Monday, October 22, 2012

"Over My Dead Body" & "The Three Snake Leaves"

Whilst he thus gazed before him, he saw a snake creep out of a corner of the vault and approach the dead body. So reads the opening text of the sixth episode of season two, "Over My Dead Body", inspired by the story The Three Snake Leaves (Grimm 016). You can read the tale in a variety of languages HERE

Episode summary (from
Monroe's old girlfriend Angelina returns to Portland and he discovers he may pay the cost for associating with a Grimm. Meanwhile, Renard receives a visitor of his own from Europe.

Grimm on Grimm: While the original story recounts the use of special leaves whose magical attributes can bring one back from the dead, this episode reverses the tale's medicinal properties when Monroe imbibes a concoction that allows him to appear dead in order to fool a königschlange (literally "king snake"), a King Cobra-type Wesen, who has taken a price out on Monroe's head as punishment for associating with a Grimm.

One of the most obvious tributes to the Brothers Grimm story is the snake character, keeping the fairy tale's original animal symbolism intact. In this episode, the snake is the villain, but in The Three Snake Leaves, the reptiles are fairly neutral by comparison. They serve to illustrate the magical effects of the  life-endowing leaves when the hero of the fairy tale kills a snake and witnesses another snake bring it back to life. This extraordinary resurrection inspires him to use the magical leaves on his recently deceased princess. In both the story and the episode, the choice of animal is important. Snakes have long been associated with cycles of life and death, their shedding skin akin to being reborn and leaving a previous life behind (the episode goes a bit further by endowing the snake character with evil qualities, a common association in the West). The magical plants that allow one to "cheat' death (original story) or imitate it without actually succumbing (episode) are both reflective of this connection to cycles of death and rebirth.

Most magical endeavors, however, come with a price (especially when they deal with resuscitation--which, Angelina must physically administer to save Monroe from being overcome by the medicine's powerful impact). In The Three Snake Leaves, when the princess is revived, she is no longer her loving former self, while Angelina is shot shortly after she resuscitates Monroe, keeping the balance in check. In each case, the no gift without a price mentality continues its cruel reign.

It's no accident that the number three was chosen in the original story (three leaves revived a snake cut into three pieces), while the episode is set within the context of an important love triangle (Monroe, Angelina & Rosalee). As an interesting side note, the number three in Chinese is considered lucky because it sounds like the word for "alive"(as opposed to the number four, which sounds like "death"). Most likely, however, the original tale viewed the number three from a Western perspective (holy trinity, perfection) as it relates to other Christian symbols in the story, while a few contemporary takes on the number three add spice to the episode. "Three's a crowd" would be an appropriate title for the awkward scene in which Monroe is dining with Rosalee (his love interest) only to be interrupted by his former girlfriend Angelina, who bursts in on the pair with the news that she's been hired to kill Monroe. 

Another common thread between the fairy tale and the episode is the use of ambush to reveal and trap the wrong doers. In the original story, there isn't a violent ambush, but the protagonist collaborates with the king to keep himself hidden, waiting to confront the princess directly when she holds a deceptive audience with her father. Similarly, Nick and Hank keep watch from a hiding place near the drop off point where Angelina is scheduled to deliver Monroe's body to the snake man. When things goes awry, they're close enough to intervene, but things don't go quite as well as planned...

Both versions act as cautionary tales: in the original story, the princess is punished for her lack of loyalty (sent off to sea to drown in a boat riddled with holes!), while Angelina,who has somewhat redeemed herself by protecting Monroe, must die nevertheless for the murders she committed when last seen on Grimm

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