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On December 11, 2009, James’s mother, Hannah Jones, under the alias Marion Woods, gave birth to him. Shortly afterwards, he was given to his father to be raised by him, and then she was never heard from again.
When James was still a young boy, he was placed into foster care after his father, Matthew Cole, was shot and killed in 2015. It was there that he met and befriended José Ramse after he was left with child protection services. He and Ramse survived the initial Kalavirus outbreak and the mutations since then, as scavengers of the wasteland. In 2032 Cole and Ramse joined the West VII; they stayed with the group until 2035.
After being captured by the security of the Temporal Facility, Cole and his friend Jose Ramse are allowed safe haven within the Temporal Facility in exchange for James' cooperation in Project Splinter's mission to prevent the Kalavirus outbreak through the use of time travel. Katarina Jones plays James a corrupted audio recording of Cassandra Railly, who died working to cure the virus for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mentioning James' name (despite never having met) and hinting the outbreak is related to a man named Leland Frost. Though initially reluctant, James eventually considers the mission. 
After accepting his role in the mission but before taking his first time jump, Cole and Ramse investigate the CDC facility where Railly died. Here, Cole finds what is apparently Railly's corpse. He takes her broken watch. 
Cole splinters in and kidnaps Cassandra. He told her he was looking for Leland Frost; Cassandra denies knowing Frost. Cole told Cassandra that he was from the year 2043, and that Frost plays a vital part in a viral outbreak four years from now. Cole forces her into a warehouse where he shows Railly her watch, but a future instance of it. He scratches Railly's present version of the watch, which causes the same scratch to appear on Cole's. Pursued by police for the kidnapping, Cole and Cassandra flee but Cole is shot. Knowing that he is about to be splintered out, Cole instructs Railly to meet him at the John Adams Hotel in Philadelphia two years from now. He then disappears in front of her. 
Cole is splintered in to meet Cassandra again, at the John Adams Hotel two years since their last visit as promised. Cole is still injured from the bullet, which Cassandra tends to within her hotel room. When recovered, Cole explains the state of the world in 2043, and that his mission is to stop the plague; he tells her that Railly's future transmission is their only clue as to how to stop the apocalypse. Together they learn from Jeremy (an NSA friend of Cassandra's father) that "Leland Frost" is really an alias of Leland Goines of the Markridge Group. Cole and Cassandra met Goines at a party also attended by Oliver Peters and Cassandra's ex-boyfriend Aaron Marker. When James tries to kill Goines, he and Cassandra are arrested but are then transferred to Markridge security and taken to a Markridge building. While unobserved, Cole places both iterations of Cassandra's watch in contact with each other, causing a temporal storm. Cole carries Cassandra out of the room. A heavily-injured Goines pursues them but Cole shoots him dead. Much to his surprise, he does not cease to exist as he expected. Cassandra is forced to flee the building as Cole splinters out. 
Upon his return, Cole explains to Project Splinter that he had killed Goines but evidentally had not ceased to exist; he identifies the Army of the 12 Monkeys as being involved in the spread of the plague. 
Cole splintered in to North Korea by mistake. He was captured by North Korean soldiers. They photographed him and, just as they were beginning to torture him, Jones executed a slingshot to send him to 2015.
After splintering in, Cole was arrested and transported to the J. D. Peoples Mental Hospital for mental evaluation. There he met Jennifer Goines and realized that she was the daughter of Leland Goines. Cole asked Jennifer about the Army of the 12 Monkeys, but she talked in circles and later accused Cole of attacking her. Cassie arrived with paperwork authorizing her to take custody of Cole. As they were about to leave, Pallid Man arrived and abducted Jennifer, although Cole fought to try to keep that from happening.
Cole was ordered to splinter to 2014 to find and interrogate Henri Toussaint about the location of the Night Room. Jones forbade him from coming into contact with Cassie during that time, as it might alter the timeline and prevent her from leaving her message for Cole in 2017.
Arriving in 2014, he located Henri, but was forced to run away when Cassie approached. Later he followed Henri when the latter made a medication run. Henri snuck up on him and grabbed him, but he explained that he was a friend of Jennifer Goines and was fighting against the 12 Monkeys. He helped Henri fight off the Pallid Man, and Henri told him how to find the Night Room. He watched Cassie, who was sitting alone after being reprimanded by Jules, but did not make contact with her.
Back in 2015, Cole is teaching Cassie how to shoot a gun. When Cassie asked him who killed Henri, Cole replied that he didn't know. It is actually revealed in a flashback that Cole was the one who shot and killed Henri to keep the Army of the 12 Monkeys from finding him.
Cole and Ramse were roaming around as scavengers, when they encountered Deacon, who offered to let them join the West VII. Ramse was skeptical, but Cole accepted Deacon's offer on their behalf. He was later introduced to Max by Deacon.
By this time, Cole had become a trusted member of the West VII and was in an intimate relationship with Max. When Ramse publicly challenged Deacon's authority, Deacon tasked Cole with killing him. Unable to bring himself to kill his best friend, Cole fled the West VII with Ramse, leaving Max behind.
- At the beginning of the show in 2043, he's 33 years old (which is a year younger than Cassandra). In reality, Aaron Stanford is two years older than Amanda Schull, who plays Cassandra.
- He's the second main character (along with Cassandra Railly) to become a parent. José Ramse is the first.
- James Cole used the name Morris Morrison when staying for the first time at the Emerson Hotel and also when he bought the House of Cedar and Pine. It should not be thought a coincidence that Cassandra Railly's fake name also includes the last name Morrison (Amelia Morrison).
- Marions Woods is revealed to be Hannah, which makes Katerina Jones, Cole's grandmother as Hannah would become his mother.
- In the episode, Memory of Tomorrow, Cassandra hands Cole a Christmas card revealing her pregnancy. Inside, she has written:
You already gave me the best Christmas present.
Congratulations! You're going to be a father!
All my love,
|"Splinter"||"Mentally Divergent"||"Cassandra Complex"||"Atari"||"The Night Room"|
|"The Red Forest"||"The Keys"||"Yesterday"||"Tomorrow"||"Divine Move"|
|"Shonin"||"Paradox"||"Arms of Mine"|
|"Year of the Monkey"||"Primary"||"One Hundred Years"||"Emergence"||"Bodies of Water"|
|"Resurrection"||"Blood Washed Away"||"Memory of Tomorrow"|
|"The End"||"Ouroboros"||"45 RPM"||"Legacy"||"After"|
|"Die Glocke"||"Daughters"||"Demons"||"One Minute More"||"The Beginning Part 1"|
|"The Beginning Part 2"|