Each week, while James Cole, Cassandra Railly, and that whole crew are off galavanting through time, a core member of the team is tasked with holding down the fort and maintaining the machine, the mechanism that keeps the group mobile in the fight to stop the nefarious plot of the 12 Monkeys’ Army. That person is the inflexible Dr. Katarina Jones, played by the exquisitely talented Barbara Sukowa.
Sukowa is a veteran actress of the German screen who’s won best actress awards from Cannes, Venice, and the Montreal Film Festival. She’s even made a name for herself in her native country as a concert soprano and the lead singer of a band called the X-Patsys (you’re welcome).
In spite of her colorful career, Sukowa plays Dr. Jones with a marked subtleness. Her turn makes obvious the control and nuance that only a true performance veteran can muster.
We first meet Jones in Syfy’s pilot for 12 Monkeys, as the leader of a spartan medical facility dedicated to undoing the virus ravaging the world. They’re not looking for a cure (someone else is already on that); no, Jones’s people are tracking through time to find the source of the virus and eradicate it. Jones’s pursuit of this goal is so single-minded, that she rarely wastes time worrying about the feelings of the people around her. When she conscripts James Cole, his status as a “volunteer” is in name only.
Always hesitant to reveal more of herself than is absolutely necessary, Sukowa has — from the pilot on — imbued Jones with an unmistakable pathos. Even while she is silently strapping Cole into the time machine, there’s a sorrow in her dedication. She’s a woman who knows what must be done, no matter the atrocities she must commit.
Of course, it wasn’t until “Meltdown” that we discovered exactly how nightmarish those atrocities are.
And yet, knowing the horrors she’s inflicted on her fellow man, viewers still love the doctor, flaws and all. After all, what’s a little torturous murder in the name of saving mankind?
Of course, Jones’s goals aren’t so lofty as saving mankind. She’s re-built and perfected a machine that can bend the very fabric of space and time, not because she gives one shit about humanity at large. The depth of her compassion begins and ends with a little girl named Hannah, Jones’s daughter and one of the billions of victims of the plague. For Katarina Jones, Hannah’s death is the only one that matters.
Therein lies the conflict that makes Jones such a rich character. She may not be a very nice person, but her motives are pure as the driven snow (and sad as Hell). There’s strength in Jones, too, and a solid dose of fortitude. Here’s a woman who’s so convinced of her own brilliance and who’s so unwilling to accept the loss of the only person who’s ever mattered to her that she’s fighting Fate itself to get her way.
Jones’s daughter is always in the forefront of her mind, as evinced by Jones’ rushing to find some clue to her daughter’s fate in the time-shift in “Primary”. Of course, as change is the constant that drives 12 Monkeys, Sukowa’s character has been forced to rethink her strategy when it comes to achieving her goals.
The result of that strategic shift has forced deeper interactions with what used to be nothing more than a means to an end, the people she sends through time. As the series has progressed, her guidance of Cole and her tutelage of Cassie has transformed Jones into the group’s de facto leader. There may be plenty of arguing about how to proceed, but at the end of the day, Jones is the one who signs off on a course of action. And while the kids are off careening from one drama to the next, it’s Jones who keeps the ship on course.
About That Romance
As time shifted around the cast in the second episode of Season 2, Jones was alarmed to find that, in another time, she was getting down with the good Dr. Eckland, a quiet man with a gruff, yet peaceful demeanor. She had no memory of their affair and initially no interest in exploring it, but Eckland’s enthusiasm for their love eventually won her over … until he sacrificed himself to save her life.
In falling for him, Jones reminded herself of the joys of human connection, and in watching him go, she may have finally learned to think about something other than her pain. She may have watched her romantic options get ripped apart by the pure temporal energy, but Jones has come through the experience a changed woman, someone who’s still not soft (by any stretch of the imagination), but who’s finally becoming invested in those around her.
What’s Coming Down the Road
As the head of the facility, Jones is a valuable target for the nefarious swirling around the team. That said, she’s also one lady you absolutely do not want to fuck with. Though she may be experimenting with a slightly softer outlook on life, she’s still consumed with resurrecting her daughter by any means necessary.
She’s finally learning the value of trust and faith, but that doesn’t mean Katarina Jones is ready to give up changing the world around her to suit her needs.