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Grimm: “Mommy Dearest"

Sure, no wire hangers. But also don’t eat my firstborn child.

B

Grimm

Mommy Dearest

Season 3, Episode 14
B

Grimm

Mommy Dearest

Season 3, Episode 14

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Reggie Lee is one of the most dependable parts of Grimm. As Sgt. Wu, he’s a reliable source of comic relief during some dour cases, always ready with some kind of gallows humor. And as the consistent uniform patrol contact for Nick and Hank as detectives, it creates a sense of professional camaraderie where there could have just been an endless rotating array of guest actors providing exposition at a crime scene. It’s always been nice to see Lee pop up in other places, like The Dark Knight Rises or Crazy Stupid Love. And he’s appeared in more episodes of the series than Bree Turner (which makes sense given she showed up almost all the way through the first season and took an extended break for maternity leave) and Claire Coffee (who had other projects, and had the whole Nick-took-her-powers thing going on).

Still, at this point I’m not sure that Grimm really needed an episode that focuses on Sgt. Wu, especially one where one of the big reveals about his character is that his first name is Drew. Sure, he’s the one character on the show who has been there since the beginning that the show hasn’t gone into detail about. But he’s also the character on the show who doesn’t know anything about Nick’s life as a Grimm. He’s the outsider, a necessary foil to the rest of the group, able to stand in not as a fool, but as a barometer for how people without a familiarity with the Wesen world would look at what Nick and Hank do.

I’ve always thought it strange that Grimm has never explained how Nick and Hank keep drawing case after case with a “Wesen flag on the play,” as Hank puts it. But the one person whose nonplussed reaction I trust (or the one seems like the most foolish among them for not speaking up about all the weird stuff, depending on how you see it) is Sgt. Wu. If he’s not making a big fuss about how these guys always seems to snag the weird cases with a lot of unexplained details and connections, then maybe there are just a bunch of other cases we don’t see being solved that don’t involve Wesen.

Like “La Llorona” and other episodes that explicitly deal with mythical creatures from non-Germanic foreign cultures, “Mommy Dearest” uses a figure taken from Filipino folklore. The Aswang is typically something like a cross between a vampire and a werewolf, a humanoid shape-shifter that feeds on infants. In this version of the tale, however, the Aswang is a mother who needs to feed on her son’s firstborn child in order to prolong her life. On some level, incorporating oppressive familial relationships and parental pressure on the younger generation feels like leaning on ethnic stereotypes. But because it’s trying to elucidate more information about Sgt. Wu, and the show has depicted overzealous parents from all walks of life, I felt a bit more forgiving.

So Sgt. Drew Wu gets some backstory. He’s from the Philippines, and he’s known a woman named Dana for most of his life. She’s married to another guy named Sam, and she’s pregnant with their first child. They moved from the Philippines to Portland on Drew’s advice that it’s a safe city. This adds a bit of rote emotional sympathy toward Drew, who lingers on his feelings but mostly just wants to be a good friend to someone he’s known for a very long time. But Sam is an Aswang, and his mother is in town to exact the ritual sacrifice that will prolong her life—except that Sam refuses to participate in the ceremony, and hasn’t told his wife anything about his true identity. Understandably, his mother doesn’t accept that, since it would mean dying much sooner than she anticipated, so she attacks Dana multiple times in her woge form, with a seriously eerie proboscis that stabs Dana in the navel, injects her with a natural plant sedative, then begins to drain her amniotic fluid.

A lot of the conflict with Wu getting involved goes over in standard fashion. He’s jealous of Sam, suspicious of the evidence he can’t explain, and though he does eventually tell Nick and Hank about the Filipino myth (after they’ve already uncovered the creature’s identity in the magic Airstream) he’s mostly investigating on his own because of his lingering feelings for Dana. Lee does get a chance to demonstrate more range than a typical Grimm episodes, and he does well with his features moments, not stretching to over-emote, but clearly demonstrating his concern and care. When he goes to talk to his cousin about the myth of the Aswang, and later has nightmares about the creature (featuring a bunch of Tagalog, adding to the number of foreign languages on the show), he shows some genuine longing even while deflecting the thought that he and Dana were meant to be together from childhood.

But what works best is how the New Scoobies negotiate whether to tell Drew anything, and if so, when and how to tell him. It’s a delicate situation, and the scene where Nick, Rosalee, and Monroe err toward caution while Hank advocates for telling the truth is the best in the entire episode. But though he may have the right decision for Wu as a character, telling Drew everything isn’t what’s best for the show. Grimm already has so many characters involved on Nick’s side, and Wu’s value is as the one guy just outside that circle. Hank tries to placate Wu’s suspicions when he finally reveals what he knows about the Aswang myth to the detectives, but it’s too little too late.

It also helps that the Aswang is a truly creepy Wesen. Even in the screener that I saw with temporary visual effects, it looked utterly terrifying in comparison to some of the other supposedly threatening creates Grimm has come up with. The final action scene, only possible because of Drew’s obsession to take care of Dana, leads to another moment of total terror and startling realization. When Hank saw Monroe and had to deal with what he saw, eventually Nick got him back, but it was an unnecessarily drawn out and convoluted process to finally reach the moment early in the second season when Hank joined the New Scoobies for good. Sgt. Wu has reached the point of no return on Wesen, having seen a creature he can’t explain, and now there’s a choice to either bring him into the fold, or somehow skirt around the issue in some completely unbelievable way.

And yet it’s a problem that is wholly unnecessary to add to the show’s already crowded assortment of spinning plates. I’m actually glad the show ends where it does, with Wu in a mental facility still haunted by the Aswang, screaming at his visions, simply because it’s a different reaction than Hank had. Given how tentative Nick and Hank appear in that final minute, and how reluctant they are to just sit him down, talk to him, or take him to the magic Airstream, signals that they may try to get him over his fears in some other way. But if the show does eventually clam Drew down and invite him into the inner Grimm circle, it will lose the last remaining recurring character that can represent the world outside of the supernatural undercurrent.

Stray observations:

  • In the only subplot, Adalind gives birth to a daughter without any complications in the rustic cabin provided by Meisner. He seems a bit enamored of Adalind, but what’s really a sign of things to come is that the baby has already demonstrated some suspiciously powerful telekinesis. That will presumably come into play later. Honestly, I wish the baby could rapidly age a la Angel, though that would make the overlapping plot lines even more convoluted.
  • Writer’s Assistant Brenna Kouf, who also happens to be Grimm co-creator Jim Kouf’s daughter, wrote “Mommy Dearest.” This is her first television credit, but a little cursory digging uncovered that she wrote a screenplay adaptation of William Faulkner’s The Sound And The Fury while at Bard. Somebody should put her in contact with James Franco.
  • The episode’s epigraph comes from a 15th-century manuscript relating the myth of the Gello, a female demon from Middle Eastern folklore that was used to explain tragedies related to childbirth, like miscarriage or infant mortality. Grimm has the ability to mash together different strains of folklore from different parts of the world when telling the story of an amalgamated creature, and that quote set up the story well.

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