Some Spoilers for Season 2
After the first season of the Netflix series, Hemlock Grove, was over, there wasn't a huge swath of people yearning for a second. The show had a few interesting characters and plot lines, but it had its share of issues. The pacing was all over the place, there were a lot of characters to keep track of with their own story threads and many times there were no pay offs for certain cliffhangers. The show seemed to want to be American Horror Story or Being Human, but couldn't seem to find its own style. Then at the end of Season 1, it seemingly killed off the most interesting character, Shelley. Roman, who is one of the two main characters, does some really detestable things, which makes him impossible to connect with, all of it culminating to impregnating his cousin, making her think is was an angel with his vampire stare and he hypnotized himself to not remember it... or something.
Season 2 turns the jumbled mess that was the first season around, big time. The story is more focused on just Roman and Peter. There are some side stories about Michael, the brother of Clementine, as well as Norman and Olivia, but everything stays pretty closely knit compared to Season 1.
The story begins with werewolf, Peter Rumancek's(Landon Liboiron) and his mother at a gypsy funeral (with looks like a great send off by the way). Peter's mom gets arrested before the funeral is over. All of the semi-illegal (as well as the straight up illegal) dealings she had to do to get by finally caught up with her. The proceedings are in Hemlock county, which brings Peter back to his old murder filled stomping grounds.
Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgard) is the head of his father's company. He turned into a full on Upir (vampire) at the end of season 1 and with that status, comes the thirst. He has a hard time dealing with it at first, but some solutions come along later in the season. His struggle with his humanity is the best aspect of his character this season. Roman is a lot more relatable in S2, no borderline non-consensual incest. The thirst makes him do horrible things, which seems to make sense. It is still hard to get past the bad things he did in Season 1, but it looks like he's trying to be better.
Olivia Godfrey (Famke Janssen of X-Men fame) is one of the highlights of the season. Her son, Roman attacked her when his powers activated. Whatever toxin he injects when he bites his mother, seems to short circuit her powers. She can't heal as quickly and starts to develop human emotions. She feels bad for the awful things she did and truly wants to redeem herself. That is except for one glaring instance of being evil (before the final episode that is). The season finale is where Olivia shines. Where the character goes in Season 3 is uncertain, but it will be brutal fun to see her in action.
Shelley Godfrey (Madeleine Martin) , who was strongly implied to have died last season, is alive. There is no real explanation given for her being more or less okay, she just is. The first episode she's in, the Vargulf from Season 1 is resurrected and attacks Shelley. This is never mentioned again. No explanation given, just here she is, and now she's dead, because Shelley is a beast when she wants to be. The better plot line would be the Vargulf rising from the dead over and over again, locking her and Shelley in a endless cycle of fighting and killing. There is no indication that this will be explained in Season 3.
Shelley, despite the lack of reasons for her return, is a welcome addition to the second season. She is played by a new actress, who's voice sounded really weird in the emails to her uncle. She does gain the ability to talk this season. When she does, that new actress' voice is perfect. If you're off put at first, give it time.
Shelley's arc is a high point of this season. She didn't really have an arc in season 1. She was just there with interesting dialogue and at the end of the season, sacrificed herself to save her brother and friend. This season is about how she views herself and her place in the world. Some of the darkest concepts are directly related to Shelley and trying to improve her situation. She doesn't do anything evil, but we feel badly enough for her to understand her heartbreaking decisions.
Miranda is a new character who becomes more important to the plot as the season goes on. She is stuck in Hemlock Grove due to a reckless driver running her off the road. She stays at Roman's while her car is being fixed. She isn't the most interesting character. The actress who plays her isn't bad. She just seems to stick around for almost no justifiable reason. There are factors having to do with Roman's baby that kind of justify it. Miranda is a little more interesting towards the end of the season, excluding the out of no where sexual advances towards Peter and Roman.
Speaking of Peter and Roman, their friendship is strained at the beginning of the season. They do come to an understanding (might want to watch that phrasing), but this could have been handled a little bit better. It is nice seeing them working together again, especially in 'Tintypes'. Roman didn't have his full on powers in Season 1, so seeing Peter wolf out with Roman biting cult members is pretty awesome.
Clementine's brother, Michael is around as the new sheriff, but he's there for exposition mostly. He has no real arc. He does enable Olivia to look terrifying by calling him out in the last episode.
Norman Godfrey is back. He is a lot more interesting this season. He loses someone else close to him, while becoming suspicious of Olivia. Their relationship ends with one of the best dramatic scenes of the series. The final episode gives Dougray Scott an opportunity to show how full of hate and contempt a person can be.
Dr. Pryce is a bigger part of this season. He is taking care of Shelley, once she returns to the White Tower. Pryce also has a Russian assistant who keeps trying to undermine him. Pryce does some really horrible things, but does it because he loves Shelley like a daughter. Their relationship is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. He is a complex character, not good nor evil. Pryce had low grade super strength in the last season, but they never touch up that. Project Uroboros, which is talked about a lot in Season 1, is revealed in this season. It isn't something monstrous or evil. This seems to be something else that was alluded to in the first season, but went in a different, but not unwelcome direction.
An other plot thread is the cult that is going around murdering people, but making it look like accidents or murder/suicides. This resembles Peter and Roman trying to solve the Vargulf mystery of the first season. The mystery takes up a lot less of this season than the one in the previous, being that it isn't an out in the open type of mystery. The climax of the cult storyline results in the best episode of the season (Epsode 9: Tintypes). Peter's 'reversion' back into his human form in 'Tintypes' is one of the best effects in a television show in recent memory. The cult's real target sends the final episode spiraling into a decent cliffhanger. Granted the effect for that last scene isn't as good as movie grade CG, but for a television budget, it isn't horrible.
Hemlock Grove's second season is a vast improvement from the first season. The story is tighter and characters better defined. The gore and violence effects are good, especially for a TV series. The creature effects are hit and miss, but when they hit, it makes for amazingly bloody fun. The highlight episodes of the series are 'Blood Pressure', 'Tintypes' and 'Demon and the Dogstar'. There are a few flaws, especially with pacing, but the acting is decent and the plot lines keep your attention.
Hopefully Season 3 makes even more improvements. Given the groundwork that's already there, the next season could end up being special.