Once Upon a Time vs. Grimm, Part 16: Stepmothers and Stepsisters

Welcome to your second helping this week of the Battle of the Network Fairy Tale Shows! Please note that this here post catches us all up to the most current episodes! Huzzah!

Fairytale families are effed up. No, really. Single-parent households where at least one of the kids is being treated like crap. On Once Upon a Time, we got to see how the Snow White’s evil stepmother really got her to eat that apple, while on Grimm we watched as Cinderella got her revenge on her stepmother and stepsisters.

If you haven’t got time, here’s the short version: Once Upon a Time whupped Grimm’s butt this week. Severely. Whupped. (and this pains me to say, because I love Grimm!)

For those of you who have the time to spare, read on to find out why!

Once Upon a Time, Ep. 21: “An Apple Red As Blood”

Regina (Lana Parilla) is not having her best week ever. It feels as if everything is closing in on her, and even her sometime ally, Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle), is willing to leave her high and dry. Emma (Jennifer Morrison) tries to take Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) from Storybrooke, but he refuses to leave, insisting that she stay and help the others from the curse. Henry tries to enlist August’s (Eion Bailey) help in getting Emma to believe, but his Wooden Boy condition makes it impossible for him to remain part of Operation Cobra. After a conversation with Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin), Emma realizes that perhaps abducting Henry is not in his best interests, but she talks with Dr. Hopper (Raphael Sbarge) just to be sure. Regina gets the idea to enlist the help of Jefferson (Sebastian Stan), aka The Mad Hatter, in order to use his magic hat to retrieve something from the fairy tale world that would provide enough magic to get rid of Emma once and for all and make her curse stronger than it was before. Jefferson agrees to help her if she will make it so that he will no longer remember his fairy tale existence and be as oblivious as his daughter in this world. Regina agrees, and she gets the object she needs — the magic apple with which she put Snow White into eternal slumber.

Meanwhile, in the fairy tale world, we see what happened after Prince James (Josh Dallas) was captured by his “father” (Alan Dale). Just before the King can put James to death, the Evil Queen saves him, and asks the King if she can have James instead, promising he will suffer. She holds him prisoner, knowing that Snow will try and rescue him – and try she does, with an army of dwarves and fairies in tow. But it was all a trick to lure Snow to the Queen, who upon meeting with her, tells her that she must bite the magic apple, or James will die. In Storybrooke, Regina has that same apple (with a bite missing, of course), and she bakes it into a turnover for Emma. Emma doesn’t have a chance to eat it, however, because Henry, knowing what it is and what it will do, eats from it first, knowing that if Emma sees him in danger, she will have to stay and save them all.

Script (2): Holy magic apples, Batman! Jane Espenson and David H. Goodman have delivered one of the best episodes of the season in “An Apple Red as Blood,” both from a character perspective and a plot perspective. Opening the episode with a glimpse into Regina’s worst fears by showing us a dream she has in which the whole town gathers to watch Emma kill her was a stroke of genius that was balanced out by the fact that she had to give up the ring in which she still sees her true love’s face in order to gain the magic she needs to keep up her curse. So, even as we’re rooting for the inevitable day in which she’ll be defeated, we also feel sorry for her, because we know what she’s lost and why she’s so angry.

And Henry. Wonderful, fabulous Henry. I knew the moment that Henry came over to Emma’s apartment that the only thing that would spur Emma to action would be if he ate it. But honestly? I wasn’t sure if they’d do that. Putting kids in danger, even fairy tale danger, is less palatable in a real-world setting than it would be if, say, Henry existed in the fairy tale world and we watched him be trapped by a witch. However, I’m so glad that the show was brave enough to allow this young character to do the necessary thing. One of the things I love most about this show is that it treats children with respect, and allows them to make choices for themselves, even questionable or harmful ones. In this moment, Henry got to be as noble and heroic as any fairy tale character, and watching him do it was magic.

