Aaaand we’re back to the Battle of the Network Fairy Tale Shows as both Once Upon a Time and Grimm aired new episodes this past week. As it happens, Grimm skipping a week has allowed me to get ahead of Once Upon a Time, meaning that as long as there are no more interruptions, I’ll be reviewing Sunday’s episode the next day instead of a week later.
On Once Upon a Time, we got some back story on Sidney Glass, aka The Magic Mirror, learning how he got to be in the mirror in the first place. Meanwhile, Grimm gave us a gruesome take on Hansel and Gretel involving human organs and, even worse, 90’s college slacker fashion!
Once Upon a Time, Ep. 11: “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree”
When Emma (Jennifer Morrison) complains about Regina’s (Lana Parilla) latest effort to keep her and Henry apart by tearing down “The Castle” playing structure where they’d meet, Sidney (Giancarlo Esposito) asks her to help him expose Regina for “who she really is.” While they find some discrepancies in her records, and attempt to publicly embarrass her, she shuts Emma down by revealing that the money that’s missing from the budget has been used to create a new playground, making Emma look like a heel for accusing her of fraud. However, while Regina wasn’t guilty of fraud in that instance, she was guilty of fraud in a grander sense as the entire issue of the playground, and Sidney’s appeal to Emma for help, was all a scheme to shame Emma publicly and get her to trust Sidney so that he can keep a more effective eye on her. Meanwhile, in the fairy tale world, we hear the story of a genie who is freed by Snow White’s father, falls in love with Regina, and kills the King in an effort to “free” the woman he loves only to discover that she wanted him framed for the murder and punished. It was all a plan. Lastly, The Stranger, who still has this strong interest in what Henry’s up to, NOW HAS THE BOOK.
Script (2): Despite the Disney’s Aladdin “free the genie and the shackles magically drop off” vibe, Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss have given Sidney Glass perfect context in his fairy tale back story. Also, their script highlights something that I’ve been noticing for a while, but was really apparent in “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree.” We know that Regina has ulterior motives. However, nothing she says to Emma is ever really, technically wrong. Here, the writers have done a great job of giving Regina just enough to say, so that one can read into it whatever they like (and Parilla can play it however she’s directed), but that Regina never says anything with which one can disagree.
The theme of rushing headfirst into “doing what’s right” without all the information is an interesting one to explore. We see in the cases of both The Genie and Emma that rushing to protect the people we love without seeing all sides of the argument can do more harm than good. And we learn through Mary Margaret and David that sometimes doing what’s “wrong” is really the thing that needs doing. Morality is an interesting thing in Storybrooke.
Lastly, I have a new crackpot theory about The Stranger. In my review of “7:15 A.M.” yesterday, I posited that The Stranger might be a Grimm, or Hans Christian Andersen. In other words, a well-known writer of fairy tales. But after the scene between him and Henry in the diner, where The Stranger was so interested in the stories Henry was drawing, as well as the end where The Stranger ends up with The Book, I have another thought. The Stranger IS Henry all grown up. Little boy Henry got written in by older Henry, who escaped Storybrooke years ago, in order to go find his mother and tug on her heartstrings enough to draw her to Storybrooke to fix everything.
Hey, this is a show brought to us by the writers of Lost. It could happen.
Performances (2): I love Giancarlo Esposito. I love him on Breaking Bad, and I loved him in “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree.” He’s capable of such an amazing balance between hopeful vulnerability and bitterness, and it was wonderful to watch him trace the journey Sidney/Mirror has taken from one to the other. Once again, Lana Parilla does amazing work. Both Regina and the Evil Queen are so wonderfully layered that even as she’s doing something horrible, you see in her eyes and in her delivery this underlying pain that makes you almost sympathize with her, even as you’re loving to hate her. Lastly, I really love Eion Bailey as The Stranger. His dialogue never seems ethereal, or cryptic just for the sake of creating mystery. Despite us not knowing what they are, there are very definite motivations and emotions underlying everything he says, and his performance is grounded and concrete.
