Review: Hemlock Grove, Season 2

Hemlock Grove Promotional ImageWell. The ratio of anticipation to disappointment on this season was striking.

The first season of Hemlock Grove was original, unexpected, challenging, exciting, unpredictable, and provided a wide range of interesting female characters. This season  drew extensively on racial stereotypes, reduced the number of interesting female characters, and dramatically increased their representation as instrumental objects to serve others’ needs (especially reproductive needs). Lots of gratuitous female nudity – the plot even working to specifically enable as much of this as possible – and yet where there was male nudity it was downright chaste in comparison.

Colour me ‘Eh’ with shadings of ‘rather pissed off, actually’.

Plot (mild spoilers)

Following the events of last season, Peter (Landon Liboiron), Destiny (Tiio Horn), and Lynda (Lili Taylor) have rejoined their Roma family. We catch up with them at a wake, which is going down with a lot of drink, music, and (for Destiny) sex. The wake is disturbed by the FBI, who have finally caught up with Lynda’s years of racketeering. For legal reasons I did not exactly follow, this means that Peter and Destiny must return to Hemlock Grove to put together his mother’s defence.

Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgård), meanwhile, has been dealing with becoming an upir, trying to find ways of feeding without killing people, and running the family company. Oh, and raising his Demon Spawn – I mean ‘Lovely little girl with unnaturally blue eyes that no one – no one at all – ever comments upon’.

Olivia Godfrey (Famke Janssen) is not dead. She’s been in a coma and then recovering, with the sinister aid of Dr Johann Pryce (Joel de la Fuente) and his new dodgy scientist side-kick, Dr Zheleznova-Burdukovskaya*, from dodgy Russia, with dodgy-but-nebulous war crimes hanging over her.

A young blonde woman, Miranda (Madeline Brewer – visually very similar to Lethe, Roman’s cousin, Peter’s girlfriend, whom Roman raped and impregnated with the Demon Spawn) is forced off the road near Roman’s house. She knocks on his door for help and he lets her phone for a tow-truck and stay with him until she’s ready to move on. Quelle suprise, the tow-truck company is the same one Peter has just got a job with.

Miranda begins a relationship with both Roman and Peter. As you do. What’s weirder is that Miranda starts spontaneously lactating, conveniently supplying nourishment for the Demon Spawn, and also affording the viewer many opportunities for close-ups on her breasts. Many. We did not need that many. We really got the picture from the milk-stains on her top. This whole thing was not subtle.

Meanwhile, Peter cons some drug dealers into thinking they are buying some magical drug, developed by the Roma people, by turning into a werewolf in front of them ‘on a bad moon’. This starts Peter off on a journey to become a vargulf (really uncool kind of werewolf that can change whenever he pleases but loses his humanity) which Destiny warns him about and he, you know, ignores her. Destiny is playing Cassandra this season.

He does this so that they can hire a lawyer for his mum, Lynda. For some reason, everyone refers to the lawyer as the ‘lady lawyer’, like this is 1950.

Meanwhile, Shelley Godfrey (Nicole Boivin and Madeleine Martin)is off in hiding, being kind of a badass and kind of really in trouble. Eventually, she returns to the fold, whereupon Dr Pryce explains about the naked blonde lady (again, very similar looking to Lethe) floating in a tank we’ve been seeing off and on throughout the season. He’d been ‘growing’ her to create the perfect human, but because he actually really does care for Shelley, he proposes copying Shelley’s brain patterns and putting them in the blonde girl, then killing Shelley’s old body, so that Shelley can live on in the ‘perfect’ body she’s always dreamed of. Which is just the bestest idea EVER.

Oh, and there are some dudes in masks who are killing families and Peter and Roman keep sharing dreams about them and that’s what brings them back into being best buddies again after the events of last season. That and a threesome with Miranda.

And Norman is still floating around, trying to work out his relationship to Olivia, and the fact that it’s really not healthy, and I wish I could care about this, because I like Norman, but it’s for that exact reason that I never bought the relationship in the first place.

Why I was displeased

OK, so let’s talk about the racism, first. Season 1 started off a little bit racist, what with Peter and family introduced as basically on the left side of the law, but that kind of dropped away as Peter went on to be awesome and basically the hero in the way that Roman really turned out not to be. I had mixed feelings about it, but in a way that was kind of ‘hopefully they will improve in the second season’. Why do I keep thinking things like this? Nobody knows.

