In the seventy-fourth and final episode of Monster, the end arrives. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish Monster.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of trauma, alcoholism.
Holy shit, I DID IT.
So much of “The Real Monster” deals with the notion of the aftermath. That was one thing I wondered about in the last review: How would any of these people return to a fraction of the normalcy they once had? But the truth is that humans are, as this episode notes, built in a very interesting way. We have an incredible resilience in us, and I know that personally. I can’t count how many times my life felt so horribly disrupted that I began to question if I’d ever get back on track again. (Unfortunately, I’m currently in the midst of a double dose of such pain and chaos.)
And now that this nightmare—spanning multiple decades and countries—has come to an end, what does that mean for those who survived it?
Well… life goes on, doesn’t it?
Karl and Schuwald are both survivors of Johan, one of them in a more literal sense. Their readings continue, and at the very least, they still have one another, which is a strange silver lining to all of this. If it weren’t for Tenma getting involved, would either of them be alive at this point? So I understood why Schuwald sounded so wistful when he spoke about Tenma. He is alive because of him! Look how very many lives were touched by Tenma over the course of Monster. I can’t help but think of that episode when Tenma was finally arrested and news of it spread. All those people will get the confirmation of what they already knew: that Dr. Tenma is a good person, and he was innocent the entire time.
A lot of the closure provided by “The Real Monster” doesn’t come from interactions with Tenma, though. Indeed, I’d argue the opposite is the case with Eva Heinemann, who finally is able to move on from her grief and anger. I was really happy to see her growth over this series, as she had one of the most complex and challenging arcs on the entire show. Here, we see her in what looks to be her final session with Dr. Reichwein. Gone is the combativeness and the quick defenses we had gotten used to. Instead, Eva is open. Open to a life without alcohol. Open to a life where she is earning money for herself. Open to a life where she can mourn the loss of Martin, open to a life where she isn’t held back by the choices she once made. She gets an arc that ends in hope, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.
From a craft perspective, I also found it brilliant that Eva gave up that notebook, since it was a neat character detail. It also provided exposition to the audience: We got to see through those clippings how Lunge and Tenma dealt with the hearings and legal proceedings after the massacre in Ruhenheim. Two birds with one stone, eh?
Still, there’s not all hope here. Whew, y’all, that scene where Suk, Vardemann, and Lunge visited Grimmer’s grave? AN INCREDIBLE PUNCH IN THE HEART. I love that Vardemann worked to clear Grimmer’s name, even after death, and that the duffel bag Grimmer carried around helped in that. Then Lunge had to go and remind me of his promise and IT WAS TOO MUCH. But there was one detail that I found the most emotional here. Even if Vardemann couldn’t determine what Grimmer’s name really was, he was granted a name in death. He was a whole person with a remarkable story of heroism and nobility. In choosing to be good and resisting the training and trauma that was forced on him, Grimmer made a name for himself.
So does Nina. I love that we discover that Tenma eventually discovers what Nina and Johan’s original names were (more on that conversation later), but in Nina’s story, that doesn’t matter. No, what’s important is that Nina has reclaimed her life, and she’s done so by making a name for herself. She continued in her studies and turned in one hell of a final paper, which means that she GRADUATED while dealing with this whole nightmare. Graduated! And she wants to become a LAWYER. Oh my god, I love it so much, y’all. Even her professor recognizes that Nina is going to go out into the world and save a lot of people.
I feel like that’s so central to what Monster has been about: human goodness. We’ve seen so very much awful, but there are such incredible acts of kindness, humility, and good will in the show, too. Tenma’s core struggle was over this issue, too. Could he use his hands to harm another, or were they always destined to heal? Well, he harmed Roberto that one time (still one of the most electrifying scenes in the whole show!!!), but in the end, he chose to help, even when that meant saving Johan again. Yet in the finale, with the help of Heckel, he is able to track down an impossibility: Anna, the mother of Nina and Johan. The scene is one of the most powerful in the entire series, and for good reason! I had assumed she had died, and seeing her interact with the person who spent so much time with Nina and Johan—and also helped both of them survive—was immensely meaningful. It’s also such a good gesture to visit her and to wait to talk to her about her children until she was ready. (At least that’s how I interpreted that early line of dialogue.)
Once she was ready to open up, though… holy shit, y’all. I liked that the show gave her the agency to choose to not forgive Klaus Poppe in the end, even though it could have. It’s a fascinating contrast to Nina’s struggle with forgiveness, though of note: Nina might be trying to forgive Johan, but she’s not in his life anymore. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. So for Anna, she can live a life separate from her children, too. She can be appreciative of what Tenma did for her family. But I feel as though we’re meant to understand why she hasn’t visited Nina or Johan once we see the final scene. Because I think that it’s very likely that Anna is dealing with guilt.
I say that knowing that it’s possible that Tenma’s vision or hallucination or whatever the hell that wasn’t actually real. However, I think it really does explain that gesture she made. She was forced into a Sophie’s choice when Klaus and Peter Capek came to take one of her children. And I don’t know the answer to Johan’s question! Did she choose Nina, or did she know that Johan was dressed as his sister? How much of that affected Johan in the years to come? Did it always bother him?
I don’t know. I personally don’t mind the open-ended conclusion here. Did Johan escape? Maybe. Will he choose a different life? Begin the cycle all over again? I don’t know that either. The ambiguity is totally fine with me, but I do feel like this finale (and perhaps the show as a whole) is a little… soft on Johan? What about all the lives he ruined? Ended? Took? Manipulated? Exploited? Is he never held accountable for any of that? It doesn’t even feel like Dr. Tenma holds him to the fire either. I thought the implication here was that Johan had not woken up since the operation, so maybe that’s why? Still, it felt off. If this show is about human goodness and evil, does it also say that Johan was never the real monster? Was it Klaus Poppe? Capek? The system that allowed all these people to go missing or for children to be kidnapped?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say this finale exonerates Johan. I don’t think it does that. But after the damage done, it feels like he gets off easy, you know?
Anyway, I hope it’s been clear how much I’ve enjoyed this bizarre, challenging show. The things it did with narrative arcs! With expectations! With parallel storytelling!!! It was such a fantastic ride. If you haven’t seen the Master Schedule lately, we will be moving on next week to season one of Russian Doll first, before then officially moving on to Jane the Virgin, which has long been one of the most requested shows for me to watch. There are still episodes left to be claimed of Jane the Virgin if you’re interested.
Thank you for joining me on this journey through Monster. Onwards!
The video for “The Real Monster” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
– You can now pre-order my second YA novel, Each of Us a Desert, which will be released on September 15, 2020 from Tor Teen!
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