The following recap contains spoilers for Monarch: Legacy of Monsters Episode 3, “Secrets and Lies” (written by Andrew Colville and directed by Julian Holmes) & Episode 4 “Parallels and Interiors” (written by Milla Bell-Hart and directed by Julian Holmes). Some elements of the Monsterverse series of movies are also discussed in this recap.
When I wrote about the first two episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, I essentially came to two conclusions. First, the story in this universe being focused primarily on the human, relatable problems of a world overrun by monsters was a breath of fresh air. These new characters live in a world where chaos reigns because of a new threat and the emotional and physical response to that is very interesting.
The second thing that impressed me was that the show is not trying to do too much (or really anything at all) with Godzilla, King Kong, Mothra, Ghidorah, or any other monster that has been introduced in the four Legendary movies. In the first two episodes, we saw a flashback to Godzilla attacking San Francisco and an ancient dragon-like creature in the last moments of Episode 2, but that was about it. That was something that worked for me, as I’m not tuning in to necessarily see a monster of the week, but rather a mystery uncovered as to why these things exist and how they were covered up for so long.
Episode 3, “Secrets and Lies,” and Episode 4 “Parallels and Interiors,” challenge those opinions almost immediately and force viewers to consider questions like, “How do I feel if we spend long periods of time away from some of the main characters?” and, “What happens when we do get a monster-focused episode?” Can a show built around human problems and experiences be as strong when those characters have to play catch-me-if-you-can with a new Titan?
In my estimation, these two episodes, while still entertaining, were weaker than the first two, primarily because a monster hunt takes so much time away from developing the characters in the 2015 timeline, at the sake of the (more interesting) characters in the 1950s timeline. That’s where we should start because, after an intense sequence in the 1950s in Episode 3, we get exactly zero screen time with them in Episode 4.
1954: Bikini Atoll
The origin story from 2014’s Godzilla stated that an organization named Monarch, founded in 1948, had conclusive evidence of the existence of Godzilla. After years spent searching for him, the Bikini Atoll nuclear explosion of 1954 was an attempt by the U.S. military to kill him, under the guise of nuclear bomb testing in the Pacific Ocean.
In Episode 3, young Lee Shaw (Wyatt Russell), Bill Randa, and Dr. Miura are central players in what actually transpired leading up to and after that nuclear explosion, and writer Andrew Coville weaves an excellent story that revolves around Godzilla, but is impactful because of the human decisions before it and the fallout afterward.
After presenting a life-size cast of Godzilla’s footprint to the U.S. Army, Shaw, Randa, and Miura request 150 pounds of uranium to help lure Godzilla out of hiding. They believe that Godzilla gets stronger from the nuclear material (this would prove to be true and become a major plotline in Godzilla: King of the Monsters). They want to use the uranium as bait to help them study the creature up close.
Sensing an opportunity to end an existential threat, the Army approves their request and sets up a “delivery” of uranium to Bikini Atoll island later that year. Little do Shaw, Randa, and Miura know that the Army plans to “deliver” the uranium in the form of a nuclear bomb. Our three monster hunters show up expecting a handoff of materials but instead are part of a military audience that is expecting to see both the extraordinary might of America’s weapons and the destruction of one of the world’s largest threats.
In an emotional scene that rivals the performances of Jessica Lange in 1976’s King Kong or Prime Minister Mitamura in Godzilla 1985, Dr. Miura desperately tries to stop the beacon that’s signaling Godzilla, thinking that he is walking right into his death.
“This is wrong. What have we done?” is all she can say as she watches the bomb explode, taking Godzilla out of their sight.
That healthy debate aside, the once reluctant Army (who believe Godzilla to be dead) come back to Shaw, Randa, and Miura and essentially give them and Monarch a blank check to determine whether or not there are more of those creatures wandering around the Earth. In their final private conversation, Shaw admits to the other two that he will have to report any significant update or findings to his superiors, but he can’t report what he doesn’t know, as the three create a wink-wink deal to keep any future monster discoveries to themselves.
