When Grimm’s Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) discovered that he belonged to an ancient lineage of Grimms with the power to see mythological beasts disguised as humans, many viewers noted that he took the news surprisingly well. And while the show’s offhandedness continues to lend it a sort of sloppy charm, it also betrays Grimm’s fear of its own inherent weirdness. The blend of horror, fantasy, and police procedural is clever enough, but it rarely draws from the cleverest elements of those genres. Moreover, the writers don’t seem all that interested in what it might actually feel like to have an unseen, untapped nature buried within, something that can be unleashed in a moment of passion with potent and often terrifying consequences. We’ve been conditioned to expect several mutations of humans into Wesen (mythical beasts) per episode, to the point where the spectacle no longer inspires much fear or awe. That one jaded Blutbad (werewolf) refers to another Wesen’s transformation as a “neat party trick” is a cute one-liner, but it also amounts to an unintentional admission on the part of the writers: Grimm needs to find new ways to instill fear by confronting the beasts within.
Thus far, the series has tempted viewers with several potentially juicy plot turns, most of which were precluded by the necessities of the procedurals. Nick knows that his ancestors took the law into their own hands, decapitating Wesen with some seriously gothic-looking sickles, poisoning them with injection-loaded crossbows, and piercing their hides with specially coated bullets. For a Portland police detective, however, such means aren’t just old-fashioned, they frequently force him to cover his own traces at a crime scene, compromising his integrity as an officer. Even now that his partner, Hank (Russell Hornsby), is in on the secret, Nick’s role as a Grimm is treated as a natural extension of his skills as a homicide detective rather than a risky foray into uncharted rules of engagement. That Nick’s often hinted-at aggression and knack for combat so rarely threatens to get out of hand also feels disappointing given that the show’s minor characters are constantly struggling with their own identities. It’s not surprising that the reformed Blutbad, Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), frequently steals the show given that his pilates regimen, penchant for Japanese tea, and strict vegan diet are the only things keeping him from going all “big bad wolf” on the neighborhood kids.
Much is made of the fact that Nick is not only an especially gifted cop, but also a uniquely evolved and principled breed of Grimm who can befriend skeptical Fuchsbau (fox creatures) and hostile Blutbaden alike. The Mauzhertz (mouse creatures) no longer scurry away in terror, and Nick’s Wesen witnesses have become increasingly compliant now that he knows how to level with them about who he is and how he can protect them. There are hints that the series means to portray a new world order in which traditional morality has given way to unsettled ambiguity, opening the doors for war between enemy extremists on one side and revolutionaries like Nick on the other. It’s a compelling allegory, but despite a few run-ins with Reapers sent by reactionary Royals, that war seems far off and ill-defined. Instead, the only consistent overarching narrative consists of Nick’s girlfriend Juliet’s (Bitsie Tulloch) partial amnesia, an exceedingly frustrating plot device given that the memories she painstakingly recalls are basically scenes from previously aired episodes.
Most viewers will find it hard to take Grimm seriously when it uses cockamamy mythology to explain everything from the Holocaust (Hitler was, apparently, a jackal) to the Arab Spring (a series of uprisings provoked by agents of the secret royal society known as Verrat), but while it’s not as consistently cheeky as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the show does provide enough self-satirizing jabs to satiate cynics. When, for example, Nick’s mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) nostalgically recalls, “Your great-great-grandmother, Hilda, with this blade castrated a rotznasig carcajou,” he remarks, “That’s good times.” A successful self-referential joke proves the writers are in fact in on the joke, but it sometimes feels like a stopgap measure. The absence of a joke, on the other hand, can provoke unintended laughs, such as when Nick drops the self-serious line, “Could there be a Coyotl connection to your daughter’s disappearance?”
Then again, with its complementary color schemes and stylized lighting in the vein of Dario Argento, Grimm isn’t exactly intent on conveying realism. The series is perfect fodder for wiki-obsessed fans intent on learning the show’s ever-expanding faux-folklore, and few self-contained television worlds are as alluringly grim as the one posited here. Halfway through season two, the series is still taking baby steps toward realizing the underpinnings of its own extended metaphors, of exploring what it means to reveal oneself only by losing control. Yet genre, with its pre-constructed expectations, is less about reflecting our urges than satisfying them, and in merging three seemingly incongruous breeds of TV serial into one hybrid whole, Grimm satisfies an urge we never knew we had.