Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Blood Is Compulsory

One of the major themes we haven't touched on yet in an essay, or even to speak of in any detailed manner in the ep analyses, is blood. I mean, aside from the part where Grimm's sometimes a gory show and we grumble at length about having to translate things written in blood in French and could his handwriting please suck less? (No, we don't squick easily.) Specifically blood magic, both the more obvious kind and the kind related to bloodlines.

You'd think we would have, but we've been waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for a resolution to the Juliette-and-Renard potion subplot. Making puppy eyes at the writers to come explicate the way both those potions worked, too, because there's so much tasty analysis we could do with it! Unfortunately for us, they're going to leave us on tenterhooks for the holiday hiatus. Fortunately for you, that means we're going to leap ahead and do the damn thing anyway, including some discussion of blood magic as used in Western mythology/legend as well as some speculation about where they might be headed in Grimm.

If you've been following along with our babble about the Royal Families, or brushing up on your European history due to the show's biases, you're probably familiar already with the divine right of kings. This is a major, major facet of blood magic, tying together many other aspects, and appearing not just in European history but independently in cultures on at least four of six human-inhabited continents, to give you an idea of how influential this concept is. Kings must be descended from a lineage that God approves of, which lets our dear Captain out of the running in all probability. The flip side of that, and the one most people focus on (quite rightly), is that since God approves of the king, no earthly authority may disapprove of anything he does. ANYTHING. Not even the Church, in many cases; not the aristocracy; and you can be damn sure not the commoners. (Which are, by the way, the First, Second, and Third Estates of the realm, respectively. Ever wondered where the Fourth Estate came from as a term to refer to the press? There you go. Blame the English.) So, obviously, there's immense power vested in such a bloodline, and with great power comes great restrictions on who the hell you can marry and have kids with. We wouldn't want a divinely ordained bloodline mixed with just any old family's. And from that angle, the severe inbreeding of the European royal houses begins to make sense. Funhouse logic, by modern genetic standards, but who the fuck else were they going to marry, if they were afraid to risk losing that divine right of rulership? This is also where prizing virginity comes in, because an heir to the throne had best marry a woman whose status can't raise questions of paternity. (We'll take the screed against agnatic primogeniture and Salic law as written.) So you've got your divine right, your virginity as a requirement for marriage in the upper classes (because the aristocracy mimics whatever the royals do, let's not forget), and your proscriptions against interbreeding; both of the latter designed to prevent the weakening of the first. You may well ask, why couldn't they just declare that they were virile enough to trump any lower-class blood, and the answer is that when they do that, the rest of the populace gets Ideas about how maybe the purity of blood doesn't matter so much.

That's all on the royal and aristocratic breeding side, though. On top of that you get a lot of history about one's blood being one's honor or bond, which is pretty self-explanatory. Blood is frequently a binding agent - mostly in stories, but not always. And more important, you get blood sacrifice. There are lots and lots of old (and "old") pagan myths about blood sacrifice being necessary to right great wrongs or perform great acts; the Fisher King is one of the most memorable but certainly not the only. The Cauldron of Plenty, used to revive slain warriors; Cinderella's stepsisters (at least if you read the original); and Odin's nine days on Yggdrasil are just a few off the top of our Graeae's brain. Depending on your belief system, a willing sacrifice may be more powerful than an unwilling one. Sometimes this was reversed, but rarely so once Christianity got hold of the idea. And, yes, of course we have the Christ imagery involved with blood sacrifice. Many, many, many powerful rituals, spells, whathaveyous have been created as a result of blood sacrifice, and while a simple scratch may do, a life given to whatever you're trying to do is the most powerful of all.

There are as many ways to break a blood magic-induced spell as there are stories about it, but three methods (of course) stand out from the stories. First, you kill the caster. Not as easy as it sounds, but pretty straightforward. Unless they're hiding their lifeforce in an item. Green Knight and Koschei, I'm looking at you. Second, you kill one (or all) of the people the spell was cast on. Doable, but may have major negative repercussions if any of them are left alive, and if it's been tied to your bloodline you are so very fucked. Especially if you just killed the only people who know and are willing to tell their descendants about the restrictions of the curse/gift. And last but not least, one of the people affected by the blood magic goes against the nature of the restrictions in order to sacrifice themselves to Do The Right Thing. This may not be fatal, but ideally the person sacrificing themselves doesn't know that at the time. (Gawain and Ragnelle, though not notably about blood magic, is a good example of this kind of not knowing but making the right choice and thereby breaking the spell.) You'll notice I've left off one big option here: the caster chooses to lift the spell. This is because that happens so infrequently as to be hardly worth mentioning; even if the caster wishes it done they may not be capable of doing so. Blood magic is a tricky, nasty business, and you'd better be sure you want the full effects of whatever you're doing, because there's often no going back.

