Friday, October 5, 2012

Love Is In The Air: Nick and Juliette

One of the most notable things about Grimm is its dedication to the growth of its characters. And this phenomenon of communication. The two most notable things about Grimm are its dedication to the growth of its characters, the phenomenon of communication, and the equal respect ... among the most notable things... I'll come in again, shall I?

While Nick is quite clearly the protagonist of the show, the first thing we see him doing is buying an engagement ring with which to surprise his girlfriend. This has nothing to do with either of his main roles in the show, neither Grimm nor cop, and places his role as boyfriend (and possibly later fiance?) in a position of equal weight to both by making it the first thing we know about him. There is a person in his life whom he loves very much, and would like to spend the rest of his life with.

After some intervening action we are introduced to Juliette, the girl in question, along with Nick's Aunt Marie. Digressing briefly, between this and the subsequent conversation in which we learn that Nick's parents died we are introduced to all three of the significant women in Nick's life at this point, the living girlfriend, the dying aunt, and the dead mother. And yes, the phrasing there is deliberate for a couple of reasons: as we've said before, three is a symbolic and significant number, particularly given these three. I'm not sure whether or not the writers or showrunners did this deliberately, but Nick is now over time surrounded by a classic female trifecta of the maiden (Juliette) the crone (Marie) and the mother (Kelly, whom we meet later in person but who exists for now as the mother figure). Relevant to the discussion and analysis of Nick's relationship with Juliette, this places her at equal significance with Nick's blood family, which may be doubly important given the aspect of the Grimm. There's also an element here of putting away childish things. Nick prepares to make another rite of passage expected of adults, but is instead called upon by Marie to make a different one, putting his relationship with Juliette on hold. Notice that we see the engagement ring in the very first episode, but it doesn't come into play until the sixteenth.

We don't get much of Nick and Juliette outside of normal circumstances for the next several episodes, but what we do see is largely benign, comfortable, two people who care for each other and are familiar with each other's habits and quirks. Moments like the box of Voodoo donuts, talking over hard cases before sleep, Nick coming home to Juliette with the injured dog which also provides a moment of Juliette within her sphere of personal competence/skill. We get small glimpses of their life together, and especially for television it is notable that neither of them is singled out to be the grounded one or the flighty one; Nick is just as likely to go for dessert before dinner as Juliette is likely to be bouncy and pretend to be flighty. Just as they both exchange moments of reassurance when each other is in distress.

The first major challenge we see them face after the death of Nick's aunt is in Game Ogre, when the titular Ogre comes after Nick and very nearly kills him in their house. I would say they work well together as a team except that by the time Juliette gets there Nick is already badly beaten. He does tell her to run, as one might when a loved one walks into dire peril, but instead she runs to the kitchen as the source of the sharpest/heaviest blunt objects and defends Nick, herself, and their home with a pot of boiling water. Now, while this showcases both her determination and her badassery, the most interesting part about their relationship in this episode for me is Juliette at the hospital talking first to the nurse and then to Renard. The fact that he's there at all is telling of his concern for his men, but the way he speaks to Juliette is softer and gentler than his usual manner. "He'll pay for what he's done" isn't a very reassuring statement, but it's what Renard thinks of as reassurance, which indicates that Juliette is known around the precinct as Nick's girlfriend (or possibly his potential fiancee) and that they are very much in love and probably that they're good for each other. Renard takes her into account as someone to be both protected as a potential target but also reassured as a collateral victim. So, clearly this relationship has been going on long enough not only for them to be very comfortable around each other, but also for them to be familiar as a couple at least in Nick's place of work.

