Hemlock Grove has returned! The horror-thriller series by Eli Roth has returned to Netflix for the final chapter to the story that has garnered a cult following in three seasons. After the ending of last season, Roman’s child and Miranda were abducted by Dr. Spivak with the hopes of beginning a bloodline of his creatures. Season three picks up shortly after the dramatic cliffhanger, and dives into a 10 episode closing arc that will leave Hemlock Grove fans in shock and disbelief. Now before I explain too much, I should clarify that this is a review for the first 5 episodes of Hemlock Grove’s third season, so spoilers will be sure to follow – you’ve officially been warned.
Hemlock Grove was a series that instantly impressed me upon binge watching its first season in 2013 and provided an initial example of a Netflix series before the company spawned a wide platform of streaming-service series. As someone with a love and appreciation of the horror genre since childhood, I had high hopes and quickly learned how original Hemlock Grove was with the rise of horror television programming. Not only was Hemlock Grove evidence of originality – it completely pushed boundaries. Questions of morality, mortality, and ones subconscious are recurring explorations in Hemlock Grove, so going into a final installment you feel the weight of the possibilities. The season begins strong, jumping right back into the search for baby Nadia and Miranda, but the core characters of Hemlock Grove continue to live life as best as they can. Ramifications can be felt in all corners of the series – Peter has taken himself into scams and illegal drug trafficking with Andreas, the boyfriend (and later fiancé) of his older cousin Destiny. Roman try’s to stand on his own, but feels detached from aspects of his previous self while desperately hoping to keep his family together (being Shelley and Nadia). Olivia finds herself in a very different place during early season 3, after killing the remaining man in her life and dealing with the loss of her fortune. To complicate things for Olivia, her Upir-ish cancer has returned – despite her engulfing the perfect specimen to regulate her health. Olivia begins the season by relocating with Shelley, now heavily sedated and having lost a major spark to her personality. Even the more reliable characters like Dr. Pryce experience transition, beginning as a sleep deprived pill-popper who has never been shown in such a light. It is definitely a harsh reality to face in early episodes that these characters are all on a downward spiral – but nobody in Hemlock Grove can be accused of not being a fighter.
In a span of just the first five episodes, characters are forced through obstacles and personal discoveries that make the season pulse pounding from the opening scenes to final moments, never letting up on the storytelling of Hemlock Grove. It has always been evident that foreshadowing is in large part a device used by Hemlock Grove without fail, and the implications in the first half only leads viewers to believe that the second half will be the epitome of devastation. To begin with one character, Roman (my personal favorite) has been a character that battles with the notions of right and wrong, returns to face these ongoing struggles. Having lost so many close to him, Roman loses his trust in society and just barely begins to open himself up to the hope of new relationship with a mysterious girl named Annie. Annie is established early as an Upir and introduces Roman to others like them, trying to create a religious perspective to Roman’s outlook on life. This holy persona is all washed away when it’s established that Annie is the daughter of Olivia, and continues to seek out Roman’s…intimacy. Yes, the Godfrey’s get down with other Godfrey’s still… This relationship will be a focal point in the second half of the season, but for now she shouldn’t be trusted when it comes to Roman. The Godfrey child has gone through so many roller coaster moments in the past that you can’t help but hope to see him finally triumph and shed the ominous light that surrounds his character from others constant labeling. The only other relationships that bear importance to Roman in the beginning is his ties to Dr. Pryce (a father figure he hasn’t had in ages) and Peter, who he has been known to have intense romantic innuendos with in the past. His kind heart is shown again this season when he places his life on hold to help Peter cover his tracks for a dark moment of Peter’s life. Roman isn’t the type to always dive into others issues, but this relationship between the two actually matters to Roman, and is proof that he isn’t the villain he’s been painted to be by other characters. Here’s hoping his new relationship with Annie or assisting Peter won’t cause any friction in other aspects of his life, but we’ll talk about that more in the second half of my season three review.
Olivia, the Godfrey matriarch, goes through a variety of emotions in these first five episodes – creating multiple views of the mother often known for her diabolical ways. When she really comes to terms with her dwindling life expectancy, a softer Olivia emerges to repair relationships with her offspring. None of them are exactly too thrilled about the idea, which leaves her feeling unfulfilled. A private detective named Isaac Ochoa is introduced as someone working for both Roman and Olivia, and Isaac begins to primarily focus on his relationship with Olivia. They quickly become entangled in each other like a truly passionate couple seeking a normal life. Seeing someone who generally concocted acts of cruelty experience a taste of life’s fragility was a great way to introduce viewers to a different side to Olivia that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. With her demise in motion, you can guarantee that the remaining five episodes will be a test of Olivia’s new ways and old while coping with her own mortality. Olivia in early season three continues to provide a great example of a morally complex villain with more to offer than her diabolical tendencies.
