Remember when I said any episode of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters has bare-minimum monster requirements to meet or else it’s an artistic failure? Boy oh boy, have I changed my tune.
There’s not even a minute of monster screentime in this week’s episode (“Will the Real May Please Stand Up?”), and the monster in question is just the ice beast they’ve trotted out twice in the past. But I’m now so interested in the human characters, so engaged by both the plot surrounding them and the performances behind them, that I didn’t particularly miss the monsters.
The throughline for this ep is Kiersey Clemmons’s May — revealed at last to actually be a woman named Corah. Flashbacks show her as an idealistic young programmer who sees writing code as making art. She gets hired by a big tech company called AET, whose glamorous British CEO, Brenda (Dominique Tipper), sells the firm to Corah as a place where Black women like the two of them can change the world. But Corah quickly finds herself shunted off to busywork and kept away from her erstwhile menotr, while the really interesting stuff gets done in a program called the “Cybernetic Neuro-Interface Unit.”
If we’ve learned anything about May/Corah, though, it’s that curiosity will always win out. She breaks into the unit and discovers…well, Elon Musk’s Neuralink monkey-torture brain-implant program, pretty much as-is. So she crashes the company’s systems, wipes out many years and millions of dollars in research, and flees the country for Japan where she will live under the assumed name with which we’re more familiar.
This means abandoning her loving family, though, most especially her adoring younger sister Lyra (Morgan Dudley). Though the two remain in contact a bit, as we’ve seen throughout the season, Corah tells her goodbye without saying why — or why she needs to steal her passport to do it. And of course she can never tell her where she is or what she’s doing after she goes. The work done by Clemons and Dudley in sketching out these characters’ deep connection in just a couple minutes of shared screentime is extraordinary; what they both do with their luminous eyes alone is pretty masterful.
The episode begins with all of this catching up to her at last. AET forces abduct her from the airport where she, Cate, and Kentaro await the next stage of their pursuit of Hiroshi Randa and bring her back to HQ, where she’s given a choice: work as a spy within Monarch, because monsters are now a subject in which the company is keenly interested for reasons that eventually become apparent, or face the full legal consequences of her sabotage.
Fortunately for Cate and Kentaro, who catch up to her at company headquarters with the help of their unlikely but seemingly sincere ally Tim, she chooses the latter. But Monarch honcho Natalia Verdugo gets her sprung from AET’s clutches and spared any punishment as a favor to the Randas, who agree to help the agency find their rogue agent Col. Shaw on that condition.
Verdugo, meanwhile, scrambles to deal with Tim’s false-alarm use of the still-secret titan warning system — he and the Randa kids used it as a diversion so they could get into AET’s building — until Tim himself offers a suggestion: Use it as a chance “to bring Monarch out of the shadows.” So that’s what she does, in a rah-rah speech that does a lot to explain how Monarch went from something no one had ever heard of in Godzilla to a gigantic operation with huge publicly-known monster preserves all around the globe in Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
At AET, meanwhile, Brenda communicates with her boss, company owner Walter Simmons, who’s the bad guy who makes Mecha-Godzilla in Godzilla vs. Kong if you didn’t remember. This is revealed not through a schematic of the giant robot, which would have worked nicely, but through the new name of the company, Apex Cybernetics. This incredibly generic moniker is what the Mecha-Godzilla company is called in the movie, but if you remembered that you are such a hardcore MonsterVerse junkie you should probably be writing this show. It’s the script’s one false move, a superhero-comic “OMG it’s That Guy!” last-page gimmick reveal. Oh well.
As for Shaw, he and Duvall and their team commandeer a Monarch outpost and use its explosives to blow up the rift in the ground in Alaska from which that ice beast emerges, sealing it off and apparently taking the critter with it. If you ask me, all signs are pointing to a big extradimensional monster incursion that Hiroshi, and maybe now Shaw and Duvall, know only Godzilla can stop, but it’s a theory Monarch has long scoffed at. Just a guess, though!
I’ve already given it up for Dudley and Clemons as a duo (they also shine in the genuinely moving family reunion scene near the end of the episode), but Clemons also does crackerjack solo work. Think of the scene in which she forces her friends to leave her behind rather than rejoin them and work as a mole. As Cate pleads for “May” to come with them, she shouts flatly, “My name is not May. Are you listening to me. I need you to get the hell out of here.” In my notes I wrote that line out in all caps, because that’s the severity with which Clemons invests it.
But Anna Sawai really impresses in this episode, too. Cate’s confrontation with the imperious Verdugo reveals, I think, the way her horrific experiences have inured her to bullshit like protocol or deference to authority. “Don’t talk to me like that,” she says to the deputy director while smirking viciously. “I don’t work for you.” That’s the kind of person you believe can survive, and has survived, multiple Godzilla attacks where she was close enough to smell his roar. That’s a cold part of yourself to access, and Sawai pulls it off.
None of this would have worked without the remarkable script by Mariko Tamaki. A comics writer, Tamaki sneaks in a few fun manga references (Moto Hagio? In my Godzilla TV show? It’s more likely than you think) in between her deft exploration of personal ethics and loss of innocence. The pitch for Monarch that she gives Verdugo to deliver — parents know we now live in a different and very dangerous world where danger is incontrovertible and inescapable, but we believe we can and will survive together — is a pitch I think many people make to themselves in our own world, where the Godzillas are harder to spot with binoculars but no less real and even more deadly.
In short, this is good stuff, written and acted and directed (by Hiromi Kamata) by people who believe this goofy science-fantasy universe can be used to tell human stories that are actually compelling, not just quote-unquote human, and who work with full commitment to this idea. I’m not ready to use the A-word as an overall comparison just yet, but no doubt about it: That’s Andor-coded behavior.