Plumed Serpent gives them another opportunity to rescue each other, this time Nick rescuing Juliette from an invoked Damsel in Distress trope. And again, here, what I find notable isn't the fact that Nick challenges a fire-breathing Wesen to rescue her. We already have a pretty good idea that he would do that, regardless. For me, the interesting part here is earlier in the episode, when we see Ariel testing their relationship in other ways and Juliette not believing with any strength or certainty that Nick is cheating on her based on an awkward phone call. Not that she doesn't get snippy about it, and Nick both calls her on it and addresses her concerns and then apologizes for her worry. And in return she does she give Nick a chance to explain, she listens to his explanation and gives him her trust and belief, which later Nick repays that without thinking (and without thinking of it in those terms) by making sure she knows where he's going and that Hank is with him. He knows he's done something to upset Juliette, whether or not he intended it, and he's taking steps to make sure it doesn't happen again. It's an example of communication in a relationship that is surprisingly rare on television, particularly in that it never gets much further than a couple cranky remarks before they work it out.

The danger to their relationship comes later in Plumed Serpent, and is showcased even earlier than that in Last Grimm Standing. That engagement ring comes back to haunt us again in Last Grimm Standing, when they have their anniversary dinner conversation including what sounds like an inside joke/repetition of an old flirtation. Juliette at first discovers the ring, clearly realizes that he's holding it in reserve against some perfect day, and smiles at the thought of taking that step. But later, after he's been out late yet again on a case he won't talk about, she sits on the bed and takes it out again and clearly seems to have doubts about whether or not she, or they as a couple, is ready for this. In Plumed Serpent she openly says she's not sure how much longer she can keep doing this. After the ogre invading her home, repeated evenings of Nick coming home battered and bruised and late and not explaining what happened (or if he does, she knows him well enough to be able to spot the tells, I would guess), and then being kidnapped by a crazy girl who has fixated on Nick, it's no wonder she's having doubts about tying her life to Nick's.

Which comes to a head in The Thing With Feathers. I find it interesting that the writers chose to juxtapose Nick's proposal to Juliette with a blatantly abusive relationship in which the man keeps the woman trapped in a world he controls. I wonder, a little, if that's supposed to bring our attention to the way Nick keeps Juliette sectioned off from another part of his life, the Grimm part. Admittedly, Nick's doing that because the Grimm part of his life is so unbelievable, and he's not only doing that to her. And Nick is by far and away not abusing her physically or mentally, or emotionally. There's no intent to harm or control there. Regardless, it gives us some more dialogue about relationships and some viewpoints from each of them, neither getting to be "right," and both of them acknowledging that the issue, in this case whether or not and how much to interfere in an abusive relationship, is a complicated one. Again, communication and listening to each other's ideas and thoughts, each acknowledged as valid. It makes what happens later all the more excruciating, when they get back from their not-so-much-of-a vacation and Nick gets up the courage to finally propose, and Juliette turns him down. Not a final no, even, but a qualified no, she doesn't feel their relationship is solid enough to take that important step. And after having seen them, really, almost at their best (and maybe that's why the juxtaposition?) it hurts to see Nick watching this dream he had built up crumble before his eyes; kudos to David Giuntoli for an amazing and heartbreaking performance on that. Again, not something you see often in television. Not the rejection, but the fact that they continue on as a couple after that and, by Juliette's remarks in the first season finale, doing better as a couple, too.

Of course, immediately post-Thing With Feathers Nick is tense, upset, and hurting. Even spellbound, Hank comments on it, although part of what he's commenting is Nick making snippy inside comments to Adalind. Even so, after that Nick agrees to have Monroe over for dinner, thereby bringing her into his secret life a bit; he at least makes a couple attempts to be more straight with her. There's a definite weak spot when Nick and Monroe attempt to keep up the worst lie I've seen since "I am not a crook", but he does bring her into his concerns about and investigation into his parents' death, which likely helps her feel like she's involved in what's making him edgy. And by the time we get to the season one finale Woman in Black we have a small line reference that things have been getting better, and Juliette is feeling a little more confident in their relationship. A confidence that Nick does absolutely nothing to help when first he freaks out about her cat scratch injury from Adalind's cat (rightfully, not that she knows that) and then fails to explain the world of Wesen and Grimms to her in any kind of coherent or comprehensible fashion. Juliette is upset and concerned, as well she might be. Here she'd expected to have a nice romantic dinner with the man she loves, with whom things seem to be getting better, and instead she comes to realize that he's only gotten better at hiding this whole other part of himself, a part that she has no empirical evidence is even based in reality. And so because she loves him, she's worried about him and scared for him. And she doesn't get that tangible, physical proof before she falls unconscious. Nick cites none, either, which is a pity, because we've had several DNA tests on Wesen so far that came back +++ OUT OF CHEESE ERROR?? REDO FROM START +++ which he could have led with in order to anchor his explanation in the reality she knows. He doesn't, and she collapses before Monroe can show her what's going on.

