Thursday, 22 September 2011

Monkey Challenge: Mothers

"You've gone too far this time Buddha!"

Wow: just when I thought that I had lost the capacity to be surprised by Monkey, along comes this episode, with its tale of child murder to illustrate the Buddhist principle that it is always wrong to kill another, to surprise me.

It starts as it means to go on; darkly. The pilgrims meet a young woman trying to hang herself. After saving her and taking her back to her village, they learn that she was suicidal after she accidentally killed her own daughter.

We see in flashback the tragic tale - an evil witch regularly visited the town to kidnap children, who would never be seen again. On this visit the townsfolk ran and hid, but the woman's daughter was frightened and cried. To keep her quiet the woman put her hand over her child's mouth.

All the other children of the town were saved by this action and the witch left empty-handed. But when the coast was clear it was revealed that the daughter had suffocated.

Monkey, of course, decides then and there to put a stop to this witch permanently, but when she next visits she is too strong for Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy together and she leaves with a child. Monkey does, however, follow her back to her mountain lair.

Monkey sees her own children, 100 of them, and discovers the awful truth - this witch is a wasp-spirit queen, and she lays her eggs in the children she kidnaps. We don't see this happen, but this is still the most gruesome aspect of this whole disturbing episode.

Even Tripitaka is horrified by this news when Monkey reports it, and he prays to Buddha for guidance, saying these wasp-monsters are evil and do not deserve to live. Buddha - in female manifestation as usual - soon answers the prayer.

Buddha transports the youngest of the wasp-queen's children to the town and shows her to Tripitaka, asking if the priest could kill a child. Tripitaka says he couldn't, not even to stop the gruesome cycle from continuing. But Buddha's painful lesson is not over yet...

The wasp-queen discovers her child is missing and, mistakenly believing Monkey responsible, travels back to the town to recover her. When she gets there she finds her child, but is confronted by Tripitaka, Monkey and Buddha.

Buddha asks Tripitaka to show the queen the pain of the townspeople by killing her child in front of her. Tripitaka refuses. Buddha orders Tripitaka to do it, but is again refused. So Buddha then takes control of Monkey's body and makes him stab the wasp-child to death with a knife.

Yes, this is pretty strong stuff, and even more shocking for a series that, in recent weeks, has seen its protagonists do battle with a giant, badly-CSO'd dog-monster and a comically stereotypical Dracula lookalike. Now we have the image of Monkey, with a bloody knife in his hand, standing over a little girl's corpse.

This has the necessary effect on the wasp-queen who is so distraught that she takes her own life with her sword-sting. Even Monkey is appalled, and the line "You've gone too far this time Buddha!" (delivered superbly by David Collings) coming from the character who spent 500 years under a mountain thanks to Buddha, says it all.

Buddha's magic lotus petals of mercy bring the wasp-queen, and her daughter, back to life - it wouldn't be a lesson learned if she could escape it by dying. The queen is reformed now, and will no longer kidnap the town's children, but the 100 that have already died remain dead and so it's not exactly a happy ending for everyone.

At episode 38 this would have been the penultimate episode of the original run of Monkey (more on this to come next time), and it's a shocking departure from the tone of the rest of the series, making this one stand out like a sore thumb.

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