In the tenth episode of Monster, Dr. Tenma just misses Johan, but finds something horrifying left behind. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Monster.
Trigger Warning: For brief discussion of terrorism.
You know, this didn’t strike me until the episode was over, but Johan is not in this episode. At all. He is talked about, discussed, and his fingerprints are all over everything here, but he’s not here. He’s a specter, a ghost, a form existing in shadows and rumor, and yet? Johan is still terrifying, so much so that it’s undeniable that he’s a major force for tension in “An Erased Past.” Even at the beginning, when we meet Heckel, there’s that moment where I thought that Johan was on the other side of the door to the study. (And he very well could have been; what if Dr. Tenma’s arrival allowed him a window to escape???) He is a constant threat, a variable that exists all the time, and I find that so fascinating from a story perspective. We’ve seen relatively very little of him, and yet I absolutely buy how frightening he is. That’s impressive! It’s not what I would have expected, but it works.
But none of this show fits expectations. Even this strange episode takes Dr. Tenma to a surprising place. Yet I feel like this also works. If Tenma is going to seriously track down Johan, he has to go to increasingly darker locations and meet people who are… well, like the killer.
This episode required me to read between the lines and think of Johan’s past behavior. The killer of the councilman, who we meet halfway through this episode, shares similarities to past criminals that Johan has “partnered” with. The nature of their relationships is mostly unspoken, but here, we get an idea of how Johan insinuated himself into this man’s life, then manipulated him into killing. While I don’t doubt that Johan has killed himself, it’s clear that his MO has another aspect to it: he hires or manipulates men to commit crimes, and then, the criminals are disposed of. They don’t ever seem to survive their encounters with Johan, though this specific killer is the first to take themselves out. So Johan doesn’t just seem to enjoy murder alone; he loves the power he holds over others while they commit murder, too. Right??? And perhaps that’s the “monster” referenced in the message left behind. Johan knows exactly what is happening to him and what he’s doing, and he seems to thrive on that fact.
Of course, a lot of this comes from conjecture because I have so little to go on! The killer doesn’t give his name; we have no idea of his past. There’s a sense here that the killer was just a normal guy until Johan pushed him to murder the councilman, and it’s also clear Johan exploited the political situation between East and West Germany in order to do so. And above all this: Johan knows that Dr. Tenma is pursuing him. HE FUCKING KNOWS. So this is a multi-level game for him, a chance for him to entertain himself with Dr. Tenma AND the victims he claims along the way.
And yet, we never quite leave Dr. Tenma and the rooting of this show within him. Heckel is an odd character, though he’s designed that way, both literally and within the story. It’s pure chance that the two meet—maybe Johan would argue that it’s destiny—but I still see the plot in “An Erased Past” as being a means of further communicating Dr. Tenma’s moral code. The second half of this episode is just CHAOS, but even amidst Tenma being forced into the same room with two men who just committed a terrorist act, he doesn’t budge. He spends the entire time unbothered by being threatened at gunpoint, all while Heckel is off thinking he’s got it made with his new scheme. He seriously misjudged Tenma’s willingness to operate off the books on criminals. Still, I found it fascinating that Tenma didn’t let one of the terrorists die. I think that speaks to what he’s willing to do for others. He was very, very clear about not providing extensive medical care to someone who had directly harmed so very many people and was well aware that he’d done so. But he still provides basic care (WITH A STAPLER, HELP ME) and then literally throws the man on his back with the intent of walking him to a hospital. So he didn’t want to let the man die, but that’s the lowest bar set for Tenma.
I think the show is establishing these moments on purpose. Even just ten episodes in, Tenma has had to do a lot of things he’s never done before. So just how much is he willing to push himself? Is his endgame with Johan to end Johan’s life? Can Dr. Tenma actually harm another person, even if doing so will save lives? Whew, this is a lot to think about, y’all, but I really feel like this is what I’m supposed to be asking and considering.
The video for “An Erased Past” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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