Here's the thing. I've never been a huge fan of Harold Krenshaw. While he was worth a few chuckles in his debut in the quite good "Mr. Monk and the Girl Who Cried Wolf", perhaps giving him a major role in the occasional episode since then wasn't a good idea. In fact, the Krenshaw episodes "...and the Daredevil" and "...Gets Hypnotized" are my two least favourite episodes of the series. So, not surprisingly, I did not care for this episode - but depending on your tolerance for the character, your mileage may vary. If you like Harold, then you'll probably love this episode. Enjoy!
The story, as it were, involves Monk's HMO no longer covering office visits with Dr. Bell. This episode's best moments come as Monk tries to adapt to the news - first by attempting to speed through all his problems in one last session, then by awkwardly attempting to talk up Dr. Bell outside of his office. But none of it works, so he has to resort to group therapy. And, as per Monk's incredible knack for stumbling into murders, it appears that someone is killing off the group, one by one. And, oh yeah, Harold is there too.
The mystery has what could potentially be a terrific setup a la "And Then There Were None", with the group being picked off one by one. Unfortunately, there's not much mystery to be had. Instead of allowing us to have a few different suspects for once (something this show has always stubbornly shied away from), the killer is rather obviously called out early on, as is his motive. And while his killings are clever, there's no doubt on our end as to how he did it. Thus, despite a great initial premise, we're left with the most minimalist mystery since "Mr. Monk Makes the Playoffs".
But I suppose this episode was supposed to be more about Monk's growth as a character and his rivalry with Harold, and...it fails in that department, too. Harold has always seemed like a highly artificial opponent for Adrian, a character who has become recurring not because he's actually an interesting character, but simply because the writers feel compelled to have a recurring nemesis for him who isn't morbidly obese with a cute rhyming name. This episode finally provides closure for their relationship, but it, too, feels highly artificial. I just don't buy their sudden bonding (in yet another contrived "let's randomly put Monk in danger just to pad out the script" scenario), and while it's great that Monk finally conquered his claustrophobia, it's not like that's something that will have a huge effect on the series.
Now, I know I've been rather harsh on this season, but it's only because I've watched this show from the beginning. And therefore I know this show can do better than this, with its incredibly lame mystery and recurring character that makes Kevin Dorfman look tolerable. I still have high hopes for the end of the series ("Mr. Monk and the Badge" onward), but for the time being I'm incredibly disappointed that, after a decent start to this season, this show is slipping back into the mediocrity that plagued the last few. I know you can do better. So...please do so.