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Grimm: A Supernatural Crime Drama

on Mon, 05/21/2012 - 00:00

“This is no fairy tale,” a dying aunt tells her nephew in the pilot episode of the NBC drama Grimm. “The stories are real. What they wrote about really happened. You are one of the last Grimms.”

The nephew in question is Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli), a Portland police detective and apparent descendent of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the famous bothers who collected the world’s most renowned fairy tales into one volume, originally known as Children’s and Household Tales. According to the mythology of Grimm, however, their motives were more than merely preserving an oral heritage but a means of “profiling” the various supernatural evils, known as Wesen, that walk the earth. As a “Grimm,” Nick Burkhardt has the ability to “see” these faux humans for what they truly are—wolves, bears, goats and even pigs.

A lot has changed since the Brothers Grimm first published their classic tome in 1812, and the conflict between old and new world orders plays a role within the narrative of Grimm. In the pilot episode, for instance, Burkhardt stumbles across a Wieder Blutbad—or wolf—named Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) during the course of an investigation into the kidnapping of a little girl last seen wearing a red hoodie. “I’m not that kind of Blutbad,” Monroe tells Burkhardt. “I don’t kill anymore, haven’t in years. As you can see, I am not that big, and I am done with the bad thing.” He adds that he is able to walk a more virtuous path thanks to a strict regimen of diet, drugs and Pilates.

In the episode “Bears Will Be Bears,” meanwhile, a contemporary Goldilocks and her bad boy boyfriend are used as prey in a coming-of-age ritual for teenage Jägerbars. “Nobody does that anymore,” the Papa Bear explains to Nick Burkhardt, unaware of his wife’s intentions of raising their son in a more traditional manner. “She wanted them to learn their heritage,” he says afterwards. “She never understood the danger of it. It isn’t easy to give up your history. You never had to give up yours.”

The statement is not entirely true. Having just inherited his Grimm abilities, Nick Burkhardt is left with nothing more than a trailer filled with old books and weapons bequeathed to him when his Aunt Marie succumbs to cancer. The volumes are filled with journals and diary entries—replete with illustrations reminiscent of those found in Children’s and Household Tales—offering snapshots into his ancestral past, but Burkhardt also relies on Monroe for insights into understanding the strange world in which he has suddenly been thrust. “So Little Timmy’s stuck in the well and you need Lassie to find him?” Monroe sarcastically asks Burkhardt in one installment, revealing his cautionary reluctance to assist a sworn enemy of his kind. “My folks used to tell me stories about you guys,” he explains of the Grimms. “Scared the hell out of me when I was a kid.” A budding professional relationship, if not actual friendship, develops between the two nonetheless as Monroe serves as both indispensable ally for Burkhardt specifically and source of comic relief for Grimm in general.

In addition to Monroe, Nick Burkhardt is also assisted by his detective partner Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby), first-on-the-scene Sergeant Wu (Reggie Lee) and medical examiner Dr. Harper (Sharon Sachs). In this sense, Grimm follows the basic formula of modern day procedural dramas that is not only reflected in the cast but the weekly storylines as well. Kidnappings, murders and arson all fall within the scope of Burkhardt’s investigations, and are likewise effectively resolved by the end of each episode. Of course, the crimes themselves inevitably pertain to the supernatural in some manner or fashion, while Nick Burkhardt must keep his secret from his Portland police comrades and balance his duties as both a law enforcement officer and Grimm.

And it is a delicate balancing act indeed. “This is not about the law, it will never be about the law,” Burkhardt is told in the episode “The Three Bad Wolves.” In the installment, a Bauerschwein seeks revenge on the Blutbad that murdered his sibling pig brothers. While in the original Grimm fairy tale it is the wolf that blows down their houses, Lieutenant Orson of the arson squad literally blows up the dwellings of the killer’s wolf brothers in retribution. “Your friend was part of an Old World Order,” he explains to Monroe. “Change is never easy.”

Orson also expects Nick Burkhardt to take his side in the centuries old feud, but the police officer inside holds sway over the newly baptized Grimm. “Sometimes being a cop gets in the way of what you have to do,” Orson tells him in the end. The truth is, however, that Nick Burkhardt is intent on walking the fine line between detective and Grimm, Old World Order versus contemporary times, and finding a middle ground of understanding and modern day justice over stereotypes and old-school revenge.

The same holds true for Sean Renard (Sasha Roiz), Burkhardt’s captain in the Portland Police Department. Although Nick Burkhardt is not aware, Renard knows that his underling detective is a Grimm and often protects Burkhardt against outside forces like Reapers, whose main objective in life is to kill Grimms. Renard is also considered “royalty” within the Wesen world. “Your first mistake was coming to my city,” he tells one such Reaper. “Second mistake was not knowing who you have to kneel before.” While Nick Burkhardt is not a typical Grimm, meanwhile, Sean Renard is likewise rebellious in regards to his own lineage. “It’s not just me, cousin,” a visiting relative remarks. “It’s the family. We’re very concerned things aren’t moving the way they should be.” Rather than deviate from his current strategy, however, Renard kills his cousin instead.

The royal family in which Sean Renard is a member apparently controls events in both the real and Wesen realms and also plays a major role within the overall Grimm narrative. “This world is on the brink of war,” Ian Harmon, a leader in a resistance movement known as the Lauffer, explains to Nick Burkhardt. “The turmoil in the Middle East, the crises in Europe, the Arab Spring—all of it is tied together. Agents of the Verrat, working for the Seven Houses, have infiltrated the highest levels of all governments. This is not a new struggle, it’s been going on for centuries. With this struggle, the royal families recognize opportunities to gain more control. People driven by fear choose stability over freedom when their neighbors start to die. Your people changed the balance of power when they decided to work for the royal families. Evidently you don’t even know how valuable you are to the royals.”

The world that Grimm creates is a world in which fairy tales are true and evil awaits the modern day equivalents of Goldilocks, the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood. It is likewise a supernatural procedural containing a vivid mythology, with many of its elements converging on the city of Portland. More importantly, however, Grimm represents a melding of ancient tradition and modern day culture in which ancestral heritage is balanced by the reality of the contemporary. “Change is never easy,” Lieutenant Orson states in “The Three Bad Wolves,” but adjusting to modern times is just as vital for Nick Burkhardt and the fairy tales creatures he encounters as it is for everyone else.

Anthony Letizia (May 21, 2012)

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