Welcome to Week 4 of the Battle of the Network Fairy Tale Shows. It’s an interesting time for the shows we’ve been looking at. ABC ordered a full season of Once Upon a Time only two episodes in, showing a huge amount of confidence in their new fairy tale drama. Meanwhile, NBC has recently ordered two additional scripts for Grimm, increasing their original 13 episode order to 15, and while they’re proceeding cautiously with this show, Grimm remains one of NBC’s highest-rated show in the coveted 18-49 demographic; a fact made all the more impressive by it doing so airing on Friday nights. As I mentioned last week, both shows are up for People’s Choice Awards, so if that’s your bag, you can vote for your favorite here.
This week, Once Upon a Time gave us a surprisingly empowering version of the Cinderella story (yes, even more than Ever After), while Grimm explored the rules of attraction (as well as the rules of severing).
Once Upon a Time, Ep 4: “The Price of Gold”
The fairy tales start hitting Emma (Jennifer Morrison) too close to home as she meets a pregnant 19-year-old maid named Ashley (Jessy Schram) who is struggling with what to do about her baby, as well as with reneging on an agreement she made with Mr. Gold. Ashley in Storybrooke is actually Cinderella, and in flashbacks we see that Cinderella didn’t go to the ball with help from her fairy godmother. Her fairy godmother was killed by Rumpelstiltskin, who then lured Cinderella into making a deal in order to free herself from her difficult life. She got everything she wanted—a life away from her cruel stepmother and stepsisters, the man of her dreams, material comfort. But at her wedding, she learns that her debt is greater than she expected. Rumpelstiltskin wants her first-born child. Meanwhile, back in Storybrooke, Emma becomes even more attached to Henry (Jared Gilmore) and decides to plant some roots in town. However, those roots might not be as secure as she thinks when it’s revealed that Sheriff Graham (Jaime Dornan), who offers her a deputy position, is apparently engaging in some afternoon delight with Regina (Lana Parilla).
Script (1.5): This week, writer David H. Goodman provided an intriguing reinterpretation of Cinderella; one that allowed us not only to see her timeless story in a new light, but also allowed us to look into Emma’s struggle more deeply. The idea that magic is all very well and good, but that real change happens when you do things for yourself is a powerful one, and it was interesting seeing the story of Cinderella in that context. After all, sure Rumpelstiltskin is bad, but who’s to say that the fairy godmother would’ve been any better? Also, the idea that “anyone who wants to be a mother should damn well be allowed to be one” is powerful, too. So often we see examples of pregnancy ruining women’s lives. It was nice to see a pregnancy be fought for, particularly by a woman who’s had experience giving up a child. Emma was firm on the fact that Ashley’s decisions are her own, but that Ashley needs to be strong enough to make them and not allow outside forces to dictate what she should or shouldn’t do. That’s a lesson we could all stand to learn.
The episode also brings up the issue of Rumpelstiltskin and his deal-making, which weaves a thread through the entire series. If everyone has made some deal or other with Rumpelstiltskin, how long before they start cancelling each other out? Snow White made a deal with Rumpelstiltskin, giving him Emma’s name. So he already has a hold over her. But, if he’s now made a deal with Emma, does that save her?
A disappointment? Regina’s relationship with the sheriff. There’s something about that that rubs me the wrong way, and not in the intentional way where it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable, but in the “Oh, good Lord, really? They’re going in this direction with the story?” way. My other disappointment? See the “Representation” section below.
Performances (1.5): The main cast remains solid, but in this episode found them all settled into their mannerisms as they sort of phoned it in. Even Robert Carlyle, who is one of the cast’s strongest assets, seems to have settled into one Crazy Menace Face. There was a bit more nuance from him at the end of the episode, when Emma challenged him for the first time, but that was only for a moment and it went away the moment she agreed to make a deal with him. Jessy Schram gave a decent performance as Ashley/Cinderella, but I would’ve hoped for someone a bit more engaging to carry an entire episode on her shoulders. And Tim Phillipps as Prince Thomas was dull, dull, dull.
Production (2): This show is pretty much guaranteed a permanent “2” on production for the costumes alone unless they severely screw up one week. Cinderella’s story in the fairy-tale world looked beautiful, from the costumes to the house and palace locations to the garden in which she makes her final deal with Rumpelstiltskin. The production design for Storybrooke is consistently character and story-appropriate.
