“Mr. Monk and the UFO” is the third entry in the eighth season of USA Network’s cornerstone series Monk. Since it is the final season it appears that Monk will be allowed to demonstrate a little personal growth. Tony Shalhoub discussed that aspect of the character in a recent interview: “I feel like Monk has become a little more open to others and embraces, to the degree that he can, other people’s points of view.”
This episode addresses that point directly. It’s about Monk making a conscious effort to be more of a “people person”. He’s out of his element in a number of ways, but ultimately we see Monk at his best and brightest as a result.
Daniel Stern guest stars in this week’s episode as Sheriff Fletcher. Stern has been sort of quietly famous for the past 20 years or so, but he is perhaps best known these days for his voice. He was the grown up Kevin Arnold who narrated The Wonder Years (a series for which he also directed) and he was the voice of Dilbert in the short lived series of the same name. He’s also known for his many films including Breaking Away, Diner, Home Alone, City Slickers, Celtic Pride and Very Bad Things. As the easy going Sheriff of Vintonville in “Mr. Monk and the UFO” he makes a very trustworthy and affable ally for Monk. Daniel Stern makes the character very easy to like.
The episode features a large and ridiculously diverse supporting cast, which may be the reason that Captain Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and Lt. Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford) are given short shrift. Stottlemeyer appears in only one scene and Disher is no where to be found. This is one of those rare episodes which takes place outside of the fictional San Francisco where Monk lives and, since Vintonville has its own law enforcement, the SFPD gets a few days off. The killer also gets less than the usual share of screen time (only one scene and the flashback) and although the murder and the UFO get tied together in a neat little bow, it’s not as important as Monk’s actual and metaphorical journey through the desert to gain a little enlightenment.
“You’re mad at me. I’m a detective. I can tell.”
Natalie and Monk are on the road late at night, somewhere in Nevada, and she’s giving him the silent treatment… but not for long. She scolds him for his anti-social behavior with her friends who they’ve just been to visit. “Couldn’t you have at least tried?” she asks. He tells her he’s just not a “people person”. The argument is cut short when their car breaks down on a lonely, deserted bridge. Natalie attempts to make repairs, gives Monk a cell phone and asks him to call for help. He can’t get a signal and as he wanders away from the car in search of one, he looks up into the night sky and sees what can only be described as a UFO.
“Maybe they’re there to take him home. Maybe that’s his ride.”
The next morning Monk is obsessing over the “some sort of aircraft” he saw, while Natalie is getting the bad news about her car from the local mechanic, Boom Boom. He tells her it will cost $300 to repair. Monk questions him about military bases or weather stations in the area and reluctantly confesses to having seen a “flying saucer”. The mechanic is unfazed having once seen a ghost. When Monk implies that Boom Boom is stupid and then compounds the insult by telling him he’s “car smart”, the cost of the repairs skyrocket to $800.
Natalie calls Captain Stottlemeyer (in his one and only scene) to let him know where they are. She tells him they’re in Vintonville, Nevada which “isn’t actually on any maps” and she tells him that Monk has seen a UFO. The Captain jokingly suggests that the UFO could be there to pick Monk up. “That would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?” he says.
Meanwhile Monk goes to the local sheriff’s office to report what he’s seen. Sheriff Fletcher is busy with a woman, Dolly, who is suggesting that something may have happened to her missing friend and neighbor, Marge Larkin. Monk waits while the sheriff tells her there’s no reason to worry yet and no sign of foul play.
Once she’s gone Monk reports what he has seen, but tries not to call it a UFO. The sheriff gently suggests it might have been dry lightning, but Monk is sure of what he saw even if he’s not willing to label it. The sheriff believes him if only because a close encounter might relieve the boredom. He’s only got two cases: a rabid raccoon and kids knocking over mail boxes. “This is a busy week for me,” the sheriff tells Monk facetiously. The poor guy has no idea how busy it’s about to be. Monk is the Jessica Fletcher of the West Coast. Everywhere he goes someone winds up murdered. So you just know Dolly’s friend Marge doesn’t stand a chance.
Monk and Natalie are returning to the Sleep Inn that night with a bag full of cleaning supplies. They’re greeted by Sleep Inn employee Dickie. As Natalie explains to him that only one bag of cleaners is a gold star in Monk’s book, Monk sees the UFO again. This time Natalie sees it too and so does Dickie, who whips out his cell phone and gets it on video.
“Ah, the Internet People.”
When Monk wakes up at the Sleep Inn the next morning, he yawns, stretches, turns on the lights, opens the curtains and sees what appears to be the classic green alien standing in the parking lot. Unable to process this, he calmly returns to bed and repeats the process no doubt hoping it was all a dream. When he looks outside again he sees three aliens, or rather three alien wannabes as he soon discovers. The Sleep Inn is crawling with UFO enthusiasts, who’ve seen the UFO video footage on the internet. When Monk and Natalie emerge from the hotel, they’re confronted by the eager mob who want to know, among other things, if Monk has been probed. Their impromptu interrogation is cut short when someone announces that the landing site has been found.
