On a scale of ‘one’ to ‘awesome’, which show opened with a stronger set of monster-of-the-weeks for its weeks that had monsters?
With Grimm just starting its third season and Sleepy Hollow already renewed for a second, let us take a moment to consider those oft under-appreciated members of a supernatural show’s weekly retinue – the monsters. This won’t be a ‘Who would win?’ scenario, despite the oh-so-talentedly-designed headers below, but rather a consideration of awesomeness. Armageddon versus Wesen1 – who’s got the cooler pack of beasties?
A well-designed and defined monster or villain, i.e. one that is awesome, can save an otherwise laborious episode of television2 while a forgettable choice at best causes one to zone out, and at worst exposes flaws in plotting, characters, and writing.3
Now, one could try to compare stats, weigh them monster against monster on strength (Grimm), speed (Sleepy Hollow – some of them are on horseback, remember), literary-ness (Grimm4), or appeal to the always valuable 18-34 demo (Sleepy Hollow, apparently). Instead, let’s ask a different question: regardless of what a show does or does not do with the world it creates, what squad of monsters makes for the better5 world?
Let the unsanctioned and unrefereed games begin!
Episode 1 – The Headless Horseman vs. …well…everything
Both pilots were origin stories. Grimm tells the tale of a good guy, the show’s protagonist and namesake. Sleepy Hollow sets up our heroes, but also, necessary to the story, the primary villain.6 How to compare a big bad and a monster of the week? Can’t be done. I’m declaring that as internet law right now – you can’t compare those two.
But you can compare the idea, really the theses-du-monsters, of the mythologies both shows established in their pilots. My, you say, that sounds much less interesting than this list gimmick led me to believe this article would be. Hush, I say – this is crucial in comparing the series with one another. And there will be jokes.7
Sleepy Hollow‘s pilot was a great taste of what the show should be8 placing a silent, looming, quite scary figure of the Headless Horseman into contemporary America – which meant guns. Big big guns. The juxtaposition of the Revolutionary-era uniform and an assault rifle – in the same episode where the Horseman looked perfectly at home swinging a glowing battle axe – and the disbelieving reactions it inspired from just about everyone gave the show a great aesthetic.9 Moreover, the show’s thesis is not that all the evil of the apocalypse is nigh, but that key evil figures will bring about the apocalypse – each evil is a part of a bigger puzzle, a focused adversary with much bigger stakes trailing behind.
Grimm went a bit less for aesthetic and a bit more for world building as the first episode established the rules the main character now had to live by. It didn’t create dread or fear or even clue us in particularly well to how big or bad or deadly the threat(s) the main characters will face will be. But it did something arguably better – it made one of the main characters, the generally still-well-used Monroe,10 an understandable and valuable part of the world from almost moment one. Nick, the main character, is the audience surrogate, just as Abbie and, to a degree, Ichabod are in Sleepy Hollow. But in Grimm, we get understandable explanations that introduce us into the world, not big questions with big answers that – while big, and awesome – are tableaus against which all our thoughts and emotions get thrown.
So which aesthetic, if I won’t compare The Horseman to The Postman,11 reigns supreme? This round has to go to Sleepy Hollow and the classic horror motif driven home by He Who Shall Not Be Headed12 – but barely. Sleepy Hollow‘s pilot was spookier, more intriguing, and (dare I say) more grim in its depiction of an apocalyptic threat looming at the edges of our world. Now if only they can recapture some of that aesthetic somewhere in the rest of season 1…
Episode 2 – Serilda of Abbadon vs. a family of Jaegerbears
Grimm stayed on point in the second episode, clearly making a Goldilocks tie-in without hitting us over the head.13 The problem is it’s so good and so subtly well done14 that it’s almost an isolated episode. The family of bears is… dangerous, yes. And certainly not something you’d want to run into, ever. But they live in the woods and for the most part try not to bother anyone. Sooooo…. I pretty much forgot the existed until I looked back at episode summaries.
Meanwhile, Serilda15 is a recently resurrected witch who can make people burst into flames.16 Her backstory, both the destruction she wrought and the way she was entangled with other characters, was surprisingly well layered. The special effects were typically quite good.17 And she was good at that whole ‘appearing in silhouette out of nowhere then reappearing much closer a moment later until she jumps on your car and kills you’ thing. You know that old saw. She was, frankly, gone too quick from the series. Advantage this round: Sleepy Hollow.
Episode 3 – Ro’kenhrontyes (aka Faceless Dream Demon) vs. Queen Bee
His backstory was laborious and his plotline in this episode was aggravating and redundant18 but HIS EYES CRY SAND! Also HE JUDGES YOU FOR YOUR SINS WHILE YOU SLEEP and turns your eyes white (and fills them with sand! Which probably hurts!) before leading you to kill yourself in mild penance. He’s also very well used for a monster-of-the-week; the episode seemed directed – and well directed in this regard – around his looming, Pale-Man-esque appearances. Shudder shudder creepy creepy.
