Once Upon a Time Vs. Grimm 11: Fairy Tale Valentines

Valentine’s Day is today, and Once Upon a Time and Grimm have each given us valentines of their own, each episode dealing with love in its many permutations.

On Once Upon a Time, we learn how Rumpelstiltskin responded to the loss of a Great Love; as well as the real story of Beauty and the Beast, or rather, Rumpelstiltskin and Belle, which is a love story that manages to be both disturbing and heartwarming at the same time. Grimm had an equally disturbing and heartwarming love story at its heart as we were introduced to a spinnetod, a Black Widow spider creature who, despite her biological imperative to seduce and kill men to keep herself alive manages to keep her beloved husband alive.

Once Upon a Time, Ep. 12: “Skin Deep”

Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) tracks down a flower delivery man named Moe (Eric Keenleyside) who hasn’t paid back a loan, taking his delivery van as collateral. But when Moe robs Mr. Gold’s house in retribution, taking something very precious to him, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) keeps close watch on Mr. Gold, who is prepared to deal some vigilante justice. Meanwhile, it’s Valentine’s Day in Storybrooke, and as Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) and David (Josh Dallas) continue to carry on their affair, Ruby (Meghan Ory) invites her and new mom, Ashley (Jessy Schram), to a Valentine’s Day girls’ night out. Lastly, in the fairy tale world, we learn that the story of Beauty and the Beast is actually that of Belle (Lost‘s Emilie de Ravin) and Rumpelstiltskin, whose strange, budding love goes awry causing Rumpel to become even darker than he already was.

Script (1.5): “Skin Deep,” written by Jane Espenson, was an amazing retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story that contained some wonderful character moments and some great one-liners (Evil Queen to Belle: “I would never tell a girl to kiss the man keeping her prisoner. What kind of message is that?”) Funny, charming, and at times harrowing, the script takes us into the depths of Rumpelstiltskin’s soul, showing us this character both at his most warm and at his most dark. Rumpel as The Beast makes sense. Of all the characters on Once Upon a Time, he is already someone who already feels unlovable and like a monster, because of his dark powers. No new Beast character necessary. The heartbreaking tale of Rumpelstiltskin finding, then losing, Belle illuminated Mr. Gold’s violent actions later in the episode when, in a fit of rage, he beats a captured Moe with his cane, knowing that he’s actually Belle’s father, Sir Maurice….

Wait. Mr. Gold knows about the fairy tale world? Yes. After weeks of hemming and hawing, “Skin Deep” confirms that Mr. Gold is aware of Regina, The Curse, and the true identities of Storybrooke’s inhabitants. In a brilliant scene between Mr. Gold and Regina in the Storybrooke jail, Mr. Gold’s knowledge is revealed, and their exchange is chilling.

However, the brilliant Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold sections were bogged down by the less brilliant subplot. Whereas the subplots felt carefully balanced in Espenson’s “That Still Small Voice,” here, the Mary Margaret and David subplot fell flat. While understandable thematically (true love not pursued juxtaposed with true love pursued), it didn’t seem necessary as it didn’t really move much forward. Also, when did David get out and out stupid? Carrying both valentines in his pocket? Really? That just seemed like an uncharacteristically dumb moment that existed solely to propel Mary Margaret’s insistence that he go home to Kathryn. Again. There was already so much to this episode that more hemming and hawing from those two took up too much valuable story space. Out of place, too, was the Ashley/Sean subplot. While it was nice to see Ashley again to know that she and the baby are okay, her relationship troubles were a drain on the episode. Troubles like hers would’ve been better served in an episode that was more her own. Also, can Sean/Prince Thomas just…go away? He’s such a boring character, he’s almost worked his way all the way back around to interesting. Almost.

“Skin Deep” was a really good script that could have been great had it not had so much extra shoved into it.

Performances (2): Robert Carlyle owned this episode. For the first time, we got to see Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold in his entirety — his vulnerability, his conniving nature, his brutality, his savageness — as well as know everything he knows, and it was the most raw and heartbreaking performance Carlyle has given yet. Emilie de Ravin was a brilliant guest star as Belle. She gave a beautifully nuanced performance, capturing gentleness, strength, stubbornness, and insecurity, and making this new version of Belle stand head and shoulders above the animated Disney version, even as they have similar wardrobes. At the end of the episode, there’s an opening for de Ravin to return, and I really hope she does. Lana Parilla, who can do no wrong, was totally captivating in her scenes opposite Carlyle. While Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas have incredible chemistry as lovers on the show, Parilla and Carlyle have amazing chemistry as adversaries, forcing you to root for both even as you don’t want to root for either.

Production (2): While the green screen was completely obvious in the fairy tale portion of the show, the dreamlike, over-saturated cinematography made that fact less intrusive than it might have otherwise been. Belle’s costumes were lovely, and paid homage to the Disney source material without looking cartoonish. The True Love’s Kiss effect on Rumpel was flawless, and never has a chipped teacup looked so adorable. Also, a flower business called “Game of Thorns?” Nice.

Representation (1.5): Once Upon a Time has added another wonderful female character to the canon with Belle. It was all summed up in one line: “No one decides my fate but me.” Belle was brave, intelligent, and had an enormous heart. However, representation-wise, she was the one bright spot in an otherwise dull episode. No minority characters save a brief glimpse of a Sneezy pharmacist and two scenes for Lana Parilla, and the rest of the female characters weren’t particularly interesting this week.