This episode was perfectly paced and was wonderfully distributed among all the main characters, giving just about everyone – leads and supporting characters alike – the opportunity to shine. And it put a wonderful emphasis on choice. Snow wasn’t tricked into eating the apple, she had to choose it. Henry chose to force Emma into action by putting himself in danger and his faith in her completely. And now, I’m sure that Emma will choose to do whatever it takes to save Henry and the town. That’s one hell of a royal family!

My only question: Where did Jefferson come from? Didn’t he go through a hat that broke?

Performances (2): As I said, everyone had the opportunity to shine, and the script allowed every cast member to put their best performance forward. Ginnifer Goodwin had an amazing moment when she scolds Emma for abducting Henry and lays some tough love on her. Lana Parilla was brilliant as always as she navigated between Regina’s insecurities and her absolute certainty in her new plan. Josh Dallas was wonderful as an imprisoned James. But I need to shine a mother-son spotlight on Jennifer Morrison and Jared S. Gilmore. Morrison has been doing some of her best work lately, and in her conversation with Henry at the end of the episode, she broke my heart with the way she had to convince both Henry (and possibly herself) that the curse isn’t real, and that staying in Storybrooke without her is the best thing for him. And Gilmore is so good, I can’t even comment on his performance as a “child actor” anymore. He wasn’t good “for a kid,” he was just good, and he gave such a fearless, amazing performance in this episode.

Production (2): As usual, the costumes, make-up, and sets were gorgeous. Add to that how fabulous the fairies looked as they were flying over the palace wall, the impressive fight choreography when Snow and the Dwarves fight the palace guards, and August’s now wooden arm, and the production aspects of this episode were damn near perfect. Oh, and then there was stuff like setting up the shot above and the shot below….

Representation (2): This episode used amazingly nuanced female characters as if they were going out of style! Not only did Regina, Snow, and Emma have some breathtaking moments, but we got to see Red and Granny get in on the action, as well as all the fairies. Meanwhile, the dwarves were representing, too, and  Archie and James continue to be some of the best-written male characters on TV. Having some Sidney Glass/Magic Mirror action would have made this episode absolutely perfect on the representation front, but I guess with Sidney in jail, that would be difficult.

Audience Engagement (2): If this episode doesn’t suck in fan or newbie alike, there is something wrong with that person.

TOTAL SCORE FOR Once Upon a Time: 10 (out of 10)


Grimm, Ep. 20: “Happily Ever Aftermath”

Blah-blah rich family having money trouble. Blah-blah Cinderella character’s husband and “fairy godfather” go to evil stepmother’s house for money and she says no. She turns up dead, having been killed by a bat creature. Nick and Hank are called to investigate the crime, but it feels like they’re hardly in the episode even though the show is called Grimm and not Annoying Rich Family With First-World Wesen Problems. Blah-blah stepsisters. Blah-blah Cinderella seems naive and vapid until of course she is predictably the murderer (whilst still being vapid), the red herring of her fairy godfather having done it not nearly herringy enough. Blah-blah Nick has yet another random creature-specific weapon in Aunt Marie’s trailer, and Monroe has to go fetch again. But it doesn’t actually work, and the family members kill each other. So, Nick’s really done absolutely nothing. The end.

Oh, and blah-blah Juliette randomly helps Nick find out that one of the dudes responsible for killing his parents is still alive.

A propos of absolutely nothing.

Script (1): This episode was so bad, I found myself getting progressively angrier as it went on. Not since Episode 2 (ie: Gilda and the Stupid Bears) have I been so disappointed in an episode of Grimm. And they both contain blondes stripping down to their underwear for no good reason. Coincidence? I don’t think so. The fact that this was actually an episode written by the show’s creators was hugely surprising to me, considering that the biggest problem I had was that the main characters and plot were hardly a part of it. This felt like an episode they handed off to someone else, and that someone else got it wrong, but they had to use it anyway. This was not the case. *sigh* “Happily Ever Aftermath” was way too unbalanced in favor of the guest stars.

