Monster – 3-4
It’s the second week of Monster! For people who are new to the series, I will hold back from throwing out major spoilers, but be aware that I will toss out a minor spoiler every once in a while to illustrate a point.
Johan Liebert becomes the monster in ep4; or, rather, he shows himself as the monster for the first time, which is sort of ironic considering he is in the shadows for most of the scene. As cool as this looks, it is also a visual device that cleverly reveals Johan’s MO: Although Johan is the darkest, most evil person in a series filled to the brim with rotten people, he rarely kills someone by his own hand. Johan’s evil is instead done by corruption — by taking average people, or maybe even people who are already predisposed to doing “bad” things (such as he does in this episode) and subtly pushing them into committing acts they would never dream of doing if Johan had never entered the picture. This monster works from behind the scenes with a cold, cruel whisper. That is the only weapon he really needs.
Junkers has a deep fear of Johan, who convinced Junkers and two of his friends to break into the homes of middle aged couples and murder them. Johan simply gives out the orders, and yet he is the most fearsome person Junkers has ever met in his life. Why? Because he can feel the evil pulsing from Johan. “He kills without a second thought!” Junkers shouts to Tenma. He also tells Tenma to run away and to not look at Johan’s face, or else Tenma will also be killed. This is a thought that is somehow rational and irrational at the same time. It is rational because Johan kills anyone who knows even the slightest bit of information about him. Johan tells Tenma that nobody can know anything about his past — not his true name, not his relationship with the middle aged couples or his relationship with the Lieberts.
However, the thought is also irrational because the purpose of the action is to not see Johan’s face, i.e. acknowledge the evil he represents and to know the fear and hatred he spreads. But Tenma has already seen the evil; it has him locked in, rooted to the spot. And the evil has seen him. Once a person has stared into the face of evil, he or she can never truly forget it. People can ignore it — Tenma says as much during a talk with Junkers in the middle of the episode, where he states that some doctors find it easy to lose themselves in money, research or promotions, to cope with seeing so much death every day — but they cannot forget it. And thus Tenma cannot force himself to look away from the face of evil.
When Johan talks to Tenma, he says something interesting: That because Tenma saved Johan’s life — resurrected the monster — Tenma is like a father to Johan, which mirrors the statement Junkers made about Tenma in the middle of the episode. This seems to me a direct challenge to Tenma’s philosophy that all life is equal. The same hands that healed Junkers, a petty criminal whom Tenma encourages to start over and build a good life, also save someone who goes on to become one of the most savage, evil men imaginable. Are these two equal on the scale of life? Is someone like Junkers, a lock picker, equal to Johan, a corrupter of men and a mass murderer? And are they both equal to Tenma, who saves peoples lives without a second thought?
In a way, doesn’t ep4 imply that Johan has tainted Tenma’s view of life? Saving Johan’s life helped Tenma refocus on what he believes is the correct way to live — indiscriminately saving lives. Yet the gift of life is reaffirmed to him by a boy who grows to become a symbol of pure evil.
I’d like to go back to a thought from ep1 I do not believe I adequately explored — Eva’s statement that human life is inherently unequal. A cold, callous statement made for all the wrong reasons, yes. But could there be a grain of truth to it? It seems harsh, but I say yes. At first it seems easy to go along with Tenma’s altruistic statement that all life is equal, and that it is a doctor’s job to save every life. But Tenma has already made a judgment of life in the first episode — by balancing logic (the skill of the surgeons operating on the mayor versus those who would operate on Johan) and his own morality (saving lives for the sake of saving lives is better than saving lives for personal gain), Tenma decides to save Johan’s life. In that moment, does Tenma not decide that Johan’s life holds more value than the mayor’s life? Tenma analyzes the situation and comes up with a solution that holds the best possibility of saving both lives, but in the end, Johan lives and the mayor dies. Tenma made his choice.
Now, to say that each life holds unequal value is not the same thing as saying certain lives have no value, I think, which is what Eva implies with her statement. People’s lives have value, I think, because people have the potential to do good for the world and for others. Even though Junkers is nothing but a petty thief, Tenma sees value in his life because Tenma can see clearly that Junkers is just a man who has made all the wrong choices in life. But the difficult question is this: Do people who blatantly do all they can to inflict evil upon the world lead valueless lives? Is a life such as Johan’s worth saving?
