There was a time not so long ago that the prospect of a second season premiere for Grimm seemed impossible. Well, that time was pretty much every minute that Grimm existed right up until NBC ordered the back nine episodes of its first season and realized that a supernatural procedural in a Friday night time slot of doom was the network’s only minor scripted hit of the season. Rushing into production on season two to hit a post-Olympics premiere didn’t strike me as the best way to right the narrative upheaval the show went through in its debut season, and NBC putting the show on Monday nights for the first five episodes this summer/fall before yanking it back to anchor Friday nights after Whitney and Community doesn’t seem like a very confident movie either. So here Grimm stands: a success despite all prognostication otherwise, more convoluted and mythology-based than ever before.
At the end of last season, Grimm surveyed everything it had laid out in 21 episodes, and picked the least interesting continuing thread, a trio of coins that a bunch of creatures obsess over, as the focus of the overarching plot of the show. It tied that plot to the murder of Nick Burkhardt’s parents, and as he investigated that “car crash,” he discovered Wesen on the hunt for the coins he took possession of earlier in the season. In a climactic battle, he fought Kimura, one of the men presumably responsible for the crash, when a mysterious woman in black entered the fray, fighting Nick and Kimura. But then, in the final moments, Nick discovered that the Woman in Black is his mother. It’s a telegraphed twist that forces the show to rewrite one of its fundamental conceits—that Nick was an orphan, and left alone in the world after the death of his Aunt Marie in the show’s second episode.
In five minutes, Grimm explains away the inconsistencies. It wasn’t her in the car crash; it was a friend. They couldn’t compare dental records because whatever creatures caused the crash took her head as a trophy, believing the dead woman to be a Grimm. She’s been in hiding ever since, Aunt Marie even knew she was alive and in hiding. The whole ordeal gets glossed over with pancakes and burnt toast, and Nick’s girlfriend/fiancée-but-not-yet Juliette is still in a mystical coma, Hank is bunkered down in his house each night with a shotgun, and Nick just sort of goes about his life, just with his mother there now.
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (yes, that one, from Scarface) does provide a lot of information on the history of the Grimms and scope of the Wesen world, but it comes out complicated and involving a lot of sevens. Grimms were used by seven royal families as wranglers for Wesen, keeping them in line. It’s the kind of alliance that shows why the Wesen have been so wary of Nick. She also espouses the mystery of the key Aunt Marie left Nick. It’s one of seven that belonged to ancestors of the Grimms, who fought for the seven royal families in the fourth crusade. There are seven pieces of a map, and a really old Grimm diary page is a hint to that mystery, but at this point its just a big tease. So in addition to the warring families, competing underground Wesen communities, and Nick’s personal discoveries, there’s also a treasure hunt to be had. Oh, and don’t forget about the fucking coins, those are still in the Magic Winnebago somewhere, stashed away for later.
The real episodic issue at hand is a Mauvai Dentes (I don’t speak French, so I honestly kept spelling this Movedon. Please forgive me.), a saber-toothed Wesen assassin that arrives in Portland via a shipping container on a boat from Rotterdam. The guy murders brutally, with giant puncture wounds and savage slashes. Nick and Hank investigate the case a bit, but this premiere deviates from last season the most in terms of structure. This isn’t a police case that spills over into Wesen territory. It just introduces the episodic villain that Nick has to deal with as part of a larger serialized plot. The CGI hasn’t improved much and still looks kind of silly, but the gruesome violence the Mauvai Dentes leaves in its wake actually looks severe.
On the good side, Silas Weir Mitchell’s Monroe is still the much-needed pinprick to the balloon of super-serious posturing that deflates the show’s ego and provides much-needed comic relief. His reactions to Nick’s mother showing up are really the only laughs in the episode, and Grimm’s best episodes found a way to leaven the darkness with Monroe’s humor. (Best line: "Our last family reunion, we lost two cousins and a sheepdog. I mean, nobody missed the cousins, but…") It's nice to have Rosalee there on a permanent basis, since she provides some more technical knowledge to round out Monroe's friendship and general sounding board for Nick.
Speaking of new things, James Frain shows up (yes, he’s been in True Blood, The Tudors, and The Cape, but I’ll only remember him as Villefort from the Jim Caviezel Count Of Monte Cristo) in a faraway castle, torturing a member of the Wesen resistance. He’s the one who sends the sabertooth over to Portland, and perhaps on his instruction, Kimura meets an unfortunate end just before Nick can really interrogate him.
One of the dramatic bright spots is that this premiere sets up two relationships that need revealing: Nick and his mother, and Captain Renard and Frain’s character. There’s a lot of possibility for back-story on the Grimms and the royal families and how Nick has seemingly bucked the trend of Grimms as the foot soldiers of those families meant for controlling the Wesen population. For some reason, he’s the first person to make friends with Wesen instead of fight them, since his mother and Monroe fight briefly when they first meet.
At one point, I thought that Grimm was thinking too small by just revealing a tiny bit of the mythology with each case that Nick and Hank investigated, but now it seems the supernatural procedural has been abandoned entirely—or at least for this two-part arc. This is now Nick’s story as he navigates the Wesen world with his newfound creature friends, and there are too many competing serialized plots to competently navigate without leaving something out. The coins, the royals, the treasure, Juliette, and the resistance are all floating around out there, with no sense of priority.
To David Giuntoli’s credit, I don’t really notice his wooden acting much anymore. Only Mitchell’s performance even stands out; the weight of the show’s suddenly encyclopedic mythology flattens everyone else. Maybe adding this much to the world (and subtracting Juliette for the time being) will make Grimm a hell of a lot more interesting week-to-week, and Nick having to decide which of the many important parts of this world is the key each week will be thrilling. But right now I don’t have faith in Grimm to tie things up on the other half of “To Be Continued…” next week. I’ve got the second half of this premiere on a screener right now, and it killed me to wait and write this review before watching it. This is an incomplete picture of how the show is starting out its second season with the next episode, but for now, it has its hooks in me to keep watching next week, and that kind of narrative power counts for something.
- Welcome back to weekly Grimm coverage! Thanks for reading. I’m cautiously optimistic, despite my lukewarm feelings about this premiere.
- The epigraph comes from a W.B. Yeats poem entitled “The Second Coming.” I didn’t like it as much as quotes ripped from Grimm fairy tales and other folk stories.
- Remember that stretch of time when Sgt. Wu went missing for a while last season? Well he had a pretty good excuse, considering he had a part in The Dark Knight Rises. That was pretty awesome to see.
- I’m 100 percent certain that I would rather watch a Monroe/Rosalee spinoff than this show, that’s how much more compelling they are than the central plot of Grimm.
- This may be a bit of a SPOILER: Apparently, Frain plays Renard’s brother, which is an interesting development. Let’s see how long it takes for him to set foot in Portland.
- Monroe and Rosalee have some kind of antidote to help save Juliette, but they’re sadly not as much of a part of the premiere as they could be. Seriously, this show needs more Monroe.
- Adalind’s mother still plays a bit part as the recipient of Renard’s ire, though Adalind is missing. I hope she comes back; she was a lot of fun.