I think we all had our preconceived notions about how this series would end, with Monk back at his job on the police force and everything just like the good ol' days. Of course, this sort of unrealistic dream scenario is something I've argued against before, but it seemed the most likely route anyhow. But this was definitely interesting. It's no surprise that our beloved Adrian Monk finally gets his badge back, but instead of playing to the expected and, frankly, boring, "Mr. Monk and the Badge" takes a surprisingly deep, thoughtful look at the reality of rejoining the force after spending so long as a mere consultant. Then again, I suppose I shouldn't have expected less from the writing superduo of Hy Conrad and Tom Scharpling.
Adrian was denied reinstatement a couple weeks back in the abysmal "Mr. Monk Goes Camping", but now the committee has apparently had a change of heart. (More of that awkward handling of story arcs I've mentioned previously.) Now reduced to an unexciting life of manning the tip line (a scene that was the definite low point of an otherwise great episode - I know Monk is computer illiterate but this just seemed ridiculous) and responding to the ridiculous calls of Edith Carriani (scenes which I was considerably fonder of), Monk takes an interest in the case of the Pickaxe Killer, or Gold Rush Killer if you're Randy. However, it soon becomes apparent that the inner workings of the department clash with his now-established style of work and maybe, just maybe, he was happier before. Meanwhile, Natalie finds working for a "normal" boss unbearable in a side-story that doesn't really get fleshed out enough for me to even comment on.
As some astute viewers may have noticed, tonight's mystery is ripped straight out of "Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu", a novel that also dealt with Monk returning to the force, albeit in a different, far more contrived way. I have to knock off a point for unoriginality, but it still gets the job done - simple but unintrusive, mostly serving as a catalyst to explore Monk's interaction with the department in the face of particularly unpleasant truths. In fact, Monk's fellow cops are a more effectual opponent (for lack of a better word) for him than the actual murderer du jour. Accusing a cop of being dirty just ain't gonna fly when you're on the force, y'know.
Police consultant is apparently a pretty cushy gig. Monk gets only the choicest cut cases, being spared your lesser things like responding to calls about homicidal cats. It's all the thrill of solving crimes with none of the more tedious legwork. The main thread of this episode - Monk not being the same man he was 12 years ago and the resultant disappointment with what had, for so many years, been his dream job, his ultimate goal - is handled beautifully. It's not because he's just a buffoon as the writers often like to paint him anymore. He's remarkably functional despite his quirks, and you really get the feeling that those little bits of progress they've thrown into each of the (mostly subpar) episodes this season are genuinely paying off. Rather, it's just because times have changed and so has, ironically, the infamously change-fearing Adrian Monk. It's an important distinction, and one that Conrad and Scharpling do a splendid job of getting across.
Hastily returning to the status quo has never felt so good. This season has been dropping the ball somewhat consistently, so I didn't come in with particularly high expectations. And I came out rather pleasantly surprised. Like "Mr. Monk and the Foreign Man", which was previously this season's best effort, it's not a particularly funny episode (though the scenes with Edith were, again, chuckle-worthy) but makes up for it with some really nice subtle emotional moments. Plus, it's nice to watch an episode that feels like it has actual significance on the story of the series as a whole. Next week is another episode of great significance, the two-parter finale "Mr. Monk and the End", which will either be epically awesome, or a massive disappointment. I think it goes without saying that I'm hoping for the former.