Monday, September 10, 2012

Grimm: Axis & Allies Explicated

The Axis and Allies thing, like most of our series-spanning associations, came up by accident. We were tossing the clip from the Madrid-based Grimm's video back and forth, the one where several Wesen are shot ostensibly because they were rebels against Franco's regime but really because they married outside their species. There's actually a whole pile of stuff I could say about Franco's regime, some from general history and some from family history, and I was saying some of it to Adsartha when it occurred to us that if they were tying it into history obviously, they might also be tying it in subtly. By the time the Franco's army clip came up we'd already seen that Hitler was a Schakal. We'd also already seen that Renard had at least one contact in Paris whom he trusted enough to tell him that he had the Coins of Zakynthos, which was significant. We had Germans from all over, Monroe's grandparents plus Edgar Waltz plus Reapers, we had a particularly nasty Swiss guy in the form of Anton Krug. In short, we had a number of threads that all went back to Europe. And most of them went back to Axis powers, either powers in their own right or occupied lands that were on the Axis side by virtue of being taken over. And by the end of the first season, that includes Japan in there.

So we laid out a chart much like the one we posted several days ago. Allowing for the split between Vichy France and the Collaborateurs, that puts most characters from the Axis side on the side of the bad guys, most characters from the Allies side on the side of the good guys. It's not a perfect analogy, we'll admit, especially given the prevalence of moral ambiguity in the show, but it's pretty damn close. I'll go ahead and assume that most of you reading this know at least the broad strokes of history and deal mainly with the Grimm side of things; feel free to ask if you miss a reference.

Starting with Germany, because in both cases Germany is where a lot of it starts. The first thing we get is Monroe, a reformed child of both German immigrants and bloody killers. He still speaks German and retains some habits from his grandparents, but many of the views from "back home" he considers no longer valid. We also get someone attacking Nick and Aunt Marie with a scythe marked, in German, with the ominous phrase "Reapers of the Grimms." Then nothing from Germany that doesn't come from Monroe until Organ Grinder, when a voice on the phone reminds Renard that the Verrat is not pleased with what he's doing. This, we would have been quicker to recognize, had it not been for the German pronunciation and the removing of certain scenes two episodes earlier in Game Ogre where the Verrat was chronologically first introduced. From Organ Grinder we go to Three Coins in a Fuchsbau and the inevitable Hitler reference, not initially inevitable but as you go on through swastikas and magical artifacts that make you instantly charismatic and power-seeking it becomes so. The cherries on top of that German chocolate cake is Ian Flynn, who is described as Irish by way of Berlin, and Hans Roth, who is Austrian. We all remember the Anschluss, yes, the annexation of Austria by Germany? Some episodes after Three Coins you get Cat and Mouse, featuring the Verrat enforcer Edgar Waltz and his thick German accent, and immediately after that you get Leave it to Beavers, with two Reapers dispatched from Germany. In short, when it comes to Grimm, nothing good has come out of Germany for at least the last ten years or so. Which not only goes well with the historical origins of one of the driving forces behind the second World War, it goes well with the general perception that Germany started the whole damned thing.

If we're going holistically as well, France can be said to be the first country we get outside of the US by virtue of Captain Sean
Renard's last name. That said, we don't get his last name until the third episode, where it's both spoken by himself and seen on his door. Also there's no specific indication that it's anything other than a standard inheritance from an immigrant ancestor; this being the United States, a lot of people have names from non-English-speaking countries. But in episode four we find out that not only is he fluent in French, he speaks it with almost no trace of an accent.

With regards to World War Two and the Axis/Allies split, France is complicated. A separate government was set up after the invasion with, very roughly, the north half of France being the occupied territory and collaborating with Germany and the southern half, including Paris, in league with the Allied countries. As far as France goes, then, we have the Parisian whom Renard contacts as a supposed ally, or at least a trusted friend. We have the ship with the Mauvais Dents coming out of Le Havre, which was part of Vichy France. Despite all the French speaking we have nothing other than that coming out of France itself, although we still have yet to learn which Alps Eric Renard has set his model of a castle in. But most of the rest of the French seems to come from either Swiss people or people of unknown French-speaking origin. N'est pas amusant.

(For the curious, and as near as we can make out, that says tonight I have been banished by the presence of a [something n] but not for long. The man has terrible bloodwriting.)