This originally well-intentioned secrecy under the mission of scientific study will surely one day lead to the clandestine nature with which Monarch studies and traffics in monster information. Those secrets lie 60 years in the future with the more present-day Monarch. We don’t see our 1950s trio at all in Episode 4, which is a shame, because they currently are the leaders in the clubhouse for character development, motivation for decisions, and compelling story.
As the show fast-forwards 60 years, a lot of the nuance and strong performances are lost along the way.
2015: South Korea and Alaska
At the end of Episode 2, Lee Shaw offered Cate, Kentaro and May a choice. Did they want to give up on the journey of what happened to their father Hiroshi, or risk their lives while following older Lee Shaw (Kurt Russell) to track down the truth about Hiroshi, Monarch, and the monsters around the world? They naturally choose the latter, because of course, that’s what a school teacher, a hacker, and a computer engineer/artist would do. But with those cards flipped over, they leave Tokyo for Alaska by way of South Korea (I guess their frequent flyer miles couldn’t get them a direct flight).
In all seriousness, they have to pitstop in Korea because that’s where Shaw has old contact who can help them get new identities, gear, and safe passage by way of prop plane from South Korea to Alaska. Suspending the disbelief for a moment that a plane like that could actually make that trip, Shaw must still be quite influential during his retirement days in the Monarch observation home.
The contact they use in Korea to get out without any papers or documentation is Du-Ho, a seemingly high-ranking official in the Korean military who apparently has no problem accosting a colleague, locking him in a truck and flying out of the country with Shaw and company, even at the risk of losing his entire livelihood.
It ends up being a miscalculation on the part of Du-Ho because almost immediately after landing in Alaska to search for Hiroshi, the team stumble upon a brand-new monster that Hiroshi was apparently trying to locate. This frigid creature is known as the Frost Vark, and seeks out any heat source so he can consume it while at the same time having icy breath that can freeze anything in its path. Du-Ho doesn’t make it long and only serves as an appetizer for what the Frost Vark hopes will be a main dish of Shaw, Cate, Kentaro, and May.
After evading the monster once, they foursome realize they have lost their food, supplies, transportation, and any hope of surviving in the Alaskan wilderness. They decide to separate with Shaw, Cate, and May going off together, and Kentaro leaving because he believes his father and shelter must be somewhere nearby. It’s not exactly the plan I would deploy if I were in the Alaskan wilderness with a frost-breathing monster around, but it does give us a chance to explore Kentaro’s story and why he is so desperate to find his father.
In flashbacks we see that Kentaro was on the verge of becoming a well-known artist. He had representation from a museum and a curator, but when the night of his opening show arrived, and his father wasn’t around, Kentaro dove into May’s arms instead of into the publicity that comes with a big art show. He resents his father not only for the secret life he led, but also for his inability to ever be there when Kentaro needed him most.
In a frost-bitten hallucination scene, Kentaro confronts a vision of his father, He tells him the platitudes of “you can do this,” and “I believe in you” weren’t nearly enough. Kentaro had to balance not wanting to disappoint his father with wanting nothing more than his approval and appreciation.
This vision of his father and the pencil shavings that Hiroshi always leave behind lead Kentaro to an abandoned base of some kind where he can call for rescue. That rescue arrives for Kentaro and he is able to save Shaw, May, and Cate just before the Frost Vark turns them into icicles.
But all will not be warm and cozy, because the people that rescued the Alaskan foursome are the same Monarch goons that have been hunting them since Episode 2. This will be an ongoing storyline throughout the season, and while exploring the depth of Kentaro’s character and the introduction of a new monster were good additions, solving the mystery sort of spun its wheels these two episodes while this other action took place.
What this show needs in Episodes 5 and 6 is more time spent back with the 1950s trio and more time spent in service to the greater mysteries in 2015. I don’t mind seeing monsters in my television shows about monsters set in a Monsterverse, but is it weird for me to say that’s not at all why I’m tuning in?