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Monarch: Legacy of Monsters Season-Finale Recap: Godzilla Raids Again

What is Monarch’s legacy? After ten episodes, the answer is frustratingly unclear. “Beyond Logic,” the season finale (and possibly series finale, depending on whether Apple renews the show), ends with a proper kaiju fight, a multi-generational family reunion, a two-year time jump, and all of the main characters no longer being associated with Monarch. Instead, they’re working with the bad guys from a movie that takes place two films after when this TV show is set. Instead of the complex ambiguity the series was probably aiming for, Monarch is ultimately muddled and confused, and the finale only heightens this. But, on the other hand, at least Godzilla fought another giant monster.

That doesn’t happen until the end of the episode, and although the kaiju brawl is exciting (if understandably not up the blockbuster level of Godzilla’s fight with Kong), it’s not the highlight of the episode. With all respect to both of the Russells, it’s Mari Yamamoto, who plays Keiko, who has been Monarch’s MVP, and her return is an effective one. Cate is shocked to see her grandmother alive and well — or as well as anybody can be when they’ve been stranded in a monster-filled domain inside of the Earth. Keiko, in turn, is relieved to see Cate, who she thinks is part of a rescue party, but she really wants to see Billy. That’s a bit of a problem because Billy has been dead for decades, though Keiko has no way of knowing that. Cate doesn’t fully explain the situation before she and Keiko find May and Shaw, who is hiding behind a tree rather than facing Keiko at first. She thinks that she’s only been down here for 57 days, and Shaw breaks the news to her that it’s actually been more than 50 years.

It’s a fairly gutting scene. Keiko’s instinct is to try to understand the time she’s lost using her scientific mind, talking about how the “gravitational distortion” probably led to “some ripping of spacetime,” but she’s clearly devastated as she tries to reckon with what she’s missed. Shaw emerges from the tree, overjoyed that Keiko is alive but upset that she’s feeling an even greater pain that he felt when he lost a mere 20 years during his stay in Axis Mundi. He then has to inform Keiko that Billy has died, and Keiko surely feels that she has lost everything. She has gained a granddaughter, though, as Cate finally introduces herself.

There isn’t too much time to wallow, as Shaw knows better than anyone that they can’t waste any time down here lest they lose another few decades. Luckily, Keiko has been incredibly resourceful during her time underground. She discovered the Titan lure that came down with the ill-fated Operation Hourglass that stranded Shaw in Axis Mundi, and she was able to reprogram it to send out an SOS, which we learn is the signal Barnes discovered underneath all the gamma rays. Shaw, however, wants her to reprogram it back to its original settings and for them to lug it to the site of Operation Hourglass’s crash-landing. They’re going to lure a Titan from the surface down to them and then ride back up when the capsule gets ****** into the portal.

While they hike to where Shaw crashed 30 years ago, Shaw tells Keiko about the world. She missed the moon landing (so did Shaw, since he was also down here at the time). The world, he says, is still basically the same, and Monarch is still around thanks to Billy, who saved everything that the three of them built. It’s a nice sentiment for Keiko, although the show has failed to persuasively argue that Monarch is worthwhile or has really accomplished anything. Even when Shaw’s telling Keiko about her son, we see these conflicting visions of what Monarch is. Hiroshi was part of Monarch, yes, but he had to set out on his own when Monarch wouldn’t let him follow in his parents’ footsteps.

All of this is a lot for Keiko to handle. When they prepare to get into the capsule, she reveals that she plans on staying because her husband is dead and she missed out on her son growing up. It’s her granddaughter who convinces her to return to the surface, though. “These monsters have taken everything from me. No more,” Cate says. “This curse is broken. You still have work to do up there, and we need you.” Again, this is something that would perhaps be more effective if we as viewers had any sense of what present-day Monarch was actually accomplishing, but maybe that’s why they need Keiko.

Having convinced Keiko to return with them, the foursome get into the capsule and set off the Titan lure. Of course it’s not that simple. Rather than summon a Titan from the surface, it gets the attention of one that was already in Axis Mundi. In the ensuing chaos, the cord plugging in the lure comes undone, and Shaw gets out to fix it. It remains to be seen whether or not Monarch will get a second season, but it was always a safe bet that Kurt Russell probably wasn’t going to be a series regular for too many seasons of an Apple TV+ monster show. So the instant he gets out of the capsule, it’s clear: Shaw is going to die, excusing the Russells from future MonsterVerse obligations. Ah well.

Shaw is able to plug the cable back in, setting off the lure again and bringing a Titan from the surface. And, who should come but the King of the Monsters himself! Godzilla and this bat-like Titan start fighting in a brief but fittingly brutal struggle. Godzilla wins, obviously, ripping one of the bat’s wings off. Should Monarch have been more of this and less about, well, Monarch’s various machinations? It would probably have been a dumber show, but maybe that’s better than the alternative we got, as Monarch seems to be under the impression that all of its mystery boxes and twists and timelines are smarter than they really are.

As the capsule gets ****** into the portal Godzilla emerged through, Shaw can’t keep his grip. He lets go, thanking Keiko for everything as she cries and tries to hold on to him. Telegraphed though his sacrifice may have been, it’s sad. Keiko had already lost so much, and now she’s lost Lee Shaw, too. What awaits her on the surface now that so much has changed?

