Monsterland is kind of like Black Mirror, only with supernatural creatures instead of technology. Based on the short story collection North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud, it is indeed very American in its horrors; I might even call it a modern iteration of American Gothic. It’s not a Creature Feature; though the monsters are very, very present, they are not the focus of the horror. They are only peripheral to the very human characters’ trauma and the hard and sometimes despicable choices they find themselves forced to make when put between a rock and a hard place.
Monsterland is an indictment of the failures of the so-called American Dream. Its characters struggle with poverty, sub-par healthcare, sexual assault, lack of abortion access, racism, abusive parents, corporate greed, mental health, and more. The realism inherent in their struggles elicits an existential dread that easily eclipses any fear of monsters. And no, it’s not particularly subtle in its messaging, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a show very suitable for 2020, and I absolutely loved it.
I want to talk about the individual episodes, but it’s very difficult to do so without spoiling some plot elements, so be aware of that if you continue to read, if you want to remain totally unspoiled. However, while I’ll be revealing significant plot details, I’ll avoid revealing any major twists or reveals.
Elizabeth Jennings is one of the most complex female characters I’ve ever come across. She is an undercover KGB agent posing as a travel agent in 1980s Virginia, at the height of the Cold War, with her husband Phillip and their two American-born children. From the outside they seem like the perfect American couple, but in reality, their lives are full of spying, lying, betrayal, and murder. What is especially intriguing about Phillip and Elizabeth, however, is that it is Elizabeth who is the cold, closed-off emotional enigma, while Phillip often showcases vulnerability and honesty.
There is so much to say that I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Game of Thrones, mostly because I’m a die-hard book fan. I enjoyed the first season (though definitely still had issues with it), but starting in season 2 the plot and characters started to diverge so radically from the books that I was getting very, very annoyed. With the introduction of Dorne and the exclusion of Arianne Martell, I quit watching the show entirely, because it was just painful to watch by that point, but I started tuning in again on and off during season 6, mostly just watching the Sansa Stark scenes. I watched season 7 a bit more closely but still not religiously, but with everyone talking about the final season and me having serious FOMO all the time, I decided to watch every episode.
Before I get into my grievances with the final season (and there are…grievances), I just want to say that despite everything, I’m just so amazed with what this show has achieved. It’s been a decade-long labor (I started watching this in high school!), and while the writing has often been sub-par, the show has done absolutely incredible things in set design, acting, music, and cinematography. And more than that, it introduced high fantasy into the mainstream cultural zeitsgiest in such an unprecedented way! A Song of Ice and Fire is a classic high fantasy series that started in the late ’90s, and now it’s one of the biggest worldwide phenomenons in television history. It’s inspired so many emotions – yes, including anger – but I’m so in awe of anything that can bring people together in such a massive way that I can’t help but be appreciative and thankful that this show existed. I can’t believe it’s over.