Hemlock Grove Series Retrospective – A Beautiful Bit of Horror

A look back at three seasons of Netflix original series Hemlock Grove. Was it worth it?

Hemlock Grove Promo Image

It’s over. Two and a half years, 33 episodes, and approximately 142 gruesome deaths later, Hemlock Grove has whimpered out and ended the only way it could have, and the way I’m sure my dad would have predicted had he known the show existed —everyone died in the end. Of course, my dad also predicted this about My Little Pony and Supernatural, too…oh wait, that one was right on the nose.

When Hemlock Grove first premiered in April of 2013, it was only the third “original” Netflix scripted series to air, and this was only months after House of Cards first premiered (Arrested Development being the first Netflix “original” scripted series). Netflix was still relatively new, and the scuttlebutt around the internet was that Hemlock Grove had been produced in response to the viewing practices of Netflix subscribers. Of course, when almost every horror film is perfectly happy to be added to the streaming service and the rest of Netflix is a combo of random movies no one’s heard of or has already forgotten and the occasional blockbuster hit, what do you expect the film viewing habits of Netflix subscribers to be? Even though Netflix has made it a point not to release their viewing numbers, there was a general silence surrounding Hemlock Grove that implied not many people knew it existed and those that did either didn’t finish it or finished it and didn’t love it.

I loved it.

Hemlock Grove S1 Cast

Of course, I’m not terribly picky. Granted, I know the difference between Pretty Little Liars and Breaking Bad in regards to quality and overall contribution to the television landscape, but that doesn’t mean I love Pretty Little Liars any less than I love Breaking Bad. I probably should have waited until the end to say that since now most of you have probably lost all respect for me and stopped reading.

But for those of you still with me, Hemlock Grove was underrated. Finally we had a television show with real monsters. The vampires—ahem, upirs—were actually bloodthirsty. The werewolf didn’t just tear his shirt off, shake a bit, and transform. No, Peter’s wolf literally broke out of his skin, breaking bones and popping eyes along the way. Then he ate it all up. Every last piece of his human body. They didn’t hold back on the transformation, and they spent the whole of the filming season working to get it just right.

Hemlock Grove Wolf Transformation

And the dreams. The dreams were beautiful and terrifying and a brilliant catalyst to bring our two protagonists together. Two boys, neither of whom had ever made a real friend. Brought together to try to save lives and catch a killer. The first season was so masterfully woven, particularly in regards to the vargulf. This season also built a mythological world…that the writers then shot to hell in the next two seasons.

Hemlock Grove S2 Roman and Peter

When I first started talking about Hemlock Grove’s looming third and final season, someone said to me that they heard the first season was poorly received. Honestly, I think the series itself was just poorly viewed. Because if no one liked the first season, I can’t imagine anyone liking the second and now the third season. To me, the first season is the best and I think a huge part of this is that Netflix had confidence in the first season but was just throwing the show a bone in the final two seasons.

Season two started out well. Our boys were separated, their friendship fractured. They’d both lost a lot and Destiny’s warnings in the previous season seemed to have come to fruition (we’d find out later this was just the tip of the iceberg). They’d both lost Letha. Peter thought they’d also lost Letha’s baby. Roman had just had his world shaken, betrayed and manipulated by his mother and given too much responsibility for someone of his age and maturity. Seeing these two struggle to get their lives back together was going to be interesting.

And then Miranda entered.

Hemlock Grove Miranda

Let me talk a little bit about Miranda. She was clearly a Letha replacement. Blonde and the third corner of the Peter and Roman triangle. Her presence made no sense. Why would both of these highly secretive men with a lot to lose let in some random girl from off the street? And if Letha was the virgin, then Miranda was the whore (strictly in a literary sense). She was a girl who had no idea who she was and thought she could find answers in these two men. She did find purpose, but in the end that purpose became her destruction.

As for the mythology and mystery in the second season, it was a mixed bag. Peter and Roman spent the season having dreams of children being kidnapped/killed. This slow burn to the realization that it was connected to Nadia and that there was actually a bigger bad out there really paid off (even if the CGI was painful to watch). But it left viewers wondering what the hell the mystery actually was for most of the season.

And what of Olivia? In season one, we didn’t get much of a feel for her since she was treated like a “big bad,” kept vague and ominous, and actually ended up being the biggest bad in the end. In season two, though, she was thrown off her pedestal (thanks Roman!), spending the majority of the season as a whining waif. Kind of a drag. But in the end, she couldn’t go against what had become her nature, and she put herself before her children once again (and killed the man that she supposedly loved).

Hemlock Grove Angel

Along those same lines, what I find especially interesting about the series as a whole is its constant allusions to religion. Sure, the horror genre plays off religious iconography as much as it can, historically speaking. But the continuous explorations into faith and God suggest that there’s a question there. Can there be a god if creatures like this exist? And if so, can these creatures be saved from their nature? What about the people tasked to police these creatures? What of their consciences?

Of course, none of these questions were answered, but they never really can be.

So…season three. The final season. I watched it all in one day and I can honestly say I don’t know what the hell it was doing. Roman and Peter were barely in any scenes together, Olivia had no clear objective, and they went seven episodes barely mentioning Nadia and Miranda. Most of all…there were no dreams. There was nothing connecting our two main characters, no overarching mystery. We spent a majority of the season watching personal drama go down. Peter trying to hide what he did to Andreas, then Roman trying to hide what he did to Destiny. The most interesting character in this season was probably Pryce, who in earlier seasons had always just been this kind of weird character in the background with huge potential. Well, he met that potential. He became an actual human being with desires and motives and morals.

For the most part, the season seemed to lag and focus on things that didn’t really matter. Sure, they all added up to the epic ending, but there had to be a better way to build this story up. The one good thing I can say is at least there was less Miranda. Barely any, really.

And in the end everyone died.

It’s really the only way it could have ended. I get that. It’s a horror show. These were monsters. They couldn’t be allowed to go on living. And how do you get closure? They can’t live happily ever after and they can’t just keep doing what they’ve been doing. So they had to die.

Hemlock Grove Palm Reading

Roman did what his mother could never do: he made sure he was stopped before he could do any more damage. In the same way, I think Peter sacrificed himself because he kind of sucked at being a human. Sure, his heart was always in the right place, but he made so many mistakes that got people killed. And that’s what Destiny was seeing way back in the first season. Destruction and the death of everyone, including herself.

So, technically not everyone died.

Pryce is in the cloud.

Peter is alive, but not human anymore. (And seriously, where does this leave Lynda? There’s no one to tell her Destiny is dead. No one to tell her her son is stuck as a wolf for the rest of her life. This was a huge ball that was dropped, especially considering how big a part of the show Lynda was for the first half of the series.)

And Nadia and Shelley are alive. And that’s as it should be.

Free Shelley indeed.

All things considered, Hemlock Grove ended the best way it could have, I just wish the journey there could have been more enjoyable, but one that I still enjoyed immensely no matter what others say. For me, season one was still easily the high water mark, but the payoff in season three was great.

But who knows? Maybe others see it differently. Maybe others did actually prefer seasons two and three. If you’re one of them, comment below and let me know why. Not enough people have given this show a chance; now that it’s all over, maybe a few more will.

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