This might not have been a problem had the Kerfield family or the Jarvis couple actually been interesting, but there was nothing in the script (or in the performances, but I’ll get to that) that made me care about any of them. Yes, they were the stock characters from Cinderella, but that’s not enough to make me care. The most successful episodes of Grimm (like “Lonelyhearts,” “Tarantella,” “Three Bad Wolves,” etc) have compelling antagonists that are both a challenge for Nick and have intriguing personalities and back stories of their own.There was nothing unique, sympathetic, or interesting about anyone in that family, which made every scene they were in (which seemed like way too many) drag on endlessly.

Also, random info-dump about Nick’s parents? *double sigh*

On the plus side, I always love when Monroe is given the opportunity to geek out over some piece of Grimm weaponry… so at least there was that.

Performances (1): The only thing worse than the script were the performances, particularly Amanda Schull as Lucinda (aka Cinderella) and David Clayton Rogers as her husband. Schull spent most of the episode wearing a vacant, happy stare, looking as if she was high, and when she’s finally “revealed” as the killer and stops the act, she isn’t capable of pulling off cold-blooded murderer. Rogers was just annoying the entire time. I’m not entirely sure if it was their performances or the script that made these characters so unsympathetic and boring (and annoying), but I suspect both.

Grimm‘s regulars were solid as they worked with what they were given, and Silas Weir Mitchell was the one bright spot in an otherwise infuriating episode.

Production (2): I’ll give the episode this: Lucinda’s dresses were really pretty, and the bat creature looked really gruesome. Also, the blood effects as the victims are killed via high-pitched sound waves and the destruction whenever those sound waves are going on were very well done.

Representation (1.5): It’s sad that one of the worst episodes content-wise had so much opportunity representation-wise. Since Hank and Wu were hardly in the episode, they were supplemented with Spencer and the random Asian guy whom Nick must now hunt down. Most of the guest stars – Lucinda and her stepsisters, as well as their mother, were women. Having a “fairy godfather” instead of a fairy godmother was an interesting take, and his resolution to the problem – killing Lucinda – was unexpected. Everything was in place for a wonderfully diverse episode. If only Hank and Wu had had more to do, or the women of the Kerfield family were actually nuanced characters rather than just stand-ins for characters we know from literature.

Audience Engagement (1): Anyone who saw this as their first episode of Grimm would probably think the show sucks. And that would be unfortunate, because it clearly doesn’t. This was just a huge misstep.

TOTAL SCORE FOR Grimm: 6.5 (out of 10)

Cumulative Scores So Far:
Once Upon a Time: 147.75
Grimm: 144.25

(Please see my explanation of the scoring/numbering in the comments of my last post here.)

And just like that, Grimm is side-swiped out of the lead. Emma Swan is not messing around. Mayhaps next week, Nick Burkhardt will give her what for as he searches for…Bigfoot? Wait, that’s not even a fairy tale character…

Oh, Grimm.

You can watch Grimm on Friday night at 9PM ET on NBC and Once Upon a Time on Sunday night at 8PM ET on ABC, then come back here for more conversation!

Teresa Jusino is proud of her spoken-word poem about the ladies of Grimm. She was selected as one of the Top 11 Geek Girls of 2011 at the Geek To Me blog at Chicago Redeye, and her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. Her fiction has appeared in the sci-fi literary magazine, Crossed Genres; she is the editor of Beginning of Line, the Caprica fan fiction site; and her essay “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse” is included in Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them, which is on sale now wherever books are sold! She is Geek Girl Traveler when she travels. 2012 will see Teresa’s work in two upcoming non-fiction anthologies, and her “Moffat’s Women” panel will be featured at Geek Girl Con in August!  Get Twitterpated with Teresa, “like” her on Facebook, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.


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