jones is driven by her love for her baby daughter who died in the plague, Railly and Goines are not propelled by “typical” motivations for women. Jones is a renowned physicist who attempts to use time travel to stop the Army of the 12 Monkeys and the plague she believes they unleashed on the world.

Barbara Sukowa as Katarina Jones, courtesy of SyFy

Railly is the brilliant virologist who attempts to find Patient Zero and a cure.

Goines is a madwoman who may be smarter than all the rest of the characters put together and could hold the key to unraveling the mystery. Or not.

Each of these women hold the screen in every scene they’re in (ok, especially Goines, because her madness is hilarious, frightening and delightful).

Goines: You have no idea how exhausting it is being crazy.
Railly: Maybe that crazy can help save the world.
Goines: Wow. There’s some manipulation for you.

— Episode 2.5: Bodies of Water

Sadly, the three women have not been in any scenes all together, but Episode 2.5 was the Cassie/Jennifer buddy movie (see the pullquote above).

Emily Hampshire as Jennifer Goines, courtesy of SyFy

Season two has brought Jones and Railly together often, after meeting face-to-face late in Season 1.

Jones (2015): It’s time for you to go.
Railly: I have a gun.
Jones (2015): Yes. But I have a knife, and unlike your gun, my knife is real.

— Episode 1.12: Paradox

What makes these women so badass?

They are all vulnerable. They are all strong. They are not superwomen, but they are doing superhuman work. They screw up and they save people, sometimes at the same time. They fall in love, but are not pawns of that love. They have their own agency, despite playing parts in a complicated mosaic of time-travel.

Basically, they are fully drawn characters who exist alongside and not due to the male characters they interact with. The show passes the Bechdel Test every damn week.

This post is one of an occasional series of posts about the biggest badass women in science fiction on television today.