Saturday, January 26, 2013

Families of Grimm

Families, as we've mentioned on occasion on this here blog, are very important to the world of Grimm. (She types, tongue firmly planted in cheek.) It matters what your bloodline is, it matters who you can trust to watch your back - and who you can count on to backstab you instead, preferably in predictable and useable ways - and it matters who you choose to associate with. All of these things inform the identity of our main characters to a greater or lesser degree, steering their actions and reactions and providing some emotional context for the way they approach the world. With that in mind, as with the examination of the women of Grimm, some patterns emerge on closer examination of the families.

Nick's concept of family is, as stated in the show, informed first by his biological mother and father during his formative years, then by his aunt who raises him after his parents die. Or supposedly die, but we don't find that out for a good season or so. Instead we begin in media res of Nick's life, in the present day, when he's supposedly gotten everything he wants or in the process of doing so and the Call comes knocking down his door to drag him off on an adventure. Given that impression, we can assume that Nick's concept of home and family involves a heteronormative, married relationship, and we don't get into the discussion of children before everything goes pear-shaped. This is pretty much the standard set of aspirations that a person of his age and class bracket, race, sex and gender, and every other immediately visible benchmark is expected to have by society as a general rule; the interesting part is that Nick somehow managed to achieve this goalset, this set of unquestioned expectations, while having two parental figures who were or are Grimms. The indication by this and by his surprise in the pilot and first several episodes is that first his parents and then Aunt Marie managed to conceal his bloodline heritage from him, despite supposedly being active in said heritage, enough so, at any rate, that anti-Grimm elements wanted to kill them. Nick came out of this with a rigid view of how things should be, e.g. his response to Juliette's refusal of his marriage proposal, followed by her developing feelings, however artificially induced, for another man. While the rest of his world is turning on its head and losing its tiny mind, he clings to the notion that a family is something grounding, something that at least begins with two people who love each other and agree to be married. When he starts to lose that, he gets edgy and unsettled.

In retrospect, it's not surprising that Nick grew up with some rigid concepts embedded in his brain; his mother Kelly displays a lack of flexibility in thinking, and not all of that can be attributed to the coins. Whether this rigidity, this notion that things must be a certain way extends for Kelly to one's domestic and personal life or whether it's only within the sphere of Grimm work it's hard to say. We never get a picture of what Kelly thinks of as the ideal or even normative family, although we do get the sense that she believes family is something to be cared for and cherished and protected, because of how she describes her regrets to Nick. Marie gives us little idea as to what she thinks of her family, except that her actions show us she was devoted both to her sister (enough to raise her son in her absence) and to her nephew (to keep him out of the life as best she could until she knew it was inevitable). Overall the Burkhardt-Kessler family is painted as being stubbornly loyal at the core, to itself and anyone its members deem within the family group, whether or not they are approved of by their society in general. Largely this goes to the Wesen-Grimm divide, it seems, at least assuming Farley Kolt was telling the truth about Marie Kessler, but at least concerning Nick, who maintains his friendship with Monroe and Rosalee even in the face of his long-lost mother's disapproval.

In sharp contrast, the family of the deuteragonist, the second protagonist and the other character in the show around whom many of the events revolve, is trying its damnedest to tear itself apart. We know nothing of Sean Renard's family life except that his mother was not married to his biological father and whatever father figure he had must have changed when he was young, when his mother hauled him out of western Europe and over to the north-midwest United States. Given the politics of the situation it's actually more likely that he didn't have a father figure, on account of his mother would have wanted to keep a low profile so that her identity as a Hexenbiest wasn't revealed. Once in the States he might have gained a father figure, but there's no information on his family other than Eric's admittedly biased testimony. And speaking of Eric, he seems to hold no familial affection either for his father or his mother, going by how he spoke of them. Distant, but aware of what decorum and tradition dictate he should feel for them, so a modicum of perfunctory feeling. Other than the cousin Renard shot in the face we have no other members of family Renard to look at.