Representation (1.5): Whereas last week’s episode was the show’s most gender-balanced to date, this one has us back at the male characters being the “girlfriends.” A complaint I never thought I’d make, but there it is. If ever there were an example of the reason why poorly defined female characters are so frustrating, it’s the reverse example we have in Prince Thomas as a poorly written male character, making the point that when women complain about the female characters on shows, it’s not that they need to be “strong” or “kickass” all the time. It’s that they need to have inner lives and be written as people, not as devices used simply to further the plot. Prince Thomas seems to exist only so that Cinderella can be pregnant, and he was a total doormat. All I know is that if I dated ladies, and my pregnant girlfriend/wife told me that “Oh, by the way, I bargained away my first-born for the chance to marry you and live in your palace,” I would not be okay with that. And even if Prince Thomas loved her so much that he’d forgive that, which would be fine, in the story we watched he didn’t even give it much thought. We didn’t see Cinderella’s mistake, or Cinderella, really matter to him because it’s as if he was written without motivations, desires, or needs of his own.
Ashley did have an Asian female doctor looking after her. Oh, and Cinderella’s fairy godmother was Black. But she was killed after about a second. So, you know, there goes that.
Audience Engagement (1.5): For the first time, Once Upon a Time has slipped off the rails. It’s not that the episode was bad, it just wasn’t particularly interesting. The parallels between Cinderella’s story and Emma’s aside, the story seemed really repetitive. Henry leaves home to spend time with Emma—again. Regina says something menacing—again. Rather than being a step forward for the show, it was more of a step to the side. If a non-fan stumbled across this episode, I’m not sure how compelled he/she would be to watch another. However, the cast and crew continues to actively engage with fans via social media and the ABC website, which brings their audience engagement score up half a point.
TOTAL SCORE FOR Once Upon a Time: 7.5 (out of 10)
Grimm, Ep 4: “Lonelyhearts”
Nick (David Giuntoli) and Hank (Russell Hornsby) investigate the death of a woman found dead on a bridge. Their search leads them to an unusually charming bed and breakfast owner named Billy Capra (Patrick Fischler), who seems to have a way with the ladies despite his homey B&B demeanor. As it turns out, his pull has less to do with natural human charm and more to do with the fact that he’s a toad-eating goat person called a ziegevolk (or a bluebeard), and his lust for women is about more than simple romantic entanglements. Meanwhile, a Grimm reaper (get it?), has come to Portland to take revenge on Nick for the death of his fellow reaper—the one Nick killed in the pilot. However, the reaper is stopped by none other than Captain Renard in one of the most awesome ear-severing scenes since Reservoir Dogs. Awesome mostly because Renard did it partly in French and employed the use of a scythe.
Script (2): Alan Di Fiore and Dan E. Fesman’s episode, “Lonelyhearts,” should be remembered as the episode where Grimm found its footing and fully became the show it set out to be. The story idea was simple enough—serial rapist attracts women and keeps them in his basement—but the execution managed to be genuinely frightening. Images of women being kept in and fed through dog crating cages will do that. One of the best things about Grimm is the way that the crimes are grounded in reality, and can be solved following earthly evidence. Nick’s ability simply helps him know where to look a little faster, but it isn’t a crutch, and so far there hasn’t been a case that’s been “unexplainable.” The case in “Lonelyhearts” was the most tightly-written since the pilot, providing believable red herrings along the way, and chilling glimpses into the private life of the criminal. The ending of “Lonelyhearts” was also unsettling, as this particular bad guy may charm his way out of custody. We don’t even get the comfort of knowing that he’ll never hurt anyone again. As for the humor in the episode, the writers are clearly writing to actors’ strengths, and the one-liners are hitting perfectly, particularly from Monroe and Hank, though Nick isn’t doing too shabbily for himself in the humor department.
Grimm is great at revealing just enough show mythology to keep viewers interested without bombarding us with facts we don’t need. You can tell there’s an intricate world being built, but the show is confident enough in itself that it doesn’t need to reveal it all right away. This week, we know that there are reapers after the Grimms, and we also know that Captain Renard is someone who has authority over them, at least in Portland. We also know that Renard, while he seems to be working at cross-purposes with Nick, also wants to keep Nick alive. Also, he can speak French, and is the kind of dude who will hack your ear off to prove a point. Yowza.
Lastly, this episode answers the troubling questions that always gnaw at viewers of procedurals. I’ve heard people criticize the disregard for legality in the police work, which is par for the course in shows like this, but those criticisms are addressed twice in this episode. Hank says “this will get us our warrant,” when he goes to search for glass around the outside of the house. Later he says, “we have probable cause,” when Nick criticises him for entering the bed and breakfast to investigate when the proprietor isn’t there. Now, I don’t know the actual legality of any of this in the state of Oregon, but you don’t generally see procedurals explain the unorthodox behavior of their officers in this way, and I see it as a positive.
