Friday, January 11, 2013

Women of Grimm

You've seen us do profiles of characters for our other show at the moment, and you might have read some of them, or our celebration of the women of Haven. We'd like to turn our attention now to celebrating the women of Grimm, and their influence on the events within the show. While the protagonist of Grimm is Nick and, arguably, Renard as the deuteragonist, more and more, the driving forces behind an equal if not majority share of the plot these days are the women.

As we stated earlier, Juliette's first introduction in the show is in the context of Nick's girlfriend. Because the first episode is so focused on Nick's discoveries and Nick's life we get only bits and pieces throughout, but what we do get is enough to know that she's been with Nick for several years, long enough to build up familiarity with his background and his family as well as be comfortable with them dropping in unannounced (or, presumably, comfortable enough to tell him off if she was uncomfortable with same). We can deduce from the way she behaves around him that she is aware of his habits and his reactions to anticipate them, after the quick exchange when Aunt Marie is attacked and as well when Nick wakes up with the nightmare. She functions for the first several episodes as Nick's support structure, without either giving much of a clue as to aspects of her life outside of Nick and yet without sacrificing her own independence as a character; she acts more as a sounding board or an alternate point of view than a yes-person. Over the course of the first season we learn that she's a vet, that she's not only well-educated but also quick thinking and with sound reasoning skills. We learn that she favors the scientific over the instinctive, not blatantly, but demonstrated by the fact that she clearly feels something is wrong at several points in the first season and decides not to act on those instincts for whatever reason. However, when she is confronted with a physical conundrum (the unknown species of creature that attacked the horse in Big Feet) she does pursue that even though it takes her to a place she doesn't yet have the terminology to describe.

This dependence on and need for physical or at least empirical evidence provides a contrast between her and Nick that is complimentary in the beginning and yet leads to a rift in the end. In the confrontation at the end of the first season she repeatedly asks Nick to show her things; essentially, she asks him to give her proof.  When all he gives her are artifacts that may or may not hold what she thinks of as truth and rambling testimony that hasn't been and potentially can't be substantiated. Interestingly, this is not played for either a positive or a negative; if anyone is played for a negative it's Nick's rambling confession portrayed as too insistent and too hysterical. Juliette is given a fair display both when she rejects his proposal of marriage but not Nick himself, and when she asks him to explain it to her with the subtext being "in a way [she] can understand." Unfortunately we don't get a resolution on whether or not Nick is able to bridge the communication gap between his gut feeling behavior and her need for rational explanations, because at the end of the first season her memories of him are erased, leaving them with a whole other set of problems.

Again, with this turn of events, Grimm does not play it for a cheap plot device. Deprived of the circumstances which define her as Nick's girlfriend, the narrative is forced to define her in terms of who she is outside of this relationship she can't remember. We learn a few more things, that she was raised at least by a father and a grandmother that we know of, that she is bilingual, that she has a number of female friends who she feels close to and to whom she talks about Nick a great deal. However, she also has a strong sense of privacy, as shown by the fact that she did not tell them why she rejected Nick's proposal. While this puts her in the frustrating position of not understanding her own past actions, it does give us a sense of the limits she's placed on herself as to what can be shared and what can't be, retroactively implying that she was dealing with Nick's distance and secrecy entirely on her own. She has a strong sense of self, by this, because she was able to think about it and to decide that she wants to be with Nick and give him a chance to rebuild the intimacy they once had. Equally this is demonstrated by her insistence that he stay with her (up to the point where his behavior becomes more erratic and aggressive) and that they work out their relationship despite some truly staggering and unprecedented difficulties. Having discovered all she could about them from pictures and anecdotes from her friends, this is a choice that the Juliette who does not know and has never known Nick makes, to stay with him and build their relationship again. However, when he again refuses to tell her whatever he's hiding, after she openly and repeatedly states that she knows he's keeping secrets that are affecting both of them, that plus the increased aggression provides a tipping point. With no connection to him and no demonstrated interest from him in connecting with or trusting her, she rejects him again, this time much more definitively. It remains to be seen how she feels about him and whether or not she feels she can trust him or, indeed, herself. As we saw earlier how she gives weight to empiricism and rationality over instinct, the fact that her emotions are overriding her rational judgment deeply bothers her, is the one thing so far to shake her out of her confidence.