We have even less on Japan, but what we have is pretty significant. We know that there was a doctor from Japan who was like a Grimm, if not a Grimm from a more distantly separated bloodline. We also know that there is an organization out of Japan called the Dragon's Tongue with potentially still present ties to the Yakuza. The one-sentence rundown on the Yakuza for those of you who don't know: the Yakuza are the Japanese crime syndicates with their own history starting from the Edo period and continuing to the present day where they continue to both organize good works and maintain a strict and bloody control over many illicit activities and the people who engage in them. Now, the police and therefore we don't know that the Dragon's Tongue is still connected to the Yakuza, but there is pretty strong evidence that the Dragon's Tongue is at least their own form of law-disobeying organization by the tattoos on Akira Kimura's back and face. In Japan, there are strong religious and cultural dictates against altering or modifying your body for such purposes. The Yakuza, on the other hand, are known for their intricate and often hand-inked (as in, by non-electrical, hand-made tattoo instruments) tattoos covering not just their back, but their shoulders and upper and lower arms at least. In point of fact, when I saw Kimura's tattoos, my first thought was "those aren't Yakuza tattoos..." My second thought was "wait, those are backwards," but that's a whole other irritant. In any case, the presence of even those tattoos on Akira Kimura's body indicate both ritual application and counter-culture origin. At some point I'll try to work up a rough translation of them. I say rough because I don't know how good the original translation was. So, what we have out of Japan as far as Grimmworld is concerned: organized, power-seeking, empire building. And what did we have out of Japan during World War Two but organization, power-seeking, and empire building?

We're going to jump back to the European theatre for a moment and discuss Italy's brief contribution to the world of Grimm thus far. It's very brief, it consists of two mentions. The first involves a deleted scene where Renard lays down a white flag with a red fleur-de-lis, a stylized one, as a sign of truce and temporary disarmament. At first we thought this was just a France thing, being as the fleur-de-lis is a common symbol of France and French districts, until we did a little digging for the red on white specifically and found that not only is that the symbol of the city of Florence, the stylized patterns are exactly the same. The only difference is that one extends the stylizing slightly more than the other. Of course, when we found this out, we realized that we've heard Florence referenced once before. The Italian name for Florence is Firenze, which we might recall from Cat and Mouse where Edgar Waltz said to Renard that Portland reminded him a little of Firenze. Yeah. Florence, in World War Two, experienced German occupation as well, in addition to the overall Italian contribution to the Axis efforts.

And there's a number of other countries and cities that we have even less Grimm information on, although with two, maybe three other countries coming up in line references in the first four episodes of the second season alone, I feel confident saying we'll have either yet more countries or more information on the countries we have, pretty soon. In no particular order: the ship carrying the Mauvais Dents was registered in Rotterdam, Netherlands, which was invaded and bombed during World War Two. The bombing of Rotterdam was actually the final event that triggered the surrender of the Netherlands to Hitler's forces; Renard indicates that Rotterdam is  a favorite city of Eric's, rather like the Cayman Islands for American money launderers. We also have Switzerland, specifically Zurich, as the place of origin for Anton Krug, the cousin with the chin and the pretty little hole in his head courtesy of Renard. Now, Zurich has a reputation for being the center of power for a number of Swiss banks reputed to be holding gold and other treasures looted by the Nazis, so there's your World War Two connection. We also know that Eric Renard has a model castle in the Alps, but without knowing which Alps those are, it's hard to pin down the symbology of that. Finally we have the video with the Verrat in Franco's Spain and Soledad Marquesa, the Spaniard who caused the most trouble going after the Coins of Zakynthos. Now, Franco never officially joined in with the Axis powers, but he achieved power through a coup supported by troops from Italy and Germany in 1939, and he supported Axis volunteers unofficially from around his own borders. In other words, he was a sort of a low-key self-serving mercenary type for the main Axis powers. Rather like the Verrat, dare I say? We also have evidence of Renard speaking Russian, but absolutely no more context on anything out of Russia, so we'll have to wait on that.

The Allied powers is a much shorter list, in no small part due to the show itself being set in the United States and therefore full of Americans. For other Allied powers we have the two Brits, Thomas Wolsey, who is not precisely an ally but who is treated by Renard as a friend and, when Renard is forced to kill him, we are given to understand that it's done out of necessity rather than the subdued yet smug satisfaction of shooting Cousin Menton in the face. The other, Ian Harmon, is an active resistance fighter along the lines of the Ungentlemanly Warriors (I shit you not, the SpecOps branch of the British Military during World War Two was also known as the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare), guerrilla tactics and a very "whatever works" attitude. The SpecOps group during World War Two was also known to employ anyone who served their purposes and could be reasonably relied upon, including criminals and people who were not socially acceptable at the time. Thus, a Wesen working with a Grimm probably would not do more than shrug his shoulders and go "If you think he's reliable," as Ian Harmon did with Nick. We also have the Parisian, about whom nothing more is known except that he is or was trusted by Renard. Paris being the seat of government for the independent Republic of France even during World War Two, this would put it in the Allied camp. And then, of course, we have the Americans, represented by Nick and Monroe and Hank primarily, somewhat late to the party but doing their damnedest to blunder through to do the right thing.

As with our other pet theories we've rambled on about here, the Axis and Allies correspondences is only a theory. It's a work in progress, and you can be sure it's a work we'll be adding to as we get deeper and deeper into season two, and as we learn more about what other countries might be brought into this mess. For now, though, we'll let this essay stand with only one further comment: the writers of Grimm have already tied in the history of the Grimmworld societies and powers with the history of our world by citing Franco's regime, Hitler's, and the Arab spring. Surely there are more ties to be drawn, and it's only a question of waiting to see which threads they pull to make that happen.

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