I spend so much time talking about developments related to plot and character in these reviews that I don’t believe I’ve given enough credit to the visual effects team. This is a team that has to come up with a new monster almost every week, having to run the gamut from the unassuming to the terrifying, and keeping the effects otherworldly and practical at the same time. While there have been a few missteps (the Murcielago from late season one comes to mind), the bulk of the wesen are a well-conceived menagerie, and the longer the show’s gone on the more ambitious it’s gotten. Design has been particularly ambitious and on point in season five between Xavier’s blob monster woge, the full-body Creature from the Black Lagoon design, and the towering spectacle of the rat king.
It’s fortunate that an episode like “Skin Deep” keeps this potent visual design momentum flowing, because it’s also what largely keeps things afloat this week. There’s not much in the way of compelling story beats until the last few minutes of the episode, so the creature feature aspect does the heavy lifting, relying on shock value and scenery chewing to keep our attentions. As a whole it’s a disposable mid-season procedural episode, but there’s moments that are going to stick when the time comes to evaluate the season as a whole.
The setup of the story is fairly rote: a wesen is using their abilities for some quick cash, and using those abilities winds up producing a few more corpses on the streets of Portland. “Skin Deep” does take an unusual amount of time setting up the body of the week, almost a quarter of the episode spent on young Summer and her modeling aspirations before we finally get to the true face behind the camera. My guess that the new Grimm diaries would open the door for ever-more exotic wesen bears out this week with a hideous insectoid thing of Egyptian origin, a face that clacks with mandibles and sucks the essence of its victims in graphic sac-filling fashion. And the aftershocks of his treatment are paced out with horror film precision, the accelerated aging taking Summer down as fast as she can process it.
The opening of the episode has a monster playing at man, but it goes further by partnering him with man who becomes a monster. That man is Doctor Eugene Forbes, played with absolute gusto by Patrick Fabian. In his terrific work on Better Call Saul, Fabian has made Howard Hamlin into a man whose moods and motivations are complicated yet able to turn on a dime (as they did on the inspired “Bali H’ai” walk through the office), and he brings all of that to Forbes as his caregiver’s facade and mercenary inclinations work in tandem. There’s also shades of his turn on Pushing Daisies, upselling his product and becoming increasingly erratic as problems with the raw materials surface, and the narcissistic bent as Forbes gets high on his own supply is a turn that Fabian makes a meal out of.
Those two characters are so central to the narrative, in fact, that funnily Team Grimm is almost irrelevant to the way this partnership resolves. While there’s some legitimate police work that Nick and Hank do to connect the dots and some Rosalee undercover work to get close to the source—one that contains some appreciated lampshading of the fact that Bree Turner is far too attractive to need any kind of anti-aging treatments—the fact remains that this whole plot would have resolved if they’d just stayed out of it. Forbes gets greedy and forces Malcolm to kill more, Malcolm confronts Forbes over the risk and discovers he’s abusing the product, Forbes stabs Malcolm in a brawl and then dies as a consequence of his addiction. The end result, just two more bodies that Nick will be hard-pressed to explain and which Grimm glosses over entirely.
As I said earlier, it’s good that the case of the week manages to be so visually arresting, because the rest of the narrative winds up being a drag. After weeks of being off to the side the Renard mayoral campaign finally takes center stage, but the fact that it’s been off to the side for so long means there’s an overwhelming amount of exposition to get through. Eve explains to Nick all of the conspiracy beats that Black Claw went through to put Renard in this position, then Nick explains it to Hank, and then they hear Renard offer his abridged version of events. Having this all be new to the characters doesn’t change the fact that we as the audience have heard all of these things before, and the rehashing of the story has no spark to it.
The advancement of this plot is also frustrating for how little sense we get of Renard’s true intentions in accepting the offer to run in Dixon’s stead. He makes a speech to Nick and Hank about how he feels Gallagher is the last person who should be running Portland, but we get no follow-up on the conversation he had with Adalind last week or even a scene of him having flashbacks to the last time he made a push for political power in “Three Coins In A Fuschbau.” Even with how much of Renard’s character is grounded in the way he practices secrecy and guards his agenda closely, at this point his motivations need to come up for air if we’re going to grow invested in this story.
As often happens on Grimm, it takes a real curveball to drive that investment. “Skin Deep” treads on some dangerous ground when Eve’s reliving of memories takes her to the moment where she cast a spell to make herself look like Adalind—the first flicker of Juliette she’s had all season. Eve continues to be a story with potential and Juliette had exhausted all of hers by the end of season four (and arguably long before that point until the Hexenbiest arc reinvigoration) so even a hint that she could become who she once was is instantly going to raise my concerns. And when she pulls out the old witch hat and cauldron, it raises concerns that she’s holding on to trappings of her past.
Full credit to Grimm though for the way it uses that flashback as a way to reinforce the development of Eve. This isn’t a nostalgic longing, it’s a mining of her past life for tactical decisions, using the spell for Hadrian’s Wall-related purposes. And once the spell takes action, it’s an open question which visual is more unsettling: the muscles and bones shifting and flowing under her skin like something out of a David Cronenberg film, or the manner that Bitsie Tulloch’s features mesh into Sasha Roiz’s as the spell’s outcome creates a Eveard. It’s a welcome injection of lunacy to a plot that needs more of it, one that gets the blood up for the next episode and makes sure to end on a high note.
- This Week In Portland: Malcolm and Forbes conduct their business in the shadow of Cathedral Park, which is where Malcolm’s second victim later crashes his truck.
- This Week’s Epigram: Leo Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata. The novella argues against the so-called nobility of sex and touts the merits of abstinence.
- Know Your Wesen: Rosalee suggests Summer may have been a Spinnetod (last seen in “Tarantella”) as an explanation for the rapid aging.
- No sightings or even mention of the Wuwolf this week. Incredibly disappointing. But fingers crossed that there’ll be a full moon again two or three episodes from now.
- The one part I did like about the Renard plot was his acknowledgement that if elected he’d have to resign as captain, which could cause a lot of issues with the terrible police work that this department has to carry out to keep wesen connections in the dark. Nick: “Whoever replaces you wouldn’t know how we handle things.” Renard: “No, they would not.”
- “Please try to avoid greasy fingers on the pages!” Aw, Monroe’s carrying on the legacy of the late Uncle Felix.
- “I’m 69 years young!”