The Monster is Within: A Hemlock Grove Primer

Netflix’s original series, Hemlock Grove, is back for a second season, which means another summer of the gorgeous and psychotic Roman Godfrey and Peter Rumancek and his glorious hair. If you haven’t seen season one, I suggest you start your binge now to get caught up for the July 11th launch. And speaking of binging, when Season 2 goes live, I’ll be here on Criminal Element to binge the entire season with you. Stay tuned!

The pilot season was a weird roller coaster of odd story lines, interesting characters, and several unanswered questions. We saw Roman (Bill Skarsgärd), heir to the Godfrey estate, and Peter (Landon Liboiron), a Gypsy, team up in order to solve the series of grisly murders plaguing the titular town of Hemlock Grove. Things take a supernatural twist when Peter’s schoolmates begin accusing him of not only being the killer, but a werewolf, thanks to the rumor started by Christina Wendell, self-proclaimed future novelist. Together, Roman and Peter determine to track down the werewolf and kill it, thus becoming heroes and saving the town.

Throughout the show, Roman also deals with his overbearing (and frankly creepy) mother, Olivia (Famke Janssen) wanting him to embrace his privilege and stop hanging out with Peter. In an uncharacteristically selfless manner, Roman’s also determined to look out for his deformed younger sister, both at home and in town. Peter is not only (really) a lycanthrope, but he’s forced to put up with Roman’s harebrained schemes, like grave robbing, and breaking and entering, his attitude, and death threats for falling in love with Roman’s cousin.

The story line gets pretty muddled in the first season, wandering from the serial killer mystery to how Roman’s cousin managed an immaculate conception, what Roman really is (because human, he is not), and what exactly is going on with Olivia and the bioengineering medical facility powering the town’s economy. Werewolves are, impressively, not the strangest element of the show. Trust me, though, if you stick with it, the payoff is pretty rewarding.

What I dig most about Hemlock Grove is that it doesn’t try to be the next anything, instead sticking with a beautifully bizarre array of characters and situations. It deals with Gypsy folklore—which you don’t see nearly enough, has some wonderful special effects, and there’s a palpable passion behind each shot. I’m a sucker for gorgeous cinematography, and Hemlock Grove is nothing if not breathtaking. The trailer for Season 2 looks amazing, and I can’t wait to see the continuation of this series. It looks darker, bloodier, and more daring, powered by new show runner, Charles Eglee, formerly of Dexter and The Walking Dead.

Will it garner six seasons and a movie? Probably not. But now we have Peter dealing with the consequences of his sacrifice last season, Roman finally figuring out what he is, and a couple new cast members who find Hemlock Grove as disturbing a place as it’s supposed to be. I’m not sure if the strange religious order of monster hunters will be returning, but we will get more Dr. Pryce and Project UROBOROS. I’m eager to see how it all plays out, and I’m hoping some of my loose threads from season one get tied up.

As we stand leaving Season 1, Peter shaved his head and left town, Roman is now fully upir (the Romani term for “vampire”), and Olivia is dead (except she’s clearly alive in the trailer, so there goes my “no one’s dead until we see a body”theory.) And where is Shelley? Shelley is one of the most interesting characters in both the television series and the book. It looks like she, too, is back, but where did she go? What’s it going to be like now that her brother and protector is a madman eating leeches? I’ve tried my hardest to scrape up any idea of what Season 2 truly has in store for us, but it looks like we’ll just have to wait.

Despite rave reviews from fans and viewers, critics haven’t been so nice to my dear werewolf/science-experiment-gone-awry series. If you’re looking for an intense, mind-bending summer fill-in, this one might not be for you. I do find it to be an acquired taste, leaning to those of us who loved films like Ginger Snaps or have a particular bent for moderately gory special effects.

Part of what really hurt Hemlock Grove initially was the choppy direction and lack of overall clarity within the plot line itself. I think it suffered from too much to do, not enough time. I’m not sure what effect a simultaneous release of all the episodes in the series has on filming and budget constraints, but judging from the trailer, we’re in for something equally crazy and better stitched together.

Love it or hate it, what are you most looking forward to with this new season?

Meghan Harker grew up in a small, awkwardly-named town in Georgia. She attended Brenau University, where she earned her BA in English and a minor in Graphic Design; she also attended the University of Cambridge, England, where she didn't quite master the perfect Oxbridge accent. She's an avid reader, writer, and fire spinner. She's currently working her first novel, a paranormal thriller. Visit her blog at

Read all posts by Meghan Harker for Criminal Element.


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