With all of that in mind, let's move along to specific manifestations of these tropes in Grimm. At first we have what appears to be a fairly Buffy-esque mechanism for Grimm inheritance. It's bloodline controlled, but when one falls another gets the mantle passed on down the line. This is... not so much the case, as it turns out. Potential Grimms can become active Grimms (emphasis on can, not will) at any time; it sounds almost like anywhere after puberty is fair game. Certainly within the idea that women are likely to get it earlier than men, there's a parallel being drawn there between puberty, which, yes, corresponds to menarche for women. Which is an even more pointed way of saying "it's the blood, stupid" than simply passing it along family bloodlines. Maybe Nick had just recovered from the first case where he had to shoot a suspect; maybe the maturity required to decide to settle down and get married helped trigger it. We don't really know, and according to Kelly Burkhardt, nor do they. Unlike the Families, this doesn't seem to be something that can be weakened or strengthened by marrying the "right" people, though given the lack of solid data it's hard to say for sure.

Alongside that we have the Royal Families and their bloodlines. A cursory look would indicate that this is intended to be another way in which Renard and his family are a dark mirror held up to Nick and his family, but I have to discount the "and his family" part of the Burkhardt line. Because Nick's family was not a nice family of Grimms who gave Wesen the benefit of the doubt and waited for explanations. Not by the horrified looks when Marie Kessler's name is mentioned and not from Kelly Burkhardt's behavior, and certainly not from the stories she told Nick about his grandfather. Nick is the game-changer within his bloodline, as, I think, Renard will prove to be within his. (That's also a time-honored trope regarding bloodlines, come to that.) On the one hand a man raised as an orphan; on the other a bastard halfbreed prince. We can make a strong argument that the point here is that an outsider's perspective is necessary to sort out the positive, useful aspects of traditions passed through bloodlines from the negative and corrupt ones.

Moving from the micro to the macro of bloodlines within Grimm, we have the Verrat. We still don't know why they placed such an emphasis on the purity of Wesen lines and insisted that species not interbreed, but we know that they did. The strongest possibility is that mixed-breed Wesen turn out different somehow, and either that's bad for the Royals and the Wesen as a whole or it's bad for their ability to retain control over same. Perhaps a large percentage of mixed-breed children are unstable, either mentally prone to psychosis or physically unable to control the woge. Perhaps being mixed-breed means that you have perfect control over the woge and only show game face when you choose, thereby making Grimms' jobs impossible. We can hypothesize from here to Sunday about the reasons why, but the fact of the matter is that it's an established part of the world. Purity of blood matters, and there is a secret police style organization in place to enforce it. Here, too, Renard's lineage bucks the trend. Perhaps with his father's knowledge, perhaps not. Eric's story implies that nobody knew Sean was a halfbreed until late childhood/early adolescence, and he's such a terribly reliable narrator. (Not to mention probably not privy to everything Papa Renard knew/knows.) Stories of the halfbreed being the savior of the family (though the family may or may not appreciate it in the slightest) are a dime a dozen; I have only to reach into my memory banks for the Elvenborn series (K: or Star Trek!) for a quick example of that trope.

But this is only the most blatant power of blood within Grimm, the power of an inheritance either partial or full and the importance of that inheritance going to the purest iteration of the bloodline. We also have a great deal of blood magic within Grimm, starting with Adalind's zaubertrank and moving on down the list of things what Hexenbiests have done in the show. It's a long, long list, so fasten your seatbelts, kiddos. I'm not even going to try to take this in chronological order, because half the time examples overlap.

First and most prominent, of course, we have Adalind dosing Hank with the blood cookies. This fulfills just about every one of the non-bloodline tropes I mentioned, and for shits and giggles even includes one of those! (Sort of.) First we have the blood magic, performed on an unwilling/unwitting victim. Blood stolen from Hank in a much more modern sense, taking it at the time of his physical and using it for other means. In another story we might have a whole saga of a mugger who slashes him with a knife, or a kidnapper who takes his blood, which would make Hank an even more blatantly unwilling victim. But because Renard is involved with this plotline, it's more about the betrayal of trust and the use of willingly given blood for malevolent purpose. This potion progresses through a series of dates and phone calls, becoming more and more powerful; meanwhile on the side we have a moral lesson about Don't Eat Blood Magic Not Intended For You, Kids. It's a comic touch, more suited to animal fables than to the more Arthurian drama playing out on the main stage, and I'm sure it's deliberate. Mix all your ingredients together and you've got a common thread with several emotional notes. Hank's death, much like Merlin's imprisonment in his cave, comes when he finally has sex with Adalind. As Monroe noted, that does always complicate things. Though we may assert that Adalind's not a virgin, we actually have no on-screen confirmation of that. Based on the way Renard treats her, I'd say she's never gotten his pants off, and she reacts with a somewhat unusual level of disgust to the idea of sleeping with Peter the toadie. It's entirely possible, though unconfirmed, that Adalind was a virgin (at least in the most technical sense) and saved her body in order to put it to use at the right moment. (Which is not, actually, without precedent in modern settings. Stephen King did it in The Stand, where Nadine tried to lose her virginity so that Flagg wouldn't be the one to take it from her. Other modern writers have addressed this, most notably Anne Bishop albeit in a vastly different setting.)  It would fit with a great deal of the behavior we see from her and her mother, and it would lend additional potency to the zaubertrank she works on Hank. Even if this isn't the case, though, sex and blood are closely linked, and we can safely say that a first sexual encounter between Adalind and Hank lent a good deal of power to her potion whether or not she was technically a virgin.