Society struggles so much with that question. If we knew the answer for certain, for instance, we would either abolish the death penalty or use it everywhere without guilt. Monster itself does not even know the answer to that question, at least not this early — and, it could be argued, it never really supplies a certain answer. I’m not sure of the answer, myself. I believe the only reason to take a life is in self-defense — and only in the most extreme circumstances. But if young Johan were dying, and I knew for certain that he would grow to become a vicious serial killer, would I let him die? Or would I save his life? I honestly cannot say.
Eva Heinemann is an interesting side note to Johan unleashing his terror upon the world. In the first two episodes, she is presented as a cruel, calculating woman who latches herself onto any successful man who comes her way. Eva callously dumps Tenma after he is demoted from his post. This is the last we see of her until her father’s funeral. One could be forgiven for taking a bit of pleasure in Eva’s pain, but I truly believe that she is at least somewhat remorseful when her father dies. It is a great shock for her when Dr. Heinemann dies; Dr. Becker cynically asserts that Eva cries because her lavish lifestyle will disappear, but those tears are real. She truly loved her father. And while I cannot deny that Tenma’s promotion to chief of surgery is probably attractive to her, Eva does her best to humble herself when she asks Tenma if they can start their relationship again on a clean slate.
Tenma turns her down — most people, including myself, would probably turn Eva down in that situation — and Eva starts on her path to becoming one of Monster‘s most fascinating characters. In the context of this pair of episodes, though, this choice by Tenma once again highlights that he is a flawed person. Now, I do not blame him at all for turning down Eva’s offer. He is duly suspicious of her, especially when she leads by mentioning she hears that he has become chief of surgery, and he has seen the kind of cruel person Eva can be. But clearly part of what motivates Tenma to spurn Eva is a wish to repay the pain she inflicted upon him nine years ago. Again, entirely understandable, but it is nonetheless a willful infliction of pain by Tenma.
(By the way, I think it is entirely understandable to despise Eva at this point in the series. Hell, I am an Eva apologist, and even I admit she is damn near impossible to like in the early part of the series. So I hope I don’t frustrate too many people by showing a bit of sympathy toward Eva, haha.)
This pair of episodes also introduces Inspector Lunge, the obsessive detective who has already grown to suspect Tenma in the murders of Dr. Heinemann and the other surgeons. Lunge is a cold, logical thinker who works completely by the facts he knows and has stored in the database of his mind. All Lunge can see is that three important men in the hospital hierarchy have died, and that Tenma is the main beneficiary of those deaths. Tenma has motive — the demotion — and opportunity — as Johan’s doctor — but Lunge cannot completely pin the method of killing to Tenma, and Tenma also has alibis for the time of death.
But something about Tenma just rubs Lunge the wrong way. And, really, to an outsider, the story Tenma tells is completely absurd. Inspector Lunge is a completely rational man; there is no way in hell he would ever expect a child to be capable of murdering the top men in a hospital in cold blood. And then to accept that one of the twins who escaped nine years ago conveniently shows up and is involved in the very case Lunge is working on at that point in time? Lunge creeps the hell out of me in this portion of the series, but there is no denying he has good reason to be suspicious of Tenma, even if the audience knows what Tenma is saying is true.
Now some random thoughts to close out the post!
— Inspector Lunge says the twins “may hold the key to this whole mystery.” lol Understatement of the century, dude.
— The scene where Tenma is in awe at the randomness of life represents an important theme in the series: Goodness (Tenma saving Johan’s life) is punished, and blessings come after acts of cruelty.
— I also like the scene where Tenma talks about the brief moment of sunlight on a perfect day that helps him relax after viewing so much death. That is precisely the role Tenma plays for the viewer in Monster — his moral strength is the sunshine that carries people through the horror of all the evil Tenma confronts.
— Johan strikes just before Junkers goes to confess his involvement in the murders. What great timing he has!
— Johan’s first appearance is definitely one of the most chilling scenes in all of Monster. What makes it all the creepier is the fact that Johan is entirely sincere in his belief that he helped Tenma by killing Dr. Heinemann and the surgeons. Watching that whole scene never fails to send a shiver down my spine.