Let’s not pussyfoot around this one: “Nameless” is the worst episode of Grimm’s second season by a wide margin, on par with the disastrous Cinderella-inspired “Happily Ever Aftermath” from almost a year ago. It’s a cheesy reworking of a character Once Upon A Time has used to significantly more successful effect, and it’s not often that I find myself resigned to admitting that.
The most disheartening aspect of this clunker is that it’s credited to Akela Cooper, to this point Grimm’s strongest writer other than the creators. She was responsible for the two best examples of Grimm in standalone mode—“Organ Grinder” from the first season, and “La Llorona” from this past Halloween. Typically, seeing her name in the opening credits gives me a boost of confidence for an episode, but tonight didn’t live up to the standard set by the first two episodes she’s written for the show.
Spinner, a Portland game developer, celebrates the launch of their new MMORPG, Black Forest 2. It’s going to be a massive hit, thanks to a breakthrough bit of vague code that somehow, miraculously enables the game servers to accommodate a lot more players without accruing any lag on the game performance online. I’m no computer scientist, but this sound nebulous and kind of insane, but hey, it’s just the plot device that points to the most interesting reworking of “Rumpelstiltskin,” the fairy-tale inspiration for this episode.
That game-changing code, which stands to rake in tons of money for Spinner—like golden thread from a spinning wheel—came from an unknown emergency freelance IT guy, who got called in to fix a computer for Jenna, the lead developer, during a marathon two-day coding session. In exchange for a date, he fixes not only the computer, but the code, but Jenna stand the guy up, since she’s dating one of her co-workers on the team. That sets the IT guy into a murderous rage, and he kills the game developers in the game by slicing them in half, before finding them in real life to do the same with his creepy, acid-dripping, razor-sharp nails.
There’s a way to describe this whole case that makes it sound somewhat viable—focusing on Cooper’s clever integration of the fairy tale details into the plot. But far too many of the characters speak excruciating dialogue. Camille Chen as Jenna gets some of the worst lines, and doesn’t do anything to save them with her delivery. (A few samples: “Why are you doing this? WHY???” or the Wilhelm scream to the hallway party that opens the episode.) At one point early in the investigation, Hank gets to deliver a hackneyed, “The call is coming from inside the building!” And more than a few transitions induce whiplash, particularly the cut to the creepy computer guy developing his Sudoku puzzle.
But there are compelling parts of the investigation. The murderer, who goes by “Nameless” in the game, leaves behind the title pages of three books: Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, Richard Bachman’s Rage, and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court. Aside from tossing a whole mess of other literature in with the fairy tales, it’s a good clue—all the authors used pen names. It’s one big puzzle, one that Sgt. Wu helps with more than usual, but Nick and Hank carry it home. Nick’s search through Aunt Marie’s Magic Trailer turns up the creature—a Fuchsteufelwild—with his many known aliases, all of which contain the same letters, leading to a search through the same anagram generator I assume Riley used in that one scene from National Treasure.
Which brings me to a long-standing gripe that has rested in the back of my mind since the middle of the first season. When Nick learned about being a Grimm, and started to see all these monsters, shouldn't have he supplemented his research and training with some…fairy tales? I don’t know, reading the Brothers Grimm, catching up on the fairy tales Disney adapted. Anything that would allow him to better recognize a Wesen crime when it takes the form of fairy tale tropes. Grimm has a very strange congnitive dissonance between placing creatures or plots from fairy tales and folklore directly into the story to be taken as reality within the world of the show, and preventing its characters from recognizing and reacting to those elements as such.
I’m not saying that Nick should immediately think, “Oh hey, he’s taunting someone to say his name. It’s Rumpelstiltskin, now we know exactly what to do,” but for nobody to even mention that this resembles that incredibly well known story belittles the intelligence of the characters and stretches the limits of leniency. This thought doesn’t bother me so much when I’m entertained enough to forget it, but with a lot of clunky dialogue and ridiculous plotting, the edges start to fray and I think about the overarching problems with the logic of this world.
That’s not to say there aren’t some intriguing little mysteries or strong moments. Reggie Lee rarely gets more than a few one-liners to shine as Sgt. Wu, but he’s an integral part of solving the puzzle throughout this case, and he’s even more of a delight than normal because of it. Bigger supporting roles like this episode suggest that on another version of this show, Lee could have been the breakout actor instead of Silas Weir Mitchell. Grimm already has a full plate with its supporting characters, but if more details about Sgt. Wu get filled in during the more standalone episodes, that would be perfectly all right.
And all of those tiny scenes of Renard contacting his ally in Europe finally yields some real action. His colleague travels to Portland to share information about Renard’s brother, namely his alliances with other royal families, and their intentions for taking down global democracy and establishing imperial rule with all their former privileges. It’s not clear if or how the royal families of the Wesen world and the human world intertwine in Europe. But this plot moves in small increments, ending this week in Renard realizing his contact was tracked, throwing a bomb-laden briefcase out of a restaurant, then gunning down the would-be assassin in the street. It’s more exciting than anything that happens with the video game plot in only five or seven minutes of screen time.
Even Juliette’s visions actually a substantial narrative step, as she convinces Rosalee and Monroe to stay over and help interpret her visions. She sees Nick, wet from rain, and Monroe connects it to the night she went into the coma, when she was at the trailer with Nick trying to explain his Grimm status—only now Juliette isn’t supposed to know any of that information. Monroe’s backpedaling, even when Rosalee presses him to help, is both funny and convincing. And the final scene of that plot has the potential to dramatically alter the show.
Getting into the specifics of Nick and Hank solving the case don’t really matter. They catch the guy, but he goes the way Rumpelstiltskin always goes: violently on his own terms. This is a dud of a case that plays out in excruciating fashion, but with a handful of clever moments and suitable side plots. But I’ll be glad if it’s just a speed bump on the way to more successful serialized plot lines that have been riding along in the back of the past few episodes.
- I doubt that more than five percent of Grimm viewers heard Monroe’s last line about Juliette threatening to leave and didn’t think, “Finally!” Opening that door is dangerous because in the likely event that Nick allows what she wants (and the preview for next week supports this), it’s nothing more than a weak cliffhanger that would probably have done the show a lot of good.
- Along that same line of thinking: having some kind of Big Bad kill Juliette might be exactly what the show needs to remove the weakest plot line of the show and the catalyze Nick’s transition into a more serialized battle against the larger forces within Grimm’s mythology. Then again, if that happened, Nick would probably just mope around constantly whining about Juliette being gone, which would be even worse than the current situation.
- Monroe gives Rosalee one of his family’s beautiful antique clocks for the spice shop, and it’s adorable. More scenes with the two of them, please.