I didn’t think that I enjoyed Hemlock Grove until I looked up and realized that I had been streaming the show for five hours.
The thing about Hemlock is that this show is all about women. While the storyline centers around a sort of masculine paranormal coming of age, it’s the feminine-and a type of divine feminine, yes-that pushes this show forward. The big symbol that drew me in, though certainly not the first, was the character of Shelly and the interplay that she has with the Hecate archetype. I love any show that plays up the psychopomp, even if it is interesting to see the Persephone role played by a male character; however in this case it is most certainly Roman who is stolen into hell.
Shelly is such an interesting character. Almost the prototypical monstrous, silenced female she is the one character who forces her voice. Every other character in the show is allowed his or her voice because of their social standing, but her very nature-the implication of artificiality and the apparent lack of a physical voice-strips her of the privilege of speech. It’s telling here that while it is likely that the Frankenstein trope is called after the mother of the monster/science genre, that Shelley was also one of the mothers of modern feminism-quite literally the woman who forced the silence surrounding the experiences of femininity to break.
It is also telling that it is this character who becomes Roman’s psychopomp as he begins to face the reality of hell. Being a creature who straddles the two roles she takes on the multi-faced role of the guide. In the in-between Roman is shocked to find himself both on her ground, the place that she calls her room (her habitus) and interacting with her with her own language (what becomes her own field). He is stunned because she has a rich, highly developed and nuanced interrnal dialogue even though we as the detached viewer have known that this dialogue and language has existed from the beginning of the show. In most cases I would argue that this is an accidental development but I think that perhaps in this case this would be an insult to the writing team.
The rest of the female characters are almost as interesting. It is interesting to watch a series where the one of the only main issues I have with the male characters is that these are high school students at no high school in America, but they seem almost flat by comparison to the females. The warrior, the healer, the monstrous mother (quite literally in at least two examples) this show, whether it intended to be or not, is about the dark side of femininity. I think one of the most telling exchanges within the series is with regards to a faerie caught in a jar-”Eventually she died…no one can live like that.” Echoes of Gilman?
I suppose that raises the question of whether or not this is a feminist piece. I think that perhaps my stance on that is similar to the argument surrounding that Dove ad-maybe the message is more important that the vehicle through which the message is expressed. The piece doesn’t have to be feminist, is what I’m arguing. If the message is coming through then it doesn’t matter. And in this case, Hemlock has a ton to say about gender and it’s not just saying it, it’s screaming it. I think however that as with a lot of gender in horror, people may not be entirely comfortable with that message-if only because we’re more used to gender being played with in a lighter arena. But I think Shelley would be okay with her name being invoked in this piece.