Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Grimm: “La Llorona”

Illustration for article titled Grimm: “La Llorona”

It would be easy to pick on “La Llorona” for a few outlandish and overly emotional moments (underscored by some overdramatic music), but for this week at least, I can look past the little things that didn’t work for me. Maybe it’s because the story of La Llorona is one of my favorite folktales, or that I find the image of a woman luring children away to their doom to be permanently spooky even if it’s staged in a hokey fashion. But this week is a largely fun and eerie hour of Halloween-themed supernatural crime solving, with enough silly humor thrown in to make it the best episode of Grimm’s second season to date.

The tale of La Llorona has several variations and shares similarities with other myths, from Medea to the Celtic folkore of banshees, and this enduring cultural popularity makes it a perfect fit for a show like Grimm. Instead of going in-depth and explaining the whole story—that La Llorona kills her children to be with a man who rejects her, then is barred from the afterlife until she finds them again—the episode plucks out elements that fit into a crime procedural: child abduction and a mysterious weeping woman, and blends in a disgraced Wesen detective from New Mexico. It even finds a neat way of linking La Llorona to one of Nick’s ancestors, who encountered the inexplicable being while accompanying Cortés in Veracruz.

In this retelling, La Llorona is a lot like the Hansel & Gretel demon kids from that Buffy episode where Buffy’s mom systematically band witchcraft from Sunnydale. She moves from city to city, abducting and drowning three kids each year before midnight on Halloween, all in the same three-pronged pattern along the riverbanks. It’s not particularly important whether or not cities like Denver, Yuma, or Houston share the same river pattern that occurs in Portland, since the eerie vibe of the abductions, mixed with Nick and Hank’s confusion over where exactly La Llorna fits into the Wesen world catalogued in the codices of the Aistream of Knowledge.

As a standalone episode of Grimm—disconnected from the overarching plot and mythology of the series with Nick’s ancestors, Renard’s family, and change in the Wesen world— it’s the best since last season’s standout “Organ Grinder,” also by tonight’s credited writer Akela Cooper. This is an example of how to use a popular folktale well; this is the model for episodic storytelling in a supernatural setting. A “Very Special Episode” of Grimm around Halloween is basically a must because of the show’s premise. It features streamlined and functional investigation from Nick and Hank, an intriguing guest star in Valentina, the bluish cat Wesen and disgraced detective obsessed with the La Llorona abductions, and even blends in a useful and compelling Juliette storyline to boot.

It’s a little cliché to have Juliette meet a Spanish-speaking woman who sees right through her to the mystical troubles occupying her mind, but in a Halloween episode, while she’s acting as a consulting translator for the police department, it worked. The woman examines Juliette’s cat-scratch scars, infers her past symptoms exactly, even her memory loss, but Juliette cuts her off right when she gets to the Nick/Renard conflict of feelings. Brushing up against the overarching plot in the midst of an entertaining, largely episodic hour helps give the illusion of advancement even when it’s just incremental.

Sure, there were some minor groan-inducing moments, like Raphael’s father yelling “NO CREO EN SUS FANTASMAS!” and then breaking something by throwing it against a wall, slamming a door, and starting to cry. Juliette repeating information in English wasted a bit of time, and Nick, Hank, and Valentina figuring out that “abrazo del rio” meant the junction of the three rivers took an inordinate amount of time as well, but these are only minor quibbles. For the most part, “La Llorona” is an entertainingly spooky hour of Grimm, a much-needed jolt in the arm after a disappointing downturn in the past few weeks.


If there’s one complaint that sticks with me, it’s that once again Monroe has his own comedic plot separate from Nick. Over the past few weeks the show has been working on mending the Nick/Hank police investigation partnership that got so strained while Hank had no idea about the Wesen world. But now that he’s in the fold, it’s disappointing to see Monroe held out of investigations, even when it’s funny to see him get so much joy out of decorating his house and giving candy to trick-or-treaters. The little arc of this B-plot, with Monroe saving a little girl from some older bullies, the older kids coming back to break Monroe’s window, and finally Monroe freaking them out with his true Blutbad form, earned some laughs and generally showed off how endearing Silas Weir Mitchell can be. And in a standalone episode that barely tries to advance the overarching plot of the show, it makes sense. Some laughs, some spooky images, and a tightly constructed Halloween special. Hopefully this puts Grimm back on the right foot.

Stray observations:

  • Captain Renard gets word that Adalind went to Austria, so presumably he knows she went to see his brother. If she shows up back in Portland, that meeting won’t be a secret.
  • Monroe says Halloween is better than Christmas, but didn’t he get way into that holiday last season? It’s fine to be a big fan of both, but it retconned a bit of backstory for Monroe in a funny way.
  • When Raphael’s father keeps yelling his name in the opening scene, it was really hard not to have the same violent reaction that I had whenever “WALT!” happened on Lost.