Some of the best, sweetest, sexiest, most convincing romantic storytelling being done on TV this year is happening on — get this — Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. I know! I didn’t see it coming either! But first with May and Kentaro, then with Kei and Lee, and now with Kei and Billy, this show has given the blossoming of romance the kind of casual intimacy and heat that makes you crave the stuff in the first place. That this week’s expert demonstration of yearning and desire involves the younger version of a crackpot character played by John Goodman and eaten by a monster in a film called Kong: Skull Island is part of the fun.
Actually, it’s more than that. The graphic novelist Julia Gfrörer (who is my wife, not that that’s relevant here) once explained how she was interested in how the stock characters who advance a story’s plot got to where they were. The witch who promises the hero true love for a price — what was her deal? What was her life like growing up? What are her big ideas about life, in general and her own? What does she believe in? How’d she get to that crooked cabin in the woods, and what does she get out of it now that she’s there?
That’s basically what you’re getting with Bill Randa right now. Not so long ago I was complaining that this dude wasn’t exactly Anakin Skywalker, and he isn’t — that’s the point. Sure, the show got it wrong at first by acting like we all have this big attachment to this monster-bait guy John Goodman played in a six-year-old movie.
But they’re not doing that anymore. They’re building him up, fleshing him out, showing why he became the tinfoil hat man with a simultaneous fascination with and grudge against the titans. More than that, they’re just treating him like a person — showing what he’s like when he faces adversity, when he’s hard at work, how he deals with insect infestations (not well, in a variety of senses), how his demeanor changes when he touches a woman he cares about.
Most importantly, they show what he’s like when he’s falling in love: how the mutual respect and support he and Kei have for one another blooms into something more through close collaboration and close quarters. Even if he initially can’t quite stammer his way through saying I love you, his reaction upon learning she has a child with a slain man in Japan is “What can I do to help this woman?” That’s saying it in another way. He’s not a stock character anymore, he’s a character. That’s an achievement.
So props to actor Anders Holm. Do I buy him as a young John Goodman? Not particularly, though physically he’s not far off from the mark. I just watched a lot of Roseanne in my day, and thirtysomething Goodman is indelibly imprinted in my brain. But I like the respect that he is clearly bringing to the role. Bill Randa may have been a comical (if pivotal and visionary) character in Kong, but Holm takes his feelings seriously, as he should.
You know who else deserves a major shoutout? Christopher Heyerdahl. I simply love watching this guy in anything he does — his height and his cheekbones, his strange eyes, his comportment and diction make him fascinating to watch. This isn’t even his first rodeo with Wyatt Russell: The pair played abusive patriarch and vengeful son in the fine true crime drama Under the Banner of Heaven just last year. It falls to Heyerdahl to sell the idea that General Puckett, a master of the universe, is reduced to cold panic when Shaw tells him the virtually mothballed Monarch has evidence that Godzilla survived the atomic bomb — evidence presented solely to ensure Monarch can keep operating — and this he does. One guy in a uniform freaking out sells the titan menace as well as almost anything this series has done; it puts me in mind of Cate walking into her classroom and finding it almost empty. To live in a world of monsters is to be afraid, no matter how many stars you wear.
The episode bounces deftly back and forth between this past and the present, where our now-quartet of Cate, Kentaro, May, and Tim travel to Kazakhstan, site of Keiko’s death (“death”?), to stop Lee from blowing up another portal and thus causing the remaining portals to overload. There’s some fine writing here, too; my favorite bit is when Cate says that she briefly thought Lee was going to reveal he was her real grandfather, since I thought that was where the show was going too.
At any rate, Lee ignores Cate’s warnings and triggers the timer on the bombs that will fill in the portal; he believes Godzilla’s purpose is to keep the worlds above and below separate, and he’s simply ensuring that arrangement stays permanent. But at that moment, a titan with approximately 1,000 teeth surfaces, wreaking havoc. First May, then Cate and Lee, fall into the portal — an entry way to the hollow-earth realm revealed in Godzilla vs. Kong, the most recent MonsterVerse movie. The place collapses, leaving the fate of Kentaro and Tim and Duvall and the titan uncertain.
I think there’s every possibility this show is about to take a deep dive into a Journey to the Center of the Earth/Mignolaverse subterranean realm, and I couldn’t be more here for it. Because at this point, I don’t think it’ll just be spectacle, empty or otherwise — I think we’re going to get more stuff like Billy and Kei holding hands. That’s the ammo a show like this really needs to pack when it heads off into the realm of the unknown.