This essay is dedicated to the wonderful Alla Palagina who generously shared countless episodes of Monk with me and with whom I initially discussed this episode after we watched it in early 2011. May she rest in power.
Adrian Monk could represent an alternative masculinity. His clumsy, fumbling, mumbling, constantly terrified competence as police detective stands in stark contrast to the chest-puffing, misogynist, homophobic normative masculinity that pervades popular culture. Instead of embracing his competence though, Monk constantly aspires to normative masculinity. A telling episode is 2006’s “Mr. Monk and the Astronaut”.
“Mr. Monk and the Astronaut” begins with famous astronaut and test pilot Steve Wagner (Jeffrey Donovan) drugging Joanne Raphelson (Brianna Brown), a former Vegas showgirl he once dated and whom he severely beat and hospitalized several years earlier. Raphelson planned to reveal the beating in a tell all biography.
Wagner is a confident, charismatic white alpha male predator. And he has an airtight alibi for Joanne’s murder having been in planetary orbit at the time of Joanne’s death. He charms the police, Monk’s personal assistant Natalie and the children in Natalie’s daughter’s class when both he and Monk go to present on career day. Monk is the only one who believes he killed Joanne.
Children mock Monk at the career day then proceed to terrorize him with laser pointers. Hijinks ensue and afterwards he confronts Wagner in the hallway. Wagner uses aggressive physicality to cower Monk then tells him, “You’re a flincher, you’ll never stop me. Because when the chips are down when it really counts, you are always going to flinch.” This, combined with Monk’s panic about the laser pointers sets up the episode’s final confrontation.
Wagner ridicules, questions and challenges Monk’s masculinity throughout the episode. Monk confesses to his psychologist, “When I look at a manly man like Steve Wagner, I just feel weak. I just feel so inadequate. I know he’s guilty, but I’ll never be able to prove it.” Here Monk affirms Wagner’s perceptions as well as Wagner’s masculinity. This violent misogynist represents the manhood to which Monk aspires.
The films concludes with Monk confronting his fear and placing his body in front of a jet Wagner is piloting to prevent its takeoff. Monk remains steadfast in front of the plane even when soldiers arrive with (for some reason) laser scope rifles which cover him much like the earlier laser pointers. Wagner is taken into custody from the plane. As he is being handcuffed Wagner makes eye contact with Monk and gives him an acknowledging nod, validating his manhood. Alternately put, the episode resolves with Monk receiving validation of his own manhood through the toxic masculinity of the “manly man” he succeeded in incarcerating.
Monk is not exceptional in embracing toxic masculinity to validate the manhood of its male characters. The episode in question does not invent it but is does represent yet another exchange in and (re)production of normative patriarchal discourse.
“Mr. Monk and the Astronaut” (season 4, episode 14) originally aired on 3 March 2006 to around 5.65 million households in its initial airing.