Hemlock Grove, a Netflix original series that released all its episodes at once on Friday, tried to gin up interest by releasing a red band promo trailer that puckishly cautioned us against all the things the marketers hoped would draw us in, including a specific reference to lady-on-dead-lady action. I can’t imagine anyone would be interested in that, but a potential same-sex relationship among the undead sounded like it had possibilities, so I checked out the first three episodes.
Caution: Spoilers ahead!
The series doesn’t start out with a bang, but it does start out with making arrangements for one. A student and her Sexy Librarian particle physics teacher (Trope! Trope!) flirt heavily and then make a date.
(OK, two things here: First, television shows that depict student-teacher relationships should be required to cast actual correct-age teenagers in those roles. Let’s stop fetishizing that by casting “high school students” in their 20s. You want to show a student-teacher relationship? Fine. Keep the real-life creep factor in there and show a person in his or her 30s or 40s conducting a relationship with an actual 16-year-old. Second, while I do not approve in any way of such imbalanced and exploitive relationships, this allegedly brilliant teacher is the absolute worst person in the world at keeping her hot liaison a secret. She signs a book for her student/lover with “8:00 tonight” and a freaking heart AND HER NICKNAME, Banksy, which seems like a bad call. Plus it’s, you know, her book. The happy teenager/actress in her twenties is on her way to her date when she gets a text from “Banksy” telling her to call when she gets close, which, again, excellent forbidden-affair-covering-up skills all around.)
The teenager (Lorenza Izzo) gets attacked and mauled by a werewolf and hits the call button during the attack, which means Banksy has to listen helplessly as her student/date is eviscerated, all before the opening credits.
Wow. Hell of a setup for a series, huh? I mean, the chase/attack sequence was sort of by-the-numbers and wasn’t especially tense or scary, but the emotional stakes are now huge. Obviously the teacher is going to be a mess and the police are heading right over there and the whole seduction scandal will be all over the school, all while there’s a werewolf on the loose.
…Except we don’t see the teacher again. At all. For three whole episodes so far. Seriously? The police know the phone was on and the girl called someone very close to the time of her death. They’re not going to check in?
The maddening illogic and wasted buildup aside, Hemlock Grove isn’t too bad. Not perfect, but not too bad. It’s atmospherically shot, as the kids say, and even though it is specifically set in my home state of Pennsylvania and no one involved with the production has ever been within 50 miles of the state, not even to stop for gas or glance around, they do create the atmosphere of a small, creepy town, even if that town is clearly not where they say it is. I tried to look at it as another element of the supernatural.
The show takes its time letting things build and doling out information, which I grew to like. It has scenes that don’t so much move the plot forward as they let you know how the characters feel about each other (a scene where the sociopathic rich brother gently washes his huge, shy, bullied sister’s feet is disturbing and sweet at the same time), and overall there’s a patience about how things are going to spool out.
The whole series is structured as a supernatural whodunit, with the mystery being who the bad werewolf is.
There is also, however, a good werewolf, the purported hottie/teen straight girl bait of the series. Peter the werewolf confused me at first because he is also clearly in his twenties, but turns out he’s a high school student. These kids need to wear more sunscreen. Peter is Romani (get ready for some deliberately uncomfortable use of the epithet “gypsy”) and troubled and good and frequently shirtless, so he’s a sexy leading werewolf. Yes, this show is literally trying to make fetch happen.
There’s also that sociopathic rich boy, who’s a vampire (Or really an “upyr,” which is a sexy Russian kind of vampire that can hang out in the daylight) but doesn’t know it. He just knows that he has some interesting mental powers and a cousin that he’d kind of like to turn into a kissing cousin.
What’s that? Shut up and tell you if there are more lesbians? Right.
So the lesbian necrophilia part happens when high school student and aspiring novelist Christina (Freya Tingley) is walking through the woods and finds just the top half of a female corpse. She shouts out “very funny, you guys,” and proves she’s not frightened by what she thinks is a prank by crouching down over the hemicorpse and kissing it, whereupon she realizes she just went to first base with an actual dead human torso and flips right the hell out. This later yields the first genuinely scary moment of the show — when Christina thinks back to what happens, she remembers the face of the corpse pulling into a wicked, lascivious grin as Christina scrambles away.
Freya Tingley as Christina
Episode 3 had me almost ready to give up on Hemlock, at least in terms of ladies, when Dr. Clementine Chasseur (“Get it? Get it?” screams the show) woke up in bed with another woman. A live, age-appropriate one! Hey-o! Whoops, wait, they’re not doing well. The doc leaves and her lover says “you just take,” so it looks like we’re not getting women in a same-sex relationship who are actually happy about it, or at least not yet.
Chasseur turns out to be a werewolf investigator for the Catholic Church, and she shows up in “Pennsylvania” flashing a badge and awesomely telling everyone she’s from the Fish and Wildlife department. She’s weird but good at questioning people, and the character is smart.
Chasseur, played by Kandyse McClure, also doesn’t do anything other than be professional once she’s out of bed. Which means we might have hit upon that rarest of characters: A real person who goes about her business just happening to be queer, just like real people who happen to be straight do. It’s an intriguing possibility. And even if that isn’t how things work out, I would very much like to see her question the science teacher. …On the other hand, the Internet Movie Database indicates that she’s only around for three episodes. [SFX: sad trombone slide]
I don’t think the powers that be at Hemlock Grove have done a terrible lot of thinking about how they’re using their lesbian characters, which may accidentally be a good thing if Dr. Chasseur gets to just be herself. Overall, I found the show to be a strange mix of very interesting and frustratingly stupid, but it has patience and an occasional witty moment or good creepout. And it’s definitely going somewhere. It won’t be your new favorite ship-o-rama show and it probably won’t make anybody’s Top 10 in horror, but if you like spooky (not to mention everything supernatural ever, right there in one town), there are elements that are definitely worth your time. I probably won’t binge-watch it the way I did House of Cards, but I’m definitely in for another episode or two.
Have you dipped in? Stopped in disgust? Already watched the whole thing? Let us know in the comments.