De-Fanging the Big Bad Wolf: An Examination of the Wolf in NBC’s Grimm

NBC’s Grimm continues the practice of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Once Upon a Time, Supernatural and Sleepy Hollow in retelling and reshaping fairy tales for the modern world.  In this series, the Brothers Grimm are not just collectors of folktales, but are part of a long line of monster hunters.  Magical realism becomes the order of the day, and we are treated to the juxtaposition of nature and science, the civilized and the wild.  The setting for Grimm is Portland, Oregon a useful location that pits the relative orderliness and safety of the city against the untamed dangerousness of the woods (Lindsay 2016).

 

Grimm is a show that straddles several lines: the us/them or culture/folklore line, and the line between society and civilization versus nature and wildness and monstrousness.  Through dealing with the Monster of the Week (MOTW)  (Tosenberger 2010) the show aims to answer questions about nature versus nurture, siding often with nature (monstrousness is genetic, manifests during puberty, and therefore is uncontrollable).  The monster is ‘them’ that undefinable Other  On the culture side we have Nick Burkhardt, the Grimm.  He is a new kind of Grimm who asks questions before he shoots.  To help him along is one of the key figures of the series: Monroe: a reformed Big Bad Wolf (or Wieder Blutbad in Grimm parlance).

 

Monroe, can control his monstrousness through ‘diet, drugs and Pilates.’  In other words, he has made a conscious choice to move away from his nature and embrace culture.  He does not eat meat, he works as a clockmaker, and eventually comes to marry a Fuchsbau (a fox-like being).  He is the consummate tame wolf, and modern man.

 

Monroe is a conduit through which we are given the message of the show: through culture the Big Bad Wolf can be de-fanged.  Monroe chooses to live in town, not in the forests.  He makes the choice not to eat meat because doesn’t like what happens to him when he does.  He adheres to a strict regimen to ensure that he does not slip back into his old and uncivilized ways.  He is mostly mild mannered, though in later episodes we see that he can be more intimidating.   We can never fully control our nature.

 

The pilot episode introduces us to the Jekyll and Hyde of Big Bad Wolves.  Monroe is Jekyll, and the MOTW is Hyde.  A non-reformed Blutbad kidnaps young girls (from prepubescent to young adult), all of whom were wearing red and carrying something (in one case an iPod, how modern is that?) .  The Little Red Cap/Riding Hood who survives is rescued from the belly of the wolf’s house (the basement) not from the wolf itself.  (This is prime time television, we can’t get too gruesome).  And the wolf is shot by the Grimm’s partner, Hank, an action that could perhaps be seen as the modern and less grizzly version of cutting someone up.

 

Brown (2014) discusses two written versions of the Red Riding Hood tale: Perrault’s version where the wolf wins, and the Grimm’s version where the girl wins.  Perrault’s version was published more than a century before the Grimm’s version.  The change in endings could be due to the audience (the Grimm’s quickly began to write for children), but it seems more likely to be due to a change in Weltanshauung, or outlook on life.  Life in the 1800s would have been better than in the late 1600s.  If this is the case, then it makes sense that two hundred years after the Grimm’s version of Red Riding Hood was published, the Big Bad Wolf been fully tamed by society.  What’s so scary about big teeth and claws when we have bright, on demand electric lighting, when the wolf dispatched at a distance with a gun, and explained away by genetics?  Nothing scary there, the wolf has been de-fanged.

 

Works Cited

Brown, Nathan Robert.  “Red Hoodies and Cross-dressing Blutbaden.”  The Mythology of         Grimm.  Berkeley Boulevard Books, New York, 2014.

“Grimm Wiki – Monroe.” Wikia, 24 Feb 2017, grimm.wikia.com/wiki/Monroe.

Lindsay, Julianna. “The Magic and Science of Grimm: A Television Fairy Tale for Modern Americans.” Humanities, 5.2 (2016): 34. CrossRef. Web. . <http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/h5020034&gt;.

