The following recap contains spoilers for Monarch: Legacy of Monsters Episode 1, “Aftermath” & Episode 2 “Departure” (written by Chris Black and directed by Matt Shakman). Some elements of the MonsterVerse series of movies are also discussed in this recap.
When the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) decided to expand broadly into television shows with the launch of Disney+, it was an ambitious attempt to try and introduce characters, stories, and connectivity on the small screen the same way they had done for 12 years of feature films. The MCU executives felt, at least at the time, that after so much audience-building from 2008 through 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, they could essentially create anything and the audience would follow.
That strategy has proven to not be correct, and it teaches a lesson that Warner Bros./Legendary has apparently learned, at least through two episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. What this new show in the canon of the Legendary MonsterVerse sets out to do is fill in the cracks of the stories that have been told through four films since 2014. While the MCU television shows have sought to add new levels to the mansion Marvel has built, Monarch seems content to patch the holes, fix the cracks, and provide the repairs needed to stabilize the franchise.
Primarily taking place in the spring of 2015, one year after G-Day, or the day Godzilla fought two MUTOs in San Francisco, Monarch seeks to tell the story not only of how a world puts itself back together after such a horrific event, but also how a clandestine company called Monarch might have known more than it let on in the decades before 2014, but did nothing to stop these monsters.
Both Episode 1, “Aftermath,” and Episode 2, “Departures,” dive into various aspects of the fallout of the chaos from one year before. But the most compelling pathway of the first two hours of the show is certainly the ongoing trauma experienced by those who were there. One of the show’s main characters was at ground zero when Godzilla attacked and witnessed horrific things that she flashes back to when emergency notifications go off or there is a sudden noise.
This human emotional development is something a movie doesn’t have time to pursue, but with over 10 hours of a television show, there is plenty of time to explore.
In addition to the story in 2015, there are also two other primary timelines in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, one of which will clearly be prominent through the course of the 10-episode first season. Each of these timelines deserves some analysis and speculation of how they will all eventually connect as the world tries to reckon with the fact that humans are no longer the dominant species on our planet.
1952–1959: Manila and Kazakhstan
Much of the hype of this series has been focused on the fact that Wyatt Russell and Kurt Russell are playing different versions of the same character. When we first meet that character—Lieutenant Lee Shaw of the U.S. Army—we are introduced to a brash, smooth-talking, slightly misogynistic soldier stationed in Manila, who can’t help but get into fights with other soldiers. “Sometimes the fight comes to you, sir.”
He has a new assignment, which is to escort a Japanese scientist, Dr. Keiko Mira (Mari Yamamoto), as she searches for the source of some radioactive isotopes that are unexplained by the military and science communities. As they search the jungles of the Philippines, they run across a young researcher named William “Bill” Randa (Anders Holm), a former Navy veteran/crypto-zoologist (whatever the hell that is) on a “hunting expedition,” who is searching for the truth about what creatures exist in that part of the world. Lee thinks both of them have gone completely nuts, so he abandons them in the Philippine jungle (holding my commentary on this being an allegory for the U.S. military abandoning people in a jungle two decades later).
Soon thereafter, Keiko and Bill come across the U.S.S. Lawton, a U.S. military ship that sunk nine years before in mysterious circumstances. Identified as the source of the radioactivity, the two investigate and are only able to escape from the “dragon” that lives in the ship when Lieutenant Trouble—wait, sorry, that’s the wrong universe—when Lieutenant Shaw comes to his senses and rescues them.
What comes out of that harrowing experience is a six-year relationship between these three (much closer for Bill and Keiko, however, as they are married and have a son in 1959), built on the foundation of monster-hunting and building the organization known as Monarch. Their work together takes them to Kazakhstan in 1959 and an area where radioactivity has gone haywire. They eventually find an offline facility that is actually a nest for a whole host of cockroach-looking monsters that have not yet hatched. Lee and Keira repel down to check it out with disastrous consequences. The larvae hatch and swarm Keiko before Lee can help get her to safety.
Considering what we know about Bill Randa and his expeditions to Skull Island, and the fact that the next time we see Lee Shaw he is under constant surveillance by Monarch at a group home 60 years later, it’s clear the two remaining members of the party are going to have a massive falling-out over the course of the rest of the season.
1973: Skull Island
The series opens on Skull Island, the site of 2017’s Kong: Skull Island where an older Bill Randa (played by John Goodman) led a military expedition to try and uncover the secrets of a mysterious giant ape that had been reported in that area. Goodman reprises his role in Monarch, albeit very briefly, in a scene meant to take place sometime during the events of the Skull Island movie.
