SPOILER WARNING – THIS IS FROM LAST NIGHT’S US BROADCAST, AND MAJOR PLOT POINTS ARE DISCUSSED. DON’T READ AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN EPISODE 1 YET.
“We are done with all this supernatural shit!”
Rejoice, for True Blood is back! Yes, I know there’s a glut of vampires infesting our TVs these days, but this overripe high camp gothic treat is one of the finest. I know many fans felt that its previous, fourth season had jumped the shark somewhat. The addition of ‘dark fairies’ felt like one supernatural creature too far in a show that already features vampires, werewolves, ghosts, witches, maenads, shapeshifters and werepanthers. And some felt that reincarnated witch Antonia and her possessee, failed modern witch Marnie, lacked the ‘bite’ of season three’s uber bad guy, deranged vampire king Russell Edgington.
But I enjoyed season four personally. It did take a while to get going – this show’s seasons usually do. But once it did, I thought it worked at what True Blood does best – massively overdramatic, debauched OTT tales of the supernatural, liberally drenched with gore and sex. This is a show that doesn’t know the meaning of the word restraint, and last year gave us some great storylines, including an amnesiac Eric Northman falling for Sookie, Lafayette killing his boyfriend while possessed, and of course Antonia/Marnie’s threat of a vampire Holocaust.
In its normal full throttle style, the show ended its fourth season with a veritable orgy of cliffhangers, and this premiere of season five has its work cut out in addressing them all. The result is an episode that entertains but never really thrills, satisfies rather than grabs you by the throat as some season premieres strive to do. But then, True Blood premieres are usually like that; stuffed so full of new plotlines, creatures and tensions that it takes several episodes for it to settle down into a coherent story. In that, this year’s season opener is no different.
It starts not just where we left off last time, but a little before, as we see again the climactic shooting of Sookie’s best friend Tara, this time with other perspectives thrown in. Bill and Eric are busy cleaning up the mess left behind by their assassination of vampire Authority PR queen Nan Flanagan; as Bill chats on the phone to his vampire ‘daughter’ Jessica, Eric is comically doing a hyper-fast Superman turn behind him, mopping up the blood and slime left from Nan’s long overdue demise. Both sense trouble over at Sookie’s, but since they’ve both just had their advances rebuffed, they do nothing about it. “Fuck Sookie,” is Eric’s growled comment; can we hear denial, boys and girls?
We also get to hear the shooting from Lafayette’s perspective. As Tara’s brother, and already wracked with guilt for having stabbed his boyfriend Jesus while possessed, Lafayette is not having a good time this year, and it’s only five minutes in. No surprise then that when Eric’s marvellously bitchy paramour Pam turns up looking for him, it’s a tearful Lafayette who begs her to turn Tara into a vampire rather than let her die.
Elsewhere, Jason Stackhouse had just opened the door to a foe from two seasons ago, anti-vampire fundamentalist minister Rev Steve Newlin – who’s turned into a vampire himself! Shapeshifter Sam had found himself surrounded by the vengeance-hungry werewolf pack of nasty old Marcus Bozeman, killed by the hunky Alcide Herveaux, whose trashy girlfriend Debbie had been the one to shoot Tara, while aiming for Sookie, then ended up shot herself – by Sookie. A mysterious army buddy of Terry Bellefleur had turned up after dire warnings from the ghost of season one’s serial killer Rene. The enigmatic vampire Authority have it in for Bill and Eric, hence their staking of Nan who’d been sent to deliver them to the true death. Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, somebody’s only gone and dug up the silver-restrained, concrete-encased Russell Edgington. Got all that?
As you can imagine, it’s a tall order to try and deal with so much convoluted, overheated supernatural soap in one episode and still set up new plotlines for the upcoming season, but this has a go. It mostly succeeds, but has its hands too full to truly grab you. And I always think it’s a bit of a warning sign when a show starts to trade in on its own past glories by bringing back fan favourites of yesteryear – counting Rene’s ghost from the season finale, that’s three major Big Bads from previous seasons hanging around Bon Temps now. Perhaps they’ll all have to share a lair.
And with all that going on, the episode still finds time to introduce a few new characters, who look like they’re going to be important. Bill and Eric blow their way out of the Authority car trunk, only to discover that the Authority representative (Lucy Griffiths, Maid Marian out of Robin Hood) is on their side. And she’s someone Eric knows well enough to fall straight into a passionate kiss – his sister! Don’t worry, it’s not shades of the disturbing relationship between Luke and Leia; she’s only his sister in the sense that both were turned by Godric. That’s all right then, Eric can get on with shagging her wildly in a cargo container. Which is fine by me, as any excuse for Alexander Skarsgard to get his clothes off is always good.
