Image from 'Monk'

After eight years, USA Network’s Monk concludes tonight with the second half of a two-part episode tying all the loose ends together–and introducing some new ones, S. T. Karnick writes.

Monk has been one of the best fiction series on U.S. television during the current decade, and tonight’s concluding episode (9 p.m. EST, USA Network) promises to tie up the few remaining vagrant plot strands. The show’s producers have done a good job of bringing to conclusions the various characters’ stories, resolving the major problems each has faced during the eight years of the show’s run. That process has meshed well with the central interest of this type of mystery fiction: the restoration of bourgeois order after a major disruption caused by crime.

Thus in recent episodes Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer has gotten married again, something he longed for, and Sharona has returned to apologize to Monk for her abrupt departure several years earlier and reconciled with him. Widow and Monk assistant Natalie Teeger has found a potential husband as well, a Navy officer of very good character who clearly loves her. This will be quite a comfort to her as Natalie’s daughter, Julie, is moving on to college.

Similarly, Monk was given back his detective badge and reinstated to the SF police force–and then realized that it wasn’t what he really wanted and that life as a consultant was a better way for a man of his talents. In addition, Monk’s symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder have receded a little as he has begun to resolve some of the psychological problems behind his compulsions. In fact, Monk has finally started to realize how much of his life he has wasted because of his compulsions and has begun to understand what he really wants out of life.

And in last week’s episode, Monk finally opened Trudy’s Christmas gift to him of a dozen years earlier–and found that it was not what he had expected.

Only a couple of elements remain to be resolved. One, what Lt. Randy Disher will do with his life, has been hinted at in recent weeks and will probably be concluded tonight. And two, of course, the person responsible for killing Monk’s wife will probably be brought to justice and his motives revealed.

In last week’s episode, the person behind the killing was identified for the audience, and as Monk homed in on the solution to this central mystery of the series, the great detective was poisoned by some mysterious method and declined quickly toward death. (It’s fairly obvious how the poisoning was done, however, and one can feel confident that Monk or one of those close to him will figure it out just in time to save his life.)

All of this has constituted a satisfying and thoroughly appropriate conclusion to a series that always stood for sound values and did so with a winsome attitude.

Some in the press have also revealed that there will be an additional twist in tonight’s concluding episode (which I won’t identify), which will give Monk something new over which to obsess. This suggests that the door is being left open for the story to continue on TV in the form of made-for-TV movies or, less likely, a resumption of the series in the future (or perhaps even in theatrical films, though that’s unlikely with the show’s audience demographics).

That will be good news for those who like the show and have not been satisfied with the Monk novels by Lee Goldberg, even if it’s not great news for Monk. But as a modern-day detective, he has to go through a good deal of misery in order to do his job (a convention that I would very much like to see retired). And in the end, it’s clear that Monk takes great satisfaction in the good work that he does.

That’s something most people seek, and it’s what has always been at the heart of the show: finding true happiness in doing good for others.

–S. T. Karnick