[This is a review of THE ENTIRE season 2 of Hemlock Grove. There will be SPOILERS]
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m really going to miss Hemlock Grove. After failing to make it through season 1 last year, I forced myself through all 13 episodes in preparation for season 2 and while I wasn't too happy about it at the time, now I’m thrilled I did it. Hemlock Grove season 2 is so much fun it made the dull and nonsensical first season well worth sitting through.
There are still quite a few plot holes and logic issues, and at times, the narratives don’t flow particularly well, but overall, this is some highly engaging and entertaining material, and it’s largely due to the fact that many of the main characters are far more developed now.
Roman and Peter got their stereotypes in season 1 and never really broke out of them. There were times when Bill Skarsgård and Landon Liboiron were challenged to emote, but often it just came across as melodrama and nothing you could really connect to. That’s definitely not the case by the end of season 2.
This time around, it’s not just about watching the guys deal with this surreal predicament. In addition to the masked villains, they've also got personal issues they’re struggling with, and surprisingly relatable ones at that. When Roman subjects himself to those treatments, you can’t help but to wonder, might I do the same if I were in his position? And the same goes for Peter. Would you willingly trap yourself in Vargulf form for the rest of your life to save someone you love? They’re extreme scenarios, but they’re rooted in ideals and feelings anyone can connect to and that really helps make both characters far more accessible.
A Likable Group of Heroes
This doesn't really take form until the final three episodes, but when Roman, Peter, Destiny and Miranda all fight to save Nadia together, it’s exhilarating. Yes, Roman and Peter both have grown into far more likable and engaging characters by their own doing to a degree, but it’s also because of the effect Destiny and Miranda have on them as well and that instantly makes seeing them unite immensely appealing.
Similar to Skarsgård and Liboiron, Tiio Horn and Madeline Brewer also nail it as individuals this season. In fact, as I mentioned in our first season 2 review, Brewer’s character is a big reason newcomers can get into the new season and she’s also key to helping veteran viewers jump back in as well. She’s the kind of person who’s easy to connect to, so when she starts learning about all the crazy things that are happening in Hemlock Grove, you naturally go through it step-by-step with her. For some, it’s a solid introduction to the world and then for others, it’s a great way to reacquaint yourself with everything because it’s being done from a different perspective than season 1.
Miranda’s situation is also uniquely bizarre. It’s like a warped Rosemary’s Baby and every step of her progression throughout the season is both fascinating and unexpected, and Miranda’s a strong, independent character throughout most of it. She does start to get a little whiny and helpless towards the end, but who could blame her, I guess?
Destiny however, is resilient through and through. There’s bound to be something that’ll threaten to break her in the next season, but for now, she’s graduated from useful sidekick to an outright hero right alongside Peter and Roman. She’s a moral compass, a sage guardian of sorts, and also has no problem kicking some serious you-know-what all on her own. Horn’s also largely responsible for fixing one of season 1’s biggest problems – the guys were way too mopey. They are like that to a degree in season 2, but this time around, Horn brings so much life and energy to the show that it can support it.
The Olivia/Norman Showdown
There’s a little part of me that wanted to see Olivia hug it out with her family and live happily ever after, but she’s just too much fun to watch as a full-blown villain. Famke Janssen did handle the back and forth extremely well though, and it’s a good thing because otherwise, this would have been one heck of a disjointed season for the character. But, that’s not the case and one minute, Janssen will have you rooting for Olivia to continue to tap into her humanity and beat the cancer, and then the next, she’s back to being the source of everyone’s misery that you love to hate.
Although I still take issue with much of Norman’s material throughout the new season, there’s no denying that Dougray Scott excels in the final two episodes and is partially responsible for one of the show’s biggest payoffs. It would have been nice if Scott wasn't so stone-faced all the time, but regardless, he still manages to have Norman go out with a bang, albeit with a major assist from Janssen.
Their conversation at her cottage is easily one of the most tense and dramatic non-violent moments of the season, one in which you are hanging onto the characters’ every word trying to figure out who’s playing who and what could possibly be their next move. That same sensation carries over to their meet-up at the White Tower at the end of the final episode. The tension is there, but these are two main characters. One can’t kill the other, right? But then, in just seconds, Olivia ends it right there. The show is probably better off without Norman, but at least he did get to go out with a couple of stronger moments.
All of that stuff with Shelley (Madeleine Martin) and the little boy wound up being throwaway material, but that is most certainly not the case with what happens to her during the second half of the season. Shelley’s situation is downright fascinating on multiple levels because it connects to so many other characters on the show. There’s Norman and Roman who both love her dearly and just want her to be happy. Then we've got Dr. Pryce who seems to share those sentiments, but is also responsible for her as her physician. When things go awry, Joel de la Fuente barely says a word yet the look on his face shows that he’s beating himself up over this on more than one level, as a doctor and scientist, but also as family as well. Then, of course, we've got Olivia. There’s no turning back for her now. Shelley will never forgive her, neither will Roman, perhaps not even Dr. Pryce and, on top of that, Norman’s gone. She’s on her way towards one lonely third season.
And then there’s also how all of this effects and will continue to effect Shelley. She went through quite a bit in the first season, but this is some especially life changing stuff. She took a couple of bullets and lived in a crummy basement, but she healed and eventually made her way home. Now however, the poor girl was given the hope of getting to live a normal life, had her mind downloaded and then uploaded into a new body, only to have that new body torn apart, and by her own mother nonetheless! Despite everything that’s happened to her, Shelley’s always been rather subdued, so when she absolutely loses it over Prycilla’s passing, boy do you feel it and get the sense that there’s some serious darkness on the way for the character.
Let’s go for the elephant in the room first – that bat, or whatever you want to call it. First off, from a VFX standpoint, it looked a little silly, but by that point in the show, you’re too wrapped up in all of the characters and what’s happening to them for shoddy CG creature design to take you out of it and stop you from wondering, what it is exactly and where is it taking Miranda and the baby?
And what happened to Lynda (Lili Taylor)? We know she left the country and is in hiding, but is that it? Will she ever come back or will we get to see her in Romania? We've also got Andreas (Luke Camilleri). Just as Peter wondered in the 10th episode, why did his gun have a silencer on it? Will he join Roman, Peter and Destiny while they search for Miranda in season three?
No matter what we wind up getting in the next season of Hemlock Grove, it's thrilling to be wondering at all. The team behind this show got me to go from someone who didn't even want to watch another minute of it to coming to adore some of the characters and deeply care about what happens to them, and that’s one heck of an accomplishment.
There’s still no word on whether or not Hemlock Grove will return for a third season.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.