Monk – Episode 8-8 Review

Tony Shalhoub, Hector Elizondo, Tim Bagley
Tony Shalhoub, Hector Elizondo and Tim Bagley

Major spoilers. I mean it.

It’s here: the halfway point. “Mr. Monk Goes to Group Therapy” is the eighth of sixteen episodes in the eighth and final season of Monk. I’m sure it’s completely subjective, but it seems like they’re going by far too quickly and each episode seems shorter than the last. Crazy, I know: eight years of anything else (curtains, jobs, elected officials, people) is way too much for me, but I’m just not ready to let go of Monk. That each episode so far this season has been memorable, sharp, and amusing, doesn’t help in my letting go process.

I could easily have watched an hour more of “Group Therapy”, especially since the wrap-up seemed oddly rushed. The episode itself concentrates more on Monk and his relationships than it does on the crime of the week. In particular it deals with the relationships between Monk and the two recurring characters on the show, Dr. Bell (Hector Elizondo) and Harold Krenshaw (Tim Bagley).

Dr. Neven Bell has been Monk’s therapist since the beginning of season seven, when his first psychiatrist, Dr. Kroger, died suddenly off screen. He’s been a reassuring presence that Monk the character needed badly and veteran actor Hector Elizondo (now 72 years old) has been a reassuring presence that Monk the show badly needed after the loss of Stanley Kamel who played Dr. Kroger. It was a difficult transition for Tony Shalhoub in particular. “When I’m in these scenes with Hector Elizondo who plays Dr. Bell, I sort of do this internal toast, as it were, to Stanley Kamel, because he was the original doctor and I like to think that he’s kind of there in those sessions with me. He is missed.”

Harold Krenshaw is Monk’s fellow patient and nemesis since his first appearance in the season three episode “Mr. Monk and the Girl Who Cried Wolf.” This is the ninth episode featuring Tim Bagley as Harold. “I don’t know why they keep calling Harold Krenshaw back,” Tim told me in an interview this past spring, “but I’m thrilled when they do.” He also added, “I think we can all agree that Harold could use some help from Dr. Bell.”

Agreed and Monk can always use some help from Tim Bagley and Harold Krenshaw.

There’s one more actor in this episode making a return appearance on the show: Amy Aquino. She plays fellow group therapy patient, Rhonda. She also played the ill-tempered applicant in “Mr. Monk and the Red Herring” who told Monk he didn’t need a nurse and set his waste basket on fire right before Natalie walked into his life. She still has a sharp tongue as Rhonda, but her character doesn’t fare so well this time around.

It’s a fun and out of the ordinary episode, but it was a little rough on star Tony Shalhoub. “Last night I spent six hours in the trunk of a car with Tim Bagley who plays Harold Krenshaw,” he said during filming. We get abducted and jammed into a trunk. The day before that I was in a swimming pool fully clothed, you know, up to my shoulders. The writers always seem to find really unglamorous places for me to wind up.”

“I guess he’s cute… for a shrink”

A beautiful young woman (Joelle Carter) is taking her third bath of the day, during a drought, and chatting with her mother on the phone. She talks about her therapist Dr. Bell. The phone call is cut off. Her cat pushes open the door, frightening her. She wonders who let the cat in, getting out of the tub to investigate. An unseen intruder moves out of the shadows and forces his way into the bathroom.

The next morning the pool guy (Alex Castillo) makes a gruesome discovery: The bathtub woman (who we later learn is Barbara O’Keefe) is now floating in the pool naked-ish and dead. The maid/housekeeper finally catches a break in this episode: somebody else gets to find the body.

Weeks later Natalie brings Monk his mail, which he advises her to throw away. She opens it anyway while scolding him about wasting water by washing a single plate. Apparently there’s a drought and the reservoir is almost empty. (We don’t really have any reservoirs in San Francisco per se. Most of the city’s water comes from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir up in Yosemite. However, in Monkland apparently there is a reservoir where one might hide a body… at least during the rainy season.) One of the letters is from Monk’s HMO. He knows that can’t be good news. “What do you think? I won a free colonoscopy?”

No, not a colonoscopy. It’s a cap on the number of counseling sessions they’ll cover. Even though that number is “seven times the national average”, not surprisingly Monk is about to exceed it. He has one session left.

“Fear of bees in blenders.”

When Monk next visits his therapist, Dr. Bell (Hector Elizondo) he comes prepared with a stack of index cards listing all his issues and phobia. After explaining the HMO issue to the doctor, and rejecting the notion that he pay the $200 fee himself, he suggests they “knock off” as many of his issues as they can in the one remaining session. With issues such as “fear of disappointing his father” and “sibling rivalry” and “fear of fear itself” it doesn’t look too promising. Dr. Bell suggests that he try group therapy which is covered by the HMO. Monk’s not crazy about that idea. “They don’t like me. I can’t do it.”