Our second most prominent woman of Grimm was also introduced in the pilot, even before Juliette, although it's not entirely clear whether or not the writers and runners knew initially how important she would be in the long run. Whatever they might have had planned, though, the events of the pilot indicate that they wanted her to be a pivotal part of it. Her actions signify the murkiness of Renard's allegiance without having to openly state This Man Is Shady As Fuck at any given point, which means whether or not she appeared in any later episodes, Adalind already had a tremendous impact on the direction of the show.

Right from the first Adalind is portrayed as skilled and capable, first in her role as Renard's assassin (despite her failure; the way it played out made it more seem as though she chose to abort due to unexpected circumstances rather than was prevented from killing Marie) and then in her role as a lawyer at an evidently large and prosperous firm. We don't get to see the nature of her day to day duties though we do, semi-unusually, get a specific branch of law for her: contract law. This might not be on purpose, but it also subtly underscores how contracts, deals, and bargains are carefully worded and devastatingly tricky in the world of fairy tales from which Grimm takes much of its source material. She states that she began in criminal law, which goes along with her knowing a police captain, but whether or not that is true is up for debate since her veracity is severely in question. As a result both of the nature of the profession in which we see her and her mother's influence, as we see later, Adalind is a driven and ruthless woman. She projects confidence most likely as a cover for her lack of internally-supported confidence, as demonstrated by her reaction to her de-powering (she may be gaining more confidence now, or it may still be predicated on other factors). Failure is not something she allows herself to contemplate, and she has no coping mechanisms for it that do not involve some form of revenge or recompense. If she cannot carve out success and esteem in the eyes of the Portland Prince, she'll accomplish that goal in another way, and get her revenge in the process. Both for herself and for her mother's death, as we see later, despite the fact that her mother abetted in Renard's rejection of her.

It's interesting that she does seek revenge for her mother's death, although since, again, we only have her word that that's one of her motivations, she might well be lying because it's something that will make her acceptable to herself, at least, and possibly to Renard. If her ultimate goal is for him to take her back (after a suitable period of groveling and suffering), as indicated by the fact that she did seem to truly be in love with him, she would have to justify her attacking him with a reason he could empathize with, and she's certainly demonstrated that she's not only clever enough to realize this but also capable of the advance planning. Regardless of whether or not this is the case, her feelings for Renard have already proved to be one of her greatest weaknesses by inciting her to reckless action and allying with Eric. And if she is seeking revenge for herself for the death of her mother, it goes against the self-serving behavior her mother displayed to her during the events of Love Sick as well as her mother's casual dismissal of their connection in Bad Teeth.

Adalind and her mother obviously shared an antagonistic relationship starting from whenever it was that Catherine Schade taught her to believe in the importance of standards of appearance and to value political and financial power. With their comments on the importance (or lack thereof) of love and the fact that neither of them display any sort of inclination to form emotional attachments based on trust and genuine feeling, it seems like Adalind learned from her mother that people are to be used and allied with or against, not actually cared for. She would have been raised to claw her way up to power, with the usual classist prejudices, and if she did not meet Renard in her profession of criminal law she was most likely introduced to him by her mother. Renard then would have appealed to her greatly because, although suitable by the Schades' high standards and powerful in potentia, there also is/was a core of genuine warmth to him (as shown by the wedding ring and pictures he still keeps). He never allowed it out around her, but Adalind might well have been perceptive enough to see it and pursue Renard both for the goals her mother imposed upon her and because she was falling in love with him, and doing things to make him happy reinforced the idea that she loved him and one day he might love her. Which, of course, made it all the more devastating when he basically ripped everything she worked for to shreds in a few sentences. She had failed him and lost her powers, and was therefore worth nothing. Everything she had tried to turn herself into was worth nothing because her only worth to him was in her Hexenbiest powers. After which of course she blamed Nick as well, and then focused on tearing both the men who scorned her down. But because her confidence, her perceptions of her abilities, everything is built on layers of superficiality as taught by her mother, she has to negotiate from without rather than within. She knows what moves Nick and Renard, but only the obvious things, nothing beneath the surface. And as far as Renard is concerned, at least, there is always something beneath the surface.

