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 5 YET.
“I keep thinking that if I just made the right choice, the madness would end and life would go back to normal. But it won’t ever end, will it?”
Looks like episode 5 is the point where the steamy gumbo of True Blood finally starts to boil over, as plot setups finally give way to action, revelation and yet more twisty, turny backstabbing. All laced with a delicious soupcon of meta self-awareness, as several characters begin to mock the sheer supernatural insanity that makes up everyday life in Bon Temps.
The first of those, unsurprisingly, was Sookie Stackhouse. Having dragged Alcide to her bedroom then somewhat spoiled the moment by puking on his shoes, she couldn’t resist a good laugh as Bill and Eric turned up to dragoon her into the search for Russell. Her half-amused, half-weary resignation as she headed for the door, keen to get yet another supernatural civil war out of the way – “must be Thursday” – was pretty funny, if somewhat reminiscent of similar humour in the later seasons of Buffy.
I must say though, her ability to almost instantly sober up after having been, a few minutes before, so drunk that she couldn’t keep her stomach contents in, stretched plausibility. This is actually a pretty common trope in many thrillers, film and TV, supernatural and conventional. A key character will choose to drown his/her sorrows, getting completely blotto, at which point something vital to the plot will occur. Said character will then become instantly capable of action (perhaps with complaints of a headache to show that drunkenness wasn’t completely forgotten about). As opposed to most real people, who would stagger about, fall over, keep needing to urinate, and probably get killed.
Still, Sookie’s not real, and we’re not looking at gritty realism here (quite the reverse, if anything). And maybe being part-fairy gives her a pretty high tolerance for alcohol. So off she went with the bickering trio of lovelorn supernatural suitors, to use her mindreading ability to probe the glamoured memory of Alcide’s boss Doug, the only witness to Russell’s exhumation.
Her mind probe (“no, not the mind probe!”) instantly revealed that Russell had been dug up by a) a woman and b) a member of the Authority. Given the way previous episodes have shown the Authority to be a hotbed of subversion and religious sectarianism, this was hardly a surprise. But in order to maintain some level of suspense and uncertainty, the woman was conveniently wearing a face-shielding hat. So which is it? Nora? Salome? Rosalyn? Or perhaps someone we haven’t even seen yet?
Further mind probing led our bickering heroes to that old staple of the traditional horror tale – a scary, dark, abandoned hospital which they would have to explore by torchlight. Again, Sookie took the lead in pointing out that they were, basically, in a cliched B movie, and subverting that by saying that no way were they going to split up and investigate separately. And for that matter, that her ‘fairy magic’ was pretty much the only weapon in their arsenal that had previously been effective against Russell, so this time she was protecting them. The point was amusingly underlined as the hulking, bearded Doug, quivering in fear, clung desperately to Sookie’s mind reading hand for comfort.
Cliched or not, the exploration of the creepy hospital was as well done as any iteration of this trope. The usual suspects were present – sudden, jump-inducing rats; dismembered body parts; a ‘larder’ full of hanging, terrified victims-to-be. For Bill and Eric, the stakes (as it were) were raised by the revelation (from the Authority’s relentlessly chipper tech geek) that their iStakes would kill them at dawn if they hadn’t found Russell.
But find him they did, surprisingly quickly. I must admit, I’d half expected him to have been spirited away by his unseen Sanguinista sponsors; but no, there he was, looking deceptively frail and shrunken on a gurney. Great to see Denis O’Hare back, with his former louche Southern accent as Russell. And since this is only episode 5, I’m willing to bet that he’s not nearly so infirm as he seems – I’m expecting some serious trouble with him next week.
Also confronting the bizarre proliferation of ‘supes’ this week were the Bon Temps PD, in the dogged forms of Andy Bellefleur and Jason Stackhouse. Investigating the mysterious shooting of Sam’s shifter friends, Andy received the news that Sam was yet another supernatural creature with a kind of weary resignation. Poor old Andy, it must be starting to seem to him like there are barely any mundane humans in the town he’s responsible for policing.
