Axis, Mundi…As Above, So Below? Portals and the Penultimate ‘Monarch’…

'Monarch' has always been about generational legacy - but now it's all about to get timey-whimey...

Following the implosion at the reactor, a handful of survivors make it out alive with the presumption that everyone else is dead – killed by falling rubble and plunged down through the collapsing portal in the Hollow Earth. The Monarch organisation and the survivors try to live with the cost.

But those who fell through the portal appear to have survived and two things eventually become clear in this new, potentially fatal environment. One of the survivors has been here before and someone else has been here all along…



Monarch: Legacy of Monsters arrives for the last episodes of the run with an entry that will likely divide audiences depending on what they want from the show.  Axis Mundi (which can refer to the mythological term for a space between heaven and Earth and, in astronomy, is the Latin term referring to the axis of Earth between the celestial poles) has an emphasis that is definitely on legacy, rather than monsters and though the VFX department is certainly kept busy, anyone looking for frantic, kinetic, monster-mashes will likely come away disappointed. This is definitely a ‘relationship’ episode, especially the idea of the legacies you leave for coming generations.

We saw the Khazakstan portal collapse at the end of the last episode, but, though it looked like wholesale devastation, inevitably, most of our ‘lost’ characters survive. Monarch’s scientist Tim (Joe Tippett), Duvall (Elisa Lasowski) and Kentaro (Ren Watabe) survive and make an off-screen exit from the militant area, travelling to Tokyo to recuperate (and believing that their comrades have been killed). Kentaro feels that in one mighty swoop, he’s lost a sister he’s only just found and his ex-girlfriend. Shaw (Kurt Russell), Cate (Anna Sawai) and May (Kiersey Clemons) wake-up in the Hollow World Below and immediately find the problems of surviving and locating each other in the hostile environment. Shaw takes it all in his stride, May is understandably in shell-shock and barely able to put one foot in front of the other. Cate is… nowhere to be found… for the moment.

Shaw, we find out, has been here before. We see the events in Kansas, 1962 when he was part of a team sent in a pod through a portal – determined to find answers after the loss of Keiko. (You’ll remember that back in 1959 / the first episode we saw her fall into a Portal with all the Titan beetles, leaving her immediate fate – and that of Bill and the younger Shaw – unclear. We knew from previous connected stories that Bill and Shaw would survive, but we see that Keiko was officially presumed dead and mourned by them (and her son Hiroshi). As portals can’t normally be breached from our world, but Titans can past through, the plan is to bait a trap for a Titan, lure it to near the surface and then turn off the lure and have the human pod piggy-back down the shaft. As you’d expect from such a perilous idea, things don’t go much better for Shaw on the 1962 mission than they do later. A pulse wrecks the mission command center and leaves the pod plummeting into the World Below… with some immediate casualties.

There was definitely a selling point in casting both Wyatt and Kurt Russell as different incarnations of the same character but though we see both in this outing, it’s easy to feel there’s a missed opportunity here. We discover why elder Shaw looks so good for his age… apparently the journey into the portal and the World Below in 1962 either stopped his aging or his departure moved him forward from the early 60s to the mid-80s in what seems to be one momentary jump – though the hows and whys are still unknowns to both us and him. (It’s ironic that Wyatt Russell’s last notable role was as John Walker the would-be Captain America replacement in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a character seeking to replace  – unsuccessfully – a time-displaced icon). But we see Wyatt/Shaw subsequently put into the ‘retirement home’ after his experiences and then kept mostly sedated before we transition into it being Kurt Russell – which seems like those twenty years have been glossed over… little more than ‘he fell asleep’, robbing us of more interesting connective tissue. It’s actually the character of Hiroshi – who is an infant who has lost his mother in one version, the older version who confronts the returned Shaw (Wyatt) about him ‘deserting him’ when the latter ‘lands’ in the 1980s and the bigamist explorer who is confronted himself by Kentaro in the present – that provides the greatest throughline.  That’s a lot of wibbly-wobbly timey-whimey to keep straight.

Perhaps the last moments of the episode were inevitable. The Hollow World Below – a nicely-enhanced forest scene, full of swirling lights, ethereal atmosphere and dangerous static-electricity (but somewhat hand-wavery to make sure it doesn’t clash with anything that appears in the next Kong/Godzilla film)  – looks nice, though we’ll see how much it plays into everything or how much it’s contrived for one purpose. Mysterious otherworld realms have a history of having time work in different ways and it often felt like the time-zone separation and the stories’ structure would eventually be breached (as part of the story or another visual) just for the sake of getting the different generational casts together. Certainly, the appearance of the presumed dead – but quite alive and quite sprightly – Keiko Miura (Mari Yamamoto), just in time to save her grand-daughter Cate feels like that… and one wonders whether this could mean we’ll ultimately see the two Russells together in one scene (rather than just in transition) by the time we’re done…

'Monarch: Legacy of Monsters  S01 EP09 - Axis Mundi'  (appletv+ review)
'Monarch: Legacy of Monsters S01 EP09 - Axis Mundi' (appletv+ review)
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