By contrast we have Angelina, for whom what you see is pretty much what you get. She is belligerent to the point of violence, fiercely loyal, knows exactly who she is and what she wants and is not shy about going after it. She doesn't like being told what to do, but she isn't unreasonably mono-focused either. With Angelina, there might be a layer of self-protection by getting angry when she might want to cry or run away, but that's about as much deception as she seems to feel she needs to carry out. We only got two episodes of her, one in which she was the antagonist though displaying as well some positive, sympathetic qualities, and one in which she was the on the protagonist side. Whatever else it may be or however else it may treat its women, Grimm is very good about presenting characters as characters rather than as people we're supposed to root for or against. Angelina had her wits and her passion going for her, she had her loyalty to those she loved, her family and Monroe, and she had her willingness to put herself at risk for things she believed in. She also had a taste in fun that could not rightly be called a 'good guy' inclination though, again, points to Grimm for not making that her free sexuality. In this case, what put her on the bad guy side was the fact that she had terrorized and killed other people for fun, and didn't seem repentant about it. This did not, of course, keep fans from rooting for her and nor being upset when she died, and there was never any overwhelming message that we should have been glad about her death.

Rosalee has often been described as the contrasting love interest to Monroe, but that does her role in the show a disservice, I feel. We're first introduced to Rosalee as a person of interest in a case Nick and Hank are working, slightly more rapport with the main cast than usual but otherwise nothing out of the ordinary. We learn that she's the sister of the Fuchsbau we saw in the spice shop a while back, that she was addicted to a Wesen-only drug, that she has since moved out and made a new life for herself. We also have the impression that she is quiet and guarded, although apparently not withdrawn out of any lack of confidence. More like, it seems, she simply trusts slowly and not easily at all. Which, in fact, fits with what we later learn about her parents being active revolutionaries and raising her to consider political awareness a normal state. Hard to say whether or not she knew about her brother's side business; on the one hand, the Freddie Calvert who would deal with Geiers and traffic in human organs doesn't seem like a Freddie Calvert who would assist Wesen in trouble with the Verrat. And then again, they clearly set this up before we even hear about the Resistance, with the multiple passports. So, most likely, Rosalee knows about her brother's Resistance movements in a general sense but not the Geier deal, which may well have been the price of doing business in the Portland underground. Rosalee, choosing to remain out of the active Resistance, needs no such resources.

Obviously taken with her, Monroe provides the link between Rosalee and the rest of the cast for the first handful of episodes in which she has a role. As time goes on she comes out of her shell a bit, becomes not only more talkative and outgoing but also more trusting of the gang. Her self-assurance shows in the way she immediately takes charge of the shop, so that we know her quietness in her introductory episode wasn't neither a lack of inner strength nor of knowledge, but as she's called upon more and more for her expertise as an apothecary she gets more of a chance to demonstrate that she's not afraid to order people around when circumstances fall within her field. It's also quite reasonable for them to have brought a second person in, since as Monroe has said (often in roughly so many words), he's not the Wesen Wikipedia. She also shows that she readily takes orders, chiefly from Nick. Although the pacing of the relationship with Monroe seems forced at times, there is as much good friendship there as romantic affection, and she is as comfortable courting and being courted (albeit at a relatively slow pace) as she is with everything else.

In sharp contrast to our domestic, relaxed apothecary we have Catherine the Potions MIstress. We only get her in a couple of episodes but both because of what she's done to Renard and how she shaped Adalind's life she has a strong effect on the course of events in the show. What little we see of her is very poised, very rigid and implied to be very brittle. She seems to have a strong fixation on a certain idea of how the world works; in her mind if you do a certain thing, these other things will follow, and so on. Ruthless, driven, and aggressive, but for all that we see enough of her to know this we also don't see what makes her tick. There's not a lot of passion in her appearances, only a cold drive for power and most of that either over Renard or within Renard's sphere of influence.

Mia is much the same as Catherine in many ways, which doesn't say many good things about the Royals and their lives in general and what they do to the women in their lives in specific. But while Catherine is ruthless and cold, Mia actually enjoys the games-playing. She especially enjoys beating people at it, possibly men in general or possibly just Renard. Her tells are just obvious enough for us the audience to pick up on, possibly obvious enough for Renard to pick up on given his reaction to her, but they are also calculated to give the impression that one is getting close to her when in her mind, they are seeing only what she wants them to see. Going by the arc of her behavior over the course of the one episode we see her in it's unlikely that she is in love with Renard, no matter what their relationship is implied to be. That said, she does seem to enjoy his company and the thrill of matching herself against him. Mia is important both for the role she plays as a game piece on the board, but more so in terms of the show because she is the only representative we have of the women of the Royal families. It would be foolish to suggest that they're all like her, but it wouldn't be much of a stretch to imagine that many of her behaviors and inclinations are sculpted by life in the Royal families.