“Pilot.” Grimm: Season One, Written By David Greenwalt, Jim Kouf, and Stephen Carpenter, directed by Marc Buckland,  2011, Universal Studios Home entertainment.

Tosenberger, Catherine.  “Kinda Like the Folklore of Its Day.” Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol. 4, 2010, journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/174/156, Acessed 26 Feb 2017.

 

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Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy

The secret to getting men to both watch and enjoy a love story is to clothe it in guns, motorcycles and outlaws.  Yet for all of its comparisons to Hamlet, Sons of Anarchy is nothing if not a love story.  By love story, I do not mean that it is the conventional romance that we see in so many soap opera type shows (although one dynamic of the Jax and Tara relationship could seem sort of soap opera-esque).  This is a greater love story, the love that Jax Teller has for his wife, kids, family, and his club.

I came to Sons of Anarchy late, only starting to watch the show in April, four months after the last episode aired.  From the start I knew several things, some generic or some specific, such as the fact that Gemma killed Tara, and that Jax had to thereafter agonize about what to do with Gemma.  So I knew some of the end before I sat down to watch the first episode.  Sometimes that is OK, though, because it is often the journey that is most interesting to watch, and not just the endingAnd  (a la Lost).  I was not sitting down to watch Sons with a great deal of enthusiasm, truth be told, because I am not a fan of the biker lifestyle, having known someone when I was younger, who desperately wanted to be part of the culture.  It is a misogynistic culture, too, which drives me insane.  And in the first few episodes it seemed to be to be nothing more than a darker version of the Sopranos.  Whole stories seemed to come from David Chase’s show (see the episode where the little girl gets raped and its comparable of the teacher who was sleeping with a student in the Sopranos).  It was through the Jax and Tara storyline that the show grabbed me.

On the surface it would be a fair assessment of Sons of Anarchy to say that the whole Jax and Tara storyline was placed in the show to attract female viewers.  Charlie Hunnam is a good looking man and it would have been a complete waste to only have him involved with the skanky sort of women who tend to hang around bikers.  But, for all of its bluster, Sons of Anarchy has some depth.  It is really a show about love in all of its myriad forms, and having a stable romantic relationship is therefore an important part of Jax’s being.  At the start we see both Wendy and Tara, and I experienced several episodes of worry about whether there was going to be one of those revolting love triangles, but thankfully Sutter spared us that.  Jax and Tara’s is not a perfect story, with several false starts, and the tiring dilemma of Tara’s about whether she would stay or not.  To be fair, it is an understandable dilemma.  She had obviously moved on professionally, becoming a doctor.  To be involved with someone who is comfortable on the other side of the law is quite the conundrum, indeed.  Some doubt about her decision was understandable, but it was played too often.  The last season in which Tara was on was the best though.  Sure she was riddled with self-doubt again, but she tried to do something about it, and she justly called on Jax on what his own lifestyle had dragged her into.  She sacrificed a lot for him, the ultimate being her own life (though that was Gemma’s fault, not Jax’s).  Though I knew this scene was coming, it was still very hard to watch the scene where Jax found Tara’s body.  Good acting!  And good writing.

And speaking of Gemma . . . First of all, here is where we see the greater parallels to Hamlet.  Gemma is Gertrude.  Clay is Claudius.  They are responsible for John Teller, Jax’s father’s, death.  And, as another blogger pointed out, Clay plays the controlling bit right down the line.  Before Jax learns this, though his father’s ghost (represented through letters, not as a spectral figure), we see that he cares for them.  Gemma is raped, and Clay has issues with his hands – Jax is there for both, despite their being unworthy of it as we as the audience already know.  And it takes a lot for Jax to finally get rid of Clay, who he did not even kill outright.  He tried to get rid of him by sending him to prison and when that didn’t work, he then killed him in one or the more brutal scenes of violence on the show.  To get to that point, however, he had to witness a lot of Clay’s brutality, including an attempt to kill Tara because she had read John Teller’s letters.  And it was likewise with Gemma.  Only when he learns that it was she who was responsible for Tara’s death, does Jax realize (in a scene almost too painful to watch) what he must do.  And by that point, we have no sympathy for Gemma.