As part of her ritualized preparations for seducing Hank, we also have the leeches! Drawing blood in order to purify the body is something I'm sure everyone's familiar with. Yay bloodletting! No, wait, the other thing. Although with women, this takes on additional layers of meaning, as menses are considered ritually impure in many cultures. Adalind, in this plotline, is very good at walking that balance between pure and impure, innocent and femme fatale, and though Renard implies heavily that only the negative image is true, it's difficult to play the part of femme fatale as well as Adalind does if she never had any innocence to lose.

The cure for the zaubertrank is just as textbook blood magic as the potion itself. Nick kills the caster, and in a somewhat unusual twist he doesn't do this in a literal slit-your-throat way. No, he has to force Adalind to ingest some of his blood, willingly given, in order to break the curse on Hank and save his life. It kills off her Hexen powers, but not Adalind's body or mind. So we've hit up blood as a binding agent, blood sacrifice (minor, but Nick does get a nasty bite out of it), and killing the caster to lift the curse. We've also potentially hit sex and loss of virginity as a further blood magic trope. Even if we don't count Adalind whammying Hank into sex under that column, we can for damn sure count her loss of Hexen powers as a metaphor for the same. But we're far from done with the tropes and turning them inside out!

Now we get to circle back to Adalind and her mother and that pesky virginity question. You didn't think I was letting that go already, did you? Once she's lost her Hexenbiest powers, she's worthless to Renard, and by association to her mother as well. This brings into play not only the traditional ways to break a blood magic curse, it mirrors her worth as a virgin. She's slept with Hank, where she may not have ever had penetrative sex before; she's ingested the blood of a Grimm. All in the same night, the metaphysical paralleling the physical, and now she has nothing. Which she even says. Renard's rejection of her is in many ways exactly the loss of respect we might expect out of a man who's been raised to value purity in some form or fashion. Who was, in fact, raised hating at least half of who he is. In light of the revelations in season 2, that makes this scene even more poignant, because in rejecting Adalind he tries to dismiss that part of him that's like her. Of course that doesn't work; it's in the blood, you see. And blood will out.

As Catherine says, and then proceeds to prove with her pure of heart potion. All that snark, designed to hit Renard where it hurts him the most. (Even when he's not there, for that matter.) It raises an interesting question, though, with the implication that purity of heart is purity of blood; we've been chasing that idea through Adalind's spells for most of a season now but this is the first time it's been explicitly stated. Blood for blood; Renard must alter his fundamental makeup in order to mend the damage done by Adalind drawing Juliette's blood for her espirit ailleurs curse. Which is a very small amount of blood to draw for such a potent curse, I might add, though we do have the symbolism of three all around it: three scratches, three days in a coma, three people directly trapped by the aftermath. Indeed, this seems as much or more like Nimue trapping Merlin in his cave as Hank's zaubertrank. Now that our Grimm and his Captain are well and truly trapped (and there's that blood as a binding agent again), there's no way to know for sure how they'll break this curse. Adalind's already been killed once, metaphysically. Claire Coffee is a series regular, so it seems unlikely that they'll kill her off anytime soon. The only person out of the triad affected that I'd expect to die is Juliette, in which case you can expect a furious blog post about STOP FRIDGING WOMEN, but let's cross that off the list entirely for the moment, since they're not giving us any indication of killing anyone right away. Adalind might be willing to give Renard the cure if he gets her the key, but there's no evidence to support her having one in the first place, since all she's done is threaten him with blackmail. Monroe and Rosalee might be able to effect a cure, but that'll require everyone to sit down, stop throwing punches, and talk to each other goddammit. (And that's not one of the more usual methods for fixing blood magic.) No, the way they're setting this up I would expect one of two things to happen: the curse is lifted due to someone making a willing sacrifice that may or may not be fatal, or Adalind chooses to lift/is manipulated into lifting the curse. And if that second happens, may I be the first to predict that Eric's the one who armtwists her into it? Just, something about that always finding a way to work things out makes me think Eric enjoys having his brother of sound mind to play these games against. Unfortunately, until we come back from hiatus this is purest speculation.


  1. The parallels between Nick and Renard is something that gives me hope for next year. Very interesting!

    Also: most of the implications from classical works are new to me. Thank you so much!

    1. There are so many of them, and yet the writers haven't QUITE made it clear that they're going to allow Renard to survive/have allies/have anything like a good life. I hope, because assuming they get a third season I'm not sure what they can do with him as a pure villain that doesn't involve killing him off, and then legions of fangirls would revolt. But I don't know! Rarr.

      Glad to put my English degree to some kind of use! XD