And changed it has, because there have been some developments up top. In Tokyo, Kentaro confronts Hiroshi and blames him for Cate’s death. Hiroshi tries to explain his motivations and his plan, but it doesn’t quite track. He went to Alaska to draw out a Titan to prove that the portal network exists. (Nevermind that Shaw’s return from Operation Hourglass should have given Monarch’s scientists some sort of confirmation about this Titan hiding place, right?) Hiroshi says he wants to solve the secret of coexistence between humans and Titans, which is a nice goal but one that Monarch has been truly incoherent in conveying to the audience, especially because it took until this finale to get some sense of what Hiroshi’s motivations were. Hiroshi is the most frustrating character in this frustrating show because he’s barely a character. He’s just an inciting incident that other people talk about. He’s also getting double divorced, having been outed as a cheater with a secret family. At least Emiko has the grace to want Hiroshi to have a relationship with his son once Kentaro’s ready, even if she personally is kicking his *** out of the house.

Tim is doing some dumping, too, having finally had enough with Monarch as Verdugo refuses to put resources into an attempt to rescue Cate, May, and Shaw. She’s meant to be the bad guy in this situation, and Tim even says that not trying to rescue the trio on the chance they’re still alive proves that Shaw was “right about us.” Is she really wrong, though? Granted it would be easier to side with Verdugo and her claims that Monarch has crucial work to do monitoring these Gamma emissions if we had any sense that any of the work Monarch does in 2015 is important or worthwhile, but even so it’s weird that this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Tim. He quits and goes to recruit Hiroshi and Kentaro, informing them that there’s a good chance Cate is still alive. They might not be able to mount a rescue mission on their own, but there is another agency with the resources they need.

It all comes to a head two years later, although it doesn’t feel that long for Cate, May, and Keiko. They shoot through that swirling portal and emerge from Axis Mundi right in the middle of a seemingly well-equipped base. Kentaro, Hiroshi, and Tim are there waiting for them, having seemingly predicted where and when they would turn up. Kentaro hugs May and Cate, Keiko and Hiroshi have a reunion that’s nice but would probably matter more if we cared about Hiroshi as much as we do Keiko, and all seems well until the final reveal. Two years have passed and Kentaro, Hiroshi, and Tim have been working with Apex Cybernetics, not Monarch. Then an alarm sounds and everybody starts rushing around. We see that they’re at Apex’s Skull Island Research Center and Kong emerges from the jungle with a mighty roar. Then the episode ends.

From the start of this show, I had concerns about the way its premise meant it might be boxed in by canon. The monster action couldn’t be too grandiose because one timeline was set before Titans were common knowledge (the events of the 2014 Godzilla) and the other was set in a lull period after that but before Titans were everywhere (the events of 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters). The ‘50s timeline largely avoided this by being a tale of Monarch’s founding, but the finale lays bare how pointless the present-day story was. If you were worried that Monarch was just going to be set up for the next MonsterVerse movie, this upcoming March’s Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, that wasn’t an issue. The show ended far too soon to be a GxK prologue. The two-year jump to the future had it end in 2017, before the events of KotM. But, the ending nominally and confusingly set ups the movie after that, 2021’s Godzilla x Kong. Apex’s Skull Island Research Center is presumably where they got the Skull Crawlers that they test MechaGodzilla’s capabilities against, as seen in GvK. (If any of the characters introduced in Monarch are going to appear in GxK or if the show will have any impact on that movie’s plot, it hasn’t been announced yet.)

So ultimately we’re left with a Kong cameo and a lot of conflicting ideas. Cate convinced Keiko to return to the surface because she had important work today. Shaw, who went rogue and worked against Monarch for the entire series, was telling Keiko how crucial Monarch is and how important it was that Billy kept it alive. Meanwhile, Tim has quit Monarch, a decision that’s framed as a righteous one, and teamed up with Kentaro and Hiroshi, the latter of whose relationship with Monarch was never made all that clear, to begin with. They’re instead working with Apex, an organization that will go on to become explicitly villainous and its implied that Tim, Kentaro, and Hiroshi are assisting in the eventual creation of Mechagodzilla (whether or not they know it.) This Mechagodzilla, which is powered by the skull of King Ghidorah, the evil Titan from KotM, will eventually become self-aware and try to destroy Hong Kong after driving Godzilla insane. Meanwhile, starting pretty much right after this show ends, Monarch will become a very, very legitimate and well-equipped agency that is integral to monitoring Titans and helping to maintain the balance between their worlds and our own. Is Monarch good or bad? Did any of this matter? I stomp away from this final episode not knowing, and I’m not sure Monarch really does, either.

Maybe it was right there in the title. Monarch’s legacy is a legacy of monsters, but the monsters aren’t Godzilla and the other Titans. They’re people, because Monarch as an agency is only as good as the people running it — and it sure has ruined a lot of people’s lives. It’s a potentially interesting angle, even if it makes it confusing about who we were supposed to be rooting for at any given time. Maybe they just botched the execution. Maybe Monarch and the monsters who run it just aren’t that interesting compared to, you know, real monsters.

Up From the Depths

• I was really hoping that we’d get another classic Toho kaiju in this series. It would have absolutely been fan service, but wouldn’t it have been cool if Godzilla had fought Megalon, a big bipedal beetle with drills for hands from one of the sillier ‘70s movies, during the big ****** instead of some forgettable flying Titan? It’s not just because longtime Godzilla fans like myself could’ve recreated the “Leo pointing at the screen” meme when they saw something they recognized; the old kaiju have a distinct aesthetic and vibe that’s more memorable than most of the MonsterVerse’s originals.

• Keiko, at one point, says she thinks Axis Mundi is a “patchwork” in-between realm rather than where the Titans normally live. That could explain why the characters in Godzilla vs. Kong don’t experience time-dilation when they go inside the Hollow Earth where Kong lives, because they went straight through Axis Mundi rather than sticking around in this transitional plane? I’m having to do too much work to make the MonsterVerse’s lore coherent.

• Man, it was really cool when they blew up a bomb in Godzilla’s face back in episode three, though, right? Godzilla rules and Monarch had (and maybe still has) a ton of potential. It just needs some clarity.

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