And then we have Juliette in a coma, and Nick increasingly anxious and upset. And yet, despite the fact that this is a blatant set-up for the kiss to wake the princess trope, it is Renard who kisses Juliette and wakes her from her cat-induced coma. In fact, we never find out if Nick could have done so because he never does kiss her, on camera, at least. He does kiss her afterwards, but it doesn't seem to do anything. Renard's kiss is chaste, involves a potion, and has no immediate consequences indicating the presence of any sort of love bond. Though of course we have yet to see if there are any long term effects on either of them, as they haven't come into contact since. The implications here are interesting; Grimm has never put much emphasis on True Love specifically, choosing instead to twist the narratives of specific fairy stories rather than play with defined, repeated aspects of fairy stories in general. In the Sleeping Beauty story, it is a kiss (or something more, and thank god they didn't go there) from a Prince that wakes her, and whether the Prince's feeling is desire or romantic love varies from story to story. And in this story the circumstances surrounding the kiss are practical, not romantic. While it's somewhat hard to believe that Renard's motivations are as simple as he claims them to be to Catherine, it's equally hard to believe that Renard is motivated by any sort of feeling for Juliette, whom he has only been seen to interact with once. So, then, is Renard's royal blood the reason Nick couldn't wake her that easily? Or is there something else at play here?

But it's not that easy. Juliette wakes moments after Renard slips out, and Nick comes in to visit her and is relieved to see her, kissing her and telling her how much he loves her... and she doesn't remember him. From bad to worse; the last thing Nick knew of their relationship he was trying to explain his life as a Grimm to her and only pushing her away as a result. Now that she's awake he can theoretically make amends for that, except that she doesn't know him. Meanwhile Juliette wakes from a coma and not only is immediately confronted with unasked for physical contact from a stranger, she has gaps in her memory where many, many interactions have happened but she can't remember with whom. Her mental vertigo must be astounding. Nick is about as calm and patient around her as he can be, to his credit, and while he provides her with photos and his own recollections (and Monroe's, poor guy) to fill in the gaps, he doesn't press her on it. My favorite scene in this storyline so far is the discussion in the kitchen of their feelings, honest and open, about the problem of her memory and whether or not they should continue trying to resume their lives together, or what he remembers as their life and what she seems to assume is her complete life, with him in it.

Consistently throughout Nick and Juliette's relationship we have examples of them being open and honest with each other ("The case is taking us back to the firedancer's house, and I do mean us, because I'm taking Hank with me."), with one notable and egregious exception. We have examples of them being loving and attentive to each other, attentive to emotional states and attentive to needs or tastes or habits ("You don't usually talk about your patients that way.") They are comfortable enough with each other to make teasing commentary, things that might hurt between strangers but which they seem to take as a sign more of how long they've been together and how well they know each other ("There's no telling what you might buy." "I made a reservation in your name at nine and one in my name at ten. Just in case."). The show even makes a point of bookending Nick at both ends of the first season with scenes reflecting the importance of women in his life, first Juliette, last his mother. Given all of this, I think it might not be exaggerating to say that Nick would do well to bring Juliette back into his confidence regarding the Grimmer aspects of his life so that she can support and assist him there, in the way we've seen their relationship support and assist them in all other aspects of their lives. Only this time, with less demanding she believe him and more respect due a relationship with that much time and effort put into it.

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