Hemlock Grove: Demons and the Dogstar review

Hemlock Grove gets a worthwhile villain and makes a compelling case for a third season in an otherwise average finale.

Let’s talk about Olivia Godfrey.

Yes, I’m aware that this season finale ends with a small town general practitioner of medicine mutating into Romanian blood dragon of some sort, stealing a baby and screeching off into the night…and we’ll get to that. But in discussing season two in its entirety, it’s important to focus on the show’s matriarch fatale, first actress listed among the opening credits and biggest weakness.

I had high hopes when Olivia’s tongue re-attachment in episode one fixed her dreadful British accent and the meds Dr. Pryce fed her smoothed out her cruel behavior. Hemlock Grove enlisting a powerful mother character was not inherently a bad idea, especially for the genre it operates under. In season one, however, the execution was just so, so wrong.  Instead of being cruel, Olivia came across as just disinterested and silly. Trying something radically new with the character in season two was the right decision but yet again the execution failed. It turns out remorseful Olivia was just as boring as vindictive Olivia when not handled correctly.

Olivia as a character ends up being a microcosm for Hemlock Grove as a show. The ideas are solid and the concepts are there but they can never fully pull off something as believable. 

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That’s why “Demons and the Dogstar” begins as a frustrating season finale for a frustrating season, but in the final quarter evolves into an intriguing argument for a third season because Olivia finally begins to serve a purpose

After being sidelined for the entirety of the season in her self-imposed exile of emo-ness*, Olivia finally merges into both season two’s most effective and least effective plots.

*Quick! Name one place Olivia visits aside from the grounds of her rehab facility or Godfrey Institute during the first nine episodes.

The least effective, of course, is Norman. Norman visits Olivia to drive a knife through her heart and behead her Upir noggin. “Where on Earth have you been? It doesn’t matter, I need a hug,” Olivia says in one of the cringe-inducing line readings on a show that basically needs to be watched through squinted eyes. Once Norman realizes that Olivia is dying of cancer, he opts to let her live so that the disease will more tortuously finish her off.

This leads to an example where the execution fails even when the idea doesn’t. Norman talks to Dr. Pryce about Shelley’s procedure and the topic naturally turns to Olivia. Somehow, Norman and Dr. Pryce realize that all any sad Upir wants is love and Norman’s latest rejection of her will lead her to kill her daughter’s new body RIGHT. THIS. VERY. MINUTE. It’s contrived action for the sake of contrived action and is just a baffling character moment for Olivia. Wouldn’t a truly changed woman realize that a guy who knows you killed his wife and daughter wouldn’t be interested in her? And even if he wasn’t, why would her next step be killing her daughter for selfish purposes? Or maybe all of her behavior was purely the side effect of some happy pills and if so: what was the purpose of appearing in this season at all until this very moment?

Regardless, sometimes* enjoying the logical end of one plot means ignoring all the inconsistencies of another. Olivia’s business with Norman is the weakest part of the episode and Olivia has been the weakest link of the season overall, but she is a perfect boogeyman to satisfyingly end the saga of Shelley’s new body. Of course, Shelley likely was not going to enter a potential season three with a new actress though that doesn’t make the circumstances that lead to the devouring of her poor “Unicorn” any less devastating. It’s in this final act of selfishness and in her murder of Norman that Olivia makes the case for finally being the “correct” version of her character…nearly 24 hours into the series.

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*Or oftentimes for this show.

Anyway, that freaking dragon thing. I always liked to joke that Arnold Spivak came across as creepy just because he was the rare character on the show who actually behaved like a believable folksy small town human being filled with anecdotes about Scandinavian tourists. As it turns out, there was a little more to it than that.

After cleaning up gallons and gallons and gallons of blood, Miranda notices that not only is she still lactating, but her breasts are bleeding. This leads her yet again to the competent care of Dr. Spivak where he finally reveals himself to be the architect behind the season’s sinister plot.

As best as I can interpret, Spivak monitored blood databases until he found someone with the DNA composition he was looking for in Miranda. He then got her into a car crash where she was forced to seek shelter in Roman Godfrey’s mansion. Roman’s quarter-Upir baby then used some of its quarter-Upir baby powers to get Miranda to feed her breast milk, augmented by some of Spivak’s drugs. To what end? It’s not quite clear.

Following their dreams and Miranda’s increasingly erratic behavior Roman, Peter and Destiny all converge at the White Tower (Peter having been rescued from the narrative dead end of the Angry Drug Dealing Farmer Guy from Andres) to save Miranda and Nadia from unknown forces. Miranda recognizes that Spivak has led her to corrupt Nadia is some form or another and makes the objectively wise decision to jump from the Tower, Nadia in hand and end the baby’s head-exploding ways once and for all. At that moment, Spivak as a scaled dragon creature appears and grabs both Miranda and Nadia.

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Let me be clear: this is very stupid. And it almost completely invalidates the Order of the Dragon plotline. The fight scene between Olivia and Spivak is also laughably bad with its inexplicable dubstep soundtrack. Hell, even the CGI for the final dragon form of Spivak is weak. But damn it if I’m just not relieved that Hemlock Grove season two gets an awesome villain from it. The temptation to have Dr. Spivak and the season’s final big bad dragon not be one in the same must have been strong just so the show had two interesting characters instead of just one. But it’s for the best that they resisted it as it makes Arnold Spivak/Dragon thing just an incredible asset for the show, should it go forward.

That’s the question though, isn’t it? Should Hemlock Grove go forward with a third season? Based on the quality of season one, I’d never thought we’d see a second. But Netflix was satisfied enough by the show’s viewership (which the provider staunchly continues to keep secret) to give it another go. Still, while Hemlock Grove season two was average at best, the jump in quality from unwatchable to average was astonishing. If the show is able to improve by the same leaps and bounds for a third season, it would finally be the campy supernatural hit that Netflix thought they were signing on for two years ago…as long as Arnold Spivak continues to literally and figuratively soar and Olivia stays away from Dr. Pryce’s medicine cabinet.

***

Individual Episode Reviews: 

Full Season, non-spoiler review

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Rating:

2.5 out of 5