Hemlock Grove proved divisive in its first season with a wide gap between viewers who hated it, and viewers who thought it was promising. With its poor critical reception, many were surprised when it was picked up for a second season. Personally, I am glad it was. Right off the bat, let me state this plainly, this show is not a Breaking Bad, it is not required viewing. That being said, it is a fun, weird, soapy adventure filled with likable characters and a nice creepy town vibe.
The Rumancek Gypsies
Perhaps the best part of the series as a whole is its fun take on gypsies, an under-represented source of interesting character traits and traditions. Here again we see a fun story for the Rumancek Gypsies, filled with magic, cons, and a fun prisoner break out. Of particular interest here was Destiny’s new boyfriend and his easygoing acceptance of all the strange of Hemlock Grove. Though late in his story, he acted as a source of additional mystery, even though it came out of nowhere as a quick deus ex machina. Despite its ridiculous and abrupt occurrence, I didn’t find myself annoyed by the moment, but rather interested in further exploration of it. Destiny was once again a great and likable character that exudes all of the fun aspects a fictionalized gypsy should, a wild brash spirit with just a touch of trashiness.
Peter was, understandably after the death of his season 1 love interest, not as fun this season as in the last. He still held to the truth of his warm hearted character. Peter acted once again as the moral center of the show, but this time showing self sacrificial traits. Perhaps emboldened by his adventures in the last season, Peter was willing to transform on the wrong moon with too much frequency for his own good. Peter struggled with his need to be a force for good this season. I did miss his interactions with Shelly though, which were a strong part of the series first season for me, and a true demonstration of his character. One thing I can say for Peter though, he continues to have amazing wolf transformations.
At the end of last season it appeared that Roman had gone full-on dark side, embracing his new found role as a vampire (or as the show would call it Upir), and his early appearances this season only served to emphasize that. That impression, however, was put to rest soon after. Roman was perhaps even more sensitive this season, though struggling with Peters abrupt departure and a new found parental responsibility certain made him moody. Roman was a bit inconsistent, though his portrayal by Bill Skarsgård (brother to Alexander Skarsgård who plays vampire Eric on True Blood, and Gustaf Skarsgård who plays Viking Floki on Vikings, all 3 of which are the sons of sons of Stellan Skarsgård who played Dr. Erik Selvig in Thor and The Avengers) grounded his wildly fluctuating actions with emotional complexity. Roman’s general story arc this season had his plans to be cold and emotionless subverted by Peter and a new visitor to town, who lead him to a struggle for his lost humanity. A struggle that he ultimately had to pass on in order to protect the people he cared for, including his infant daughter Nadia.
Shelly was probably my favorite part of last season. Stuck in a monstrous body, yet holding such a soft and kind heart, Shelly was obvious influenced by Frankenstein’s monster (whose author’s last name was Shelly). This season, Shelly was portrayed by Madeleine Martin (Californication), a recast from season 1’s Nicole Boivin. Martin’s performance was adequate, Shelly’s story this season, however, was weak. Her story started with the wolf form of Christina, whom she killed last season, springing from the grave and attacking her, forcing her to dismember it with her bare hands. This, of course, lead to the discovery of the dismembered human form of Christina by some lovers camping out. Soon after, Shelly found herself befriending (and later defending, in a gruesome display) a child, while hiding in a basement. This story, unfortunately, came to a quick close in favor of a strange arc which saw Dr. Pryce taking a fatherly interest in Shelly that apparently meant he should plot to kill her (ahem, transfer her consciousness). I found this arc hard to stomach, if you copy the state of the mind, and then the original dies, a copy of the original exists, but it is NOT the original, when the original closes her eyes for the last time, they do not open in the new body, they close forever. This is only further compounded by Shelly developing a sister-like relationship with her “new body” before being “put to sleep”. Though the scene of Shelly waking up distraught and eventually finding her “new body” eviscerated (by her mother no less) lead to some powerful and heart breaking emotional whales. I just wish such a concept had been handled with a little more intelligence, or any at all.
Dr. Johann Pryce
Finally given some meaningful screen time, Dr. Johann Pryce was just mysterious enough not to be ruined by his awkward circumstances. From his struggles to maintain power which never felt authentic, to his flip floppy attitude towards the Godfrey family, I just never found his actions believable. The best example of this was in his story with Shelly, in which he had the admirable plan to give Shelly a new body. This makes little sense, as I mentioned above in the extra long section on Shelly. Yet the duality of his character played out even more so here, with his deception of Shelly. Hiding that her consciousness would overwrite an existing one. Once again, an interesting idea, but not at all well delivered. This might not have so much of an impact on others, but as a fan of deep existential storytelling, this plotline was irksome.
