In Monsterland Episode 1, Kaitlyn Dever plays a waitress questioning her life decisions after she meets a strange man at a diner.
Suppose the rest of the season is similar to Monsterland Episode 1. In that case, this is going to be a stunning, albeit emotionally devastating, series. While Monsterland is a horror show containing strange cryptids, fallen angels and monsters, it trades in conventional scares for gripping, emotional, character-driven stories.
Monsterland Episode 1 is a moving narrative about a young mother named Toni (Kaitlyn Dever) struggling to keep the lights on at home. She works a depressing waitressing job at a rundown diner while caring for her daughter, Jack, who is prone to fits. Jack threatens other kids with scissors, bites mailmen and periodically succumbs to tantrums consisting of nothing but screaming and shrieking. No one wants Jack around. Not her dad, not any babysitters and not even her own mother.
Besides Toni’s struggles with motherhood, a serial killer dubbed the Blind Butcher is roaming the streets of Port Fourchon, Louisiana. At least, that’s the story on the news. In the episode’s opening, we see a man played by Jonathan Tucker, murdering a young girl at the beach.
He uses a knife to take something from her and then places it in a box with her name. That box is added to a similar collection hidden under a blanket in the trunk of his car.
Monsterland Episode 1 recap: Toni meets Alex at the diner.
That same man, who goes by Alex, later tries to find a place to stay in Port Fourchon. He comes across as very strange, with wide eyes and prying questions. He asks a local gas station attendant where he lives, unnerving the clerk. Instead of telling him his address (who would?), the clerk sends him to the local diner, where Toni works. Alex takes an immediate liking to Toni and offers her $100 if she’ll just sit and have a conversation with him.
Wary of his supposed kindness, Toni takes him up on it. Surprisingly, all he seems to want is to get to know her, although she’s more interested in getting to know him than disclosing her own secrets. Alex’s lies don’t work on Toni; she sees straight through him. Eventually, he says he’s in town for an offshore project. They don’t get much farther than that when Toni’s friend and temporary babysitter, Denise, brings a screaming Jack to the diner.
Seeing Jack covered in blood, Toni demands to know what happened. Apparently, Jack attacked the mailman. Toni doesn’t believe that Jack acted out unprompted, but Denise insists her daughter is psychotic.
Monsterland Episode 1 recap: How Jack came to be.
In flashbacks, we learn that Jack was almost never born at all. Toni lived with an evangelical grandmother who would never have allowed her to get an abortion. A friend of a friend performed tried to give her one, but Toni could not handle the pain and eventually forced her to stop. We don’t see Toni’s pregnancy or how she wound up getting from that point to the current one. Although we do know that Toni’s grandmother eventually died.
I’m guessing she had helped Toni with baby Jack for a while before passing on. As for Jack’s father, a lowlife named Donny, it’s for a good reason he wasn’t a part of Jack’s life. The one time he showed up for her birthday, he wound up striking Jack across the face while she was in the bathtub and then knocking Toni unconscious in the ensuing scuffle.
When Toni woke up, it was to find her daughter facedown in the tub. Thankfully, Jack survived, but she still feels immense guilt for that moment. I think Jack’s almost-drowning and Toni’s attempted abortion has made her feel like she’s an unfit mother. Coupled with her feelings of resentment toward her daughter, we get the eventual outcome of this somber episode.
Monsterland Episode 1 recap: The truth about Alex.
That same evening, Alex gets Toni’s address from a fellow waitress and goes to Toni’s house in the hopes she’ll give him a place to stay. He offers her $1,000 for her hospitality. As the power is out at their home because Toni is late on bills and desperately needs the money, she chooses to let Alex stay the night. The two even sleep together, and Toni opens up to him about her regrets. She says she loves her child but clearly wishes her life had turned out differently.
Then she asks Alex about what’s in the back of his car, having caught a glimpse of his trunk earlier. He says he can’t tell her, so she takes his keys and sneaks out to see for herself. Inside, she sees the display of boxes and assumes the worst — that Alex is the Blind Butcher. But when he comes outside and catches her, he tells her she can take one out and look inside.
We don’t get to see what Toni sees in the box, but there is a strong probability it’s a skinsuit. Alex slowly carves away his face and peels it off in full HD. The next morning, Alex is gone, and a woman named Alice greets Toni with freshly brewed coffee. She explains that she formerly worked alongside a man named Mr. Grey. Mr. Grey is obsessed with humanity and loves killing people and stealing their skin.
Alice was happy to work with him for a while until they accumulated enough suits to last a lifetime. But Mr. Grey was never satisfied. In the end, he went after the 15-year-old Colleen we saw at the beginning of the episode. After he killed her, he became her, and Alex killed him to finally escape and no longer be trapped by Mr. Grey and his deadly ambitions.
That said, he doesn’t know for sure if Mr. Grey is really dead, or if he’s still out there somewhere — disguised as anyone. It’s why Alice is always running. She says Toni gave her hope and helped her realize she could be anything or anyone with her new lease on life.
Because even though “Alex” is dead, he still exists when she wears his suit, as does Alice, and all the others collected in the back of her trunk. She loves being able to become someone brand-new at any moment.
Monsterland Episode 1 recap: Toni abandons Jack.
Taking Alex/Alice’s advice to heart, Toni packs her house and her daughter into a car, and they leave Port Fourchon behind. They pick out new names, Isabelle, for her and Jill for Jack (ha). Stopping at a burger joint for lunch, it looks like maybe their lives might change for the better. Toni sips on her shake while Jack plays with some of the other children.
A woman asks her Toni for directions. Once she starts to lie about who she is, she can’t stop. Beyond telling this strange woman her new name, she claims she’s a nurse from Denver, Colorado. But their conversation is disrupted by Jack, who suddenly succumbs to a screaming fit. Locking her in her car seat until she gets the screaming out of her system, Toni reaches her breaking point behind the wheel.
It takes a while, but eventually, Jack tires herself out and falls asleep. Toni notices a nice car pull up in front of her, and a woman steps out. Before she can change her mind, she picks up the sleeping Jack and tucks her into the woman’s backseat along with the wad of cash.
Then she gets back into her car and watches as the woman pulls away with her daughter in the backseat. Sobbing, Toni slowly drives in the opposite direction. On her face, we can see her fluctuating emotions represented, a mixture of guilt, sadness and happiness at finally being free.
Monsterland Episode 1 recap: Final thoughts.
That ending is sure to get people talking. What Toni did to Jack was pretty horrific. The frustration and pain she feels are genuine for many mothers out there. How many parents would love to just get rid of their kids?
The difference is, most parents only feel that for fleeting moments, maybe it’s a dark desire they nourish in secret freedom fantasies. Typically, they don’t act on it. Toni decided what she wanted and went to the extremes to get it. When discussing this episode with Entertainment Weekly, Dever noted that the entire theme of Monsterland is about people coping with their “inner monster.”
“Everyone has one, and maybe it’s inescapable.”
Odds & Ends from Monsterland Episode 1
- Jack is slightly comparable to Dorothy in some ways. The Wizard of Oz is her favorite film and it is mentioned multiple times throughout the episode. By the end, she’s been tucked inside a car to be shipped off to a new home, or “Oz.”
- Did anyone else get the vibe that the woman Toni chats with at the fast food place near the end of the episode might have been Mr. Grey? Or if not him, then at least something more than meets the eye?
What did you think about Monsterland Episode 1? Are you planning to watch the remainder of the season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
All eight episodes of Monsterland Season 1 are now streaming on Hulu.