Earlier this week, with the knowledge that tonight’s episode of Grimm would see the show crossing the threshold of 100 episodes, I decided to head back to where it all began and revisit the show’s pilot. I hadn’t seen this episode since it aired five years ago, and was curious to jog my memory and see how things evolved since then. It was an interesting experience, between the usual cosmetic changes between pilot and series (hello, crewcut Wu!), details long forgotten (Aunt Marie was played none other than Kate Burton, Sally Langston of Scandal), and reminders of how much of a difference on-the-job training matters (David Giuntoli was far from an energetic leading man in the early going).
The most interesting thing about revisiting the pilot was that when you take a close look, early Grimm is still very close to the Grimm of today. I’ve talked before about how Grimm’s consistency is a a large part of why it’s endured for four-plus seasons, and so many of the elements that distinguish the show are present from the get-go: its cryptic and wide-spanning mythology, its smart use of Portland architecture and greenery, and its central ensemble that one or two cast members aside has been together since the beginning. Compared to another fairy tale-inspired show that just reached its own centennial, there’s something grounded about Grimm that I’ve never gotten out of Once Upon A Time. Both shows are capable of bad decisions and bad characters, but Grimm has a way of pulling back to its central conceit and mythology that make its sins easier to forgive.
A proximity to the pilot also casts the events of Grimm’s hundredth episode “Into The Schwarzwald” in a different light. On its own it would be a noteworthy episode, full of major events and upheavals in the show’s world. Yet none of those upheavals feel outside the norm. Everything that happens tonight is connected to things that have been part of this world since the beginning, and that have even greater significance when you look at how far they’ve come. It’s the best kind of milestone episode, one that doesn’t get bogged down in its own importance or mythology but one that remembers the story it’s already told and the story yet to tell.
The most seismic of events is the reveal of the ancient treasure of the seven knights, which Nick and Monroe literally fell into at the end of last week. Like “Key Move” the bulk of this search is fairly standard trial and error, but the fact that it’s Giuntoli and Silas Weir Mitchell playing off each other continues to keep it watchable, as do some clever ideas like phosphorous-coated skulls forming the G that forms the X that marks the spot. It steers away from offering answers to why the hunting party was tracking Nick and Monroe—the priest seems as startled by the discovery of the catacombs as they were, no hint if he was a secret protector or not—electing to keep them as largely anonymous obstacles that our heroes have to overcome. In the early days Nick only had Monroe to guide him through these dark places, and now they’ve come through so many of them together that there’s no one else either trusts more to watch their back.
And while they’re bringing their greatest treasure out of the darkness, “Into The Schwarzwald” is in no hurry to get to the final reveal. Episode 100 was written by Grimm creators David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf, and having been the people who introduced the mystical keys in the first place, they’re clearly aware of the four and a half seasons of buildup to this. Consequently, the tension is broken up at many points as something gets in the way of the reveal. First Monroe forgets to bring his lockpicks to work around the missing two keys (the most unbelievable part of the episode, because in my mind Monroe has the right tools for every job on him at all times). When they get the chest home there’s a dramatic moment where the group all turn the keys, and the music swells only to cut out when it doesn’t open. And then when Nick’s blood turns out to be the answer, the final contents are revealed, and for all their efforts the contents of the chest turn out to be… an unremarkable piece of wood. All the events indicate that they know a fair amount of viewers will think the game’s not worth the candle, and they wind up leaning into the anticlimax.
But after all that leaning, they know how to make things climactic in a hurry for both Team Grimm and the audience. An infected bite from their European vacation festers into near-fatal blood poisoning, and just when you think Grimm might be pulling its cruelest trick and killing its most beloved character to mark the occasion, proximity to the wood brings Monroe back from the near-dead. One mystery is replaced with another almost instantly, as a show that’s regularly dabbled in magic now approaches the territory of the miraculous. It changes the stakes right away, as now that they have the item so many people fought and died to protect, the realization that they need to be its protectors themselves is clearly visible alongside their shock and awe.
Of the cast gathered to witness this apparent miracle, there are two noteworthy absences from the ceremony to open the chest. While at one point finding and opening that chest would have been Renard’s greatest priority, events have shifted in the wake of Andrew Dixon’s death. It’s an opportunity for Sasha Roiz to play more than he’s been given in recent memory, shades of numb grief and barely contained rage as the hunt for Marwan plays out. It’s another exhibition of the uneasy relationship between the legal world and the wesen world, the fact that an APB could solve a lot of problems and that they can’t call one in. (At some point, Grimm really does need to have a serious look at how all this bonkers wesen crime exists and 95 percent of the force is in the dark about it.)