Audience Engagement (2): Jane Espenson was live-tweeting during the episode, providing some great insights into several Easter Eggs in the episode, as well as lots of wonderful information about creating the episode. Using visual cues from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast grounded the story in a way that, even if you were unfamiliar with the Rumpelstiltskin in this universe, you’d still know what was going on.

TOTAL SCORE FOR Once Upon a Time: 9 (out of 10)


Grimm, Ep 11: “Tarantella”

When men start turning up dead, Nick (David Giuntoli) and Hank (Russell Hornsby) investigate an attractive woman named Lena Marsenko (Amy Acker) who turns out to be a spinnetod, a Black Widow spider vessen (“vessen” is the word for the creatures on Grimm) who kills mates in order to survive. Meanwhile, Nick realizes the extent of the urban legend of him as Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) explains that since no one’s ever seen a Grimm in person before, Nick has become big news in the vessen world.

Script (2): Alan DiFiore and Dan E. Fesman’s “Tarantella” was a surprisingly funny and beautiful valentine of an episode even as it offered up some of Grimm‘s most disgusting effects yet. In addition to needing to provide substance for their main cast of characters, procedurals live and die by how interesting their guest roles are. Lena Marsenko got a wonderfully written, detailed story that was fascinating to watch even when Grimm’s main cast wasn’t involved.

The tragic story of the reluctant spinnetod was balanced out by the humorous story of Nick dealing with the vessen of Portland knowing who he is. Whether threatening children with a gun for egging his house, or confronting rodent creatures in their kitchens, Nick got some quality laugh lines in this episode. There was a lot of humor between him and Hank this week, too. Both story lines wove seamlessly into each other, and the pacing of the episode was perfect. Also, having a spinnetod named Charlotte was a nice touch.

My only quibble? There seemed to be a discrepancy with Nick’s power when he spoke to Lena’s daughter Sally. Nick can generally see vessen when they lose control. We know by the end of the episode that Sally is also a spinnetod, and yet when she was crying in the principal’s office, Nick saw nothing. Mistake, or done purposely?

Performances (2): Amy Acker, Amy Acker, and Amy Acker. She played Lena with a deep sadness around which everything else was built, making everything she did compelling as she balanced hatred of her biological imperatives with her feelings for her husband and her desire to do the right thing. The main cast was solid all the way around, with Nick and Hank’s rapport sparkling this week. Russell Hornsby, in particular, was a standout this week, infusing Hank with humor and wisdom. Hank waking up to the strangeness around him is a pleasure to watch, and lest we forget this because of all the wonderful Nick/Monroe moments, Hank is actually Nick’s partner, and he’s a great one.

Production (2): Within the first 10 minutes of the episode, we have a disgusting and horrifying display of spider poison being shot down a man’s throat. The visual was gross, but the effect was phenomenal. Likewise the corpses drained dry, the vessen transformations, and Acker’s old age makeup. When the production on Grimm works, it really works, and I think it’s because it’s a healthy mix of computerized effects and props/prosthetics that were created by hand.

Representation (2): I was impressed with this episode, mostly because of the complexity of the female killer. When I first heard in the trailer that this episode was going to include a “Black Widow,” I rolled my eyes as I imagined the slinky, leather-pants-wearing character they were going to spotlight. What I got instead was a soccer mom who loves her husband and daughter, and a woman who hates what she is. Her husband, too, was an interesting character in that he didn’t do the whole jealousy thing in response to Lena’s seducing other men. He knows what she is, loves her no matter what, and is confident that she loves him. Usually, its female characters who defend their husbands/boyfriends blindly when they do wrong. It was nice to see a male character do this, and still be a compelling, sympathetic character. Juliette had a great scene in which she provided Nick with an insight into his situation as a Grimm without realizing just how much she was helping him. I love watching their relationship evolve because, unlike in the first 3 episodes of the series, lately Nick has been acknowledging Juliette’s intelligence and expertise in certain areas. And Dr. Harper is wonderful. She’s the kind of person who loves “the challenge” of the strange cases Nick and Hank bring her, and she’s funny about them to boot.

Meanwhile, Hank keeps getting better and better. The moment when they’re arresting Lena’s husband, and Hank notices her injured finger when Nick doesn’t (because he’s too busy noticing the fact that she’s a giant spider) was just one of many moments when we realize that Hank is actually a great detective in his own right. I can’t wait until Hank is told (or figures out on his own) about Nick’s double life. With all the pertinent information at his fingertips, he’ll be unstoppable. There were also a lot of allusions to his trouble with relationships in this Valentine’s Day episode. Would someone find him a nice woman who’s not a hexenbeist, please?

Audience Engagement (2): Amy Acker being cast as Lena allowed the show to officially cross fandoms, despite Grimm‘s already Angel-ic pedigree. Whedon fans who hadn’t watched the show already tuned in to see Acker, and they were likely not disappointed. The story was tight, the performances nuanced and funny all across the board, and the visual effects so disgusting that you couldn’t pull your eyes away. If any episode had the power to expand Grimm‘s fan base, it’s “Tarantella.”

TOTAL SCORE FOR Grimm: 10 (out of 10)


Cumulative Scores So Far:
Once Upon a Time: 89.5
Grimm: 91

Well, that’s it for the Battle of the Network Fairy Tale Shows for this week! I hope all of you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day. To those of you with significant others, make sure you show them you love them, or you’ll spend the rest of your life as a beast. And to those of you who are single, stay away from spiders.

Come back next Monday for more fairy tale discussion, and don’t forget to watch Grimm this Friday at 9PM ET on NBC, and Once Upon a Time on Sunday at 8PM on ABC.

Teresa Jusino thinks cups with chips in them have character. 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.


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