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'Hemlock Grove' recap: A gory homecoming

Season 2 | Episode 1 | “Blood Pressure” | Released July 11, 2014

Hemlock Grove, whose anticipated second season dropped today on Netflix, was never intended to have the aesthetic cohesion of Hannibal or the consistent weirdness of Twin Peaks. Rather, its appeal lies in a mythology that takes center stage in this season’s run. Although the first episode of the new season suggests a sanitization of some of the perversions that made season one such a campy ride, it still manages to use the grotesque so efficiently that fans of the show will not be disappointed.

The episode opens as a silver-masked man enters into a home under the cover of darkness. After ruffling the hair of a sleeping child, he makes his way down into the kitchen, where he explodes the house by turning on the gas and leaving a lit candle. It’s an eloquent moment in what is essentially a crude and non-intimate mass murder. The killing sequence ends with the killer, his mask discarded, engaging in a bit of self-flagellation. And thus begins what looks to be the season’s central murder mystery.

What’s fascinating about this opening is that it is shot according to the expected contemporary style found in horror, and yet it is relatively silent. It’s a brave creative choice because, without the swelling, ominous score, the scene works to normalize what the audience is seeing rather than evoking fear.

But while Hemlock Grove deals in horror, it excels in teen angst, and there is plenty on tap in the premiere. In Ohio, Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron) is attending the funeral of a fellow gypsy. The fact that the deceased is sitting up in a chair receiving visitors with a scotch in hand pretty much makes it the most excellent funeral on record. But despite the surrounding party atmosphere, Peter is still deeply depressed over the death of his love, Letha (Penelope Mitchell). There is a wonderful moment between Peter and his mother, Lynda (Lili Taylor), in which she promises her son that he will find love again. A police raid in which Lynda is arrested and extradited back to Hemlock Grove interrupts the sentimental exchange. Chief among her crimes is selling muskrat meat, trespassing as a circus performer and check fraud. Don’t tell me this show doesn’t have a sense of humor.

Peter and his cousin, Destiny (Kaniehtiio Horn), are told by a lawyer that Lynda is being charged under RICO on racketeering charges and that the lawyer requires a $20,000 retainer fee. As the despondent pair head back to Hemlock Grove, flashes of the man in the silver mask assault Peter. As was established last season, visions are just a side perk to Peter being part-werewolf.

On the other side of town, Roman (Bill Skarsgård) is up to his usual tricks, this time running roughshod over Godfrey Industries. In the wake of his mother’s death (we’ll get to her in a second), Roman is hell-bent on making an enemy out of the devious Dr. Pryce (Joel de la Fuente). Roman suggests to the board that Dr. Pryce’s work is outdated and should instead focus on extending the youth experience. The resulting tension between the men then moves from the boardroom to the bathroom, which is apropos considering a pissing match quickly ensues.

By the midway point, the episode has been mainly interested in exposition and reestablishing the characters. It’s a smart choice even if it runs the risk of alienating some of the more impatient viewers. But languid storytelling soon gives way to the shock-and-gore moments we’ve come to expect from this show. Not only do we discover that Olivia (Famke Janssen) is alive and being rehabilitated by Dr. Pryce, but we are treated to an up-close view of her surgically reattached tongue. Yes, the same tongue that was chewed off by her son in last season’s finale. It’s an appetizer of sorts for the banquet of gore about to be served up in Hemlock Grove’s inimitable style.

When Olivia pointedly asks Dr. Pryce how her half-upir (half-human, quarter-witch, quarter-demon) son is feeding himself, the audience is reminded that Roman requires feeding on blood to stay alive. Yet resisting the urge to kill means that Roman is forced to turn toward some unsavory means of feeding himself. In a scene that echoes an exchange between john and prostitute, it is revealed that Roman pays an elderly man to serve as an human incubator for leeches, which Roman then hungrily rips off from the man’s body and consumes. It is a visceral scene that requires a strong stomach to manage.

The inevitable reunion between Peter and Roman is as taut as you’d expect, given the history between the two. While Peter decides to beg Roman for the money to launch Lynda’s defense, Roman remains unmoved and kicks out his former ally. With no more options, Peter hatches a con that imparts some much-needed levity into the episode. He convinces two low-level drug dealers that he has a marketable hallucinogenic, then proceeds to morph into a werewolf in order to convince the men of the drug’s impact. While we’ve seen the horrific process of Peter morphing before, this moment is somehow more disturbing. Seeing Peter eat his own flesh while one of the drug dealers vomits provides a cacophony of repulsion that will appeal to splatter film fans.

A haunting montage of snakes, forked tongues, self flagellation and dead fish brings the narrative full circle back to the man in the silver mask, and sets the stage for what is sure to be this season’s overarching mystery. The episode’s big reveal comes in its final moments. After failing to kill in order to satiate his hunger, Roman enters into a soundproof room, where it is revealed that his child with Letha is alive and well and sporting a particularly bright blue pair of eyes.

Comments, Gripes & Observations

  • Norman remains a character defined only by his relationships. With Letha dead, his identity now comes solely through his interactions with Olivia. His scenes cause the story to stop dead in its tracks.
  • Any guesses as to who is floating in Dr. Pryce’s water chamber? I’m still holding out hope Letha was saved, as the girl floating bears a certain resemblance.
  • I found the lack of Shelley in this inaugural episode disappointing and confusing. I hope to see more of this character, whose arc holds so much potential.
  • Does anyone else suspect that the seemingly gratuitous sexual encounter between Destiny and the mystery man at the funeral will serve a larger purpose?
TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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