Beginning with Sean Renard's magnificently warped family background and continuing with a career path that traditionally makes a family life difficult, it's interesting that he would choose to start a family nonetheless. Either he decided at some point that a family was a desirable thing to have or that he was capable of being a responsible father, or the woman in question found him and his decision to start a family was subsequent to and because of her. Maddeningly, all we know about her is that she bore him one child, a daughter, and that he still is invested enough in the marriage to continue to wear the wedding ring. But going by the pictures in his house and his comments to Catherine Schade, at some point in his life his concept of family changed from one of impersonal politics holding equal sway with bloodlines, both holding more sway over where one feels safe or who one feels safe with, let alone where the emotional connections go. His idea of mothers being concerned for the well-being of their children comes from somewhere, and his mother's actions did not occur in a vacuum, but that might be the only positive familial relationship he did have until starting his own family.

Eric Renard's only positive familial relationship seems to be Sean, which isn't saying much. The only reason we can deem it positive at all is that both parties seem to have gone to at least some minor trouble to maintain contact. And the context of any and all conversations in which he refers to his family is that of speaking with, at best, a dubious ally he doesn't yet know how far to trust. It's possible that the relationship he has with his parents was chilled for the sake of keeping Adalind from thinking there was a deeper connection there, which in and of itself is a sad comment on his concept of family. Certainly by their nature, the Seven Royal Families involve backstabbing both literal and figurative on a daily basis, we've seen that from Sean Renard and Mia's interactions. But that Eric Renard would, on reflex, conceal any depth of feeling he has for any family member, that's rather sad. That said, if his father had enough mistresses that Sean's mother was "one of," and it took the revelation of Sean's mother's Hexen nature to disrupt Pater Renard's relationship with that particular mistress, it's unlikely that there was any strong connection between Eric and either his mother or father, certainly not between the two parents in question. European Royal Families are largely members of religions which hold to one wife and one husband, and lifelong fidelity, or at least the appearance of such. That all of this stepping out took place as an open secret indicates that marriages have been made for political reasons, and no emotional component was involved. Eric himself is unmarried, and there are myriad options as to why that might be. He might still hold some hope of finding a woman he could fall in love with, he might be waiting for a politically advantageous match, he might be consciously or subconsciously disinclined to repeat his parents' experiences if he decided them to be unhappy or undesirable, he might already have found a woman he wanted to marry and for whatever reason she was unavailable. We don't know! Isn't it fun.

Monroe's family would be an interesting conundrum for the writers, should they ever choose to introduce us to members who are not Monroe. Starting with the impression Monroe gives, that the rest of his family members indicate a temperamental and violent bunch who are not at all reformed Blutbaden and may have committed several acts not in keeping with befriending a cop. As it were. Aside from this, however, we get an impression of a family who emigrated recently from Germany, as given by Monroe's continual lapses into German phrasing and reference to German locations. While the execution comes across at least for me as slightly awkward, having grown up in a household with a parent and other older relatives who were raised in other countries the phenomenon of drawing upon non-English phrases and words to describe situations is a very real one. Particularly when the childhood environment is bilingual (as Monroe's might well have been) despite living in an English immersive environment as an adult, lapses might occur where the non-English/non-immersive language is substituted in immediate recall for the other primary childhood language. Or, in non-anthro speak, after I've been so stressed out that I've forgotten the word for 'iron' and resorted to pointing at the thing and calling it 'plancha' a couple of times, I can well believe Monroe finding a situation so distressing (Big Feet) that all he can come up with is a German phrase from his childhood. So, traditional style Blutbad family recently emigrated from Germany and, finally, nothing about Monroe suggests that his family wasn't loving. Or at least not capable of love and a sense of humor. He clearly remembers several family members fondly, is capable of recognizing and approving of positive family relationships, and even showcases his father's sense of humor (again, Big Feet).

