Note: This review will contain minor spoilers for Hemlock Grove. Read at your own risk.
Hemlock Grove, an original Netflix series, received less-than-stellar critic reviews for its first season. The negativity was slightly understandable– it was slow and drawn-out and it had odd characters that had no time to fully develop, which made the season feel like it was chopped too short. In my review of the first season, I acknowledged the thought that a continuation would give proper time to these intriguing characters and the mysteries that surround them. Season two manages to successfully do that.
When season two begins, both Roman and Peter have succumbed to their abilities, and both are suffering in different ways. But this is only the beginning of a cacophony of overwhelming plots that try to intertwine smoothly, and unfortunately, things aren’t always clear. Fortunately, the characters manage to carry the bulk of the show’s interest.
Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgard) has made the transition into a full-fledged upir and he’s suffering from blood cravings. The first few episodes become a bit tedious as they focus on his hunger and the way he deals with it, however, this issue fades as other aspects of the story appear. Roman’s still immature and childishly bitter about the events from the first season. He’s hiding Letha’s baby in his home, he’s angry over Peter’s disappearance, and he’s leading his inherited company.
As the season progresses, Roman’s usual destructive nature seems to develop into a mature acknowledgment of his responsibilities. He begins taking treatment to rid himself of his upir nature and accepts the companionship of Miranda and her strange mother-like role to his child. It’s fantastic to see his humanity begin to come to the surface, especially after his friendship with Peter reignites.
While Roman grasps his humanity, Peter (Landon Liboiron) begins to lose his. After his mother is arrested in what is a very random and strangely-placed police raid, the werewolf forces himself to shift outside of the full moon in order to con some druggies into giving him money. The ramifications of his actions affect him in a very psychological way, and he continues to abuse this power as the season progresses.
Not only does Peter become gaunt and tortured physically, you can feel the irrational anger that bubbles just beneath the surface. Despite the continuous warnings from his cousin Destiny (Tiio Horn), he is repeatedly placed in situations that force him to shift. Unfortunately, these consequences just don’t seem drastic enough to warrant enough attention, especially as other storylines begin to intertwine.
Destiny Rumancek’s role in the first season was basically a tool meant to push the story forward. She was a figure of dialogue that presented information, and oftentimes these roles are shoved under the rug and forgotten. Tiio Horn builds a fantastic charm to this character, however, and delivers a performance that is anything but stale. She offers a solid wisdom to the story while retaining a nice amount of spunk and lightness to contrast the heavy tones. It was fantastic to see her listed as a series regular this season!
Miranda Cates, played by Madeline Brewer, happens to be one of my least favorite characters this season. Her involvement, not only with Roman and Peter, but with the baby felt somewhat detached. However, outside of the instances where she’s freaking out over certain events, Miranda doesn’t really do much for the story in terms of depth. I liked the initial companionship between her and Roman slightly more than her relationship with Peter, and in the beginning, it felt like the writers also wanted to use her to create a steamy love triangle. But this idea eventually becomes foolishly abandoned.
I would have liked to see her become more attached to Roman, particularly to create more of a bond between him and the baby. While it’s understandable once everything is revealed, Miranda’s physical and emotional reactions toward the baby felt random and forced… however this is most likely intentional. In the end, Miranda seems to become what Destiny’s character could have been– simply a tool to help push the story forward.
Olivia Godfrey (Famke Janssen) is a bit of a wild card, in my opinion. She seems to have overcome her selfish nature showcased in the first season, and intends on making amends, especially after she is diagnosed with a deathly illness. However, it’s uncertain whether she is truly sincere in her intentions or not. Janssen does a magnificent job portraying this complex character, but she’s never more alluring than when she’s killing and being seductively evil. Her involvement with Norman and his missing ex-wife comes to a pretty sweet climax at the end as she finally grasps her true nature. Needless to say, she’ll definitely be an interesting character to watch in the future, especially as she interacts with her children.
Shelley, now played by Madeleine Martin, continues to be one of my favorite characters in this series. On the run after the events of the first season, the disfigured girl befriends an abused boy who helps her begin to heal emotionally. Unfortunately, these early scenes don’t really hold much importance for Shelley’s character. They feel more like forced filler to give her some early screentime.
However, Shelley, despite her physical disfigurement, is hands down the most beautiful character in this show. The fact that she can now speak is a wondrous step in her growth, and I loved her interactions with Dr. Pryce. Unfortunately, she didn’t have much time with Roman, and she never interacts with Peter once in this season, a fact that was disappointing for me. I loved their relationship in the first season.
Dr. Pryce (Joel de la Fuente) has always been a love-to-hate kind of guy. It’s obvious that he’s meticulous and absorbed in the power of his work, but we only caught a glimpse of his deviousness in the first season. Not much has changed about him in the second, but he truly shines in his relationship with Shelley. Despite his cold ways, he seems to genuinely care about Shelley, and his moral choices– even while disconcerting– feel understandable as he helps her.
He also sleeps in a sparkling eye mask which is just awesome.
The main issue with this season doesn’t necessarily rest solely on the multiple storylines (even though there is quite a bit to acknowledge). There are simply way too many “main” characters that retain way too much focus. Hell, even Dr. Pryce’s manipulative Russian lab technician earned some solid screentime, but she never once felt like an important or interesting character.
It felt like the show was trying way too hard to make fading characters important, and because of this, a lot of integral time was ripped away from deserving figures. Roman and Peter’s companionship, Destiny’s reluctant involvement, Miranda’s attachment to the baby, and Olivia’s journey to full “recovery” was snipped away by mediocre characters that should have quickly been written out. This includes Norman who only really remains to ignite the events surrounding his ex-wife’s disappearance.
In addition to the plethora of characters, Hemlock Grove really dropped the ball on the main mystery. While it is constantly lingering in the background and sporadically mentioned, it almost felt like the writers forgot about it until the climax. This manages to create some unfortunate laziness in some of the episodes and somewhat forces us to return to our original thoughts during the first season. Sometimes things are just too slow. But despite all of this, Hemlock Grove definitely manages to deliver some nice shocking moments. The characters finally have a distinct direction to follow and the end of the leaves it open for a fantastic third season.
If you managed to work through the first season then you’ll be way more satisfied with the next installation in the series.