Now look here, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters: I came here for giant monsters. What gives you the right to spring a Mad Men–style storyline about explosive romantic chemistry in the workplace and the way desire can cause us to lose the things we hold dearest? On top of a bunch of totally awesome shots of Godzilla doing cool shit? At least give me a heads up next time!
Following up on the very strong May/Kentaro romance plot a couple weeks back, this episode (“Terrifying Miracles”), written by Karl Greenfield and directed by Mairzee Almas, explores the connection between Captain Lee Shaw and Dr. Kei Miura back in the mid-’50s. Frankly, I’m amazed at the subtle and sexy work done across the board here. Leopold Ross’s glowing, swelling synth score may actually be the real star of the storyline, but Wyatt Russell and Mari Yamamoto (who looks every bit the glamorous movie star of old) are achingly nuanced in how they portray their characters’ chemistry.
It’s all a matter of tiny gestures, the gentlest of connections. Kei rests her head against Lee’s as they dance. Lee allows his fingers to brush against Kei’s as they stand and wait in the middle of a mission. “If we can’t put the greater good before our own desires,” she tells this man who already gambled on (and, it turns out, lost) control of Monarch just to be near her, “we risk losing everything.” “I don’t care,” he says, and kisses her. Breaking it off with evident pain, she says, “Yes, you do.” Beautiful, sad, hot writing, man. Oooh-whee!
Then in a matter of second Lee literally does save Kei’s life, just as he’d insisted he’d come there to do, when Godzilla spits out a huge contraption made to lure titans and it nearly hits her like a runaway train. Again, that’s so sharp! If he hadn’t come, she really might have died, and Monarch’s knowledge base would have been decimated to boot just like he tells her. But since he did come, the military brass takes direct control of Monarch, and they lose so much of what makes their lives matter anyway. It’s the kind of moral dilemma that has no clear cut right and wrong answer, a Halt and Catch Fire–style contrivance, here in the middle of a Godzilla show. You gotta love it.
There really was a lot that I loved about this episode! Yamamoto is way up at the top of that list in general. Besides having the radiant, regal beauty of a Tolkien elf, she really embodies all the conflicting ideas and emotions roiling in Kei’s head: her love and fear of the titans, her nuclear trauma, her peerless intelligence, her affection for Lee and for Billy Randa, her distrust of the military in general but trust in Lee in particular…you can see all of this at work behind her eyes at every moment. The way she bounces up and down with glee slightly when she discovers Godzilla is still alive, tears of joy and terror in her eyes, is absolutely dynamite work.
The Godzilla stuff is tremendous, too. It’s really amazing how far the franchise has come from the Pacific Rim–indebted nighttime/rainstorm fights that masked the limitations of the CGI in the 2014 Godzilla film. Here he is, swimming through a river like a cryptozoological dream come true. Here he is, rising out of the Algerian desert like a cthonic god before trundling off into the sands. In broad daylight, in front of the wondering eyes of characters I’m actually starting to care about.
There’s a lot going on with those characters, you see. Shaw has reached an arrangement with Duvall, leader of a rogue Monarch contingent that wants to take more extreme measures based on the outlandish theories of the Randa school. May has called off her arrangement with Shaw and come clean to Cate and Kentaro about leading Monarch to them. Cate and Kentaro find their father and wave frantically and joyously to him as the Ross score swells once again, only to realize what they think is him waving back is actually him warning them to run. (Powerful stuff, that.) Their reunion never even happens, thwarted by Godzilla — who makes eye contact with Cate, one of his most traumatized victims. Once again, the roiling emotions in Cate are all there, courtesy of actor Anna Sawai, whose work is growing on me as the writing gives her more to work with.
So yeah, maybe Monarch really has something here. I was perfectly content to let it be a fun giant monster show with enjoyable stock characters, a Kong: Skull Island kind of deal. That hasn’t been what we’ve been getting, which I admit regretting somewhat. But if we start getting A Real Show, a show where story emerges from character and characters confound and surprise and engross and oh yeah there are also fun giant monsters? Cross your fingers, folks.
What makes me most hopeful is a line from Dr. Suzuki (Leo Ashizawa), the scientist who developed the “titan bait” device used to lure Godzilla from the depths. When he asks Kei if she’s seen a titan in person — he’s never seen one — she replies that they’re terrifying. He smiles. “Miracles should be terrifying, don’t you think?” In matters of both monsters and romance, yes, yes I do.