We see a lot more Roma people, and they are framed as lazy, jobless, carefree people who party a lot and don’t work for a living. The issue of systematic racism is lampshaded when the ‘lady lawyer’ mentions that the FBI will be really going after Lynda by angling to paint the Roma people as a criminal organisation. Which could have been explored interestingly, except for the fact that, despite Peter’s protests, that’s basically how they are presented within the world of Hemlock Grove.

And then there’s the whole ‘evil scientist’ thing. Dr Pryce was already showing up for the sinister Asian and the scientist Asian stereotypes, but now we have Dr Incomprehesibly-long-double-barrelled-name which is not her only incomprehensibly long alias. And she’s an Evil Russian. Like she just walked out of a Cold War Bond movie. She even has what a friend once described (referring to a Movie Nazi) as ‘Evil Hair’ – coiffed and then held severely solid by God only knows what heinous kind of product.

As for women? We’ve lost Lethe and Clementine from the first season, and Lynda is spirited away quicker than you can say ‘The script writer didn’t have any use for this character anymore’. Norman’s wife, Maria, finds her way out of the story pretty quick** The ‘lady lawyer’ is in about two scenes, maybe three. Destiny gets more screen time, but I’m not sure she does a single thing that actually affects the plot. Her biggest scenes involve swallowing psychotropic magic poisons for Peter’s sake. The first one has a needlessly suggestive snake slithering up her nethers. The second involves three people holding her head under water until she drowns. Yup, the themes of sexual objectification and violence against women are strong this season.

Then there’s Miranda I-exist-to-spontaneously-lactate-and-sleep-with-the-leads Cates. Yes, lactation is creepy. Spontaneous lactation is creepier. It’s a horror show. I GET it. But you actually literally do get to choose what tropes you employ, and Miranda could be replaced by a sexy bag of baby formula, and that’s not in-world disturbing, that’s plain disturbing. On the plus side, it is Miranda who takes the lead in initiating the threesome, but if you had told me there was going to be a threesome involving Bill Skarsgård and Landon Liboiron in this season, I would have shown up with my popcorn and expected, well, more. We only see them sleeping afterwards. Given the amount of naked ladies in this season, and all those close-ups of Miranda’s boobs (lactating or otherwise), I was nonplussed***.

And if Miranda isn’t used instrumentally enough, there’s Prycilla, the girl Pryce has grown and whose brain he literally writes over for the sake of Shelley, and whom Dr Zheleznova-Burdukovskaya suggests to Olivia she might consume to overcome some of the difficulties she is facing. The girl exists to be used by others.

And speaking of Olivia, she is significantly powered down following Roman’s attack on her at the end of last season, and her plot is strongly focused about how, having been dominated by her son, her maternal instincts resurface and she wants to mend fences with her children and be a better girlfriend to Norman.  So, uh, not at all Freudian misogyny themed, then. It should be stressed that it’s a believable performance by Famke Janssen and the progression does work for the character, but in the context of the diminution of other female characters, the choice to take this path with her is striking.

Certainly, no women are here to fill the vacuum Clementine Chasseur (Kandyse McClure) left behind. Indeed, Clementine’s memory is reduced to fridging motivational fodder for her brother, Michael Chasseur (Demore Barnes).

Oh, and, in case you hadn’t gathered by now, absolutely no mention of Roman’s rapes is made whatsoever. There are no repurcussions for Roman for this. Roman’s redemptive arc is conducted solely against his present worry that he might hurt other people now that he’s an upir. It’s not just that he gets away with it – men get away with rape all the time, and I appreciated the ‘pretty guys you are rooting for can do this shit too’ aspect of how it was handled in the first season, but this season it is literally as though it never happened. Roman and Peter are reeling from Lethe’s death, Roman generally doesn’t like who he became under his mother’s power, but in as much as one might speculate as to his inner thoughts on the matter, any responsibility he might have taken for his own actions he seems to have shirked off, attributing it to Olivia and his upir nature. I kept expecting something to happen to reveal to Peter exactly what Roman had done. But nope. ‘Oh, Roman, why are you raising the baby when I was going out with her mother and had taken the decision to step up as the father? Why are you so focused on her being your daughter? How come that whole “impregnanted by an angel” thing is still unresolved from last season?’ Nuh-uh. Nadda. Nothing.

You can’t see it, but I am not wearing anything resembling my happy face right now.

The artistry and originality of the first season is gone. I felt none of the genre-bending ‘what am I watching’ mystery, most of the characters became less interesting, racism and sexism upped substantially, the fact that Roman is a rapist completely forgotten… It’s still well-acted and mostly well-scripted – I could and did consume this easily and quickly – but one is left, overall, with a bad taste in one’s mouth. This is not the show I was raving about last year.