While it is an interesting retelling of the Hamlet story, Sons is far from a perfect show.  It can be a bit heavy handed at times.  Yes, I mean the guns, explosions and car chases.  While explosions can make for some exciting action television, once its happened for the tenth time, a girl will find herself thinking blah, blah, blah, get on with the good stuff.  Another such heavy handed tactic, especially in the latter few seasons was the ‘I love you, brother,’ saying that came out as the new goodbye for the remaining members of SAMCRO.  Sigh.  Hey, I’m all for guys being able to express their feelings, but seriously, enough is enough.

A smaller part of the story centers on Abel and Thomas, Jax’s sons.  Because of the nature of the show, and because they are so young, there isn’t sufficient focus on them to fully convince me that Jax cares for the kids as much as he says he does.  Even the trip to Belfast was more about car chases and shoot ‘em ups than it was about his agony over his missing son.  At least until it wasn’t.  The most powerful scene in the show was when Jax decided to let Abel go.  However, this was not to be, and the people who had adopted Abel ended up dead.  And a second sacrifice at the end of the show when Jax says he’s not a good guy and the kids would be better off without him.  Those two are the isolated among many more of which Jax only talked about affection for his sons.  Though, from a writing standpoint, I suppose that they only had limited time in which to tell the story, and the pull of the club was stronger and more urgent.  And, since this was a show that had to maintain its surface macho, too many scenes of fatherly affection might have doomed it to that distinction of being overly sentimental.  Nevertheless, he makes the right choice in the end, to break the cycle of violence.

I think that the show started to lose heart with Opie’s death.  The same blog post mentioned above cited Opie as an Ophelia character.  I disagree with that.  I think that he was more aptly one of the three Polonius characters, along with Bobby and Chibs.  In effect, he was really Jax’s moral compass.  With his death Jax started a tailspin that was completed with Tara’s death, and explains (if it doesn’t excuse) the complete mess that was the first two-thirds of season seven.  But it does make sense.  We see from early on, and at the very beginning of season four that Jax wants out of the life.  But, like Michael Corleone, just when he thinks he’s out, they pull him back in.  It would be enough to send anyone around the twist.

The very last episode of Sons of Anarchy ended with the following quote from Hamlet:

Doubt thou the stars are fire;

Doubt that the sun doth move;

Doubt truth to be a liar;

But never doubt I love.’

If there is one thing we don’t doubt at the end of the show, it is that everything Jax did was for love of his family, or his club.

On a last, and off topic note, how freaking cool was it for a girl currently on a Stephen King Odyssey to see the man randomly show up in an episode of Sons of Anarchy.  And he doesn’t watch television?  Pfffh.

Why I Love Veronica Mars.

In case my absolute obsession with Harry Potter hasn’t already made this plain, I think you ought to know that I have penchant for stories geared towards a younger audience.  That is not to say that I like said stories in favour of more mature stories (like a lot written by G.R.R. Martin,  for instance).  It seems to me that, for all of their faults, the stories written for a younger audience are more creative, more engaging, and while they may deal with disturbing issues (think The Hunger Games) they definitely present their ideas in a more readable manner.  It was this tendency, combined with some positive reviews of the show, that drew me to Veronica Mars in the first place.

To me, Veronica Mars is just as good as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and is even more impressive for the fact that it is not relying on any kind of magic or supernatural phenomena as part of it’s appeal.  It disappoints me that the show did not do as well as, say, The Vampire Diaries, because it is a vastly better show.  The continuing drama with Logan aside, Veronica Mars does not (at did not at the time) pander to the teenage audience the way that a lot of young adult fiction does.  I cannot say for sure, but perhaps that was part of the reason that the show did not do as well.  It was a show where you had to think and couldn’t just mindlessly watch it.  Whatever the reason, it is a disappointment that it only lasted for three years.