Rosalee's family is interesting in its introduction because the first member we meet is not the primary member we come to know. When we're first introduced to Freddie he seems to be a minor role in the Crime-of-the-Week storyline of that episode, an apothecary who trafficks with Geiers. When he pops up again later it seems like simple conservation and reuse of characters, but then his sister comes to town and she becomes instrumental in solving the Crime-of-the-Week, as well as nearly one of its victims. And that becomes the jumping off point for the Calvert family, as we later learn they were Resistance fighters and involved in the Wesen underground against the Royal Families, politically involved and aware. Rosalee speaks of her parents in the past tense, so it's a reasonable assumption that they're both dead (and particularly given their vocation), but other than that we know very little about him. Freddie's only detracting event or character flaw seems to have been the trafficking with Geiers; in all other aspects he was pictured as someone the audience could root for. When we're first shown that he has multiple identification documents it seems as though this ties back to the organlegging, but as it turns out he's actually a stop on the underground railroad. Which might also tie back into organlegging in the transport of illicit things way, but much more benign. Taken as a whole the Calvert family comes across as a family united by common goals and views of the world, but also loving and accepting as a whole, or at least striving to be so.

The Schades round out our regular cast of families (Hank, Wu, and Juliette have had mentions at best but no introductions to their families) with another helping of dysfunction and cold ambition. Adalind's character is solidly developed before we're introduced to her mother, but Catherine fits neatly into the development of a woman who is ruthless and ambitious, with no genuine interpersonal connections readily noticeable and who has been systematically an abusively deprived of choice and unconditional support. Essentially Catherine is Adalind twenty some odd years down the line, and she sculpted her daughter to be a socio-political climber along her own methods and motivations. She also trained her daughter to be obedient to her will, as shown by the dialogue towards the middle of Love Sick, but rejected her out of hand when her daughter didn't perform to her expectations. It's hard to say whether a rivalry over Sean Renard's affections precipitated that rejection or whether it was Catherine's customary response to being disappointed by someone she expected to provide her with something, but either way it was a cold-blooded response to a person in distress and seeking solace. Adalind was valued by Catherine up until she ceased to be useful, and Adalind had value to herself as long as she had power by being viewed as useful and valuable by others.

Most of the family units we see in each episode fall victim to the kind of dysfunction typical to procedurals rather than showing any trend or message in and of themselves. Grimm, as with the CSIs, the Law & Orders, and other shows of that ilk, skews towards the dysfunctional families because when a family is functioning as a workable unit, generally they don't get into the sort of trouble that causes police investigations. At least not in TV shows. That said, we do have several examples of loving, functional families within the guest stars of the Wesen world. The Eisbiebers are the most benevolent and recurring example, with the Coyotl father and daughter coming a close second. In that case the core family unit functioned lovingly and well, and the threat came from outside what they considered to be family. Angelina's family and the Reinigen come in after that, both of them existing on the edges of some aspect of society either in terms of legality or in terms of class strata. But both of those exclusions, interestingly, are ones that could just as easily happen to any human family. There are violent, thrill-seeking human groups, and there are hundreds of thousands of families who exist on or below the poverty line and in professions or attending schools with families who don't.

Overwhelmingly the pattern seems to be that the villainous families put their ambition and self-interest above everything, whereas the families of all the protagonists strike a balance between their own goals and the interests and health of the family. Although it's arguable that Kelly's abandonment of Nick at a young age might not have been in his emotional best interests, she provided as capable a guardian for him as she could, including selecting a guardian who could explain to him the Grimm aspect of their family if he turned out to have that ability. Also arguable that she felt faking her own death and disappearing was the best option at the time, given the situation; assassins and mind-bending coins aren't the best environment in which to raise a child whom you haven't told about the supernatural side of the family yet, and she may have felt herself becoming coin-touched already. Monroe's and Rosalee's families both have elements which are not in line with traditional human morality (casual violence, dealing with organ traffickers) but never are we given any reason to question that the family members who raised them did not love them.By contrast, Sean, the only member of the Renards or the Schades who could arguably be called a protagonist, is completely alone and without any kind of trustworthy support whatsoever. Adalind is likewise alone, though she is also a villain and thus her lack of connection or support gains nothing but possibly pity. Sean Renard might have been more of a protagonist-aligned moral character when he had a family, but now that he's an anti-hero at best all that has been taken from him. And given Nick's actions most recently, opting more and more often for extralegal solutions rather than working with Hank and within the law, as well as concealing the Wesen world at every opportunity from Juliette (and possibly concealing the love spell from Hank), we can most likely look forward to him narrowly escaping the same fate.  

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