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Grimm: “Face Off”

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Pulling Grimm from the schedule for three months right as the show gained creative momentum seemed like just another bonehead move from NBC. And considering I was on vacation the last two weeks of the fall half-season, it’s been over fourth months since I’ve written about this show. But in the intervening months, Bree Turner returned to series regular status after giving birth, and the plot ramped up to the anticipated confrontation between Nick and Renard that has been building for the entire series so far. The promise of those final few episodes, particularly “The Hour Of Death” and “Season Of The Hexenbiest,” led me to expect that Grimm could turn the corner into something like Angel—and tonight’s episode “Face Off” follows through on that promise.

It’s not the riveting payoff like the Breaking Bad episode of the same name, but it’s yet another step in the right direction toward upgrading the show from a watchable diversion to consistently entertaining television. Though it’s an entirely serialized hour with a few glaring flaws, “Face Off” manages to resolve some of Grimm’s larger, lingering issues, while leaving two compelling cliffhangers—one for next week, and the other for the rest of the spring.


The action picks up right after the events of last fall’s midseason finale, as Monroe tells Nick that the man Juliette has been seeing, the man who woke her from a supernatural coma, is in fact his captain, Sean Renard. He’s understandably upset about the long-standing deception, but Monroe’s advice and a call to the scene of a quadruple homicide (that Monroe and Nick committed) forces him to bottle his anger and vengeful thoughts.

David Giuntoli has slowly improved as an actor over the course of the series, but he’s never has been able to carry a scene on his own. He depends on a scene partner with good chemistry, be that friendly, romantic, or otherwise. Nick and Monroe have become the best two-character combination on the show, but tonight Sasha Roiz shows how valuable he can be as a direct foil, as he and Nick slowly figure out what the other knows, but still have to play it safe in public around the other officers. That kind of constant tension is new for Grimm, and it’s untenable, but Rosalee’s return with some more levelheaded analysis calms Nick for the time being.


Nick’s obsession with Renard and Juliette leads him to the precipice of some violent and irrevocable decisions. He sees for himself that Monroe wasn’t mistaken, as Renard kisses Juliette and enters the house. But what he doesn’t see after Monroe calls him away is just as important: Renard and Juliette compulsively joining and violently thrashing each other and destroying the house.

What helps the Renard/Juliette/Nick love triangle is that strictly speaking it’s not a love triangle. It skips Sleeping Beauty sappiness or tormented romance, as the details emerge Renard and Juliette aren’t in love, and don’t even have true feelings for one another. They’re just intrinsically drawn to each other due to the force of the spell from Adalind’s cat. Framing it this way uses the supernatural elements of Grimm to shift the plotline from a more standard romantic betrayal to something that fits the world of the show and complicates the character relationships. Rosalee deduces from the purification concoction she made at the beginning of the season that Renard is the royal in Portland, which accelerates Nick’s desire for a battle, and once the key in his desk goes missing, it’s all the more important that he stops the captain.


Okay, a bit of a break from the action—how cute are Rosalee and Monroe? Seriously. I haven’t been this invested in a TV relationship in a long time, and Grimm’s tendency to background that development instead of making it the forefront of the show is what makes it so great. For its first 20 minutes, “Face Off” falls into an unfortunate trap of relying on exposition via visually boring phone calls that sap momentum. But once Rosalee returns (in the funniest scene of the episode, courtesy of Monroe fussing over a bouquet of flowers), then everyone can talk it out.

At the beginning of the series, Renard was purposely shrouded in mystery, but as the details crept out, he became a much more interesting character. He’s not a leader, but an outcast, a misfit in a different niche from Nick or the rebel Wesen. He has a wide range of allies in the Wesen world—the assassin from earlier this season, and the owl locksmith Wesen from tonight are two of his more interesting accomplices—and he can be menacing when required, as his sudden appearance to confront Adalind demonstrates: “I could scream.” “Or you could die. That’s the kind of mood I’m in.” He’s ambitious but fearful of the Verrat, of his brother, and Adalind’s new Wesen political power given that alliance.


But he’s still a bitter outcast looking to carve out something to call his own, and when the chips are down, he sides with a fellow rebel, halting a pretty good fight scene with Nick to broker a peace at a symbolically significant site: the house from the pilot where Nick first used his abilities. Renard returns the key to Nick, forming a tenuous partnership with a lot of potential and many questions to sort out. But this is the beginning of a larger struggle. Renard lies to Adalind, flouts his brother’s wishes, and finds a possible way to restore normal order by allying with Nick and attempting to fix the situation with Juliette.

Grimm has shown that when the serialized pieces click into place, it becomes far more compelling. The best case-of-the-week episodes—last season's “Organ Grinder,” last Halloween’s “La Llorona”—are good examples of how to keep the wheels spinning without losing interest. But the little tidbits of information that expand the Wesen world—the conflict between the rebels, the Verrat, the royals, and the Grimms they traditionally employ—is the most fascinating and important part of a supernatural/fantasy show like this. It’s taken quite a while for the mythology and characterization to catch up, but as the characters have been filled in and a clearer picture of what’s going on in this world is revealed, Grimm has improved more often than it has stumbled.


The final cliffhanger doesn’t leave any doubt—the series isn’t going to kill off Nick or do something drastic to him, but it is the first time I can remember really wishing I had the next episode on a screener to watch immediately. When the two-part season première did this, I was rolling my eyes with disappointment. But picking up after a long layoff and quickly finding a compelling rhythm that drives the plot forward is a very good sign that Grimm isn’t just stumbling blindly into its better episodes. Though I expect more case-of-the-week plots going forward, the major shifts in “Face Off” signal that the show will invest more in an overarching serialized story with new and intriguing character relationships. Finally, a fun reward for all the anticipation and hope that Grimm would get its act together.

Stray observations:

  • The show still hasn’t figured out how to get that title sequence right.
  • It bears repeating every so often: The fact that the epigraphs of every episode are in Papyrus is just awful. What 12-year-old who just discovered how to change the font in Microsoft Word made that decision?
  • There are still a lot of little fussy questions surrounding Nick draining Adalind of her powers. That doesn’t seem to line up with every other Grimm/Wesen confrontation so far.
  • Very little Hank in this episode, perhaps because he’s recovering, but with Monroe, Rosalee, and Renard becoming more important, Hank gets shunted off to the side. I presume that won’t happen when the show gets back to more episodic plots.
  • Adalind also gets tied into the plot in a more significant way. Though she shifted her allegiance from Renard to his brother, she’s still not on safe ground. And since she’s a resourceful woman, she sets out to secure her own safety and continued importance. Seducing Renard and harboring a lovechild is just another way for her to hold cards to play now that she doesn’t have any powers herself.
  • If you have seen the brief web series that focuses on Monroe, Rosalee, and Bud the Eisbiber, take 15 minutes and watch it for how it displays Grimm at its most comedic.
  • “The flowers are too much aren’t they? Maybe you should give them to her.” Monroe continues to be a highly undervalued television character.
  • Thanks to Les Chappell for filling in last November while I was traveling. I always like reading his take on the show, especially the Portland details he can provide.