*She’s not listed on either IMDB or Wikipedia, yet – I had to check the name in subtitles for the spelling – so I can’t say who the actor is.

**SPOILER: She gets fridged.

***There were instances of naked gents – Peter gets naked every time he changes, and two other guys are forced naked for torture reasons, but as I say, these are pretty chaste in presentation compared to the treatment Prycilla and Miranda get.

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5 Responses to Review: Hemlock Grove, Season 2

  1. Savantace says:

    Just a brilliant and excellent review that encompasses exactly what I felt, saw and believed, on every level, while magically and most wonderfully brought to life and made exceptionally easy-to-understand. I was, however, under the impression that Roman was under some type of deep, evil, spell and thoroughly oblivious to his actions when he raped his own cousin, Lethe.

    You’re so utterly and completely right on here, especially with the habitual, endless, Gypsy-Tramps-n’-Thieves thing. It’s so nonsensical that it’s more like a comedic spoof and slapstick comedy.

    The entire “Change at will” for Peter is lame — like so what? Roman and Olivia are full-blown day-walking vampires. Peter is such a light-weight little feller, he needs to change when he wants so everyone doesn’t continue to use him as a punching bag. He’s almost useless outside of the additional ability at becoming a genuine badass.

    His gypsy-medium-crystal-ball-huggin’-potions and eye-of-newt worshipping, cousin, Destiny, the supremely irritating, unfeminine, Miss Know-It-All, has become nothing short of a Big-Bad-Dawgin’-Bully-Hard-Ass, smackin’ Peter around continually while ordering him around in every scene, demanding this and that, commandeering and dictating his every step while repeatedly belittling him. She’s no chaste, virtuous woman by any stretch and her bull dog, bulldozing of Miranda, the morning after the party, made me want to step in and smack the ‘living, breathing, jealous, envious, nasty, ugly, bitch-witch-butch right out of her. She had no business on any level or in any capacity to do such a thing. It was like something out of the film Carrie. I HATE BULLIES.

    As far as Lynda goes, however, her entire character was unfortunately useless and without redeeming value. She just brought so little interest or value to the table. She is a criminal and she can’t be trusted and while in every scene with her, we always saw this kindly, good, caring, loving mother but the reality is – she’s nuts and she’s an opportunistic always looking for someone to rob and take tremendous advantage of. Good, send her ass back to Romania and let’s call it a day.

    Yet, it all ties in with the habitual, endless, Gypsy-Tramps-n’-Thieves thing. And Peter, for CRIPES SAKE, ‘DUDE’, please do yourself and the rest of us a favor and get a haircut a shower and a shave and perhaps something less young-homeless-male-hookerish looking. He’s a nice kid but good grief is he a raging loser. He’s stubborn, obstinate, always feeling sorry for himself and he is lazy and rather useless. He’s so intense and whiney and thin and slight in stature with nothing — he has nothing. He’s a bum so at least give him something that makes him of interest here — the ability to change into a werewolf at any time otherwise he’s of no interest.

    So what are the writers doing? Taking this already irritating little character that he is; a wimpy, unemployed, no-talent, loser of a pot-head-hippy ‘dude’ with absolutely no charm or personality on any level, with dirty clothes and give the only thing he has going for him in this series, that of being a werewolf, a bad attitude who now flies off the handle given any little irritation or situation that he can’t cope with and he was never good at coping with much of anything to start with.

    Oh no! He turned on the wrong moon! Oh my, now you’re going to become a giant prick and die early. Oh lovely.

    I thought this series was about werewolves and vampires and now Dr. Pryce is somehow sadistically un-vamping the vamps. The only thing remotely interesting about this show is Roman (played by the GORGEOUS Bill Skarsgård) and his character as a vampire. Olivia is painfully predictable, uninteresting and agonizingly dull — except for possibly when she sang at karaoke. Even then I was hoping for a better song where she really ROCKED THE HOUSE, but no, Writer-Forbid, of course not, that might make the episode or scene far too fun and interesting.

    Speaking of Pryce, he’s so mechanical, sociopathic, asexual, sadistic, scheming, manipulative, devious, decisive, and never-changing. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find out at some point that he’s actually an animatronic or alien shape-shifter.

