Bear with me; I have another get it off my chest rant about how something on the TV machine made me angry. In this case it concerns a show that’s risen quite high on the list of shows I watch: NBC’s Grimm.
I enjoy the show a lot, but I’m really annoyed about one particular aspect. It’s a glaring flaw in an otherwise very appealing show. I understand why the flaw exists, but it concerns something that’s generally bugged me in storytelling for a long time. In the case of Grimm it especially grates; I wish the writers had taken another tack.
The issue concerns keeping secrets from loved ones.
If you don’t know the show, but someday plan to check it out, be warned I’m touching on plot elements here you might not want to know about. The issue threads through all four seasons so far, although in the current season (four), I think those threads are finally ended.
For those unfamiliar with the series, but reading this post anyway, Grimm takes place in modern-day Portland, Oregon. It centers on police homicide detective, Nick Burkhardt, his partner, Hank Griffin, along with assorted co-workers, friends, and sweethearts.
The idea is that the creatures described in those tales — and in other various monster legends — are real. These beings, collectively called wesen (pronounced “vesen”), normally look and act like humans unless they woge (pronounced “vo-gay”) — transform into their creature self.
Wesen can woge consciously — in which case anyone can see them — or unconsciously when stressed. The latter is invisible to anyone except “Grimms” — humans from a special ancient bloodline with special powers that help them fight wesen. Detective Nick is a Grimm.
Most wesen live their lives in peace and in secret, but some are bad and prey on humans. Grimms for centuries have indiscriminately hunted and beheaded wesen, but Nick is friendly to all peaceful wesen. The show concerns his dealings with the bad ones.
Okay, enough context; here’s my problem:
Nick keeps all this secret from… well, everyone. The premise is that it’s “not explainable” (a phrase repeated far too often), that no one would believe him, and that everyone would think he’s crazy. There are major plot threads that weave through the first two seasons — and kick in again in the third — with regard to the havoc this secrecy causes.
This is a major case of plot requirements driving character behavior in unnatural — and arguably stupid — ways. The idea of heroes keeping secrets from their loved ones has bugged me as far back as Superman and Spider-man (and many, many others). Doesn’t love involve some trust?
Nick allows his partner, Hank, to start losing his mind due to seeing impossible things through his association with Nick. The situation goes way past any reasonable point where keeping the secret makes any sense at all. And Hank’s ignorance has unfortunate consequences.
In keeping his Grimm identity secret, Nick allows his relationship with Juliette Silverton — whom he loves and lives with — to deteriorate disastrously.
In fact, he puts her squarely in the path of deadly danger and both pay a heavy price for that. Even after that danger has passed he keeps the secret beyond any sense at all.
In the third season, poor Sergeant Drew Wu, a key co-worker, has experiences with a woged wesen that literally puts him in a straight jacket. And still Nick keeps the truth from him.
All three do finally learn what’s really going on and become allies with Nick in his dealings with wesen. (Wu’s reaction is kind of a hoot.) But so much misery and danger would have been avoided if Nick had simply communicated with them.
Obviously the point of the secrecy was to generate that misery and danger, but it feels like lazy plotting to me. The characters must go out of their way to avoid doing the obvious — and right — thing to sustain the plot. I’m a lot happier with the show now that all key players are in on the secret!
I’m close to being caught up. I started watching at the beginning of season three. Several friends reported liking the show, so I gave it try and was hooked immediately. I like the basic premise; I like the characters; I like the show’s values (except for the secrecy, but perhaps we’re finally past that).
TNT has picked up Grimm for re-runs of previous seasons, so I have the chance to catch up on the first and second seasons. Bless you TNT! They gave me the same opportunity with Castle, another show I started watching years after it premiered and came to love.
[I think TNT rocks! They’ve created several shows I really like: The Closer, Major Crimes, Perception, Rizzoli & Isles, The Librarians) plus once a show ages a little they don’t disable fast-forward in On Demand, which almost all other channels do (and I hate them for it).]
But I got so angry watching the four season two episodes last night that I wanted to Hulk Smash my TV. These were episodes where the bad things that happened to Juliette begin to resolve, although she’s still in the dark at this point about what’s really going on.
Worse, several conversations require the characters to carefully and explicitly avoid saying the obvious things that would have made all their lives a lot better. Juliette’s misery really got under my skin, and it could all so easily have been avoided.
The idea is that she wouldn’t believe him, but by this point there is so much clear physical evidence he can present her that secrecy makes no sense at all. Hank knows at this point, so Hank can back him up.
Extra plus, we live in a world filled with fantasy fiction. Is it so hard to believe someone just couldn’t accept the ideas involved? Really?
One bit I loved in the movie Galaxy Quest was how the show’s fans reacted when they found out it was all real. They were delighted! Maybe it’s just me and a lifetime of SF and Fantasy, but my reaction would be: Whoa! Cool!!
Is it really impossible for Nick to lay the groundwork for an explanation? He’s got support from others, the ability to demonstrate the truth, a trailer filled with books and weapons, and a lot of strange events that make much more sense once explained.
This is the other side of the coin of the “mistaken identity” theme, which also requires careful dialog and plotting to preserve the mistake. Here it requires careful plotting and dialog to preserve the secret. It’s hard to pull this off well.
(I’ll mention again the best mistaken identity story ever: The Bill Murray film, The Man Who Knew Too Little. It’s a masterful exercise in double-meaning dialog and plotting. And it’s one of the funniest films in my collection.)
One of the things that made the otherwise fairly silly (but kinda fun) Nick Cage film Ghost Rider more worthy in my eyes is that he immediately tells his girlfriend what’s happened to him. You don’t see that very often, and I heartily approve.
I can understand why Superman and Spider-man (and many others) keep their identity secret from the world. Sure, no problem, that makes sense. But why does Supes keep his secret from Lois Lane? (And why is Lois Lane, ace investigative reporter, completely thrown off the trail because Clark Kent wears glasses?)
The idea is that loved ones are endangered if the world knows about their association with the hero in question. But wouldn’t they be even safer if they knew the risks involved? Is the belief that they would spill the beans? That only the hero can be trusted to keep his secret?
Not a lot of faith in your loved ones, and a potential source of misery for them. Batman — one of the most paranoid superheroes ever — shares his secret with Alfred, and that’s worked out quite well. But Peter Parker just can’t trust the woman who raised him.
And then there’s this: I’ve not seen the rest of season two, yet, but from later seasons I know Nick and Juliette are doing fine together. But frankly, if I were Hank or Juliette or Sergeant Wu, given all they go through, once I found out what Nick hadn’t been telling me…
I’d be really, really pissed at him.
Especially in Juliette’s case. She especially has suffered some terrible things (an attack by a witch, a coma that caused her to forget her relationship with Nick, a strange romantic compulsion for another man, and when last seen some very odd and disturbing visions). Considering all this, it’s amazing she stays with him. So much of her woes stem directly from the damn secrecy.
Wasn’t that the theme of every episode of Three’s Company (and countless other sitcom episodes)? That secrets just lead to misery? Isn’t this one of those things we were supposed to learn in kindergarten?