In the first episode of Monster. Dr. Tenma makes a choice. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Monster.
Trigger Warning: For mention of trauma
Hello, friends! Apologies for the slight delay in getting this started, but NOW I AM HERE. I am also VERY CONFUSED and IMMENSELY NERVOUS, because this episode sets up a lot of things in very little time. Basically, all of “Herr Dr. Tenma” is devoted to setting up Dr. Tenma’s potentially life-altering decision, and it does so brilliantly through dialogue, imagery, and some clever storytelling devices. Each detail revealed over these twenty-odd minutes is for a purpose. What’s the political and cultural environment in Eisler Memorial? In Düsseldorf? Why does Dr. Tenma feel so pressured to make decisions as he does?
It’s interesting, too, that this episode starts out from a place of perfection, and then it slowly eats away at the very thing it establishes. When we meet the head neurosurgeon in the opening of this episode, he has just completed a harrowing six-hour surgery on an opera singer. His fianceé is the director’s daughter, and she is clearly very much into the rising, hotshot surgeon. Though I’m not sure Dr. Tenma ultimately qualifies for the label of “hotshot.” He’s not an asshole or a jerk, and while he’s sure of his abilities, he’s not arrogant about it. But at the start of this episode, I mistook that assurance for something else.
And it wasn’t long before this story began to shift, ever so slightly, from that image of perfection. While Dr. Tenma is with Eva, we watch as the director appears to very much take credit for all the hard work that he did. And initially, Dr. Tenma isn’t visibly upset by this; it seems par for the course. It’s part of the complicated politics of the place, which is why the scene between Tenma and Dr. Becker is so important. It establishes Dr. Tenma’s growth and his rising profile, but also establishes the cost: Tenma is a pawn in Director Heinemann’s growth of himself and the hospital. But that’s not the biggest problem, right?
OH LORD. Two subplots further eat away at this. There’s the widow of a Turkish man, who Tenma was pulled away from to operate on the opera singer, who emotionally accosts Dr. Tenma in the halls of the hospital. Hey, who allowed that intense fucking music during that scene? My gods, it was SO GOOD, but it made my heart race immediately. Which is the point! That scene had to rattle Dr. Tenma and the audience, planting the seed that there is a moral nightmare in the midst of this seemingly innocuous directorial choice. It’s one outright confirmed by Eva, who says that some people are more important than others. The Turkish man died in surgery, but is that really the same if the opera singer had? Which one has more inherent value to the world?
There’s also the news story of the Liebert family, who escape to West Germany. I found this to be a vital way to establish the time period and the setting of this show, and it’s something that’s initially just background information that Dr. Tenma sees while in bed with Eva one morning. However, this quickly turns into a nightmare of its own, when police arrive that night to the Liebert home, find the parents dead and one of the twin siblings near-death with a bullet in his head. I thought maybe this show was aiming for something slice-of-life, since the depiction of much of the action felt quite realistic. Perhaps this was a show about the struggles of being a neurosurgeon in a major city? (Except then there was that creepy quote from Revelations at the beginning of the episode, sooooo….)
But then Dr. Becker arrived, and he told Dr. Tenma to go to another operating room to work on the Mayor, and suddenly, all the details came together. Tenma did not know that the had indirectly been placed in a dilemma with the Turkish man who died. (And I will vocalize what I said on video: I wonder if this show is casually referencing the anti-Turkish sentiment I know exists in a lot of Eastern European countries.) And I am certain this was not the first time something like that happened! How often had Dr. Tenma been pulled away by the director for a more “important” patient, one who would grant them prestige and good press and, in the case of the mayor, more money?
So Dr. Tenma makes a choice: he knows the surgery of one of the Liebert twins is crucial and complicated; another surgeon can handle the less complicated surgery of the mayor. He defies the Director, and he does so knowing that he’s putting EVERYTHING on the line to make the right choice. It’s an arresting start to this show, in part because there’s such a convincing build up to the decision. We know the stakes, we know what the personal conflict is, and there’s also an air of mystery. Because why the fuck does the other twin, suffering from witnessing the trauma of the murder of her parents AND her brother being shot in the head, keep muttering the word, “Kill”?
I’M SCARED. WHAT ARE YOU ALL DOING TO ME.
The video for “Herr Dr. Tenma” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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