Peter has always been a main character to Hemlock Grove, but this season he plays a major hand in what’s to come for the final chapter – and it’s bound to spark debate. At first Peter is supportive of his cousin Destiny and her boyfriend Andreas, who he works with for random gypsy scams and business dealings. Peter gets a taste early on that Andreas isn’t all he appears to be when his connections to the Croatian mob involve drugs and loss of lives on their own side. Peter declines to share these concerns with Destiny, and takes it upon himself to deal with things on his own accord. How does Peter handle this? He hands Andreas’ life over to the Croatians, hoping for a ceasefire. Now this could seem heartless by Peter, but it marked one of the most brilliant scenes of Hemlock Grove by offering a “what would you do” question with no simplistic answer. By doing this, Peter ends his cousin’s hopes for the future and risks his own relationship with her – but ultimately decides to hide circumstance behind his death altogether. The scene depicting this choice (for Andreas’ death and hiding the truth from Destiny) was a moment that reaffirms how dark the series is willing to go without hesitation. Peter breaks down with Roman shortly after (a moving scene by Landon Liboiron) and there are significant unsettling implications that you know will alter the course of events in episodes to come. While I back Peter’s decision to hand over Andreas for the best, his knowledge of occurrences remaining hidden from Destiny will certainly cause more damage than his initial choice to turn on Andreas in the first place.
One of the most evolved stories in the first half of the season was the detailed story of Dr. Pryce. Dr. Pryce has always been a major player in Hemlock Grove, serving as the jack of all trades in this mythology, and his bouts with insanity cause instability for all the characters that are dependent on him. It was a genius decision to focus on the pressure and distress that Pryce must face on a daily basis – resulting in his struggles with pills. Pryce begins as a very blunt character that has even less of a smile to his snark, and has more intent to be direct. Of course, he’s as entertaining as always, but seeing this mental anguish on Pryce is a reminder how crucial his role is to Hemlock Grove. In addition to his personality developments, we establish Pryce is the child of an abusive father who often locked him in a small dark closet – creating a subconscious safe-haven from his mental scars. We learn of these issues through the revelation of Pryce’s sexuality, now revealed to be gay. Pryce has always masked this side to his life in shame, keeping it in the “dark” that he finds so comforting. Before the conclusion of the first half, Pryce begins to pull himself from his personal discrepancies and finds the strength to quit taking drugs, and start to openly seeking love. A quote from Pryce that best describes his transition and beautifully fits the series explains: "I know a great deal about the building blocks of life. I know next to nothing about how to live it - even in part, let alone in full. I'm 48 years old and the time has come for me to step into the light. I know this is a journey I must make on my own, but perhaps along the way I will find a friend who can show me where the wall switch is hiding."
Shelley Godfrey takes a backseat this season, but manages to find her voice – sort of. Early on as stated earlier, Shelley is stuck in a grieving process feeling like she’ll never truly be accepted. She is found innocent for the murders from previous seasons, and lives a bleak life with her mother until unsuccessfully attempting suicide. Shelley begins to stop taking the medications that she feels stunts her state of mind, and strays from her mother to find a homeless camp in the Godfrey mill, with a new love interest – Aitor. Normally I’d be all for a Shelley love story, but he seems to be old enough to be the teens father, and it feels entirely creepy. What’s truly depressing is that Shelley (in pursuit of love and parental affection in my opinion) accepts a relationship that is both harmful and unfair to the young Godfrey sibling. Her relationship with her brother is strained in the first 5 episodes which is also unfortunate, as one of the most genuine relationships in Hemlock Grove. That being said, it makes sense that with time, interpersonal closeness can dwindle and we often become lost on our own paths, unaware of the daily struggles those close to us face.
For being only five episodes, Hemlock Grove accomplishes more storytelling than most broadcast series accomplish with a full 20+ episode order, and reminds me how spectacular Hemlock Grove is. The series doesn’t receive the critical acclaim it deserves, and has hardly been advertised by Netflix – which isn’t giving Hemlock Grove a fair chance. The cast, writers, producers, directors, and everyone involved brings so much creativity and talent to Hemlock Grove it has become one of my all-time favorite series. I’ve already binged watched the entire third season, and the second review will cover the final half of Hemlock Grove for episodes 6-10. If you haven’t watched Hemlock Grove yet, go binge watch the series as soon as possible for a guaranteed thrill ride!
Overall Grade : Hemlock Grove returns with serious intensity that shouldn’t go unnoticed. The rising death toll and seriousness in the horror series is a reminder of how horror programming can cast aside the generalized “rules” of programming with unconventional storytelling. In terms of narrative and character growth, I give the first half of Hemlock Grove an 'A'
Aedan’s Final Thoughts:
-Hemlock Grove returns to stake its claim on my heart (and feels) with an entertaining first five episodes.
-This series is one of the darkest programs today, with no safe bets and is unafraid to put its characters in devastating situations.
-Roman continues to win over viewers as he grows into a character more capable of standing on his own.
-Circumstance continues to be a villain of Hemlock Grove, with unruly situations popping up to bring chaos into the lives and relationships of the characters we cherish.
-I refuse to accept that Hemlock Grove is ending, the series must return in some capacity soon there’s no way we’ve had enough, and a series so enthralling deserves more time!