Spoiler warning: The following story discusses the entire episode, including the ending, of "New York, New York" from Hulu's Monsterland.
Episode 4 of Hulu's horror anthology series Monsterland looks at the corporate aftermath of a not-so-fictionalized devastating oil spill, and the characters that were involved.
The episode focuses on a very guilty CEO, and his probably guilty-by-association lieutenant/assistant.
The episode is a little tougher to interpret than Monsterland's prior three entries; it's OK, we were confused too. But we think we've got it now.
The first three episodes of Monsterland, Hulu's unique new horror anthology that looks at monsters—both literal and human—were nuts that needed to be cracked. But after enough squeezing with that little tool you found in your kitchen drawer (also known as...your brain when turned to complex-thinking mode), they were crackable nuts; the real monsters and terrors of the episode made way for horrifying ideas like child abandonment, internet radicalization, and ignoring horrific truths that were right in front of your eyes. Episode 4, though, was tough. This nut almost feels like a single walnut from the bunch, one that seems like the rest, but it's just tougher to get to the snack hidden inside.
But it's one we're able to get to. Episode 4, titled "New York, New York," moves the show's action to Manhattan, where we see some corporate skullduggery and malfeasance right off the bat. An ambitious young executive named Josh (Michael Hsu Rosen) is seen chasing a young woman down, cornering her in a taxi cab, trying to get her to sign some form of an NDA; she refuses. He tells he that she's actually right, and he would do the same thing in her situation. Not much longer in the episode, we see Josh tell another executive that he's somehow procured the NDA. From the bat, we know that everyone we're dealing with in this episode is knee deep in some kind of deception.
From there, the episode introduces us to Stanley Price (the great Bill Camp, character actor most recently seen in The Outsider), who is basically an amalgam of every corrupt, 1%, billionaire CEO who appears in front of a congressional committee, takes zero accountability, and gets off from his wrongdoings essentially scot free. Price is facing charges that he was negligent with regards to an enormous oil spill (which is obviously reminiscent of the 2010 BP oil spill), and refuses to take any personal responsibility.
In complete honesty, the rest of the episode touches on a lot of different notes and the message does become muddled. But let's run through it quickly; Price is shown to be an insecure, wearing a Harvard sweatshirt, and lying about attending there despite being a Boston University student who actually didn't finish, kicked out of plagiarism. He's an alcoholic who refuses to admit so; his father was also an alcoholic whose drinking destroyed his family, and then died in a single-car accident at the same age that Stan is now. He hated his father so much that he dropped his name.
Josh, all along, is seen as something of the angel on Stan's shoulder—an angel who seems to have been putting on a devil costume long enough that he's almost forgotten who he is. His intent, he says, was to enact change on Stan's company from the inside, but he's failed to make any impact, becoming a cog in the same machine he wanted to reconstruct.
All of this is without getting into the actual monster, part of the episode, which sees Stan possessed by some sort of demonic spirit, approached in the church by Jesus Christ, and set up as a satanic vessel of sorts by spirits that include Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan lookalikes. Don't ask, because we don't really know.
Stan shows little resistance. He wants to believe he's a good person, like most people, but he doesn't ever want to do anything to change. When a doctor tells him he'll need to get sober and stop drinking to increase any chance at survival, the next scene he's once again shoving a big glass of brown liquid right down his gullet. Like most in Stan's positions, his actions speak considerably louder than his words.
By the end of the episode, Josh brings in a spiritual healer that Syd had earlier recommended to him to try to save a possessed Stan (yes, he is possessed, black sludge coming from every orifice of his head and eyes completely glossed over). Once the healer addresses stan by his real name—his father's last name—he finally admits culpability, and it seems like the whole ordeal is over. Only for Stan to knife his stomach open, and a demonic, black pelican emerges from his stomach, flying throughout Manhattan. It's a pelican that looks remarkably like those who were horribly hurt during the BP oil spill crisis.
The pelican roars; it's clearly some satanic manifestation of what lies in a realm deeper than earth, and what Stan either literally hurt the most or whatever any semblance of a conscience he has left is worried that he's hurt.
What does the ending really mean?
Well, if we want to be literal, it doesn't matter anymore how much Stan wants to be Stanley Price instead of Stanley Ransom (his real name) as a way to distance himself from his father's destructive ways; Stan cut his whole belly wide open and a monster climbed out. He's definitely dead, lol. But on a deeper level, his whole thing about changing his name and calling himself "a drinker, but not a drunk" was a way for him not to identify as his father. And yet his recklessness, and constant lack of listening and accountability led him right down the same road. The display of determinism—meaning whatever is meant to happen will happen—is clearly on display. Even the presence of someone like Josh, who came in 100% well intentioned, looking to affect change, can't change anything.
At the same time, Josh gets home from experiencing the whole ordeal, and wonders what he could have changed. He believes he could have prevented all of it, from the literal (the spill) to the possibly not (the satanic vessel situation). But the conclusion he draws at this point is the facts: "It's too late. It's out there," he tells his boyfriend.
Whatever he could have done ceased mattering the moment he didn't do it. But the episode's final line leaves things a tiny bit more hopeful "Is it?" we hear asked. Yes, the evil is out there. But "New York, New York"'s final unspoken thought is that it's never too late to do the right thing. There's a lot of evil in the world—and it can be up to as many incremental, little acts of good to make it better as it does incremental little acts to make it worse. It's all in our hands.
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