Mark Watches ‘Monster’: Episode 18 – Five Sugars

In the eighteenth episode of Monster, Nina reunites with someone who helped her. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Monster.

I want to take a moment to talk about the narrative structure of this show thus far, and it’s something I speak about at the end of the video for “Five Sugars.” I’m getting a sense of why this show is 74 episodes long, at least because I’m seeing how the show is willing to take us down detours that seem unrelated at first. But each of these “slower” episodes packs an emotional wallop, and each of them are vital to developing the characters or the story as a whole. Without “Five Sugars,” for instance, I wouldn’t truly get a sense for how much Nina has struggled with the mission she’s given herself. This is an episode about how the past haunts both Mr. Rosso and Nina, but also about how Nina recognizes this! Her decision to leave Mr. Rosso after six months was entirely based on her reluctance to ask him to return to his own past. 

And even though we’re probably never going to see Mr. Rosso again, his character is so fleshed out and complicated. IN JUST TWENTY MINUTES! That’s an achievement of craft, y’all, and it made “Five Sugars” feel like a short story stuffed inside a longer serial narrative, and I am a HUGE fan of stories that operate like this. Because Mr. Rosso accents Nina’s story, while getting one of his own. There’s an incredible tension throughout this, in part because… well, this is Monster. Granted, I’m only 18 episodes in, but I already have a feeling how this operates. Oh, something nice is happening? IT’S GONNA GET DARK REAL FAST. However, there’s another reason this is tense, and it’s because of the unknown. Who is this man, and why does he know Nina so well? Why was she in Frankfurt all those years ago, and was it really just to find a job? Nothing in this show is innocent, and appearances are rarely what they seem on the surface. So why do this? Why take this detour down memory lane?

Thus, an anticipation grows as the episode plods forward. This is not a fast-paced episode at all, but I think it couldn’t have been. We needed that slow build, that slow undressing of masks and facades, so that we could be brought to the devastating conclusion. We are introduced to Mr. Rosso’s happiness first, both in the initial days of his meeting with Nina and in his reunion with her after she’s questioned by the police. He seems so happy, so serene, so completely fulfilled with the person he is. Nina herself even seemed quite delighted to be around him, pointing out his quirk of putting five sugars in his coffee, something he still keeps up. Still, there’s a contrast; Nina is on a different path, and she can’t stay in Frankfurt with this friend, and the show leads us to believe that this is the dynamic at play. Nina is not who Mr. Rosso thinks she is, and she can’t possibly return to being that person again.

Except the brilliance of “Five Sugars” is that THIS ISN’T WHAT IS HAPPENING AT ALL. The first real sign that something is off doesn’t come until the halfway mark. The portrait of Nina’a life working at Mr. Rosso’s Italian restaurant seemed so idyllic, though now, in hindsight, even the most banal scene is dripping in context and terror. Like the scene where Nina is trying to cook pasta and she learns how unbalanced she is, only for Mr. Rosso saying that it only takes more training. Both of these concepts are part of the motif that’s actually at play. And it was when Nina revealed that she was taking shooting lessons—ones that were deeply triggering to her and the murder of her adoptive parents—the cracks start to form. Oh my god, when Mr. Rosso paused after Nina told him the truth of why she needed the afternoons off? NOW I KNOW WHY. Oh my god, how long did he truly suspect that Nina wasn’t who she said she was?

The final five minutes of this episode… fucking hell, y’all. Like I said on video, I appreciate how meticulous Monster can be. So many details were broadcasting the truth to me, and it’s all tied up when we find out why Nina actually sought out Mr. Rosso: because she suspected he was a professional hitman who escaped any accountability, and she wanted him to teach her how to cool. Just like that, we’re brought back into the nightmare of Johan and Nina’s determination to kill her brother. But Mr. Rosso’s story is stunning and deeply upsetting all on its own. In the flashback to his final assassination attempt, we see the man he spoke about: the one who was rich with experience and wealth, but who had no real appreciation for life. (Both living life and the life of others.) The motif of taste is used repeatedly throughout, both to signify Mr. Rosso’s lack of connection with the world around him and to give him the realization of this reality. It was as simple as watching his target put five sugars in his coffee. That one act broke through the compartmentalization he enacted and the brainwashing he’s been subjected to. 

This person was human. With a whole life. Who appreciated the taste of five sugars in his coffee. 

And it all leads to that gut-punch of a final line. Mr. Rosso doesn’t offer to teach Nina his skills, and she decides to move on to pursue her mission differently. But he does offer one bit of advice to her: if she’s going to kill someone, she better learn to forget the taste of sugar. She will have to stop seeing people as people, with full, vibrant lives. Will that be a challenge for her in regards to Johan? Maybe not. I’m not sure. But god, that line is so HAUNTING, isn’t it?


The video for “Five Sugars” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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