Monarch’ & ‘For All Mankind’ conclude on high notes

Posted 1/17/24



The previous week's weather had me housebound, so no trips to the movie theater for me. Instead, I bunkered down and caught up on streaming series, as two shows ended their …

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Monarch’ & ‘For All Mankind’ conclude on high notes




The previous week's weather had me housebound, so no trips to the movie theater for me. Instead, I bunkered down and caught up on streaming series, as two shows ended their seasons and another made its premiere.

The first season of "Monarch: Legacy of Monsters" on Apple TV+ had no shortage of solid performers, but not all of the characters were written equally well. It often felt like the father-son duo of Kurt and Wyatt Russell were carrying this show on their backs, in their flawless portrayals of older and younger versions of monster-hunting soldier Lee Shaw.

After some narrative flab made the mid-season episodes a bit of a slog, the increasing pace of dramatic revelations ensured the season ended on a high note. In spite of the compelling twists, Monarch, as a fictional organization, is left in just as ill-defined a role within the American "MonsterVerse" as it was when this show started, especially with the introduction of another nebulously defined fictional organization, whose narrative functions largely overlap Monarch's.

Moreover, as much as I've enjoyed the acting work of Kiersey Clemons, Joe Tippett and Tamlyn Tomita, I doubt we'll be seeing them in the MonsterVerse's future big-screen installments.

The just-completed fourth season of "For All Mankind," also on Apple TV+, proved far more effective in providing a coherent narrative arc, as Wrenn Schmidt's closing voiceover monologue as Margo Madison weaponized what could have otherwise come across as inconsistent characterization, by noting how many of its players were doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, and vice versa, which is why their allegiances and agendas could shift so quickly.

To the extent that the final episode of this season copped out by holding back on how negative the consequences of all those characters' conflicting gambles could get, it still felt earned by virtue of rewarding upbeat resolutions to certain characters whose patient suffering had earned them some happy endings.

Over four seasons, Krys Marshall has made Danielle Poole my favorite among the show's "old school" astronauts, with a dogged optimism and commitment to doing the right thing that almost comes across as defiant. She quotes classic "Star Trek" episodes to cut across dividing lines, and strives (albeit not always successfully) to persuade those around her to be their best selves.

Likewise, after consistently delivering watchable work in a succession of supporting roles, from "House" to "X-Men: First Class," it's been irresistible to see Edi Gathegi being afforded a showcase for the full range of his considerable acting talents as Dev Ayesa, who's at once the wunderkind and the enfant terrible of outer space exploration.

But it's Schmidt who has owned this season as the prickly, complex, emotionally closed-off Madison, whose ethics and intellectually driven compulsions reduce her to a woman literally left without a country. She gets an able, full-bodied assist from Coral Peña as Aleida Rosales.

I've appreciated Joel Kinnaman as an actor ever since AMC's "The Killing," but his Ed Baldwin has become too much of an embittered Ahab to be anything more than a designated protagonist at this point, whereas Margo Madison, who's trapped and damned by her own best intentions, is the beating heart and soul of "For All Mankind" Season 4, as much as Jodi Balfour's Ellen Wilson was for Season 3.

Since we're already talking about Apple TV+ shows, the third episode of the British police investigation series "Criminal Record" goes live on Jan. 17, armed with the formidable Peter Capaldi and Cush Jumbo playing its respective mutually mistrustful leads, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Daniel Hegarty and Detective Sergeant (DS) June Lenker.

When an anonymous call to report domestic violence is made to the police, it sets the aforementioned officers at odds when the caller also alleges that her abuser claimed to be the real killer in a 12-year-old murder case, for which another man was sentenced to 24 years.

The man sitting in jail has a West African background, and Lenker is a Black woman whose confrontation-averse white male boss cautions her about being overly emotional or aggressive, at least in his view. So the case is rife with racial tension even before Capaldi's Hegarty, who obtained the suspect's original confession, starts making spider-like manipulations behind the scenes to thwart Lenker.

Just as he was in "The Devil's Hour" on Amazon Prime Video, Capaldi is excellent at quietly radiating such dark, malignant energy that even his isolated moments of compassion — as when he praises Lenker for how she counseled a domestic violence victim over the phone — seem sinister in their own right.

Likewise, Jumbo's Lenker is relatable for how weary she's grown of the microaggressions and gaslighting in her workplace and chain of command, compounded by her white domestic partner, whose tendency to psychoanalyze the sources of her stress makes Lenker feel like he's diminishing the validity of her concerns.

"Criminal Record" has sustained a smartly taut level of writing so far, and has teased far more mysteries to be revealed than the single case at hand.