I must confess that I was not one of the people who helped to fund the Veronica Mars movie, because I only became obsessed with the show this year, thanks to Netflix, but I do appreciate it.  The move was just as good as the show ever was.  In fact, I would say it improved.  How easy would it have been to continue on with the same sort of storyline that came from the show and it’s teenage audience?  Instead, especially because the actors have all aged, Rob Thomas chose to actually have time pass and presented a stronger story for it.

It may have been on IMDB, or somewhere else, where I read a review of the Veronica Mars movie, where it was said that this could easily lend to future projects.  After finishing a second viewing of the movie, I went in search of information about potential future projects.  Wikipedia being the awesome site it is, I learned very quickly that there are novels being written now.  Novels.  Could this news be any better?  The show was great, the movie equally so, but I am and will forever be a lover of words.  The idea that a beloved character’s story will now continue in my own preferred story format?  This news is as exciting (almost) as if J.K. Rowling were to decide to write another Harry Potter novel.

Downton Abbey

Thanks to Netflix, I had the first two seasons of the show at my disposal, and I burned through them in just a few days.  I have to say I am addicted to this show.  Like any addiction, though, there are side effects.  One such side effect is the inability to meet reading and writing goals that I have set for myself.  Another such is that I have sunk back into British-isms.  Allow me to speculate about the reasons that people are drawn to Downton Abbey: harkening back to a simpler time, a dose of the aristocracy that we love to read and watch but do not want to live with, the interesting upstairs/downstairs dynamic, and the change from an aristocratic system, to a democratic system. 

 

Nineteen-twelve isn’t all distant.  When Downton Abbey started four years ago, 1912 wasn’t even a century in the past.  So much has changed in those hundred years that it feels as though several centuries have passed.  In the first few episodes new fangled inventions like cars, electricity and the telephone are introduced, with varying degrees of acceptance and amusement  (The Dowager Countess’s comments about electricity: “I couldn’t have electricity in the house, I wouldn’t sleep a wink. All those vapors floating about.”). 

 

While we do have our dynamics of the upper and lower classes represented in the Crawleys and their servants, the biggest storylines (apart from my beloved Bates) follow the upstairs family.  It is a British show, of course, and a period drama, but the draw today is the glimpse of the aristocracy.  I think the same thing draws us to this show as draws so many people to following the current British royal family.  The most recent wedding of  Prince William and Kate Middleton drew billions of viewers.  And if I hear the phrase ‘royal baby’ one more time I might have to hurt someone.  While rants about ‘royal watching’ are for another post, the snapshot of royalty on a smaller scale is present here.  When we think of the aristocracy, fairy tales come to mind along with all of their happily ever after nonsense.  And I think that, in the first two seasons at least, Downton Abbey suffered from living too much in the fairy tale world, along with evil kings and queens to boot (Barrow, O’Brien). 

 

For all of its interest, Downton is not perfect.  The first two seasons, as mentioned above, were very much about all of the happy times, and simply resolved story lines.  Sybil elopes with the chauffeur?  Cue outraged father who comes around in the end?  Bates is disabled and can’t do the work?  He must leave, but Lord Grantham changes his mind in the end?  The heirs to the title die on the Titanic, causing trouble with the entail?  Let’s bring a cousin, Matthew, who falls for Mary, and she him, without too much fuss.  (Yes, I am glossing over Mr. Pamuk’s role in changing Mary).  I have not read many, or really any, reviews of the show so perhaps this has already been said.  Perhaps it was such comments that lead to season three, which I found dead depressing.  With Sybil’s death, Matthew’s death, the long story of Bates’s imprisonment, there wasn’t much cheer in the show.  It was like they tried to balance all of the happiness with a little more darkness and swung the pendulum too far the other way. 

