This review contains spoilers.
Let’s face it, only former detective Adrian Monk can solve the cases he solves. If any random CSI tech could gather evidence at the crime scene or if they could run some perp’s fingerprints through a database or whatever it is they do, they wouldn’t need Monk. Consequently, the mysteries on Monk aren’t always air tight. Actual forensic evidence is usually in short supply. So I’ve often wondered if “the guy” could get a slick Law and Order type of defense lawyer and beat the rap or simply get off on a technicality. That issue is amusingly addressed in “Mr. Monk Takes the Stand”, the fifth episode in the eighth and final season of Monk.
The slick lawyer in this case is Harrison Powell played by Jay Mohr. He is charmingly and convincingly slimy in the role, but it’s always tough to watch someone be so mean to Monk. Mr. Mohr is well known for a lot of stuff including his current CBS series Gary Unmarried, which returns for a second season on September 23rd. However, I know him best from the short-lived 1999 Fox series Action, co-starring Jarrad Paul who played Monk’s now sadly deceased neighbor Kevin Dorfman.
Remember the adorable little tyke Jonathan Lipnicki in the 1996 film Jerry McGuire (which coincidentally co-starred Jay Mohr)? Well, he got big. He plays Rudy Smith, Lieutenant Disher’s “little buddy” in this episode. Now he’s a “dope smoking, chain snatching, little thug” He does a pretty good job too.
I’m a big courtroom drama fan: Perry Mason, L.A. Law, Matlock, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal. Great stuff. There’s just something inherently enthralling about it and it’s exciting to see Monk take that next logical step into the courtroom. In pre-season interviews Tony Shalhoub seemed excited about it too: “Monk goes up against a lawyer, a high powered defense lawyer, these two guys who have only had wins in their lives, going head to head. Jay Mohr is the co-star in that episode. He’s a super, super strong savvy defense attorney who’s never lost a case, who is defending a criminal Monk knows is guilty.”
“Harrison, it’s Adrian Monk. He’s never lost a case in his life.”
“Well, neither have I. This’ll be great.”
Every Monk fan waits with bated breath for the conclusion of each new episode and the here’s-what-happened. In this topsy-turvy episode that’s where it starts. Monk is just getting to the really good part with the black and white flashback of the crime committed by sculptor Evan Gildea (Joseph D. Reitman), when super defense attorney Harrison Powell arrives in his slick convertible and his pin striped suit to drag his client away before he can say anything too incriminating.
Some time, probably months, later Monk, Natalie, Stottlemeyer and Disher gather on the courthouse steps. They’re greeted by Charles Friedken (Robert Alan Beuth), the D.A. who’s prosecuting Gildea. He’s worried about going up against Powell who has never lost a case. Lt Disher tells him to “Relax, we’ve testified at a hundred trials.”
Monk corrects him. “One hundred and twelve.” Coincidentally, or probably not so coincidentally, this is the 113th episode of Monk. So that works out just about right. Harrison Powell shows up with his client and his cocky attitude. He’s not interested in the plea deal that the D.A. still wants to offer. He wants them to drop the case. “You can keep the police from looking like chimpanzees with guns,” he tells the Friedkin.
Stottlemeyer, Disher and Monk all know what that looks like. So do Monk fans, because we saw it in “Mr. Monk and the Panic Room”. (I wonder if Harrison Powell somehow knew about that little incident.) In the courtroom Stottlemeyer gives his testimony first. Nancy Gildea was killed on October 2nd. “The housekeeper had discovered the body,” he testifies.
Of course she did. If you’re a maid on Monk you’re either finding a corpse or being one.
With Stottlemeyer’s testimony we go back to what would normally be the first act of a Monk episode: the crime scene. Monk admires a pedestal as they enter Nancy Gildea’s house which is filled with various sculptures. Natalie points out the “real” art. Monk is unimpressed. “Oh, well, that’s junk.”
Lt. Disher says they believe it was a break in and Nancy was killed with a single blow to her medulla oblongata. Monk doesn’t think that the hole in the glass door is sufficiently large to have allowed an intruder to reach in and unlock the door. Disher runs a “field test” to be sure. “Ow, ow, ow, ow.”
The judge (Jamie Donnelly) interrupts Stottlemeyer’s testimony. She saw that Disher had both hands bandaged. Stottlemeyer gamely answers, “He’s very thorough.”
“You a lawyer now? A little Doogie Howser thing going on?
Disher, Natalie and Monk are waiting outside the courtroom. Natalie has the hiccups, which irritates Monk. She suggests Randy do something to scare her, but Monk picks up the slack. “Natalie, if you hiccup again I’m going to take Randy’s gun and shoot you.”
That does the trick. Randy recognizes a young man across from them. It’s Rudy Smith a boy he used to mentor in the “Big Buddy” program. He goes over to chat with Rudy, but they’re interrupted by a plains clothes detective (Garrett Davis) who moves Rudy jacket and reveals that Disher’s little buddy is handcuffed. He tells Disher that Rudy “robbed a store and killed a clerk.” He takes the boy away.