Production (1.5): While much of the episode was well-designed and beautiful as always, I have to dock points for some obvious CGI. Particularly in the scene when The King and The Genie are walking to the palace under a stone archway that looked layered on, as well as the fake-looking snakes. Also, I had a bit of trouble with the look of The Genie. While I understand the need to adhere to certain conventions to get a point across visually, Once Upon a Time has been so successful at creating characters and costumes that are new takes on old ideas that this standard Genie of The Lamp get-up seemed lazy. On the plus side, the view of The King picking up The Lamp from inside was really well done, and the Evil Queen’s white fur coat and hat were beautiful.
Representation (2): We finally have an episode focused on the one black, main character on the whole show. Yay! The fact that the episode heavily featured both Esposito and Parilla was a double bonus.
On the gender front, it’s great that we have female lead characters making mistakes. Emma is no longer a clear-cut do-gooder. She struggles with her own self-righteousness and the consequences of mistakes past. Meanwhile, we also have a male character in The Genie who values finding true love above all else. We saw in Prince James, and now in The Genie an example of a different template for what a male character can be.
Audience Engagement (2): An engaging, entertaining episode that spoke to issues larger than the show. Is it okay, as Shakespeare writes in Merchant of Venice, “To do a great right, do a little wrong?” Because the actions are so extreme in this episode, both fan and casual viewer alike are drawn in to the morality debate. Was Emma right to break into Regina’s office to find proof of wrongdoing? Is Mary Margaret right to continue seeing David? Was The Genie right to kill the king that was keeping his wife a prisoner? Yes. And no. And yes again. “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” is one of the most thought-provoking episodes of Once Upon a Time thus far.
TOTAL SCORE FOR Once Upon a Time: 9.5 (out of 10)
Grimm, Ep 10: “Organ Grinder”
A teenage boy’s body is found floating in the river with puncture wounds in his neck, and Nick (David Giuntoli) and Hank (Russell Hornsby) are brought in to investigate. They are led to a teenage brother and sister, Hanson (Daryl Sabara) and Gracie (Hannah Marks) — Hansel and Gretel. Get it? — who are living out on the street selling puka shell necklaces and whose only access to health care is a nearby free clinic.
Script (2): Grimm is great at creating cases that are both troubling and believable on their own in addition to being a symptom of creature goings-on. Akela Cooper and Spiro Skentzos have created an intriguing story of black-market organ harvesting that could play easily on CSI. The only difference being in the use of the organs, of course. Again, Nick’s abilities help the police get to the answers a little bit faster without becoming implausible. What’s more, this episode effectively brought all of the main characters into the story.
“Organ Grinder” made me wholeheartedly and unabashedly love Nick. From his wanting to tell Juliette about his double life sooner rather than later, to his acknowledging that sometimes it’s better to act as a Grimm than a cop, we see more evidence of his growth here than we have in the nine episodes before it. It was a great choice to have Monroe become concerned that his friendship with Nick was limited to interaction about creature-related cases, and I’m thrilled that we and Nick now all know that his favorite color is red. Hank had some interesting moments, too, as he remarked that Portland has gotten a lot weirder recently several times. I don’t think that Nick will tell Hank about his double life. I think that Hank will figure it out himself, as he already seems to be putting things together. There was great material for Captain Renard as well. Not only did he have to deal with an illegal operation that intruded on both his jurisdiction as a police captain and in whatever his royal capacity is, but we were able to look a bit deeper into his feelings about Nick. In the final scene in the episode, it seems that Renard is genuine in his defense of Nick.
So, here’s my crackpot theory about Renard. I think he wants not only to keep Nick alive, but to keep him being a Grimm the way he’s being a Grimm. I think that Renard wants to change things, and I think that he sees letting Nick find his own way as a Grimm as a way to change the status quo and build the kind of creature world he wants. Furthermore, I think he had Aunt Marie killed, because he didn’t want her being a “bad influence” on Nick. If Aunt Marie had continued to guide him, he would eventually be as ruthless in his dealings with the creature world as she was. Now that she’s out of the picture, he’s free to do things like attempt to catch a creature falling into a pit of fire, and I think that Renard is trying to build a world in which Grimms interact with creatures that way.