Instead of choosing the relatively sane option of group therapy, Monk decides to join/stalk Dr. Bell on his morning bike ride in the park, hoping for an open air session. Natalie tells him it’s a crazy idea, but she does all the pedaling on their tandem bicycle as Monk tries to engage Dr. Bell in a discussion about his mother. The doctor again advises him to join group therapy and he speeds away. Natalie can’t keep up with him and they tumble to the ground. Monk gives up: “Okay, I’ll join the group.”

“I’m gonna put a Kentucky Fried Chicken on your roof!”

The group therapy session has just gotten underway when Monk shows up. Rhonda (Amy Aquino) has just started complaining about her job at a medical supply store, when he pokes his head in. Dr. Bell introduces him. Group member Augie (Brad Grunberg) introduces himself by listing his phobias. Last, but not least, “And of course, you know, Harold.”

Apparently after Natalie let it slip that Monk was seeing Dr. Bell last season (“Mr. Monk Fights City Hall”) Harold Krenshaw (Tim Bagley) promptly insinuated himself and is now a patient of Neven’s, as he calls him. Monk takes this in stride (sort of) and prepares to sit, but Rhonda shrilly warns him not to take Barbara’s seat. “She was in our group. She died three weeks ago,” Dr. Bell informs Monk and Augie adds that she drowned in her pool.

Harold immediately tries to begin the little game of one-upmanship he likes to play with Monk, pretending he’s chummy with Dr. Bell and that he’s cured of germaphobia and claustrophobia. He makes fun of Monk needing an assistant, finally goading Monk into an argument. They begin to bicker viciously and Dr. Bell separates them.

Later in the grocery store check out line Monk complains to Natalie about Harold: “I hate him. He can go to hell” and the rest of the group, “All they did was drone on and on about their own lives” and Dr. Bell “He kept interrupting everybody telling little parables and stories.”

His whining is interrupted by Harold, who’s there to encourage him to quit. He points out another group member buying cleaning supplies in the next aisle, Xavier Danko (Karl Makinen), who has been cured and “left the nest” a few weeks before. Danko was obsessed with an “exotic dancer” named Tiffany, but he’s feeling much better now according to Harold. He wants to be cured like Danko and he thinks Monk is hampering that goal. Since Harold doesn’t want him there, Monk tells him he won’t be quitting the group.

Later (apparently several weeks later) Monk and Natalie are called to a crime scene, Stottlemeyer and Disher, in the first of only two scenes they get in this episode, escort them to a dead body in an apartment alley way. They’ve found a card with Dr. Bell’s name on it in the dead man’s pocket and they thought Monk might know him. He does. It’s Augie Wellman from his therapy group. He fell from the apartment roof and they think it might be suicide. Monk finds evidence that Augie was tied up. It was murder.

Disher has a theory. It’s a serial killer, killing off people according to their phobias. Monk points out that Augie wasn’t afraid of heights. He had arachnophobia. Disher amends his theory. He’s killing them with the opposite of their phobias. He immediately dubs him “The Opposite Killer”. Although Stottlemeyer points out that a spider is not the opposite of a tall building, Randy clings to his theory.

Monk is forming a theory of his own. He thinks it’s strange that two members of his therapy group have died within two months of each other. They go to the squad room to talk with the detective in charge of the first victim’s case, Lt. Dylan (Mike Rock). He tells them it looked like a drowning accident and the case is now cold. The body has been cremated. Looking at photos of the scene Monk notices there is no towel. “I wouldn’t go swimming first thing in the morning in October without a towel,” he says.

(I got news for you. You can’t go swimming first thing in the morning in July or any other month without a towel in San Francisco.) In any case he concludes that she was murdered. Since she wasn’t afraid of water, Disher still wants to credit “The Opposite Killer.” Stottlemeyer runs out of patience. “There is no opposite killer. If there were you would have been killed by a falling rocket scientist years ago.”

What really makes that scene for me is the reaction and look that Lt. Dylan gives Randy after that comment. Just another example of how well even the small roles are cast on Monk.

After the cops leave to investigate further, and never return again, Monk has a realization. “I think somebody is killing off my therapy group.”

When Natalie points out that he’s smiling, he tries unsuccessfully for a more somber tone. “You’re still smiling!” says Natalie.

“So Harold, how is it up there in Neven’s butt? You lonely? Getting scared of the dark?”

In Monk’s next group therapy session the few remaining members are pretty bummed about Augie’s death… even more so when Monk tells them he thinks Augie was murdered… and even more than that when he says Barbara may have been murdered too… and one of them could be the killer. “There is a possibility that one of you is not quite sane,” he says looking straight at Harold.