Inside the courtroom Stottlemeyer’s testimony continues and he describes how Monk discovered the first clue. Gildea used someone else’s sculpture to whack his wife with rather than his own which was closer to where the fight started.
Harrison Powell easily undermines his testimony. Getting Captain Stottlemeyer to admit they don’t know for sure where the fight started or if Gildea would in fact avoid using his own sculpture as a murder weapon. Stottlemeyer says it was just a theory which led them to more evidence. Powell promises to get to that “evidence” (accompanied by his air quotes) later. He repeats “Captain Stottlemeyer” in a mockingly respectful way each time he asks him a question and Stottlemeyer starts to get rattled.
Back in the hall, Randy’s upset that Rudy has gotten into so much trouble. He had promised the boy’s grandmother that he would look out for him. Stottlemeyer emerges from the court room angry and sweating. Natalie asks what happened. “He’s tough. That’s what happened. He kept coming at me like Muhammad Ali.”
Monk is next to testify. He goes in confidently. “Evan Gildea is the guy. We both know he’s the guy and in twenty minutes the jury’s going to know it too.”
“Wipes. Plural. Plural wipes.”
Monk’s confidence is soon shaken. Powell wants to review Monk’s testimony “All of it… every syllable, actually.”
Monk describes how they drove down to Santa Barbara to interview Evan Gildea the next morning. Gildea reveals his alibi: a large nude statue that he had been sculpting all night. Monk is unnerved by the statue. Unconsciously, he emits a constant high pitched squeak “Eeeeeeeeee eeeeeeeeeee….”
Remembering the incident he makes the same noise in the courtroom. When he denies it, the judge has the court stenographer (Marcia Moran) read it back, in possibly the funniest one line performance ever. Even in the court room Monk avoids looking at the statue, but Powell is insistent. It’s his clients alibi.
While Monk is being dismantled on the stand Randy talks with Rudy. He’s feeling guilty that he wasn’t a better influence. “I should have said, ‘Rudy, don’t kill anybody'”
Rudy says he did rob the store, stealing thirty dollars and a gold chain from clerk’s neck (a detail not in the police report), but he didn’t kill her. The clerk was alive when he left. When he swears to this while wearing the old friendship bracelet Randy has brought, Randy believes him.
Back in the courtroom a flustered Monk is trying to fix the microphone at the witness as everyone in the court waits. “You’ll thank me later.”
Powell tells Monk that the art experts say it would take at least twelve hours to sculpt a statue like that. Gildea claims that the marble the statue was carved from had been delivered the day before at 5:00pm and he has a receipt to prove it. He seems to have the perfect alibi, but Monk suggests he could have carved the statue at any time and hidden the marble delivered that day. Gildea points out that it’s hard to hide two tons of marble. An investigation of Gildea’s dusty kitchen reveals a melted Popsicle, a slow clock, and a dust free extension cord. Monk figures it out. Gildea used a jackhammer to turn the marble into gravel and spread it across his driveway. Monk thinks he blew a fuse while using the jackhammer. Which is why the Popsicle melted and why the clock was slow.
Powell ridicules the theory, asking Monk if he’s a science fiction writer. He brings in a “sample” of the gravel stating that if Monk is correct all the pieces should fit back together “Like a giant jigsaw puzzle.” (Of course, that’s absolutely ludicrous. First of all, it’s only a sample so the pieces that fit with pieces in the wheel barrow may well still be in Gildea’s driveway. Some of the marble would have been reduced to dust and the pieces would never fit together.) It’s nothing, but a theatrical stunt which the D.A. should object to, but instead Natalie does. When the judge wants to know who she is, Powell claims she’s Monk nurse.
“She is my assistant,” Monk tells the judge. “My nurse left five years ago.”
That bit of information gives Powell the opening he needs to impeach Monk as a witness, bringing to light his psychiatric discharge from the force and his efforts to regain his badge. “Former Detective Monk, isn’t it true that the only way you can get reinstated is to be appearing to be solving a high profile case, a high profile case just like this one?”
Monk loses it, jumps out of the witness box and tries to put the gravel back together. We cut to the end of the trial and the jury foreman (Doug Nabors) reads the verdict. “Not guilty.”
“And I still hate you”
On the front steps of the courthouse Evan Gildea tells reporters how much he loves the justice system. As Natalie wonders what they can do now. “Nothing,” Harrison Powell says as he stops by to gloat. Stottlemeyer explains that double jeopardy has attached “How do you sleep at night?” Natalie asks Powell.
“Like a baby… in a really expensive bed. Thanks for asking though.”
As Gildea drives away Monk notes that one of his tail lights is brighter than the other. “Give it up, buddy, “Stottlemeyer tells him. “It’s over. They beat us.”
