Monarch already has more drama than a good country song. But while a good country song can solve everything in four minutes, Fox’s new drama is just getting started, with a first hour that sets up a juicy season full of twists and turns — starting with that “WTF? ” moment of the end of tonight’s premiere, “Stop at Nothing”.
Before we get to that, though, a bit of setup. The Roman family is made up of country music giants whose legacy is threatened by the impending death of matriarch Dottie (Susan Sarandon) from terminal cancer. His daughter Nicky (Anna Friel) is ready to finally get her chance at fame, but is stuck singing harmonies for her father, Dottie’s husband Albie (Trace Adkins), who has a few skeletons in his closet. Nicky competes with her more talented sister, Gigi (Beth Ditto), who had previously vowed to leave the family business, while Albie clashes with her son Luke (Joshua Sasse), who is trying to keep the label relevant. family. Monarch has big name star in Oscar winner Sarandon, beloved TV actor in Friel, and musical talent in Grammy nominee Adkins and former Gossip singer Ditto. Based on this premiere, this is a part Nashvillea part Empirea part dallasa part Successionand a part It’s us. (And if this all caught your eye but you still haven’t watched for yourself, stop here, because everything below is a spoiler.)
Oh, yeah, and there’s also a hint of Six feet Under ground, because Dottie, established as one of the protagonists of the series, seems to die at the end of the episode. (More on that uncertainty in a second.) Throughout “Stop at Nothing,” Dottie plans her death: planting a report on her health in People, having a suspicious meeting with a lawyer, grooming Nicky for stardom, leaving her voting shares to Luke, even getting Albie to admit he once cheated on her. Nicky doesn’t understand her mother’s emphasis on death at first, mentioning at the start of the episode that Dottie’s doctors said she had months left. But Dottie then explains that she is literally Planning her death, and she wants Nicky to help her out on a high after the family’s annual musical concert. Monarch never quite establishes Why Dottie is so eager to end her country music reign early, but still, Nicky is torn – shocked by her mother’s plan, in disbelief that she’s actually serious, nervous and excited to be closer the fame she has been dreaming of for years. And of course she would be!
When Nicky meets Dottie in her bedroom after the musical, she vacillates over her decision, at one point seeming not to give her mother the rest of the painkillers she asks for. But as an obedient favorite child, Nicky relents, gives Dottie the rest of the pills, and even helps her wash them down with whiskey. She sits with her mother as she falls asleep – then Gigi enters.
This is where things get complicated, because unlike Six feet Under ground, Monarch does not seal Dottie’s fate in the premiere. The episode leaves us with the image of a shocked Gigi discovering her sister holding an empty pill bottle next to their presumably deceased mother. And it’s not pretty, especially after the two had a dramatic confrontation at the musical, where Gigi admitted she never continued acting because she didn’t want to get in the way of Nicky.
So let’s speculate for a second. If Nicky can’t quickly explain herself to Gigi — or if Gigi sees this as part of Nicky’s plan to take the spotlight — then Gigi could presumably call 911 and take Dottie to the hospital. Because come on, would a TV show really put on Susan Sarandon, one hell of an Oscar winner, and use her for an entire episode? But at the same time, Dottie seems to have breathed her last as Gigi enters.
Then there is the evidence. Trailers for Monarch seem to be mostly cut with footage from the premiere, possibly because it’s the only episode in which Sarandon appears. And in the episode, Sarandon’s name is listed last among the cast, though she was co-directed with Friel. Sarandon made the show’s promotional circuit, but she teased “a lot of intrigue and secrets” to Jimmy Fallon on The show tonight, and was reportedly “cagey” about his future on the show on a Television Critics Association panel, per Deadline. “She hovers over everyone,” Jon Feldman, one of the Monarchsaid the executive producers on that panel — which sounds a bit ghostly, doesn’t it? And his assurance that Sarandon “will appear in multiple episodes” doesn’t mean much anyway, after the premiere established that Monarch will have its share of flashbacks. (Can you believe we got this far without even speculating who Albie kills in this flash-forward?! But that’s for another time.)
In a cruel twist from the folks at Fox, it will take us longer than usual to figure out Dottie’s fate, with Monarch not airing episode two until the show’s period premiere on Tuesday, September 20. But also like a good country song, Monarch has already figured out how to get us back.