The flocking bees, meanwhile, were an interesting note19 and added some more depth to the world of monsters into which Grimm plunged. I’m not sure if they gain or lose points with their portable injector guns – a clever nod to the modernizing and corporatizing even monsters must undergo to fit in today – but ultimately they are, as Monroe points out, the communicators of the Wesen world. They are neither particularly good nor bad and they are more interesting than monstrous20 Again, we’re almost comparing apples to insect people here, but did I mention eyes of friggin’ sand? Point: Sleepy Hollow.
Episode 4 – Three Angry Hessians vs. Bluebeard
Hrm. On the one hand, we have three members of a sort of Armageddon-focused quasi-Illuminati, all of whom are normal humans; one is even a music teacher. On the other hand, we have a goat creature who eats toads and is irresistible to women.
The Hessians had to contend with some laughable special effects and a poorly staged climactic fight scene yet they’re clearly being set up as a prominent recurring threat, a role they can hold with gusto. One of them carries a box full of torture equipment. One teaches piano and impeccably delivers threats of an impending end of the world. Meanwhile, Bluebeard was an almost elegant twist on Grimm‘s standard fare, introducing a Wesen who wasn’t necessarily animalistic or violent but would still run afoul of the police. He’s also played by the always awesome Patrick Fischler, here making what is essentially a rapist seem unthreatening and yet creepy as all heck.
Grimm takes it, particularly since we don’t know where Sleepy Hollow is going with the Hessians. And they killed the one with the impeccable delivery.
Episode 5 – Pestilence vs. a teenage DJ
Huh. I just realized the parallel here – Sleepy Hollow sets up a second horseman, specifically Pestillence, and the plague it’s attempting to bring about as part of Armageddon. Grimm gives us a Pied Piper-esque tale, ol’ Pied being the fellow hired to lead plague-bearing rats out of Hamelin.21 That’s neat.
But really, this is a face-off between one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, albeit one who is barely present in the episode,22 and a sensitive young violinist/rat-creature who moonlights as a very popular rave DJ. There is no contest here. Just look at their headgear.
Grimm wins this round.23 The series, though – that’s a tougher call. I’ll break my own vague rule from the intro and note that the first five episodes of Sleepy Hollow have been a mess in terms of consistency and story arcs whereas Grimm told five tales that built upon each other and led the show forward through two reasonably good seasons.24 I would pick the Horseman and Ro’kenhrontyes and probably Serilda almost any day of the week – but they could easily be a part of three different (still awesome) worlds. Grimm‘s monsters become much more than the sum of their parts, in the first five episodes and beyond.
- For those who never watched Grimm – Wesen (pronounced ‘veh-sen’) are the catchall name for the creatures of myth and lore, separate species from humans, that hide amongst us today. ↵
- See: The X-Files, Supernatural, every Law & Order series, but especially that episode of CI where Stephen Colbert played a master forger. ↵
- See: Grimm and Sleepy Hollow. And also Supernatural and Law & Order. ↵
- Sorry Washington Irving. ↵
- More interesting, more fun to watch, and, btw, judged on no particular standards of taste beyond my own. ↵
- Well, we hope it’s the primary villain, because wandering around the mythology any more is going to get me lost, and I grew up in the town where this is supposed to be set. ↵
- Mostly in the footnotes. ↵
- even as the network, drunk on the show’s success, seems to keep mucking about with efforts to increase the audience. ↵
- Best evidence of this: The Horseman gave a very effective non-verbal, *non-headed* glare in episode 1. ↵
- who is a nice monster, don’t you worry ↵
- The ostensible main villain in Grimm‘s first episode. ↵
- Geddit?! ↵
- It would have been so easy to name the girl who breaks into the cabin ‘Goldie’ and thankfully they went for the much more sly ‘Gilda’. ↵
- as much as this show gets subtle ↵
- The one from Abbadon, not the other one. ↵
- And here is your obligatory ‘That’s hot!!’ comment… ↵
- Even if they were often so brief as to be almost meaningless. ↵
- And soon to be made redundant again with the next episode. ↵
- One that was sort of dropped by Grimm as best I can tell – an organized Wesen plot against either Hexenbeists or the Families hasn’t really come up again. ↵
- They even have clear positive motives in their one appearance in the series. ↵
- Yes, there are multiple contradictory legends surrounding the piper, the rats, and the kids, but we’re talking about Grimm and Sleepy Hollow here. ↵
- whilst Abbie has ANOTHER episode of being uncertain about what she does or does not believe… ↵
- And in seriousness – Pestilence is almost a non-entity in a very rocky episode. ↵
- No one liked the Juliet plotline last season, making it a real shame that it was the plotline for the season. ↵