It was literally a series of Earth-shattering events, the very ground splitting open and letting loose prehistoric monsters whose revealed existence shocked and terrified those who were unfortunate enough to be close to the sites of their emergence, first the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, officially documented as an earthquake when it occurred in 1999, then in 2014 Janjira again, Honolulu in Hawaii, Las Vegas in Nevada and finally San Francisco in California when the “ancient alpha predator” emerged from the ocean to do battle with its parasitic enemies.
A schoolteacher from San Francisco, Cate Randa was on the Golden Gate Bridge when it was almost brought down in the attack, witness to something which remained fixed in her mind beyond the towering monster which stood impervious to missiles, the logo worn by a number of observers who seemed almost to be expecting the tragedy they documented, members of a near-secret organisation called Monarch who since the earliest nuclear experiments of the nineteen fifties have been aware of a race of forgotten giants who once ruled the Earth and have kept that information from the population.
Principally set in 2015 with flashbacks as far back as 1952, the window in which Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is set encompasses in its frame only the first two films in the “Monsterverse,” Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla of 2014 and Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island, released in 2017 but set in 1973 and introducing the character of Bill Randa as played by John Goodman who briefly reprises the role in the prelude of the opening episode, Godzilla: King of Monsters and Godzilla vs Kong taking place in a future not yet happened.
The world having experienced a collective trauma which everyone is simply expected to swallow and get on with their lives, for Cate (Anna Sawai) the measures which have been put in place are superficial, “the illusion of safety” of the evacuation routes and shelters, the armaments in central Tokyo meant to protect the population should a monster rampage through their streets, another shock waiting at the apartment which belonged to her recently deceased father the discovery that he had a second family of which she knew nothing.
Her half-brother Kentaro (Ren Watabe) similarly astonished and taken aback, looking into the double life of their father Hiroshi leads to other secrets which link back to their grandparents Bill and Keiko Randa and their best friend Leland Lafayette Shaw III, Colonel Shaw (Kurt Russell) now retired and simply known as “Uncle Lee,” all of them tied to the work of Monarch, the clandestine organisation now alerted to Cate and Kentaro’s interest and keen to intercept them and obtain whatever documents they have in their possession.
The opening episodes both written by Chris Black who developed the show in collaboration with Matt Fraction and directed by Matt Shakman, Aftermath and Departure are best viewed as one, the second providing helpful context and clarification of the relationships seen in the first with the first meeting of Lieutenant Shaw (Wyatt Russell) and Doctor Keiko Miura (Mari Tamamoto) in the Philippines in 1952, later encountering cryptozoologist William Randa (Anders Holm) as they search the jungle for traces of radioactive isotopes which lead them improbably to the wreck of the USS Lawton.
Resting on dry land five thousand miles from where it sank west of Pearl Harbour nine years before with Randa the only survivor, Departure deepens the mysteries and breaks the inertia of Aftermath which is almost awkward in its cautious pacing and necessary contrivances such as Cate recognising a figure in the distance in a blurry black and white photograph found in a cache of Monarch documents as her grandmother, a woman who died decades before she was even born.
Monarch: Legacy of Monsters so far not so much about the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms themselves as the impact they have caused on the lives of those who have encountered them, the legacy is that of Bill Randa and his secrets, his two families seeing only the first ripple in the water of what is passing beneath and about to break the surface, Cate unaware of what she is unlocking when she turns the key to her father’s apartment.
Randa and Miura travelling on back roads with Geiger counters looking for patterns to lead them to a truth in the same way as sixty years later their grandchildren will piece together the evidence of their research which they have left behind, the parallels and duality of the two narrative strands are emphasised in the opening titles, echoes and reflections across the eras, imprints of giant footprints which linger into the future, the frayed threads at the edge of a tapestry whose overall formation is as yet unglimpsed.
With ten episodes confirmed for the first season, the standard for hour long episodic drama on Apple TV+ as with For All Mankind and Foundation, despite the heavyweight promise of the name Monarch: Legacy of Monsters does not have the immediate impact of either of those shows which set the current benchmark for televised fantasy, but drawing on the strongest and most grounded of the Monsterverse movies it has potential to dig deep even if the confines it has set for itself would seem to preclude expansion into the possibility that “every country has a monster.”