The case gets solved, but the way it gets solved takes the unsatisfying campaign arc into a much better place. I theorized last week it may have been a smokescreen for something bigger, and it turns out I was right as security footage leeds Renard to a similar conclusion. Lucien delivers Marwan to the police on a silver platter, and he delivers Renard an equally valuable prize with the offer to run him in Dixon’s place. Leaving aside the eye-rolling obvious HOPE-style poster they use to make the pitch, this returns Renard to his welcome position in the shadows, the opportunist and schemer who’s long chafed at his status. As someone who existed across wesen/royal/police, having him now stand between Grimm/Black Claw/Hadrian’s Wall is full of potential for the season’s back half.
Events also manage to dovetail nicely with the other dangerous organization involved, as Hadrian’s Wall is conducting their own search for Marwan and is more than a little upset that his death keeps them from further intelligence gathering. There’s been increasing annoyance from Meisner and company on Team Grimm’s refusal to form an official alliance, and the confrontation he and Renard share in the parking lot indicates the uneasy trust has been dealt a serious blow. One of Grimm’s greatest strengths is the way it makes its team a ragtag force united against much greater enemies, and these tensions help preserve that status quo while upping the pressure on said ragtag force. It also sets the stage to put Renard and Eve at odds, which is my most anticipated Eve/Team Grimm reunion given how fucked up their relationship in her past life was.
The other noteworthy absence at the unveiling of the Splinter of Destiny (we can workshop the name in the comments) is Renard’s former partner in crime, who’s going through her own potential return to the dark side. This season’s other vestigial plot sees some payoff as Rosalee’s old friend Tony returns to Portland, and it turns out that her reticence to ever see him again is well-founded. He’s an abusive tweaker, not afraid to make a statement up to and including assaulting women to get what he wants. He attacks first Rosalee and then Adalind, busting out the woge to make it even scarier on them—until the telltale crawling starts to appear under Adalind’s skin and things turn right around. It’s a beautifully executed scene as Tony’s fingers start to pop back one after the other in horrifying slowness, his screams as he flees gradually giving way to a stunned succession of “Oh my God.”
Looking back to the pilot, the journeys of Eve and Adalind now make for a fascinating parallel in their opposite metamorphoses. Once, Juliette was the shrinking violet who had no idea of the world, and Adalind was the one poised with snarls and lethal injections. Now it’s Eve casting hexes and breathing narcotic smoke, and Adalind practically begging not to be able to boil water with the power of her mind. In both cases it’s a much better use of the actresses—although Coffee was much better at the villainy than Bitsie Tulloch was at love interest in the dark—and the clearest example of how this world’s darkness shapes people in its proximity. And both cases are clearly on display here, representing that even if the Splinter adds a new level of power, it’s not the only source at play.
It’s cliché to say on these occasions “it’s all been building to this,” but “Into The Schwarzwald” truly does have the feeling of being an episode that comes from a show that’s been doing this for a long time. Despite hiccups of Greek coins, European odysseys, and badly paced amnesia plots, Grimm still manages to move past all those hiccups and come up with a central story worth following. Tonight’s events give the impression of a show that knows what is, knows what’s worked over the last hundred episodes, and would be perfectly all right running for as many more episodes as they can get. And based on where they are now and have poised to go next, I say give them as many as they’d like.
- This Week In Portland: Not a lot of new Portland scenes on display this week, so I’ll comment instead about how one change made since the pilot was the toned-down saturation of the forests. Grimm still makes good use of the mossy overgrowth that surrounds the city, but it’s much less heightened and otherworldly than it used to be, a move that helps ground the show in its particular reality.
- This Week’s Epigram: The Tempest, Act II, Scene 1. A quote that neatly ties into all of the episode’s spoken and unspoken ideas of what’s come before.
- Know Your Wesen: Tony’s wesen form is some bizarre and unsettling cricket-like thing that I don’t believe we’ve seen before. In recognizable wesen, Rachel reveals herself as Löwen.
- For a further blast from the past, here’s the original review I wrote at the time it aired, a relic of my pre-A.V. Club days when I was a nameless WordPress-dwelling dreg forced to lick empty whiskey bottles for sustenance. (And once again, I’ll take a minute to thank everyone whose enthusiasm brought these reviews back and allow me to talk abut this show on a weekly basis.)
- So, speculation on what the Splinter of Destiny could be? Part of the True Cross, driftwood that used to be Noah’s Ark, or something from a more obscure mythos?
- Shout-out to the editing team for that cut of Monroe grabbing skulls to Adalind pulling a jar off the shelf.
- Toss-up between whether or not Monroe’s best reactions are how excited he is at finding the chest (“We’re touching history!”) and his frustration when the chest doesn’t behave (“If they’re locks they should unlock! That’s what locks do!”).
- “Maybe it’s a stick-mata? Sorry, that was a stretch.”