I’m having a hard time assigning a grade to this episode of Grimm. Really I’ve been having a hard time grading this whole series. Look, I like classic Disney movies as much as the next animation fan, but the way Once Upon A Time takes the path of least resistance with all of its princess characters has really started to bore me. Other than Rumpelstiltskin, who’s a breath of fresh air thanks to an extraordinary re-interpretation, most of the OUaT cast fails to defy expectation. It’s not just that I’ve got the Grimm beat here at the A.V. Club, I honestly believe that what this show is doing to reinterpret fairy tales and folklore is genuinely more creative than how ABC’s fantasy drama is doing with Disney stock characters.
Having said that, while Grimm succeeds at creating some nice new twists on fairy tales, it’s struggling to make an episode that doesn’t use the same exact pacing over and over again. Last week’s episode took “The Queen Bee” and expanded that tale to make Mellifers – the bee people – into the warning communicators of the creature world. That was a fine bit of world building, one that connected to Adalind the blonde demon girl and uncovered just a hint of the larger creature interactions that will affect Nick. Unfortunately we didn't get two episodes in a row that managed to strike that balance.
Tonight was another episode that strayed from fairy tales originally written by the Brother’s Grimm, this time using the French folktale of Bluebeard to give Patrick Fischler (Jimmy Barrett on Mad Men) an excuse to seduce pretty women against their will in the creepiest way possible, as the owner of a charming Portland bed and breakfast. Grimm doesn’t even get the well-worn trope that the guest star with the biggest name is the perp – Fischler is the only guest star, and really the only suspect from the get go, Hank and Nick just build the case around him until they find enough evidence. It all unfolds a bit too easily for my taste, and eats up way too much time that I think could be better spent answering the giant lingering questions about Aunt Marie’s death and how Nick fits into the larger landscape of Grimm’s world.
The structure has stayed reliably consistent in each episode after the pilot, but that’s gotten pretty boring in a short amount of time. I can set my watch by it, just like Law & Order used clear divisions, but here it doesn’t work as well. We see the crime take place, watch Nick and Hank examine the crime scene, then hear some input from the coroner about the strange evidence found on the body. They do some investigating to introduce suspects. Nick calls in Eddie Monroe for help. There’s a barely necessary time-filling scene with Nick and his girlfriend. Very short scenes that advance the serialized arc of the Reaper vs. Grimm plotline that Nick still hasn’t interacted with in any meaningful way on his own. Then the climactic showdown between Nick and whatever creature he and Hank are facing, then a denouement where they recap the capture. I could write those beats out on a whiteboard, and I’m pretty sure I could tell you which act Eddie would show up, when we’d get the serialized scene with the captain, and all the others. It’s easy to predict when Grimm will use a particular scene, it’s using a very basic procedural structure, but it becomes slightly rewarding when it adapts folklore into a modern setting with some really clever ideas.
Also consistent is Silas Weir Mitchell's Eddie Monroe (I can't help but write out both full names), again the best part of this episode. Nick always seems to interrupt Eddie as the most inopportune moments, this time while Monroe is practicing the cello. Yes, it’s incredibly convenient that Eddie seems to know everything Nick can’t find out from the giant monster encyclopedia in his aunt’s magic trailer sitting by the Amtrak station. But Mitchell’s reluctant and perturbed attitude at every little question lends some much-needed levity to otherwise dour proceedings. That sense of humor is important, and every moment Eddie Monroe is involved in a case, the better the chance for some laughs. His reconnaissance at the bar to watch Billy work his game on a pretty woman was great, and every interaction he has with Nick helps make Dave Giuntoli less wooden.
Meanwhile, in the tiny bit of serialized plot development, a Reaper of the Grimms with a French accent shows up in Portland, and asks to meet the police officer who shot his friend. Naturally, that friend is the Reaper who attacked Aunt Marie, and Nick’s the guy who shot him. Then we get a little scene where the police captain surprised the Reaper in his hotel room, and then uses the guy’s own scythe to slice off an ear for insubordination. Apparently, the police captain runs Portland, and isn’t letting anyone take a run at the Grimm on his turf. Unfortunately, none of this makes any goddamn sense, because in four weeks we’ve gotten more case-of-the-week drama than actual development for Nick’s overall involvement in the world of Grimms against Reapers/Creatures.
I’m starting to change my tune on the whole lack of Hellmouth thing. You have to be willing to suspend disbelief and accept that there’s a network of Grimms in the world trying to reign in the bad monsters, but none of them communicate with each other - until the show inevitably casts a guest star that plays another Grimm that gets killed, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, about 30 minutes after showing up. Also, the police captain has to have some bigger sinister reason for knowingly letting a Grimm exist in his city, join his police force, and work mere feet away from him without doing anything about it. Right now Grimm is bringing up more questions than providing answers, and unless we get some overarching plot-heavy episodes down the pipeline, that will continue to frustrate me.
There are some bright spots, to be sure. For the first time, the case-of-the-week ending isn’t a complete slam-dunk. Billy is still conscious when he’s strapped to the gurney after he gets hit by a bus – that’s both a callback to the girl getting hit by the car at the beginning of the episode and some pretty terrible dues ex machine. Since he’s still awake, he’s able to use his powers on the paramedic taking care of him, suggesting that he gets away. Compared to the other crimes in the previous three episodes – child abduction by a Big Bad Wolf, kidnapping for ritual murder by Bear people, bee people killing demonic lawyers – a blue goat seducing, imprisoning and impregnating women in a manner that constitutes serial rape is very serious crime and a dark place for the show to go. That stays true to the dark nature of most of the fairy and folk tales the show uses for inspiration.
I’m surprised by the amount of suspense the show wrings out of cliché moments of dramatic irony like a Hank walking down dark stairs into a basement the audience knows is only going to end badly. Even though the sequence of events is familiar, the subject matter isn’t as easily predictable, and Grimm only needs to sort out its longer-term ambitions before it can really click.
- The ratings talk gets relegated to the stray observations this week. Viewership keeps declining, which isn’t a good sign, but that didn’t stop NBC from ordering additional scripts of the show. That’s not a guarantee of survival, especially after what just happened to Prime Suspect, but it’s a start.
- The Bluebeard goat’s name is Billy Capra, as in Capricorn. Grimm has a problem with giving creatures terrible puns for names that reveal their identities.
- Silas Weir Mitchell may turn out to just be doing one lengthy audition for his next part if Grimm keeps declining, but man I hope somebody give him a lead. He gets into the action a bit more tonight, and the show really needs to find a way to get him involved in a bigger way.
- At the bar, Eddie orders a Rogue Double Dead Guy Ale for some nice Oregon authenticity.
- I wanted to like the scene with Nick and Juliette in the grocery store, but I just couldn’t. It had an interesting foundation, that once Nick discovers how Billy can manipulate women, he starts to question the reality of other relationships – but then all the unnecessarily dumb sex talk got in the way and ruined everything. It was a nice moment of “Grimm” world invading the “real” world spoiled by lame flirtation.
- Another thing about Juliette: it’s really confusing that I cover two shows featuring protagonists who investigate crimes using special powers who also both have girlfriends named Juliette/Juliet. Nick from Grimm and Shawn from Psych should get together and trade notes sometime.
- One of my favorite television directors, Michael Waxman, directed tonight’s episode. You may recognize his name from Friday Night Lights, where he directed many great episodes including the series finale last spring.