Must see: Kelly Marie Tran channels darkness amidst struggle in Hulu’s Monsterland

Monsterland -- "Iron River, MI" -- Episode 107 -- A neglected daughter longs for another life. Lauren Mills (Kelly Marie Tran), shown. (Photo by: Barbara Nitke/Hulu)
Monsterland -- "Iron River, MI" -- Episode 107 -- A neglected daughter longs for another life. Lauren Mills (Kelly Marie Tran), shown. (Photo by: Barbara Nitke/Hulu) /

In episode seven of Hulu’s horror anthology series Monsterland, Kelly Marie Tran gives a memorable performance showcasing a darker side of herself.

Best known for her portrayal of Rose Tico in the Star Wars films, Kelly Marie Tran got the opportunity in Hulu’s Monsterland to put on a darker and more conflicted performance than we got to see her deliver in The Last Jedi or The Rise of Skywalker. The anthology horror series hit Hulu earlier this month, and the show’s seventh episode stars Kelly Marie Tran in a difficult and mysterious role.

While the episode falls near the end of the series, Star Wars fans hoping to see Kelly Marie Tran may be relieved to know there’s no need to watch the previous six episodes before watching the installment titled “Iron River, MI.” Monsterland tells a new story with each episode, so there’s no harm in skipping straight to episode seven to see Tran take on this new role.

There are some similarities in the characters of Lauren and Rose Tico, as both found themselves with difficult upbringings. While Rose Tico had good parents that we know of, she also had to contend with growing up in the less than ideal environment of a poor mining colony.

Kelly Marie Tran tackles the new and the familiar in Monsterland

Lauren has her own struggles in youth, but the biggest difficulty for her is instead an emotionally abusive and alcoholic mother. Kelly Marie Tran gets to show us Lauren at two different stages of her life in this episode of Monsterland, first giving us a view of high school awkwardness.

After Lauren’s friend Elena goes missing, questions are raised because Lauren could have been the last to see her alive. The episode then jumps ahead, and we get to see Kelly Marie Tran now preparing to get married to the very man who was Elena’s boyfriend prior to her disappearance.

This jump forward in time is really when Kelly Marie Tran gets the opportunity to shine and showcase a level of conflict she didn’t have during her Star Wars performances. While Rose Tico deals with many challenges, she’s steadfast in her beliefs and fiercely loyal to The Resistance.

By contrast, Lauren is a character who has potentially made some selfish and questionable decisions in the aftermath of a significant trauma during her teenage years. She seems to have taken on the very life of her friend that disappeared, to the point that one of Elena’s past friends who is at the wedding becomes convinced Lauren was actually the cause of Elena’s disappearance and even killed her.

The influence of director Desiree Akhavan

Kelly Marie Tran gets to show a conflicted ambiguity at times that can keep viewers guessing about the truth behind things, even up to the final moments and twisted ending. There’s also an undercurrent to the episode that some fans may enjoy, especially those who were disappointed by Star Wars’ failure to capitalize on the potential LGBTQ romance between Finn and Poe.

This episode of Monsterland was directed by Desiree Akhavan, an openly bisexual woman most known writing and directing the 2016 UK series The Bisexual and the 2018 drama film The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Akhavan brings her own experiences and the struggles of bisexuality into this episode, even opening up the possibility as the story progresses that Kelly Marie Tran’s character Lauren could be bisexual.

In an interview with Collider, Kelly Marie Tran talked about the appeal of her role in this episode, as well as the opportunity to work with Desiree Akhavan.

"It was a lot of things. Definitely the story and playing with the idea of privilege and jealousy and envy, and that dark part of humanity was really interesting to me. Also, I love Desi [Akhavan], who directed the episode. I think that she does amazing work and I love her. She has a different series on Hulu (The Bisexual) and two films, including The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which is so good. So, it was the story but also the people involved."

While Kelly Marie Tran is able to tap into something familiar by portraying another character that’s battled adversity in her life, her performance as Lauren ultimately tapped into a darker ambiguity that Rose Tico didn’t embody. Especially after Tico’s absence in The Rise of Skywalker felt truly disappointing, fans of Kelly Marie Tran should look to Hulu’s Monsterland to see more of what she’s capable of in a very different environment.

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Monsterland is streaming on Hulu now.