Are Monads a Waste of Time?

I was thinking about this yesterday. If the point of functional code is that it is easier to reason about, should we like Monads? Consider we have an interpreter, and that we construct a sequence of commands in the free monad. Given a program like this:

f = do
   s <- newRef 
   writeRef s 23
   writeRef s 42
   readRef s

Now I have deliberately not specified the implementation of the interpreter, it could be pure using threading, it could be impure using IORef, or it could be any other valid implementation in Haskell except we won't allow "unsafe" code.

The question is, just looking at the above code, it looks like "s" is mutated. Yes the implementation in the monad could be pure and use state threading, but how does that help us reason about the above imperative program? How is the above program any better than the following JavaScript program:

function f() {
   var s
   s = 23
   s = 42
   return s

Ignoring syntax differences (because we can trivially translate from one syntax to the other) surely we can make any argument about implementation in the free monad with an interpreter about this code that we can about the first example? Surely this means that this second imperative program is no easier or harder to reason about than the first?

Hence my deliberately controversial title, why write an imperative program in a monad? Either we should actually write code in a visibly referentially transparent way like this:

f = let s1 = 23 in let s2 = 42 in s2

Or we may as well just use an impure language to start with. (I am deliberately ignoring the fact that parts of a program could be pure in Haskell).

The second second part of this question is, if making a program look as if it had state is as bad as having state from an analysis point of view, how could we prevent this in the type system? What loophole is allowing 's' to behave as if it had state, and how can that be closed?