Performances (2): Just as the writing of the show has found its groove, so have the performances of the main cast. Giuntoli was more loose and relaxed in his performance this week, and while his interaction with Bitsie Tulloch as Juliette still isn’t generating any sparks for me, his chemistry with his male costars sparkles. He seems more at home in the police work, and this episode gave him plenty to work with. Hornsby continues to be great, and I’ve been noticing that his character is evolving into someone who is willing to take more chances. Hornsby does a great job of conveying a man who might be taking a newer detective under his wing, but is also loosening up and learning things from his younger partner. Silas Weir Mitchell was a standout as Monroe. He, too, is evolving, and I was happy to see that he’s letting go of the “being put-upon” act, and is starting to have fun with helping Nick. Mitchell provides Grimm with a Fool in the Shakespearean sense—the guy who makes all the jokes, but also has all the insight and calls the protagonist on his shortcomings. Another standout was Sasha Roiz as Captain Renard. His scene with the reaper was a highlight of the episode, and his measured ferocity in that scene was all the more wonderful, when juxtaposed with the genuine concern with which he interacts with his officers at the precinct. We get the sense that, while he has his own shady dealings and ambitions going on, he isn’t an “evil” person. Patrick Fischler was a wonderful and frightening guest star, delivering a perfect balance of genuine charm and utter creepiness.
Production (1.5): The design of the bed and breakfast and garden location was beautiful, I continue to enjoy the creature morphing effects on the show, and I realized only after looking at behind the scenes photos on the Grimm website that the scythe Roiz used in the ear-severing scene was, in part, computer-generated. However, I had to deduct half a point for the computer-generated toads. It’s like they weren’t even trying to make those look real.
Representation (1): We still have an ethnically diverse main cast, and we have the continued wonderful presence of Sharon Sachs as Dr. Harper. However, this episode reinforced a disturbing pattern happening with Juliette. Seriously, her only function on the show is to kiss Nick, and anytime she starts saying anything even remotely intelligent, Nick interrupts her by kissing her. If they’ve been together long enough to be engaged (and have they gotten engaged? Seriously, we never did see a proposal actually happen after they made such a big deal about the ring in the pilot), then they should be comfortable enough around each other to have a conversation and not need to grope each other all the damn time. Even the most lovey-dovey couples I know in real life don’t paw each other quite so much. It’s as if Grimm is trying really hard to prove that Nick and Juliette are in love, and I want to say, “I get it! They’re a couple! I’d believe you even more if you had them interact like a real couple and let Juliette, I don’t know, say more than four words at a time before getting kissed.” Seriously, they need to figure out something else to do with her, because I like Bitsie Tulloch too much to see her wasted like this. She has star billing on this show. Let her earn it.
Also, would a male crime victim be too much to ask? Aren’t there any dudes getting shot anywhere? Seriously, in four episodes of Grimm all of the victims have been female (I don’t count the boyfriend in “Bears Will Be Bears,” because he shouldn’t have been sharing Goldilocks’ spotlight in the first place). That’s a bit much. Work it out, show.
I miss Adalind Schade.
Audience Engagement (2): One of the benefits of a procedural in general is that they’re generally easier to jump into at any point without a lot of backstory. If someone jumped into this episode, they would’ve also jumped into an exciting story fueled by strong performances from the entire cast. Even the scenes involving the show’s mythology were sufficiently explained enough that they could work as standalone moments. Meanwhile, much of the cast continues to tweet up a storm, and the ABC website for the show offers a plethora of supplemental information about the world of the show and the production behind the scenes.
TOTAL SCORE FOR Grimm: 8.5 (out of 10)
WEEK 4 WINNER: Grimm
Cumulative Scores So Far:
Once Upon a Time: 34
The Thanksgiving holiday weekend would be a great time to catch up on both shows online! The column will change slightly after that, as the schedules for the shows are very different. Episode 5 of Once Upon a Time airs on ABC on Sunday, November 27th. Episode 5 of Grimm airs on NBC on Friday, December 9th. So, I’ll be reviewing Once Upon a Time on its own for two weeks, and will resume the dual reviews on Monday, December 12th. To keep things fair in this competition that means nothing to anyone except me, Once Upon a Time won’t be receiving a score for two weeks, though I’ll be reviewing it based on the same criteria. Hopefully, by the time I start posting the dual reviews again, I’ll also be able to tell you whether or not Grimm will be going for a full season. Here’s hoping!
Teresa Jusino noticed the wedding ring on Captain Renard’s finger, and wonders what kind of woman would marry that guy. She can be heard on the popular Doctor Who podcast, 2 Minute Time Lord, participating in a roundtable on Series 6.1. 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.