Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Remember Who You Are: Identity and Free Will in Grimm

Hey, look everyone! It's our first guest post, from @countmystars, whose acquaintance we credit to the DJ nights @AkelaCooper ran during hiatus between seasons 1 and 2.  -A


As with most good science fiction and fantasy, Grimm takes the time to explore themes other than “oooh, scary monsters and magic”.  One of the strongest of these is the theme of identity -- all the major characters, save Hank, struggle with who they are and how that affects/is affected by the world around them.  Few characters on Grimm are who they appear to be -- by choice, necessity or circumstance -- and the interaction of those hidden identities is a primary source of conflict.  Generally speaking, TV writers state the theme of their series somewhere in the pilot, and in Grimm, this takes the form of Marie Kessler’s dying words: “Remember who you are; trust your instincts and nothing else.”  Instincts are a tricky thing in the Grimmverse, especially when the “creature” side of Wesen instincts comes into play: as Monroe states, “You can’t stop it. It’s who you are.” -- in a poignant contrast to his own free choices and behavior.  The series explores both ideas and has yet to choose a “side” -- even in the episode “Big Feet”, which addresses the theme head-on in both dialogue and action -- and it’s that nuance that helps add depth to what could have been a simple cops-and-monsters show.

NICK: When we first meet Nick Burkhardt, he is a cop, a boyfriend, a loving nephew. But before the pilot episode ends, we (and he) discover that he’s even more than that. As one of the last of the Grimms, it’s his duty, per Aunt Marie, to hunt down evil Wesen. But unlike Grimms past, he isn’t a “stab first, ask questions later” kind of guy. As he asserts in more than one episode, he isn’t that kind of Grimm; he chooses to look for the humanity in the Wesen community, and protects and serves them as he does non-Wesen. The push and pull between his chosen identity as a police officer, his inherited identity as a Grimm, and his own individual concept of justice and fairness results in both internal and external conflict for Our Hero, and the results aren’t always clear-cut. This ongoing struggle is part of what makes the show’s concept sustainable, the emotional core that goes beyond the Monster of the Week.

MONROE: Monroe seems much more at peace with his struggle than Nick does, probably because it isn’t so new to him. He has always known he is a Blutbad, and once participated in the prevailing “wild” culture of his kind, but made a conscious choice to reject that behavior and live more at peace with the world at large. From the beginning we see him participating in his “strict regimen” of exercise and vegetarianism, but we also see his wilder side triggered in proximity to another Blutbad in the pilot and again when he encounters his ex-girlfriend Angelina. It seems to be constant work for Monroe the clockmaker and musician to keep from becoming Monroe the Big Bad Wolf, but he is at peace with what is ultimately a freely chosen lifestyle.

RENARD: Here we have another character with multiple identities in conflict: Sean Renard the police captain vs. Renard the Royal, half-human and half-Hexenbiest, a man with what seems to be a moneyed upbringing in the blue-collar-ish field of law enforcement (though of high rank within that field). Even at this point in Season 2 (as of this writing 2x12, “Season of the Hexenbiest”), it’s difficult to tell which of these identities is prevailing at any given moment, especially now that he’s feeling the effects of a zaubertrank. Whether he becomes even more conflicted about his affiliations as a Royal once the spell is broken, or whether he becomes more strongly enmeshed in that world, remains to be seen.

HANK: It has been well established here on Unspooling Fiction that Hank Griffin Is The Best. I’ll go one farther than that: Hank is also the character whose identity is the most stable, and as such helps keep the other characters, and the series as a whole, grounded in the real world. From the very beginning through mid-Season 2, Hank is exactly who he is -- which, fortunately for us, is an intelligent, complex, interesting character instead of an Older, Jaded Cop Sidekick stereotype (to say nothing of racial stereotypes, which the writers have also managed to steer clear of). Even when he’s finally initiated into the Grimm/Wesen world, he stays centered and assimilates this new information very calmly and rationally... for someone who’s face to face with a werewolf for the first time. He’s still a good cop, a loyal friend and a Big Damn Hero (to borrow a phrase from another fandom), through and through. SERGEANT WU also seems to be stable thus far, but as an ancillary character, he’s given less background data than the other characters.

ADALIND: Unlike the male main characters in the Grimmverse, Adalind Schade is experiencing a loss of identity rather than the addition of a new one. Her identity as a Hexenbiest was taken from her by Nick, without her consent, and she’s struggling to figure out who she is without what appear to be her defining characteristics. Her quest for power is also a quest for identity, a search for what she has lost. Whether she becomes a new Adalind or clings to who she used to be will continue to inform her actions, and I suspect (based on the emotional nuances in other storylines) she may shape up to be as tragic a character as she is evil.

JULIETTE: Juliette Silverton is the one major character who is completely uninformed as to the nature of what’s really happening around her. (Hell, she and Sergeant Wu may be the only characters, period, who have no clue what’s really happening.) As such, pre-zaubertrank, she operated mostly outside the Grimm/Wesen world. Now she’s right in the middle of it, struggling to reconcile her selective amnesia with what she’s been told about her relationship with Nick, figuring out who she is in relation to the people around her -- especially Renard, thanks to the spell they’re both under. At this point it’s difficult to tell whether she will remain clueless or whether she’ll become aware of the reality of her situation, but it seems that learning about Wesen and the zaubertrank would be the easiest way for her to regain her agency in the situation.

ROSALEE: The newest addition to the Grimm team, Rosalee Calvert is both a Fuchsbau and a recovering drug addict. Her choice to get clean parallels Monroe’s choice to become a Wieder Blutbad, providing a source of commonality as well as potential conflict between the two.

At mid-Season 2, all of our characters seem to be at a crossroads. There’s the zaubertrank-induced love triangle, of course, but Monroe continues to be caught between the anti-Grimm Wesen world and those who understand what he’s doing (including Rosalee). Hank has yet to be thrown into a situation where being a cop comes into conflict with helping the Grimming along. Who knows what Adalind has up her sleeve, or where Renard -- the only fully aware side of the love triangle -- might choose to take his next step. The mid-season cliffhanger is as much an emotional one as a plot-based one, so it’s anyone’s guess where the characters will go next, and I for one can’t wait to find out.

Elizabeth M. Thurmond is an author, screenwriter, and happy little nerdling. Her phone and computer habits suggest that she may also be a Mellifer, but if she is, she isn’t telling. Her usual realms of the Internet are and


  1. Loved this. I think I'd noticed several of these parallels but not realized that there was an overarching theme connecting so many characters, so this brings a new and subtler perspective.

    The only thing I'd add is that I think Hank has started to feel conflict between "helping the Grimming along" and his cop life: covering for Nick's suspicious behavior, both before and after he knew what that behavior was about. He's also appeared to become more and more concerned about Nick's increasingly violent, trigger-happy behavior toward Wesen suspects, something that I hope will come to a head--both because Nick needs to be reined in, or soon will be, and because I see some parallels to racial profiling and Hank would be the best one to address that, explicitly or otherwise. That's not exactly a plot conflict, but it is an ethical conflict.

  2. Glad you liked the post! I do think Hank will be the one to call Nick out/rein him in, especially once everything comes to a head with Renard... which is quite consistent with his identity as Good Cop and Good Friend.