This review contains spoilers.
Repetition can be the most underrated rhetorical device in TV, film and literature. Things like metonymy and symbolism are far sexier compared to something as mundane as what basically amounts to “the same stuff happening a lot.” But for our brains “the same stuff happening a lot” can be the quickest shortcut to identifying something as important.
I bring this up because “Blood Pressure,” the first episode of Hemlock Grove season two, finally pulls off a legitimate rhetorical device in repetition (no, weird dreams a ponderous episode literally titled “Catabasis” from season one don’t count). Unfortunately, the concept that they repeat is just the limited bladder function of its characters.
That’s right. Three different characters are shown peeing within the first 18 minutes of “Blood Pressure.” A young identified boy takes a nighttime potty break within the first few minutes, then Destiny drops trou at her relative’s creepy gypsy funeral and finally, Roman has a threatening conversation with Dr. Pryce while using the Godfrey Institute’s immaculate urinals.
In some way, the bizarrely high count of urination scenes in the first episode is indicative that Hemlock Grove has learned a lot about creating compelling drama while still having so much further to go. It’s like new showrunner Charles H. Eglee knows that repetition is an important literary tool in creating tension and drama but when it comes to exactly what they’re going to repeat, the best he can come up with is characters peeing.
It’s a shame because “Blood Pressure” may be the most successful episode of Hemlock Grove yet in creating a sense of purpose alone. In it we find Roman and Peter in logical places following the events of the season one finale.
Peter is settled in to the most logical place for a gypsy: Conneaut, Ohio (he’d only be about an hour’s drive west from seeing LeBron at Cleveland Cavaliers games). It’s a scene strangely reminiscent of the opening of the Godfather, if Don Vito were a corpse sitting in the middle of the room. And Destiny announces her presence as a force to be reckoned with this season by copulating in the kitchen, just feet away from said corpse. Then the police arrive to arrest Peter’s mom Lydia on a series of trumped up charges and extradite her back to Hemlock County. It’s about as contrived a reason to get Peter back to Hemlock Grove as possible and it has the sad side effect of sidelining actress Lili Taylor for the episode, but it does the job to keep the plot going forward. It’s also potentially the only way to get Peter out of his refreshingly believable Letha rut and back to caring about something, anything else.
Peter was never Hemlock’s biggest problem, however, that honor belonged to Roman. The Roman we see in “Blood Pressure” is at first fairly familiar, talking about Hawaiian girls he’s bedded during board meetings and patting Dr. Pryce on the back on the bathroom without washing his hands (REPEITION, Y’ALL). Thankfully, Bill Skarsgard has not only become slightly more believable as a brat but also gets to play into some sad desperation as Roman. The scene where Roman pays a transient to eat bloody leeches off of his body would have been the episode’s high point if it weren’t for…
Olivia, oh sweet Olivia. Look, sometimes you mess a character up so bad that the only options are to either kill them off rewrite them in such a transparent way that you’re just winking at the audience, hoping they’ll let you off the hook. Well killing Olivia was clearly not an option because Famke Janssen may in fact actually be Jean Grey so, I acknowledge your wink and accept it, Hemlock Grove. Yes, we’ll just pretend that having your tongue re-attached is a perfectly reasonable excuse for dropping an awful British accent.
“Blood Pressure” is full of scenes like this – that course correct the indecisiveness and inconsistencies that plagued season one. The other half of the episode serves only to set up future events like Peter’s transformation of a “bad moon” (the screeners don’t have episode titles listed but I was so sure the first episode would be called “Bad Moon Rising”) or the reveal that Roman keeps his forced incest baby locked away in a sound proof room. The result is an episode that is both somehow overcrowded and static. But it’s also necessary. For Hemlock Grove to live up to its full pulpy, sexy potential in season two, it needs a solid base to build upon. “Blood Pressure,” is that base. Just like its misplaced use of repetition, Hemlock Grove has improved technically but the soul still isn’t all the way there.
Check out our *non-spoiler* full season review page, which will be updated with individual episode reviews.