Hemlock Grove season 3 concluded the Netflix original series, but did it give fans what they wanted or leave a bitter taste in their mouths? Spoilers ahead.
Hemlock Grove is not an easy show to love. It’s filled with crass language, taboo subjects, sex, blood, and moments that make you wonder who in their right mind could come up with something like this. Or perhaps the better question would be, who wasn’t in their right mind to come up with something like this?
Despite all of that, I loved Hemlock Grove season 1. It made me uncomfortable. It made me squeamish. And it made me appreciate the audacity of the book’s author, the producers, and Netflix for creating this story and then adapting it.
Horror is a tricky subject to do correctly. You want to give the audience what it desires — thrills and chills, blood and death, villains they can hate and heroes they can root for. At the same time, you can’t cross a very fine line. Societal expectations are ever present, and while we want to be scared beyond belief, we don’t want to put images into the heads of audience members which cannot be scrubbed away eventually.
Hemlock Grove consistently put a toe over that line, and I applauded them for it. In season 1, Roman slept with his cousin and half sister Letha, the young and seemingly innocent Christina Wendell ended up being the sexually charged and vicious villain, and everyone’s carnal fantasies (no matter how perverse) were played out in their entirety.
There was something cathartic and freeing about all of this. Art, no matter the medium, strives to entertain and educate. Hemlock Grove always made me think deeply about the show and myself — what made me feel uncomfortable? Why? What does this mean about me as a person? Am I as perverse as the characters in this show, or can I hold myself on the moral high ground? What would I do if I were in their situation?
Though Hemlock Grove lost some fans in season 2, I stuck by its side. I lived for Peter and Roman’s relationship, which was, at its very core, a Romeo and Juliet story without the romance (unfortunately). It was the driving force of the entire season, and when Roman finally decided to forgive Peter for acting upon his gypsy instincts, the show gave us just a hint of what many fans had been wanting (and it came in the form of an off-screen threesome with Miranda).
Hemlock Grove season 2 was less focused on a villain — those men in masks played a small part in the overall story — and more focused on the relationships between the characters and how they were growing as people. Peter had to decide if he could love again, and how far he would go to keep everyone safe. Roman had to decide if he could control his cravings long enough to become a father to his child. Olivia had to decide if she could be a better person, the person Norman wanted her to be.
In true Hemlock Grove fashion, everything went to shit. Peter began turning into a vargulf, Roman struggled with his murderous tendencies, and Olivia began to die like the lowly and ordinary human beings she so despised. By the end of the season, it felt like the main characters had gained everything back only to lose it again.
To be fair, that’s how television normally works. You must put your characters through hell episode after episode in order to see what they can become. Will they rise to the status of a hero, or fall so far they become the villain in their own story?
I never expected Hemlock Grove season 3 to end on a high note. That would’ve been disingenuous to the show I fell in love with in 2013. There was going to be heartache, and I had a feeling some of my favorite characters were going to die.
What I didn’t expect was to walk away feeling disappointed by all of season 3, feeling exhausted by Hemlock Grove in general, and wishing I hadn’t invested so much time and energy into the series in the first place.
Hemlock Grove: The Final Chapter did have some strong moments. Shelley, as always, was a bright spot amidst the doom and gloom that shrouds the town of Hemlock Grove on a daily basis. Truer words were never spoken when Shelley told her mother, “I may look like one, but you’ve always been the real monster.” Her character has been busting tropes since season 1, and it was nice to see her drive off into the sunset with the promise of a better life.
Pryce was also a surprising highlight. The control he so obsessively kept over every aspect of his life was lost, and while it was disappointing that he finally regained his humanity just before his final demise, it was a relief to know for sure that his love for Shelley’s well-being was, without a doubt, genuine. Pryce giving up his work for the sake of Shelley’s continued existence was, for Johann, like slitting his own throat. And yet he did it without hesitation.
Olivia’s story was also compelling this season. I had hope for her turning over a new leaf in season 2, but she is the quintessential definition of a monster in the Hemlock Grove universe: stunningly beautiful and without a shred of humanity. As she descended into madness, it was fun seeing Olivia struggle with maintaining her composure. She went beyond redemption in order to cure her disease, and it was gratifying when she finally got what she deserved all along.
What was not satisfying was the rest of the season. Miranda, a character we fell in love with throughout season 2, was hardly present and died an anti-climactic death. The most pressing matter of the season — the disappearance of Miranda and Nadia — was also hardly present, having been dealt with in the first few and then the final few episodes. The supposed Big Bad of season 3 was put to rest in just a couple of minutes. Everything else felt like it held the plot back rather than pushed it forward.
Without a doubt, however, the biggest disappointment of the season was the death of Roman Godfrey at the hands of Peter Rumancek. Death in Hemlock Grove is necessary. Andreas’ death was expected, and though I hated every second of it, Destiny’s death made sense correspondingly. Pryce and Olivia and Miranda and Annie all died as a result of the main plot of the show. I knew we wouldn’t be getting out unscathed.
But the heart of the show was ripped out right alongside Roman’s when Peter pulled it from his chest.
Roman has never been an easy character to like. He’s done some pretty unredeemable things, though he has struggled with those decisions since before he became an upir. He never wanted to be like his mother, and that urge to be a better person is what made his character compelling. It’s what made us forgive the atrocities he’s committed.
Being the one who killed Destiny was too far over the line — both for Roman and for the show. Hemlock Grove was built around the unnatural friendship of Peter and Roman. To pit one against the other in a fight to the death killed the series. Everything they had fought for, and everything they had built, came tumbling down in that single moment. Now both our heroes are villains, one is dead, and it’s only a matter of time before someone else ends the life of the vargulf that now roams the forest around Hemlock Grove.
I am not so naive to believe the creators would give fans exactly what they wanted. Roman and Peter were never going to be together, not like that, but having one kill the other felt less like a natural progression of the story and more like a slap in the face.
Nearly any other possible ending would’ve been better than this. They both lost so much that they could’ve walked off into the sunset together, broken and dejected, and it would’ve still felt like a typical glass-is-half-empty ending for the series. One could’ve died for the other in a show of altruistic heroism. They both could’ve died together, saving the world and the loved ones who still lived. I would’ve been content, though not necessarily happy, with any of those scenarios.
Instead, I feel dejected, betrayed, numb. To take everything this series has been working toward since season 1 and throw it all away is the cruelest thing Hemlock Grove could’ve done to us. The silver lining in this storm cloud is so thin it may as well be non-existent.
Perhaps this is just one more way Hemlock Grove has attempted to change the game, but instead of winning my reluctant praise, they have lost me as a fan. Considering this was the final chapter, however, I doubt they’ll even notice. Maybe they don’t even care.