 

Having said all of this, I suppose that thematically, the choices of the show make sense.  We start off in a time just before the first world war, when there weren’t many cares.  After going through that first war, people were changed and we start to see the shift in society.  We start to see more cynicism, and violence.  We see the downfall of the aristocracy here, all of which are dark things.  Nowhere is the shift from nobility to common folk better represented than in the two doctor’s argument over whether Sybil is suffering from eclampsia, and Cora’s reaction thereafter about how Robert put his faith in someone with a title. 

 

All in all a good show, but suffers the pitfalls of too much self-correction.  Soon as I’m done writing this, however, I will go to watch more.

Dexter Season 3 Is Turning Out To Be Killer

There are only two instances in life where I can truly say I was on the edge of my seat when watching a movie or television program.  The first was during Lord Of The Rings.  As we sat in the theatre watching Frodo, Sam Merry and Pippln try to get to the Buckleberry Ferry the Black Riders suddenly appear and there’s a time when we are made to wonder if Frodo is going to be captured.  I had not read the books before and so knew nothing of what happened.  I was on the edge of my seat during that scene, making my (at the time) boyfriend laugh.

 

The second experience tonight was as I was watching the much anticipated second episode of the third season of Dexter.

 

Ever since I became obsessed with the show earlier this year I have been waiting, somewhat impatiently its true, for the third season of Dexter.  It started last Sunday.  And what a start it was!

 

Warning: Spoilers Follow!

 

Dexter is up to his old tricks, tracking a drug dealer who killed two girl and was released due to a police screw up.  When he goes to kill ‘Freebo’ there’s already someone there.  A struggle ensues and Dexter kills this mystery man.  That’s where his troubles begin as the victim turns out to be, not some nameless murderer, but a law enforcement officer and the brother of a powerful Assistant District Attorney, an abnormally observant man.

 

Dexter is troubled by this kill as he was not certain of who this man was.  He’s looking for something to ease his mind about the guilt of his victim.  The ADA, calling Dexter back to the scene of the crime, asks him about this investigation.  As usual Dexter is able to cover his tracks but knows he has to go careful with this man.

 

At the end of the show Dexter learns something else – Rita’s pregnant.

 

That was the way the first episode ended.  I was worried that the writers of the show were going to back out of the pregnancy thing (they still might I suppose) but so far they haven’t.  She is indeed pregnant and Dexter’s not handling it well.  He’s a good multi-tasker, but he might be at his limit, dealing with the news he might be a father, tracking down the escaped Freebo before the police find him, and avenging Freebo’s dead girlfriend Teegan.

 

He does find Freebo, but does not expect that the ADA is waiting outside the house to do the same thing that Dexter is inside doing – killing him.

 

I have to admit this is where I was sitting on the edge of my seat.  Dexter created his kill room in the detached garage.  He sees the ADA coming out from the house with a gun.  Dexter is in full killing garb and has Freebo tied up.  He quickly strips off his apron and pulls off his gloves.

 

How the hell is he going to get out of this – I wondered, barely able to breath.

 

He comes out with the knife that was used to kill Oscar – the ADA’s brother, saying that he killed Freebo in self defence.  Miguel (the ADA), who by this time has forged a connection with Dexter – says they’re going to hide the evidence and makes to go into the garage but Dexter tells him to leave (“plausible deniability”).  Miguel has first pulled him into a hug and gets blood on his shirt.  This is the last shot before the end of the show.

 

Oh My Goodness!

 

It misses something in my writing it out – but I was really sitting on the edge of my seat with this thinking how the – is he going to get out of this one?  And how the show’s ended the way it has I cannot freaking wait to see the next episode.  I do not understand in the slightest how the writers can keep making the show better and better every season.  The first season was great – the second season was better – but the third season seems to top it all.

