Monk, Season 6

Most police detectives on television have certain things in common. They’re brash, determined, and sometimes unstable. There are some that have drinking problems. There are some that skirt the thin blue line. There are some who rely on the expertise of others to uncover clues and make connections. And then there’s Adrian Monk.

The Hero and the Fool

The titular character of his own series, Monk (Tony Shalhoub) is a most unusual detective. A former policeman, he suffers from debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder. He is neurotic about the arrangement, order, and shape of objects around him as well as the cleanliness of his surroundings. It is this pathological obsession with patterns and deviations to them that give him uncanny abilities to dissect crime scenes and come up with motive, method, and perpetrator all within the space of an episode. While his mental illness is perpetually depicted as his great failure, it is simultaneously and ironically his great strength.

Within the framework of his own series, Monk is a legend. He has appeared on numerous television specials detailing his exploits, and many people avoid or engage him because of his fame. For Monk, this coolness is a new toy he never had as a child, and he relishes in it. He generally avoids crowds and other people– not because he is afraid of them, but because he is afraid of whatever germs or disorder they might bring with them. This has isolated Monk from the world, as he only stays around those he trusts.

Because of all of that, Monk would not be functional without his assistant. Natalie, played by Traylor Howard, is his nurse, mother, and foil. More than just Watson to his Holmes, Natalie is Adrian’s interpreter. She explains his behavior and his meaning to the world, and attempts to lasso the world and bring it into his field of vision. She doesn’t always succeed, but her efforts endear her both to Monk and to the audience.

Monk is, for the large part, a fool. In classic drama, his antics would be seen as the nonsensical stylings of a clown. In truth, many of his follies and fears are exploited by the writers to produce humor. The show has a light-hearted feel even though every week at least one person dies. This contrasting tone with other procedural crime dramas allows this series not only to explore humor, by peppering in unusual characters and elements, but to more deeply examine the character’s conditions rather than society’s condition, which would be the case in other similar mystery shows.

A Time to Die

Monk’s mental state hasn’t always been so fragile. Previously, Monk had married a woman named Trudy. Trudy made Adrian truly happy, and during their marriage his neuroses seemed to melt away. His long time friend and partner, Captain Leland Stottlemeyer, played by Ted Levine, tells throughout the series that was the happiest he had ever seen Monk. When Trudy was killed in a car bombing, perhaps in retaliation to some case that then Officer Monk had worked, the news destroyed him.

Monk spent a long time trying to recover, while his friends pleaded for him not to withdraw into himself and be lost. Stottlemeyer and company came to hire a registered nurse, Sharona Fleming, to be his assistant. She was the first of two caretakers he would accept (the other being Natalie Teeger). It has to occur to any viewer, that through the bleakness of Trudy’s death and all the psychological trials he has faced since, including the death of his trusted psychiatrist, why is Monk still pushing? If he is really that weak and that vulnerable, why hasn’t he simply committed suicide, or allowed himself to be killed in one of the many instances in which his life was in danger?

The answer is simple, and Monk says why in several episodes. He can’t die until he solves the one case he hasn’t yet been able to. He can’t die until he knows who killed Trudy and why. This motivation is noble. It represents the desire for justice, but it sits under the specter of vengeance. If Monk found the person who killed Trudy, would he take that person’s life? If he discovered that he was in some way to blame, would he take his own? Those questions taunt Monk and his audience as he moves through his 100th episode in this, his sixth season.

The series’ progression has fielded Monk some growth as well as trials. He has made new friends with Natalie and Stottlemeyer’s new partner, Randy Disher. He made amends with his brother and father, and has had a long time to come to terms with Trudy’s passing. Whether or not these advancements are enough Monk to continue growing as a person and as a hero, and moving beyond his neuroses again is still up in the air. We look forward to getting those questions answered in the seasons to come.

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