Well, it's finally here. After eight seasons, the epic two-part finale is upon us. The writers previously achieved two-part glory with the excellent "Mr. Monk is On the Run" from season six, so I came into this with high hopes that they could manage a repeat. And, while part one of "Mr. Monk and the End" isn't quite as strong as the first part of the aforementioned episode, it's still a strong episode with a lot to recommend, a few weird choices aside. If the second part comes through for us on the tantalizing possibilities introduced here, we'll be in for pure greatness, folks.
In one of the most striking cold opens I can recall seeing on this show, we witness the chilling murder of Trudy Monk. Twelve years later, Adrian is called back to the midwife clinic where he first heard the news, to investigate a crime of more significance than he ever would've expected. Fearing it's now only a matter of time before he finally pieces all the clues together, Trudy's killer (kept in silhouette but rather obviously the Craig T. Nelson character, unless they're playing some devious trick on us) decides that Monk must be the next to go. Before too long, he finds himself poisoned with just two days left to live - looks like the title has more than one meaning here - and then stumbles onto a vital clue in the Trudy case that had been sitting underneath his nose this whole time. Thus we reach the brutal cliffhanger ending, tantalizing us with a mysterious dark secret in Trudy's past, and setting the stage for an epic race against time to close the case once and for all, before it's too late.
This episode gets a lot of things right. Opening with an actual Trudy/Adrian scene before his meltdown was an interesting touch. By this point in the series, having been forced to wait this long, any progress on the Trudy case is exciting, and while this episode doesn't reveal much, the possibilities it sets up are fascinating. And I absolutely love that they brought back Trudy's Christmas present from "Mr. Monk and the Secret Santa" - I never would've suspected, when that episode first aired, that anything therein was of actual importance. Monk's poisoning is handled well, appropriately dramatic but wisely played with a slight pinch of comedy so it's not a completely depressing experience. I particularly enjoyed the "vomiting" scene - Monk clearly has his priorities straight! Ted Levine is, for once, given some interesting things to do, including an intense-but-believable chase scene and a great speech about Monk that more or less summarizes why I've been able to identify so much with him over the years. "That was his problem. He was too human."
On the negative side, and note that these are really just minor quibbles by comparison: The sudden reintroduction of Lieutenant Albright as Natalie's boyfriend feels awkward and rushed, a recurring element of this season's romantic plotlines. Seriously, was anyone itching for the reintroduction of this bland character? It's a little disappointing that the killer is seemingly revealed to us so early on in the episode, though it's possible (and seemingly probable) that the mystery behind the as-yet-unrevealed motive could make up for it. And finally, didn't they establish in "Mr. Monk and the Employee of the Month" that Monk was in the police station, laughing, when he got the call about Trudy? Weird that they'd contradict everything about that here, shifting the scene to the birthing center, with Monk completely serious, and having Stottlemeyer get the call.
But this is an episode where the good most certainly outweighs the bad. This series has been becoming more and more goofy and sitcom-ish in the last few seasons, but clearly the writers of this show still have what it takes to pull off brilliant emotional drama, too. With Andy Breckman himself behind this episode, I figured we'd be in for something special, and indeed we were. All throughout the season, I've been wondering if they could actually pull together a worthy finale for this series, and now I'm thrilled to say, they're halfway there.