Randa is chased by one of the oversized insect monsters on the island, but before he can be captured and killed he throws a bag labeled “W. Randa – Monarch” into the Pacific Ocean, although it’s not quite clear what his intentions were.
If he wanted to preserve some long-standing Monarch secrets, throwing them in the ocean seems like the best way to lose them forever. Similarly, I don’t think the monster on the hunt for its next meal is interested in stopping to read classified Monarch documents. I understand I can’t quite empathize with a man being chased by a 30-foot spider, but maybe a little bit more foresight next time would prevent your Monarch secrets from being hidden for 40 years.
It was fun to see John Goodman back in this role, especially as he has more layers now as the 1950s storyline explores his beginnings with Monarch and some of the tragedy that leads him to go on a decades-long hunt to find these monsters that took his wife. My prediction is we don’t see much more (or any more) of Goodman in this series as the events on Skull Island are mostly isolated from the Godzilla story, but his Chekhov’s document bag sets up where the series goes as it moves into the more current timeline post-San Francisco.
2015: Tokyo, Japan
The Monarch bag, somehow, ends up in the net of a fishing boat off of Japan. It had to, I guess, or there wouldn’t be much of a show. As we zoom out from this discovery, the world in 2015 is a completely different place after the battle in San Francisco. Streets have monster evacuation routes clearly displayed. Emergency notifications are common. Tokyo has anti-monster missile silos lining the streets of their downtown. But as the entire world rebuilds, one young lady is determined to put the pieces of her life back together after her experiences in San Francisco.
Cate Randa (more on why that’s her last name soon) arrives in Japan with some of her late father’s old keys and a mission to try and bring home some of his work materials, after a plane he was on recently went down over Alaska and he is presumed dead. Her father, Hiroshi Randa, was the son of Keiko and Bill Randa and apparently carried on the tradition of working for Monarch, but he did so in secret, not telling his U.S. family.
That’s not the only thing he did in secret, apparently, because when Cate arrives at her father’s Tokyo apartment, she finds a whole other family living there. It’s here she meets Emiko, Hiroshi’s Japanese wife, and Kentaro, Hiroshi’s son with Emiko. I thought this scene where both sides come to the realization of what Hiroshi has done and their conversations in the aftermath was very well done. I can’t imagine the emotions these actors had to portray when trying to convey some sense of grief, confusion, anger, and shock. All three of them play it very well.
As one might expect, Cate and Kentaro don’t exactly hit it off right away. The discovery that they each have a new half-sibling doesn’t illicit warm feelings throughout the first two episodes, but they do share a common interest. They both want to know what their father was working on and why it took him away from his respective families so often.
Cate is motivated based on her first-hand experiences in San Francisco. She was a school teacher riding with a bus of students when the attack happened. They were on the Golden Gate Bridge and, despite her best efforts, most of the children were killed in the attack. She somehow survived and is left to deal with the trauma not only of the attack but of not being able to protect the children. Shortly after, Hiroshi abandoned them and was never heard from again.
Kentaro feels abandoned by his father and is motivated by a tremendous sense of resentment that he left him and his mother when the world started to turn upside down. This is the bond that Cate and Kentaro are able to share as they reluctantly go off together in search of his secrets. Their digging leads them to Hiroshi’s private Monarch office in Tokyo where they discover the “W. Randa” bag and some information leading them to the secluded location of Lieutenant Shaw.
After some obligatory we’re-chasing-you scenes between the Monarch goons and Cate, Kentaro, and their hacker friend May, the trio find their way to Shaw’s location. This older version of Shaw, played by Kurt Russell, is heavily monitored by Monarch and only appears at the very end of Episode 2 (looking a lot younger than someone of his age should be in keeping with the timeline of the show, but whatever), He offers the young trio a choice. Follow him and uncover the truth about Monarch and potentially the truth about their father, or go about their lives like nothing has happened. Red pill or blue pill.
I bet I know which one they pick in Episode 3.
In all seriousness, the human element of this show is something I can firmly get behind. I would be surprised if we see any huge monster battles or even get introduced to many more monsters in the next eight episodes. That’s not what this show is trying to do, and I appreciate that. Apple TV+ now has the time and the latitude to tell the stories of how these monsters impact real people. As long as they tell it well, at least this one monster fan will be satisfied if we don’t get many more monsters at all.