Ryan Kwanten too got naked – in fact he started out that way, peering nervously round his door at the grinning vampire-Steve. It was one of the funnier scenes as Steve glamoured his way in, then confessed to a tied-up Jason that he’d always loved him (surprising absolutely nobody). Jason, not usually the smartest cookie, actually dealt with that quite sensitively – he’s flattered, but… Unfortunately, the “just friends” gambit doesn’t usually work, particularly with a lovelorn Christian vampire who’s just come out of the closet. Lucky for Jason, he’s still getting it on with Jessica (much to Hoyt’s displeasure), and she turns up in the nick of time to fend off the less experienced vampire. Then disrobes to reveal some sexy undies to the (still naked) Jason. Yep, True Blood is still that kind of show.
Sookie, meanwhile, found herself with corpses to dispose of – Tara is duly buried to await the results of Pam’s vampirising, but Alcide’s girlfriend Debbie is still cluttering up the kitchen. You’d think the logical thing to do would be to let the cops deal with it – open and shut case of self defence, eh? But Sookie, ever honest, can’t help confessing that she killed Debbie not because she had to, but because she wanted to. Time to get out the shovels again then.
And there’s still the corpse of Lafayette’s boyfriend Jesus to deal with, last seen tied to a chair in Lafayette’s living room. But when they get there, his corpse (and the chair) have mysteriously vanished. Has he, like his namesake, risen again? In this show, I wouldn’t be at all surprised – death isn’t usually a bar to your character reappearing. It also means there’s no need to worry the police about that corpse either.
Which is lucky, because right now it seems like Jason Stackhouse is the brains of Bon Temps’ police department, which is saying something. Sheriff Andy Bellefleur, now over his V addiction, is discovered sleeping with witchy waitress Holly – by her two teenage sons armed with guns, no less. As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, he’s prone to corruption by the shifty local judge, who wants his son’s speeding ticket “forgotten about”. I’d be seriously worried if I ever had to depend on the Bon Temps police department for any actual law enforcement.
After an awkward visit with Sookie (in which she almost mentions killing his girlfriend but thinks better of it), Alcide was off to stop Sam taking the rap for killing werewolf pack leader Marcus. Basically, Sam and Alcide seem to be having a competition as to which can be the more noble and self-sacrificing. It helps that they’re both pretty easy on the eye; I wouldn’t normally go for one as buff as Alcide’s Joe Manganiello, but he’s got something. And Sam’s always been hot, in a kind of unreconstructed, gentleman cowboy way.
There’s weird stuff going on at the house of Terry Bellefleur and Arlene (well, when isn’t there?) For reasons, presumably, of loyalty to a fellow marine, Terry’s let creepy fellow Iraq vet Patrick stay as a house guest. But Patrick seems oddly interested in talk of their recent fire, having noticed that several of their old platoon buddies have died in similar fires.
Terry, the only man who can make post traumatic stress disorder genuinely funny, tries to tell him that this fire was nothing to worry about – it was just caused by a ghost who turned out to be ok after all when she was listened to. Even so, it looks like someone’s offing members of Terry and Patrick’s old unit. Could one of them be next? Could one of them (well, Patrick, probably) actually be behind it? There’s at least one new plotline to be going on with…
There’s shenanigans aplenty with Marcus’ old pack too – looks like Alcide might end up pack leader by default. Which doesn’t please Marcus’ mother, who promptly turns into a wolf and starts eating her dead son’s intestines. Like I say, that kind of show. Bill and Eric seem not to have escaped the Authority after all (luckily for Eric, who would have struggled with the alias ‘Ike Applebaum’). And lastly, where is Russell Edgington? Everyone’s pretty worried by his disappearance, but he’s nowhere to be seen – yet. It looks like he’s being kept behind closed doors by an unidentified somebody, and occasionally fed (cue blood flying all over a door window).
Plenty to chew on then – in fact, maybe more than you can chew if you were lumbered with writing the script for this and trying to cram all that in. Still, it was entertaining enough, in its usual madly over the top way, and filled with the requisite amounts of eye candy (whichever gender you like), gore and overheated Gothic Southern dialogue. I must admit, I’m a little trepidatious about the show repeating itself if Russell is again going to be the Big Bad; it feels like when Being Human brought back similar king vampire Herrick after a season’s absence. But Being Human cleverly subverted it by having him acting (initially) like a new ‘man’. With what seems to be a feral Russell in the thrall of someone as yet unknown, he may not be this year’s Big Bad after all. Like I say, True Blood has always started in a fever of twisting storylines, but usually comes into focus by about episode three or four. On the (still fun) evidence we had here, it’s business as usual.