Miranda Cates entered the show when her car was purposefully crashed into by another driver at night. Seeking help, she knocked on the door of the closest house, that of Roman Godfrey. Miranda (portrayed by Madeline Brewer from Orange is the New Black) played a major role in the main arc of this season’s story. From lactating for Roman’s creepy blue eyed baby Nadia, to initiating a threesome between Roman, Peter, and herself, Miranda was deeply entrenched in the strange of this season. Her baptism into the supernatural elements of the show kicked in her flight response, though she apparently lost interest in that sanest of paths. Just as her story became interesting, when her role in everything became clear, the screen cut to black, and the season was over. If Hemlock Grove gets a 3rd season, perhaps Miranda’s role will become more natural. My favorite scene of the season featured Miranda in an amazingly put together daydream of Roman’s, in which he tore into her neck releasing a heightened shower of blood that gushed like an orgasm washing over them.
Big Bad Olivia, as played by Famke Jannsen (X-Men, Taken), experienced her soft side this season. As a result of Roman’s attack on her last season, and her subsequent treatments to recover, Olivia experienced a sudden onset of humanity. She suddenly had feelings of love and devotion to her long time fuck buddy and brother in law Norman, and feelings of motherly love for her disfigured daughter Shelly. On top of all those emotions, she found out she had cancer. For such a vicious monster, a semblance of humanity without a true moral compass serves as a ticking timebomb throughout the season. The time bomb was activated when Olivia murdered Norman’s wife, and it blew up when Norman confronted her about it, spewing hate with every word. Heartbroken and angry, Olivia decided to cure her humanity by devouring the new body of her daughter Shelly, a body that was already privy to the memories and emotions of her daughter. This artificial life restored her Upir power, cured her cancer, and put an end to her humanity. After that, she encountered Norman again. Telling him that she had always wanted his heart, she pulled it from his still living body and held it before him, proclaiming that it was now hers.
The Order of the Dragon
Returning to the show after a brief appearance at the end of season 1 is Michael Chasseur, the former marine and brother of The Order of the Dragon’s Dr. Celmentine Chasseur who Olivia killed last season. Michael became the new Sheriff of Hemlock Grove in order to investigate the death of his sister. Like his sister before him, Michael acted as our physical entry point to the story for The Order of the Dragon (with the shared dreams of Peter and Roman acting as a different entry point). This season, a radical faction of The Order of the Dragon made itself known as its members went on a masked child murdering spree. The eventual purpose of this was later revealed to be Roman’s freaky blue eyed baby Nadia, his child with Letha. The Order of the Dragon, or the cult we later found out was them, was set up initially as the primary villains of this season. Their mission, however, might just serve as the unsuccessful plot that could have saved everyone from a coming calamity next season.
The Dr. Arnold Spivak
Which brings us to the kindly Dr. Spivak. The good Doctor was introduced this season as a referral from Roman to Miranda. In most appearances, Spivak was a kindly man who offered sage advice, and a warm smile, but in the end we discovered that he was responsible for Miranda’s car accident. In an elaborate scheme, the Doctor had discovered Miranda to be the source of milk to strengthen baby Nadia, and so he forced Miranda to seek help at Roman’s house to set that plot in motion. After revealing his plans and machinations, the Doctor lost a fight to Upir Olivia, a fight that resulted in a revealing wound. Beneath the flesh, Spivak was something reptilian. These revelations, and Nadia’s growing scary powers lead Miranda to a fatalistic decision. In the last scene of the season, Miranda jumped off the Godfrey Industries building, while holding baby Nadia, to the shock and horror or Peter, Roman, and Olivia. But she, and the baby, were rescued by a hulking dragon-like creature that bore Spivak’s face, shocking the characters on the roof with spectacularly bad CG. We do not yet know why miranda was important, or what the Doctor needs from the baby, or even what the Doctor actually is. Some things must be left for a 3rd season, if we get one. Dr. Spivak has apparently been the family doctor to the Godfreys for years, and yet even the Godfrey matriarch Olivia didn’t know about Spivak’s monstrous true identity. Spivak reminds me of my favorite villain from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Sunnydale Mayor Richard Wilkins. Both were charming friendly monsters who transformed into monstrous beasts.
In the end, my criticisms of this season may seem disproportionate to my early stated enjoyment of it. But in Hemlock Grove, the whole is better than the sum of its parts. Even the parts that make no sense or that can infuriate me, quickly fade to the background amidst the wonderful atmosphere of the series. Hemlock Grove is like a dream I might have after watching too many vampire movies. Everything feels so heightened and emotionally strong, but when I take a step back, very little makes any sense at all. None the less I can’t wait to share the strange adventure with friends and family.
Hemlock Grove has 2 seasons available exclusively on Netflix, a third season has not yet been ordered.