Grimm, Ep 1.11, “Tarantella”: Not quite tantalizing enough
A Zeigevolk gets more than he bargains for when he attempts to seduce a beautiful woman he meets at an art gallery. His victim turns out to have a nasty habit of sucking her men dry.
Grimm Review, Season 1, Episode 11, “Tarantella”
Written by Alan DiFiore and Dan E. Fesman
Directed by Peter Werner
Airs Fridays at 9pm EST on NBC
The art of suspense is about keeping the audience guessing. The writers of Grimm might want to write this on their foreheads in reverse script, so that every sight of their reflection acts as reminder of this simple, but important rule.
An attempt is made at the beginning of this episode to wrongfoot us about what crime Nick might be called upon to investigate. A man and a woman meet in an art gallery (as you do) and proceed to have one of those conversations people only have in books and films – where they talk about art but really they are talking about sex (use of the phrase ‘brush strokes’ is a dead giveaway here). To mislead us, the male half of the couple is revealed to be a Ziegevolk – a Grimm version of a satyr. The last Ziegevolk we met enjoyed not only seducing women, but locking them up in small cages and treating them as baby factories, so we’re ready for this guy to do something unpleasant to his new conquest.
Set up in this way, it’s supposed to be a surprise when said conquest turns the tables on her goatish suitor. Except that the quote at the beginning of the episode sets out pretty explicitly that this is exactly what is going to happen. Giving us the information that this story is about a woman who turns into a spider and eats men doesn’t make it difficult for us to divine that even if the guy is a Zeigevolk and the lady he is wooing displays a shy reluctance to let him get past first base, she’s still going to grow fangs and he’s still going to end up as lunch.
Any doubts we might have about who or what the story is about are thoroughly removed when we witness the crime itself. Even though the way the Spinnetod dispatches her victim is, in the best tradition of Grimm, spectacularly gruesome, that particular scene would’ve had twice the impact if we’d been forced to wait until homicide number two to see her vomiting spider venom down her mark’s throat, then sucking his liquefied insides out through a hole in his stomach.
As it is, when that half way point arrives, there’s no sense of climax, more of déjà vu. We already know what the bad lady is; we know how she kills her prey. There’s a mild surprise when we find out that in her non-Wesen (finally we have a generic name for the Grimm creatures) life the Spinnetod is a soccer Mom and not the leather clad dominatrix you would expect a spider woman to be, but as far as suspense goes, that’s all she wrote.
It’s a shame, because the Spinnetod is a kick-ass creature – based for once not on some lugubrious Cherman myth, but on the Japanese legend of the Jorogumo, a spider goblin which can disguise itself in the form of a beautiful woman. Instead of exploiting our natural interest in just how such an exotic variant of Wesen found its way to Portland, however, or even satisfying our perfectly healthy curiosity about how it mates, its life cycle, and why it tore off its own face in the bathroom, we get Nick leafing through old books again and discovering a scroll which, because it’s written in Japanese, he can’t understand. We’re given enough information to tantalize us, but not enough to satiate.
That said, the visuals almost made up for the lack of story. Every shot in Grimm is perfectly composed, the color palette is vibrant but not gaudy (think of a very expensive ceramics boutique and you’re in the right ball park), and even if the characters this episode are so underwritten as to be two dimensional, the art on their walls is spectacular.