Apparently the win is pretty good publicity for Powell. Next thing you know he‘s schmoozing with a talk show host (Shaun Robinson) and promoting his book, modestly entitled Undefeated.
The following day Monk is in a session with his psychiatrist Dr. Bell. He announces that he’s quitting. He’s worried that all any criminal has to do is hire Powell to get off scot-free. The Doctor tells him a long story… no, a parable… no, an allegory… a baseball allegory. In college Dr. Bell played baseball and there was pitcher who always struck him out, but he didn’t give up. He studied his opponent carefully. Eventually he learned his curve ball “tell” and hit a home run. Monk is not inspired. “I don’t want to be rude. Is that the end of the allegory?” He’s still quitting.
Natalie and Randy find him in his apartment later organizing files so that he can burn them. He tells them he’s quitting. Natalie won’t hear of it. Randy has a case for him. Rudy is being tried for murder as an adult. Randy believes he’s innocent and wants Monk to prove it. Monk thinks it’s a bad idea. “If I go with you and I see something then I might have to testify about it and if I accuse someone they could hire this Powell guy. They probably will.”
They go to the auto parts store where Rudy’s robbery occurred. Natalie encourages him to focus and do “the hand thing”, but Monk is still distracted by his failure in court and for each clue he finds he imagines and impersonates Powell questioning him about it. “Objection!” Natalie says. “Badgering… yourself.”
Randy reads the file aloud and mentions that the victim was killed by a blow to the medulla oblongata, exactly the same way as Nancy Gildea. “When did it happen,” Monk asks.
“About 10:00pm?” He’s right. Monk has it figured out and when they retrieve a burnt out tail light from the front of the store, they have enough evidence to pull in Evan Gildea for questioning once again.
“I’ve seen your curve ball. I can hit it now.”
Stottlemeyer and Monk have Evan Gildea in an interrogation room and The Captain is showing him the tail light. Evan reminds them that he’s been acquitted of killing his wife, but Stottlemeyer tells him he’s being questioned about a different murder, the murder of Sara Paddock, the auto parts store clerk murdered the same night. Monk is delighted to deliver the here’s-what-happened. “It feels good to say that again… especially to him.”
Monk explains that immediately after Gildea killed his wife, he discovered he had a burnt out tail light. Not wanting to be stopped by the police for it on his long drive back to Santa Barbara, he went to the nearest auto parts store to replace it. Unfortunately for him, he was there at the same time as Disher’s little buddy Rudy who was robbing the store. Once Rudy was gone the clerk told Gildea that there was a camera and the whole thing was on video. Knowing that the police would see him on that tape and know that he had killed Nancy, he grabbed a tire iron, killed the clerk and took the tape.
Understandably, Gildea wants to wait for his attorney. Powell arrives. When Monk’s sees him in the mirror he’s a little thrown. “Leland, he’s in my head again.”
“No, Monk,” Stottlemeyer reassures him. “Actually he’s here.”
Powell starts in right away with his bull dozer tactics, mocking Monk and his methods. As he’s shepherding his client out the door, it seems like he may just get away with it again. That is until his client makes a stupid mistake. Seeing Rudy in the squad room Gildea calls him a “dope smoking, chain snatching, little thug.”
Monk explains that since that information about Rudy wasn’t in the police report or in the papers the only way Gildea could have known about it was if he had been there. They’ve got him. Powell, still trying to intimidate Monk, says he’s looking forward to going up against him in court again. “No, you’re not,” Monk tells him confidently.
After Powell’s gone he’s not so confident. “He’s going to rip me apart” Monk says. The rest of the gang reassure him and helpfully advise him on his courtroom conduct.
“Just a thought, maybe work on not crying… I mean, quite so much… in front of the jury.”
Back in the courtroom once again, a new jury foreman reads the verdict, “Guilty.”
Gildea is convicted. Powell is humiliated. The dope smoking, chain snatching, little thug gets community service and Monk is vindicated. “I’m proud of you,” Natalie tells him. “You were the best witness ever.” She offers him a ride home. They walk out together, but after a moment he comes back alone to straighten the microphone at the witness stand. As he does so a beautiful, slow piano variation or the original theme song plays in the background.
After eight years, you’d think there weren’t many Monk stories left to tell, but they really shook things up with this one and yet still delivered a nice little mystery and some good character development for both Monk and Disher.
Head writer and co-creator Andy Breckman recently explained about the stories they have left to tell. “We’re sitting in the writers’ room and there are bulletin boards on all the walls with ideas that we’ve been throwing up there for eight years. For the last season we did go through those bulletin boards one last time to see if there were any great ideas that we’re forgetting, just like you go through your hotel room one last time before you check out to see if there’s anything in the drawers or in the bathroom that you’re forgetting. So we tried to make sure that all the good ideas were shoe-horned into these episodes.”
Next Week: “Mr. Monk and the Critic”
Tags: Monk, Tony Shalhoub