And finally we have Marie Kessler and Kelly Burkhardt. Marie is the first woman of significance we see, as well as being the first Grimm we're introduced to. She is calm, resigned to her inevitable death and seems to have made peace with the events of her life as well. It's hard to say, since we get so little time with her, whether this is a recent development due to her cancer or a peace that she struggled for and achieved regardless of her health status. Whichever the cause, she was competent and dangerous enough to be feared among Wesen along with her sister Kelly Burkhardt; her reputation persists after her death, as does her influence in whatever of her childhood teaching Nick has absorbed. We haven't yet been given any clear indication from the show that she taught him certain skills with an eye to his becoming a Grimm someday, but that may have more to do with Nick as an unreliable narrator than any lack of her having done so or the writers having considered this as a factor. Certainly we're told early in season two that Kelly and Marie's parents taught them about Grimming, with a strong implication that it was the family way of life. In the way that we have to remember we don't have an accurate picture of Marie, we can't have an accurate picture of Kelly, either. She's certainly single-minded and as driven as about half the women in the show - which seems to be a theme, the dark/evil women are driven and the light/good women are, while no less passionate, less immediately moved to action. Kelly is obviously intelligent but doesn't stop for much introspective thought, which might be a product of the past eighteen years or so of her life on the road but is most likely contributed to by the coins. She's almost certainly coin touched, all she needed was a little more hunching in her back and a hissing 'my precious' to complete the look. She is also, in sharp likeness to Catherine, very rigid in her world-view. Very fixed on a certain idea that this is the way the world works, as demonstrated by her apprehension towards Monroe and Rosalee. She's a little more willing to bend to new things than Catherine was, but not likely very much at all. And even though she does bend somewhat, it's more in the interests of taking care of family, which is in many respects her secondary sphere of influence, that of wife and mother. This despite having faked her own death, which within the confines of what Kelly knows as truth is the same as taking care of her family. On the other hand, her having spent nearly two decades apart from her now-adult son seems to have made her capable of seeing him as an adult, which no doubt contributes to what little bending she does.

Overall, Grimm's writers seem to be focused on writing their women as people first and women second, which is arguably our favorite philosophy of writing women. The downside to this philosophy is being aware of lazy writing patterns (as distinct from tropes, which can be useful shorthand) and beginning to write standard cliched women's roles. Which is probably a large part of fandom's objection to Rosalee and Juliette as they currently stand, that their places have been edging toward Love Interest on screen over competent and intelligent women in their own rights. Juliette's reactions to the love potion and amnesia and Nick's reaction to both showcase her competence and intelligence, but they also occur as a reaction to the actions of a man with a romantic connection to her, and the same with Adalind. Thus, on the one hand, yay for complex characters, and on the other hand it would be nice to see some female action not related to love and romance. (This is most likely to occur if we get a recurring female villain not connected to the Schades, as far as we can tell.) It will also be interesting to see what, if any, subtle/snarky commentary the writers have as regards Royal society and especially as regards their opinion of women given that it currently leans towards the most common view of feudal/medieval aristocracy, where the women are showpieces and the men have the real power. Moreover, there seems to be some difference between how true Royals such as Mia are treated and how Hexenbiests survive; we have never seen a full-blooded male Hexenbiest and in fact have some grounds to believe none exist. There's a lot of interesting gender commentary they could put into an explanation of that, and we look forward (with, admittedly, some trepidation) to how they address these and other issues.


  1. I think it's particularly interesting that, as you say, the good women don't act as quickly as the evil ones. Combined with the rigid world views vs. more fluid ones, there's some interesting subtext there about thinking things through and looking before you leap [good] vs. acting more impulsively [bad or at least dangerous]. Which is an interesting reflection on Nick's behavior, because on the one hand he's very instinct-driven but on the other hand he takes the time to understand Wesen instead of shooting first and asking questions later.

    1. I hadn't noticed it until I started looking at it for this essay, but it does seem to be an ongoing trend. Part of it can be attributed to the fact that the protagonists get more screen time than the antagonists, but not nearly as much as some other shows considering, Adalind. As far as Nick, it might be interesting to see but, I think, carrying your theory on a bit, he gets into the most trouble when he runs on his instincts as opposed to taking the time to consult his books and Monroe and such.