The decision to kill off a character on a television show is one that’s made for a variety of reasons—a contract runs out, the narrative dictates they’ve reached the end of their story, the producers want to stir up some interest amongst the audience. And while there’s never any end of conversation when those deaths happen (case in point, last week’s The Walking Dead) the more important part of that decision is how it affects the remaining members of the cast. Deaths that people move away from easily are the deaths that feel like lazy writing or immediate shock effect. The best shows are the ones that understand death is something that needs to be processed, and that loss triggers a multitude of reactions that aren’t altogether pleasant to go through.
On that front, Grimm is off to a good start for season five. Last season Grimm embarked on one of its most ambitious narrative arcs ever by pushing Juliette down the dark path of evil Hexenbiest, and it doubled down on that direction in the season finale when Trubel shot her dead and she died in Nick’s arms. This was a huge development for Grimm—the first main character killed off in its run—and the season premiere doesn’t shy away from the ramifications of that death. It also wisely uses that death as the springboard for the rest of the season, with the implication things aren’t going to get better anytime soon and a status quo feeling is a long way away.
There’s no rest for the wicked right at the start of “The Grimm Identity,” as events pick up immediately after “Cry Havoc” with a black ops team headed by Agent Chavez breaking into Nick’s house to abscond with Trubel, Juliette’s corpse, and his mother’s head, and leave him chloroformed on the floor. This series of events allows Grimm to step into more experimental territory, with a black-and-white sequence that takes on various Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch overtones as Nick goes through the motions of the funeral and finds himself drowning in caskets. (Overtones that are somewhat undercut by the floating head in a box, which suffers from the unintentional comedy that the show’s broadcast network-level special effects occasionally produce.) It throws you into Nick’s tragic and disjointed headspace right away, setting a tone that nothing feels right anymore.
Said tone isn’t the best one for Nick, who’s on an emotional spiral that’s taking him past what we’ve come to expect from the character. David Giuntoli’s grown into the role of Nick over the last few years, but for the most part the role hasn’t been emotionally taxing, largely asking him to be various shades of disbelieving, stoic, and ruthless over the run of the series. Here, he’s pushed to emotional extremes as he displays moments of raw grief and blind rage as he deals with Juliette’s death and refocuses into hunting Trubel, a development that forces him into a new range. While still early in the process, Giuntoli pulls off the necessary feeling of intensity that his ill-advised actions necessitate.
The grieving process is also not limited to Nick, as Juliette’s death sets off aftershocks through the whole team. Rosalee, easily the most empathetic member of the team—and Juliette’s webisode bestie—is clearly devastated by her death, but the other members of the team are having a hard time sympathizing with her. “Well, she did sort of embrace it,” Wu says in classic Wu form, and even Monroe can’t find support beyond designating the whole thing “a bad deal.” This is a group that’s become tightly knit over the last few years, and this could be the event that starts unraveling those connections. It’s a direction that would be atypical but not unwelcome for Grimm, as the comfort between these actors is such that pushing them into antagonistic arcs.
If that antagonism is coming, it doesn’t arrive right away, as Nick’s impulsive decision to snatch Chavez leads to fewer ramifications than expected. All summer long the Grimm cast and creative team have been promising a much darker direction for season five, and while Hank, Monroe, and company are trying to hold Nick back, they fall in line behind Nick with menacing woges and promises to never be seen again. Chavez’s interrogation is notably lacking in a strong voice of reason, her captors operating more on id than ego and feeling less like an interrogation tactic than the way things are. Nick’s never needed someone to hold his leash back before, and with tensions getting higher, the question of if he needs it now is very present.
The focus on Chavez is a move that pushes two things about this new season of Grimm right away, the first of which being a welcome move to its game when it comes to fight scenes. Grimm has been competent in this arena since it began, but in a TV landscape that’s since grown to include properties like Arrow and Daredevil, competent isn’t enough to distinguish yourself. There’s a definite feeling that the creative team is trying to rise to the challenge, as a fight scene between Nick, Chavez and three unknown Wesen culminates in an act neatly summarized as “rebar brain stab.” And it’s also a fight that’s instantly brutal, adding three more bodies to Nick’s tally and taking Chavez out of the picture with a disemboweling.
The other development is in the narrative, as a heretofore unknown threat is introduced. At first glance, Grimm appears to be following the same route as Buffy did in season four, introducing a vague yet menacing government agency that’s fully aware of the supernatural side to the world, and is capturing beings of interest to harness their gifts. That’s a route that could go either way for the show—the Initiative wasn’t Buffy’s most compelling arc—but the sheer act of introducing this conspiracy at the start of the season is an encouraging one. Grimm has suffered from a glut of plots since the beginning, and too often its mix of royals, keys, and magic babies have created inertia as opposed to direction. Introducing a brand-new plot like this shifts the focus in a new way, and raises hope that the series will be taking advantage of the “Cry Havoc” tumult to clear away some of the detritus.
And while this is a premiere that’s fixated on death, it’s also one that brings in new life, as Adalind gives birth to her and Nick’s son. Grimm continues to approach this odd makeshift family unit in a mature way, and doesn’t try to suggest that despite the appearance of baby Kelly that Nick and Adalind are going to end up happily ever after. These are two people who once despised each other, tried to kill each other on multiple occasions, and who share a history that any casual observer would call dicey at best. Giuntoli and Claire Coffee have always played this unease well in their various scenes, and this moment that should be one of joy turns into detente that doesn’t show any sign of clearing as they embark on shared custody.
Altogether, “The Grimm Identity” is an encouraging start for Grimm’s fifth season. By virtue of not being a two-parter like previous season premieres, and dispensing with the case of the week structure right away, the writers are able to devote their time to exposition and they do so in a way that sets up a plot without being too overtly vague. Grimm earned a lot of goodwill in its last few episodes by plowing forward with some bold narrative choices, and the premiere gives every indication of a creative team that intends to double down on said choices. Here’s hoping they stick to it.
- Welcome back to regular Grimm coverage! I’m looking forward to another year of discussing all the conflicts and nonsense with you.
- This Week In Portland: It’s a premiere disappointingly short on Portland landmarks, though a quick Google Maps search confirms that Chavez’s street address doesn’t actually exist.
- This Week’s Epigram: A quote from Frederick Douglass’s 1852 Fourth of July speech. That quote goes on to call for “the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake,” all of which are likely to come if Grimm continues on this path.
- Somewhat off topic, but Silas Weir Mitchell and Sasha Roiz headlined a play in Portland earlier this year, Three Days Of Rain. They were predictably excellent together on the stage, and enough to make one hope for more Monroe/Renard scenes this season.
- Renard seems to be entirely off the hook with Kenneth as his scapegoat for the Ripper killings, though he seems less than comfortable prepping for his press conference.
- Bud! Always nice to see Bud, who perhaps in reaction to all the darkness is at his Bud-est this week, between trying to get Adalind to eat his family’s pancakes and doing the worried expectant father dance despite not being the actual expectant father.
- On that topic: since when do hospitals allow people into the delivery room without wearing scrubs? That has to violate some health code.
- Even more important question: after drinking the potion in “You Don’t Know Jack,” is Adalind is no longer a Hexenbiest? Labor pains seem like the prime place to woge out. If she’s not, given how long it took her to get those powers back, I’ll be sighing heavily in despair.
- “There’s a lot going on. What am I saying? There’s a lot too much going on.”
- “He’s as much you as he is me.” “I’m not sure that’s good on either side.”