James Cole is the one character whose perspective is most sympathetic to the viewer. He is smart, but often ignorant. He wants to do the right thing, but he’s not sure what that is at all times. He is easily caught up in the passions and focus of others, and he fights resolutely for what he believes is good.
Cole and Ramse are brothers bound by a shared childhood in an orphanage, followed by a shared life in the wild, post-pandemic world. They join up with the West VII briefly, but leave out of conviction. Their point of view demonstrates a moral complexity. Deacon’s black-and-white approach to morality is too simplistic for the duo. It is their search for food and shelter that eventually leads them to the Splinter Project.
Cole’s diligence makes him the perfect soldier. He is smart, and capable. Once he is persuaded by Jones that going back in time will save billions of human lives, he does so without question. “The mission is all that matters now” becomes his mantra. Regardless of the challenges, or the impending doom, Cole is apathetic to what could happen in the future so long as there is a chance that he can travel to the past and change everything.
Ramse is bound by his belief in human morality. He continuously urges those around him to be better. He is flawed himself, and his character faces unique challenges, but he is the voice of moral conscience throughout the series. Ramse does not like what he sees in Deacon, nor in his tribe. “Whatever the world is now, it shouldn’t be this,” he says to Cole after their first experience scavenging with Deacon. He makes an appeal that it would be better to be on their own, as hard as it is, than to join up with a ruthless faction like the West VII.
Ramse is also a voice of condemnation against Foster and Spearhead. He believes it to be like a cult, feeding lies to the masses in quarantine and the scientists and militia which only foster false hope. Ramse’s experience is highly personalized. His estranged partner and 5-year-old son show up at Spearhead. He is anxious to remove his family and bring them back to his “home” at Jones’s headquarters.
Eventually, Ramse’s voice of morality is charged against Jones and her ambition. He accuses her of leading Cole down a path which cannot be redeemed. He reprimands Cole at times, but never for long. Cole is caught for a time in the crossfire, between Jones and Ramse, but roles are then reversed, and the series reaches its darkest moments when Ramse is no longer at Cole’s side. A light of hope returns when the two are reunited.
While Cole embraces the mission(s)-at-hand and ensures a forward momentum of the Splinter Project as well as the series, Ramse is constantly reacting to extremist views. He wants humanity to pause. His journey in the series is one of the sage. Thanks to time-travel, he lives more than one lifetime. His wisdom is both inherent as well as gained through experience. If there is an appeal in the Twelve Monkeys universe to do the right thing, then Ramse is the one who reminds us that right isn’t always the path laid out plainly in front of us.
Twelve Monkeys is currently streaming on Hulu.