So, stop calling Renard a villain, m’kay? Unless, of course, he actually is one. In which case...um...I’ll let a Reaper scythe me.
Performances (2): The entire cast brought their “A” games to this story. Nick in full-on Grimm Mode? Ridiculously hot. He can back me up against walls in a threatening fashion any time he wants. Attractiveness aside, that hotness had to do with the assurance with which David Giuntoli embodies Nick. Giuntoli has really hit his stride with the character, and the specifics of Who Nick Is were so clear to me in this episode because of his carefully etched portrayal. Bitsie Tulloch got to shine, and I loved the humor and depth she brought to Juliette this week. Silas Weir Mitchell continues to exude humor and warmth in his portrayal of Monroe, and what makes his performance sparkle is that, underneath that humor and warmth, there’s a bit of sadness and solitude. As Renard, Sasha Roiz continues to expertly walk the fine line between defending his personal and professional interests, and we got to see the first cracks in Renard’s veneer in his final phone call.
And we had the benefit of a lovely guest star in Hannah Marks, whose Gracie was intelligent, sweet, and complicated.
Production (2): Some of the most difficult things to get right are the little details, but this episode not only provided us with realistic looking human organs in varying states, but well-designed locations to house them, from the interior of the trailer “greenhouse,” to the shop where the powders made from the organs are sold. Also, the geiers (the bird-looking creatures that harvest organs) had a pretty amazing transformation. Those enormous talons were sick.
Representation (2): Juliette keeps getting better and better. In “Organ Grinder,” she was funny, smart, insightful, a help to Nick’s case, and most importantly - Nick noticed. While she dismissed her insight at the diner as “just girl instinct,” Nick told her “You’re pretty good at this. You should’ve been a cop.” Also, Nick isn’t pulling a Peter Parker, and Juliette isn’t his Mary Jane. He knows she can handle it, and thinks she deserves to know. He has total faith in her, and he doesn’t think he knows better than her. It’s himself he’s not sure of, and that’s what’s keeping him from telling her. He’s not confident in his own assessment of the situation, which is probably correct. Also, I’ve been noticing recently that, whenever the detectives have to call upon a specialist or a technician, that specialist - from Dr. Harper in the morgue, to lab technicians looking into blood samples - are female more often than not.
Sargent Wu, while not getting as much personal attention, continues to be a major presence on each and every case. Most importantly, there has never been even a hint of Asian stereotypes in the way he’s written. Hank gets a lot of personal attention in what’s written for him. Not only is he a complex character, but he’s also never written in a way that devolves into stereotypes.
As Grimm goes on, the writers seem to have gotten the message. When it comes to representation, you can’t be what you can’t see. The show isn’t perfect, but it’s doing a great job at allowing more people to consistently see themselves in it.
Audience Engagement (1.5): “Organ Grinder” dealt with a crime that people have heard of and with which many have a morbid fascination (there are even urban legends about it, as well as a video about a unicorn named Charlie who has his kidney stolen). That, plus the fact that it was an effective, self-contained story even as it delved further into the show’s mythology makes this episode easy for anyone to enjoy. Sadly, the #grimmlive live-tweet on Twitter didn’t include Bitsie Tulloch last week, because she was filming. Silly production schedule.
TOTAL SCORE FOR Grimm: 9.5 (out of 10)
Cumulative Scores So Far:
Once Upon a Time: 80.5
What was wonderful about both shows this week is that, after each one, I was inspired to have long discussions with friends about all sorts of topics of which the shows reminded me. Particularly as to whether either of my crackpot theories have any weight.
To get in on the conversation, you should be watching Once Upon a Time on Sundays at 8PM ET on ABC, and Grimm on Fridays at 9PM ET!
Teresa Jusino has never owned, purchased, or worn a puka shell necklace. She can be heard on the popular Doctor Who podcast, 2 Minute Time Lord, participating in a roundtable on Series 6.1, and at the end of last year she was selected as one of the Top 11 Geek Girls of 2011 at the Geek To Me blog at Chicago Redeye. 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! 2012 will see Teresa’s work in an upcoming non-fiction sci-fi anthology. Get Twitterpated with Teresa, “like” her on Facebook, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.