    What was with Roman’s ultra-scary-creepy-old, butler and maid, getting it on? Roman is calling out, “Somebody answer the door,” and our eyes are then raped by the grotesque visual of these two relics that look more like they were reanimated post-mortem, having a good romp in the sack. Then the maid, who WORKS FOR ROMAN, feels the inordinate need to cry out to Olivia that her son is banging a smokin’ hot, beautiful, young blonde (though she just refers to Miranda as WHORE) and caring for the baby! Yeah, how dare that blonde WHORE do what nobody else would do – pick the baby up in her arms and cradle her and rock her and nurse her and speak to her ever-so lovingly and tenderly.

    And if the old bat assumed she might score some points with her former employees, Olivia never even dignifies her statement and walks directly out of Roman’s house.

    Roman’s persona also took a nasty nose dive in this season. He’s so stoic, miserable, immature and hostile, that he teeters on being intolerable to stomach and watch for too long. There’s too much animal cruelty in this show as well. We’re forced to watch Roman purchase an extremely gorgeous, wonderful and very expensive quarter horse only to see him feeding on that horse an episode later?

    OKAY, with that scene, it was definitely STAKE THROUGH ROMAN’S HEART time. I’m done, turned off and finally to the point where he just needs to die. That was unacceptable. Fact of the matter is, this show could have been a lot of fun and entertaining had the writers known anything about writing.
    When you start gratuitously killing a bunch of mothers and children and animals, episode after episode, you won’t have a show to write for.

    Every character in this show has been reduced to nothing short of an ass-face, EXCEPT for Shelly. We finally get to see a little depth in her character. The only GOOD THING in this entire new season thus far was seeing Shelly get bad-ass and kick down the door of the little boy who helped her and takes out his brutally abusive, vile and cruel, violent parents. YAY!

    Norman is a fool. How do you carry on an affair with a sadistic, sociopathic, homicidal, deadly vampire B*tch for all those years and be clueless to whom she actually is? He isn’t attractive enough to keep me interested. He’s such an embarrassment.

    Finally, regarding Miranda, I’m guessing at this point that she might be a ghost or Roman’s vampire-demon-sweet-baby-girl somehow caused the accident that lured her to Roman’s house. Upon the finding the baby, she came off way too opinionated and strong for someone who is a stranger to the household and a guest he’s doing a favor for.

    Miranda is gorgeous, although she too is a chronic whiner and painfully EMO, like Peter and Roman and the rest of the cast, actually. The poor-me, overly-intense, sniveling, teenagers, with their desperate attempt at playing grown-ups is also enough to wear down Fort Knox. Everything is a continual bummer and buzz-kill in this show. There’s NEVER a good day, a ray of hope, or a wrong-turned-right. I’m spent, burned out, turn-off and pissed-off.

    I’m extremely disappointed in Miranda for sleeping with Peter. She’s staying in the home of one of the hottest and wealthiest of young, single, available men on the planet but she opts to screw the tow-truck driver and move from bed to bed. Why? Once the two find out about her mutual endeavors, she then takes them both upstairs. That’s really AWKWARD and uncomfortable seeing as how Peter and Roman have not entirely reconciled their extreme differences.

    Just yesterday, Roman is telling Peter to GET THE FK OUT OF MY HOUSE OR ELSE… only to find out that Peter, whom Roman now hates with a vehement, ardent passion, is sleeping with the gal that Roman is falling for – ahh okay, but suddenly Roman has no difficulty climbing into bed with the two of them for a nice, raunchy three-way.

    OKAY, SURE.

  2. Littlemiss.S says:

    I just finished season 2 also, and I was literally saying “what the ever-loving-fck just happened here” “Are there some episodes missing?” “Who was in charge of this?”
    No seriously, though, WTF?

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  4. jen says:

    Um I don’t know if any of you people whom are writing all these “bad reviews” have maybe thought of….um I dont know not watching it? Alot of the inconsistencies you speak of are what make this an interesting show. So peter cant change when he wants to like every other show on tv without paying a price… who cares?

    • Rhube says:

      LOL – what a totally bizarre comment. People don’t know they have a problem with a show until they watch it, and (as you’d know if you were anything but a troll) I really adored the first series – if a show becomes extremely sexist where it was previously very positive, critiquing that MATTERS, and flows from one’s original love of the show.

      You’re chosen example is also hilarious as it doesn’t relate to my criticisms at all. I’m guessing your’re just copy-pasta-ing this from blog to blog. Commenter for hire possibly? Anyway – thanks for the LOL, but keep your policing of other people’s opinions and viewing habits away from my valid criticism, thanks.

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