It didn’t help when Jason explained the identity of those hosting the party they’d been so unceremoniously thrown out of last week. After some initial comic confusion about the word ‘fairy’, Andy just seemed to give in out of despair, asking Jason to just not mention it again. I don’t think that’s really going to help. But it is amusing that the show’s characters, in-universe, are starting to find the whole thing pretty implausible now, and it helps subvert similar criticisms from the audience. Of course, whether those criticisms are justified is an entirely subjective thing.
And as if to give the finger to those critics, we had yet another supernatural being introduced as Terry and Patrick were told the tale of what was really responsible for the recent deaths of their old army buddies in mysterious housefires. Turns out it wasn’t their hyper-paranoid comrade Eller after all – he was the only one to remember, through their stoned recollection of the massacre of Iraqi civilians, that they’d been cursed by a woman (shortly before Terry himself, shockingly, silenced her with a shot to the head). The purveyor of that curse (“you and all you love will burn”) has finally come Stateside; and in keeping with the style of the show, it’s not a vengeance-crazed jihadi or a traumatised GI. It’s an Ifrit, an ancient Arabic fire demon.
Nicely visualised as a Supernatural-style cloud of black smoke, embers glowing from within, the Ifrit showed up to off Eller now he’d served his function of telling the other characters what’s going on. Patrick, now revealed as the main culprit for the massacre, didn’t believe a word of it (what’s the betting he’s next?), but it rang all too true for Terry. Thing is, now he’s been shown as complicit in a war crime, how much will we now care if it comes for him? It’s a brave tactic to show a formerly sympathetic character in such a horrible light, one which, hopefully, might get viewers asking themselves a few questions about the US’s recent Arabic ‘adventures’.
Elsewhere, Lafayette is once again being seriously put through the wringer this season, understandably driven to near-distraction by his uncontrollable propensity to transform into a malicious Brujo-style demon at inconvenient moments. Unlike anyone else in the show, he’s told absolutely no-one about his troubles, which weren’t helped any by the not-entirely-unexpected reappearance of his dead boyfriend Jesus. Well, actually Jesus might have helped if it weren’t for the fact that he appeared as a gruesome severed head, trying unsuccessfully to speak through a sewn-up mouth. Luckily for Lafayette, help might just be at hand, as his mom too can see the apparition, and unlike him, she can understand what it’s trying to say…
And lastly, Tara, pressganged into bartending at Fangtasia, had a nice bit of bonding with Jessica as they discussed the tribulations of being a newly-made vampire, in a conversation freighted with the show’s frequent analogy between vampirism and homosexuality. “It gets better”, Jessica insisted, in case we missed the point.
This parallel is quite common in recent, liberal-leaning vampire tales – True Blood, with its ‘God Hates Fangs’ movement and ‘coming out of the coffin’ euphemism, is more overt than most. It’s an obvious comparison, you’d think – these vampires are (mostly) sympathetic characters struggling against mainstream society’s refusal to accept the ‘other’.
And yet it often disturbs me a little. As Tara and Jessica point out, vampires are consumed with a desire to rip apart all the humans around them, and their ability to restrain this urge is what makes them civilised. Taken to its logical extreme, the parallel would be that all homosexuals are filled with a near-uncontrollable urge to have sex with everyone of the same gender around them. The analogy is well-meaning, but speaking as a homosexual myself, I sometimes find that being compared to a species of genuinely dangerous predators makes me a little uncomfortable.
Still, Tara and Jessica’s newfound bond didn’t last long, as Tara took to feeding on newly-minted fangbanger Hoyt, and Jessica took exception to that. Their fight was nicely intercut in a montage narrated by a speech from Authority head honcho Roman that seemed to sum up the point the season has reached – and it’s a point of no return. From hereon in, expect the action to ramp up week by week!