 

The only issue I have is whether an ADA so intent on putting away criminals would turn so easily to covering up a crime.  But, to be fair, he’s come to appreciate Dexter and he was most definitely devastated by the murder of his brother.  I just hope that Miguel Prado doesn’t go the way of Doakes.

 

If I ever wanted to write for television – Dexter would be the show I would set my sights on – it is the gold standard for good – and interesting, easy to follow, writing.

 

Next Sunday cannot come soon enough at all!

From the Earth To The Moon: Part One: Can We Do This?

From January 24, 2011

 

In our present information age NASA is the seminal institution for our wealth of knowledge about space travel and its effects.  Though their progress may be slow, as with any scientific work, the studies they are undertaking can lead to our advancement, and hopefully our intellectual growth.  They are a respectable institution, in other words.  It is therefore all the more shocking to hear the first American astronauts compared to monkeys, but this is how begins From the Earth To The Moon, a twelve part series dealing with the space program of the 1960’s, and executive produced by Tom Hanks.  The series as a whole deals not only with the scientific perseverance that lead to the historic walk on the moon, but also the political pressure that the space program was under to produce results.

 

Our inciting incident in “Can We Do This?” is the politically and scientifically horrible idea of ‘A Red Moon.”  The Russians have sent a manned vessel into space months ahead of the Americans, besting them for the second time in matters of space travel.  If it keeps up, we’re told, the Russians will beat the Americans to the moon.  In an effort to prevent this calamity, President John F. Kennedy to turn to NASA and ask what would be required in having a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  The short answer: money, and lots of it for experiments and equipment.    All this money naturally leads to a conflict with politicians who do not see the big picture.  Is all the money being spent worth the seemingly little progress?  In a different climate the answer might be no, but we are viewing these dealings in the height of the Cold War.  The voters very much fear the Russians and would willingly support their own space program over the Communists.  Public sentiment, in other words, allowed the space program to continue.

Loss of public support meant loss of revenue for NASA and therefore there is a lot of pressure on them to achieve perfection in everything they do, a lofty goal to be sure.  Even a small misstep could mean loss of support, and therefore loss of funding (as we hear at the death of two astronauts in an airplane crash, and again when there are problems with Gemini 8’s docking mission).  This pressure aside, though, it would be impossible to make the ‘giant leap for mankind’ without first taking small steps.  These small steps include: 1. achieving orbit, 2. EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) a.k.a. spacewalk, 3. Rendezvous between two space vessels, 4. Docking of two space crafts, and 5. Long Durations in space.  Each of these five things must be accomplished before they can consider a trip to the moon.  These experiments are not without their problems.

One common problem is the lost of radio contact.  Frequently the astronauts and mission control are unable to communicate with each other, a particular problem during the EVA when they are trying to tell Ed White, astronaut, to return to the vessel from outside the space craft.  A more serious problem arises during the first attempted docking between Gemini 8 and the Aegina.  The two ships spin out of control and the two astronauts save themselves only by detaching from the second ship and using their RCS (Re-entry Control System) thereby aborting their mission.

“Can We Do This” is a rather detailed account of the journey from the Mercury to the Gemini and then the start of the Apollo space programs, sometimes steeped in too much NASA jargon for the regular viewer to follow.  Necessary though it it given the subject matter, this might also be a side effect of Tom Hanks’s directing.  He was, after all, one of the few – if not the only – actor who could ad-lib space jargon while filming Apollo 13.  This small frustration does not take away from the heart of the story, however.  In his introduction to this first part of the series, Hanks tells us the achievement of landing a person on the moon was not the work of genius, but of perseverance.  This is shown to be true through the many problems in the five experiments undertaken by the astronauts, at great personal risk.  We see how true it is in the political game as well.  With such a high price tag, the government was not likely to give their space program free reign with tax payer dollars.  This was a time before deregulation, after all.