I want to gush about Monster. Really, I do. But… I can’t. Right now I’m 12 episodes in and in a lot of ways the plot is pretty predictable. That doesn’t mean it’s a complete waste of time, the show does do a decent job keeping the tension up. Still, plotwise it’s the equivalent to watching an action movie. You know what’s going to happen, the only question is how.
Okay, so there’s going to be some spoilers here, and if you haven’t watched this show, then go, go right now to wherever it is that you download shows from and download it. Now if you don’t believe me that it’s predictable, take a look at the general structure of the plot for this first part.
First, you get introduced to the protagonist, who is Dr. Tenma. The doctor gets confronted with a problem – he’s feeling like the people around him aren’t living up to his ideals. He gets a choice – to save or not save the life of a young boy. Now the show is called Monster, so it’s pretty safe to assume that since the boy has been shot in the head and the girl is in a coma that the boy will end up being the “monster”.
These patterns keep emerging throughout the show. Now they aren’t necessarily bad, and I would say the show can be enjoyed as a good, if conventional, thriller. But like every good thriller, it does have more to offer than just that.
On the Nature of Thrillers
I’m going to say something that quite a few people will disagree with, but great thrillers will leave you asking questions. First, I have to talk about the general plot structure of a thriller though. First you take an Everyman, they can be some joe off the street, they can be some low-level functionary, they just have to be someone who is not in power. Then you thrust them into a situation where the powers that be are all turned against them. They have to run. Eventually the situation gets resolved, the bad guys get punished, everyone lives happily ever after.
Now, what differentiates the enjoyable fluff from the great stuff is the situation that gets them into trouble in the first place. Take Minority Report as an example. The questions are raised because the psychics predict a murder that hasn’t happened yet. That raises a whole set of questions about guilt and innocence and whether committing the act is the same thing as someone who is going to commit an act.
To take that a step further, it opens up a lot of questions about eugenics. Is it right to judge someone by what they’re predetermined to do? Should criminal tendencies be bred out of people because it will make a better society? And so on and so forth. So while the plot is simple the questions it raises are important and interesting.
On a side note a great thriller is a lot like a great dystopia novel/movie. It leaves the viewer questioning their own beliefs and which side of the argument they’d be on.
Why Monster Surprises Me
The thing about Monster is that it rises above a movie like Minority Report because it doesn’t offer an easy answer. Whereas Minority Report states pretty much categorically that the future shouldn’t determine the present, Monster’s central question, “Is all life equal?” gets an even better and more gray treatment.
Case in point – In the beginning of the series, the bureaucrats running the hospital are shown as heartless and greedy. At one point Eva, the daughter of the hospital director, even states, “Not all lives are equal.”
More than anything else, this is the statement that drives Tenma into making his fateful choice. Now a normal thriller would stop here, or at the very least make the main conflict be between Tenma and the hospital staff.
But Monster takes it a step further, instead of simply answering the question, “Yes all life is equal” it pits Tenma against his own decision. Essentially reversing the answer to that question and stating, “No all life is not equal.”
And then proceeds to try to form a system by which you can judge the merit of a human being. Is it by good acts? Does one good act make up for a history of bad acts? Does one bad act negate a history of good acts? All of these are interesting questions, which I don’t know how the series will answer, or if it will answer them at all.
And that’s why even though Monster is a thriller at its very core, it’s a great thriller. And that’s all it needs to be.