Monk tries to investigate the site hoping to prove that what he saw was not a UFO, but the “internet people” prove to be too great of a distraction. When Natalie gives Monk a wipe and explains Monk’s thing about germs, they become suspicious. One of them notes that “he’s not sweating” and although Monk attributes this to a “glandular thing” it’s enough evidence for the fanatics to question his planet of origin. His refusal to expose his belly button is proof enough for them that Monk is in fact an alien.
The hostility of the UFO people is nothing compared to Boom Boom’s, particularly after Monk lamely attempts to apologize. He tells them the repairs will take at least another day. Meanwhile the fanatics are still searching around the “landing site” and discover the body of Dolly’s missing neighbor Marge.
Natalie and Monk are hanging around a fruit stand. As he sorts citrus fruit and she considers the possibility Monk might be an alien, the sheriff arrives and asks for Monk’s help. The coroner thinks Marge died in a hiking accident, but the sheriff’s not so sure. After examining her faceless body (apparently the coyotes got to her) at the coroner’s office, Monk concludes that she was murdered.
“Make him show you his belly button!”
Monk, Natalie and the sheriff go to Marge’s house to search for clues and they’re greeted by Marge’s brother, Kyle Larkin. He tells them that he and his sister were estranged and that he has recently filed bankruptcy because his business failed. “Do you need a deputy?” he asks Sheriff Fletcher.
Monk concludes that Marge was killed in the house and the body was later dumped. He wants to examine the site in the desert where the body was found. They hear a commotion outside. It’s the UFO aficionados waiting for him. Convinced he’s an alien, they’re now treating Monk like a rock star. They bombard him with questions. “What is love?”
“What is the frequency?”
“Can we touch you?”
The sheriff hustles him away.
Monk, Natalie and the Sheriff go to the spot in the desert where the body was found. They hear a vehicle in the distance, but they don’t see it. At first they think it’s the internet people coming to harass Monk, but then shots are fired and the sheriff catches one in the leg. “You’re bleeding!” Natalie tells him.
“It’s probably from the bullet.”
The shooter also takes out the tires and the radio on the sheriff’s jeep leaving the trio stranded.
“Let’s review the situation, shall we? We’re in the desert. No car. No radio. And coyotes, face eating coyotes. And things that eat the face eating coyotes. And things that eat the things that eat the….”
Despite Monk’s pessimism about their situation it’s decided, primarily by Natalie, that he should go for help while she stays to help the injured sheriff. In the next scene we see Monk beneath the blazing desert sun, dust swirling around his feet, carrying a canteen. He falls to his knees exhausted… only thirty feet away from Natalie and the sheriff and the jeep. Once he’s really underway, a very disoriented Monk stumbles across evidence on the desert floor. He talks to himself. “It’s evidence. Let’s take it with us.”
It’s not long before Monk has not just one, but two buttons undone on his shirt… and he’s out of water… and he’s sweating… and he’s covered in dirt. “You win, dirt,” he shouts. “Congratulations, dirt. Well played.”
He now regrets not being a “people person” and he longs to see people again. He’s reached the bargaining stage, promising to be good, nice and empathetic. “I’ll be the empathetic detective” he says, but when he walks over a ridge and sees the UFO fanatics gathered below, his new found empathy is put to the test: “Not these people,” he whines.
He collapses in the dirt.
“He knew the internet people would come. They believe anything.”
After a break for a Little Monk sneak peek, Monk awakens in what I’m sure is a very comfortable Sleep Inn bed, asking for floss. Natalie, the sheriff and the coroner are waiting for the here’s-what-happened. He explains that Marge’s brother Kyle, killed her for her money and then dumped her in the desert to make it look like a hiking accident. When the coyotes dragged her away he was afraid the body might never be found and consequently he wouldn’t be able to get her money. He built a remote controlled UFO model to lure the fanatics there, hoping they would find the body.
In an effort to fulfill his people person promise Monk gently tries to explain to the internet people that the UFO wasn’t real. He encourages them to “Live life, you know, find employment.”
Natalie congratulates him on his sensitivity, but the enthusiasts aren’t buying it. They think it’s a cover up. So to accommodate their expectations, Monk admits he is indeed an alien.
“Leave me alone or I will destroy your whole planet.”
A few days later, home again in San Francisco, Natalie arrives at Monk’s to tell him he’s made the papers and Kyle has confessed to everything (which is great because the evidence was a little weak.) As Monk dusts a top shelf in the kitchen, Natalie surreptitiously tries to verify that Mr. Monk does have a belly button. He’s not about to let that happen. “I am as human as anything in this room,” he assures her.
Natalie’s still curious and pursues him teasingly, but more aggressively. He hides in the bathroom, but pokes out his head to tell her, “Leave me alone or I will destroy your whole planet.”
It’s a delightfully playful ending to another great Monk episode. Season eight seems to be the writers’ wish list season, where they get to do all those thing they’ve waited years to do, but as Tony Shalhoub has said, “We certainly don’t want to go too long and have the quality start to wane and just limp to the finish line. We want to go out while we still feel we’re doing great work, delivering strong episodes. We want to go out on a high.”
I’d say, so far, well played.
Tags: Monk, Tony Shalhoub