Harold picks up on this and immediately goes on the offensive, pointing out that Monk had motive (not wanting to share Dr. Bell with the group). He gets up and imitates Monk’s unique Zen hand moves. He accuses Monk of the crime and establishes that Monk also had the means, being a homicide expert, and the opportunity since he has no alibis for the times when Augie and Barbara were killed. Harold does his own outrageous and very funny here’s-what-happened and describes just how Monk could have killed them. Dr. Bell tells him it’s nonsense, but Harold seems to halfway convince Monk that it could be true.

Later at home he discusses it with Natalie, wondering if he could be the killer and not know it. He reminds her he’s had blackouts before. She firmly dismisses the notion and tells him to concentrate on the other group members. That’s a pretty short list now and after crossing off Harold (“God would never do that. It would make me to happy”) the only one left is Rhonda.

The go to see her at the medical supply store where she works, but they quickly find they can cross her off the list as well. She’s dead, apparently overcome by gas fumes from cleaning supplies. Monk thinks that’s just how he might kill someone. Natalie points out the supplies are not his brand, but he remembers that it was the cheap brand they saw ex-patient Xavier Danko buying. Just as Monk figures out that Danko’s the guy, Natalie faints from the cleaning fumes. He sits her next to an open window and hears someone in the store. Arming himself with prosthetic limbs he searches for the intruder, but Danko sneaks up behind him and knocks him out.

Monk wakes up in the trunk of a car with Harold Krenshaw!

“I still think it was you.”

Danko has thrown them both in the trunk of his Lincoln and he’s driving over the Bay Bridge. Monk and Harold scream for help, but they’re quickly distracted by who is touching who in the close quarters of the trunk. When they have sorted out Monk tells Harold “My side’s carpeted.”

Back at the medical supply store, Natalie regains consciousness and calls Stottlemeyer. That’s it. There’s no more of Natalie in this episode. I suppose we got a whole lot of Natalie in the two previous episodes, “Critic” and “Voodoo Curse” and I shouldn’t be greedy, but I was really expecting some sort of wrap up that included her and the rest of the gang after she made that call. It just seemed like a scene was missing.

When Harold goes into panic mode in the trunk, demonstrating clearly that he hasn’t conquered his claustrophobia, Monk calms him down. He confesses that he admires Harold for being out in the world despite having the same issues Monk does. Harold is still feeling claustrophobic. “I think we’ve been looking at this the wrong way,” Monk tells him. “These walls aren’t closing in on us. They’re protecting us. They’re keeping the bad stuff out.”

They both list the “bad stuff” including germs, harmonicas, nature, Harold’s mother and her new boyfriend… and Xavier Danko. They’re bonding and they both agree that the “group therapy thing really works.”

“It takes the police four minutes and 20 seconds to get here. Don’t ask.”

Now friends they cooperate, using a tire jack to break open the trunk. They get it open after Danko has stopped the car and left. When they crawl out they find that they’re at Dr. Bell’s house. Armed only with a croquet mallet and a tire iron, they break down his front door thinking Dr. Bell needs to be rescued. Turns out not so much.

Dr. Bell has super psychiatrist powers. Instead of trying to kill him, Danko is tearfully confessing. He explains to Monk and Harold that Danko killed Tiffany Bolt, the “exotic dancer” he was stalking, and dumped her body in the reservoir. When the drought hit he was afraid the body would be discovered. Since his therapy group could link him to the crime, he decided to kill them too.

Dr. Bell doesn’t reveal why Danko abandoned the plan when it was going so well. Presumably Neven is a very smooth talker. Since he’s already called the police and seems to have Danko well in hand, Monk and Harold sit sown for an impromptu session. They want to share their breakthrough. “I definitely think we can cross claustrophobia off both of our lists,” says Monk.

Still distraught, Danko interrupts to ask Dr. Bell is he believes in God. Harold stops him. “Excuse me my friend was just talking. We didn’t interrupt you.”

Monk smiles. He has a new friend and he needs all the friends he can get.

“This is a good group”

In Monk’s next “group” session he and Dr. Bell are alone in the office with a lot of empty chairs. Of course, most of the group is unfortunately dead. Monk asks where Harold is and Dr. Bell tells him Harold has found another Doctor so that Monk can have the sessions all to himself. “A friend like that is a blessing,” he says.

Monk is very happy to return to the status quo and that the sessions are still covered by his HMO.

Doctor Bell will be making at least one more appearance, but it looks like this is the last of Harold. It’s a shame. I would have liked to see the new friendship grow. I think Tim Bagley knew that the relationship could go in that direction. He once said: “I see Harold Krenshaw as a very sad little needy man who sees a lot of himself in Adrian Monk, and instead of being best of friends with him, he chooses to compete, and undermine, and loathe him.”

It’s nice to see they’re not afraid to redefine the relationships and take some chances in the final season.

Next Week: Happy Birthday, Mr. Monk

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