True Blood: Season 6, Episode 1–Who Are You, Really?

“Whatever that thing is, it’s not Bill.”

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So, True Blood is back, after a rather disappointing season finale last year that failed to provide a resolution for most of the mysteries set up by season 5. It’s now de rigeur for every TV show to end its seasons on a cliffhanger, but True Blood’s previous form has been to wrap up the year’s storylines before introducing a new shock element to lead into the next. Season 5, for the first time, left viewers with very few answers to the questions posed throughout the year, and failed to really provide a satisfying ending to a season that had been rather disappointing overall.

Continue reading “True Blood: Season 6, Episode 1–Who Are You, Really?”

True Blood: Season 5, Episode 12–Save Yourself

“One of the worst things about being immortal is watching this same scenario happen over and over.”

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Well, that was… interesting. As season finales go, the end of this year’s True Blood felt like a mix of good, bad and indifferent, in an episode that had a lot of entertainment but seemed rather lacking in a balanced dramatic structure. Sure, there was plenty of excitement, but it was unevenly punctuated by lengthy humorous scenes that, while good in themselves, felt like they’d strayed in from another episode where the resolution of the plot wasn’t so urgent.

Not that the (main) plot was resolved, which is something new for this show. True Blood has always ended its seasons on cliffhangers, but they usually presage an entirely new plot for the next year, after the current year’s main plot has been nicely tied up. This time, we got an excellent cliffhanger with Bill’s apparent transformation into a malevolent vampire god – but as a result, the whole running plot about the Authority’s takeover by the Sanguinista cult was never properly concluded.

And the episode seemed to somewhat abandon the seemingly impending civil war between vampires and humans that would logically have been provoked by Eric’s murder of General Cavanaugh last week. True, there was some lip service paid to this, with Sookie’s remark about the current climate of fear towards vampires, along with the Generals’ threatened release of footage of Russell and Steve killing 22 frat boys. But that was about it, and all hell singularly failed to break loose in the way I’d been rather expecting/hoping for.

It was far from the only plot thread that seemed to have been forgotten about almost entirely, though at least it had the excuse that it will presumably be resolved next season. Other things were rather harder to forgive even with this as a potential excuse. Sookie and Jason have spent half the season agonising over the deaths of their parents at the hands of the mysterious ‘Warlow’, and it would have seemed logical to have at least some payoff about this in the season finale. But no, their investigation was abandoned so entirely that it wasn’t even mentioned, despite Jason’s newfound visions of his dead parents egging him on to hate vampires. I know there was more urgent stuff going on, but surely either Jason or Sookie would have at least mentioned their ongoing quest, if only to say, “well, there’s more urgent stuff going on right now”.

It also smacked of a lack of dramatic balance that, after last week’s cliffhanger,  Russell was dealt with so quickly, easily and terminally. As I said last week, great though he is as a character, Russell really did need to be decisively killed off to stop the show repeating itself (more than it already has, anyway). But I wasn’t expecting it to happen in the first few minutes of the episode, and by such a peremptory method as a quick staking from Eric. A villain as charismatic as Russell really deserved a better sendoff. As a result, we were also deprived of what had looked like an epic battle between the deranged vampire and the fairies, which felt like a shame.

Still, if Russell’s death felt like a rushed anticlimax, at least our heroes’ raid on Authority HQ dealt out some cool, blood-drenched action. Sookie and Jason joined forces with Eric, Nora and Tara to stage a proper commando raid, armed to the fangs with stakes, wooden bullets and crossbows. That a small group of rebels should get in so easily and slaughter what seemed like the entire vamp population made the lauded Authority security seem surprisingly ineffective after its appearance of hyper efficiency earlier on in the season.

To be fair, Bill had been lambasting them for this earlier in the episode, after it became clear that they’d failed to notice the infiltration of two shapeshifters into their larder. Nonetheless, the ease with which our gang turned pretty much the entire security force into puddles of red goo did tend to make you think that they must have been pretty crap vamps. And it rather undercut the fear/respect Bill and Eric had been according them early on in the season, that not only could Eric polish half of them off in an eyeblink, but they can’t even defend themselves against the awesome might of Jason Stackhouse.

Still, it was fun watching pretty much the entire Authority being reduced to puddles of goo in various inventive ways. Aside from our heroes’ commando raid, probably the most fun was the unfortunate demise of Chancellor Rosalyn, literally exploding from within as Sam transformed from a fly back to himself inside her. Gave a whole new meaning to the old song about an old lady who swallowed a fly…

That scene, with Luna exercising her newfound powers to transform into a replica of Steve Newlin, was kind of fun, but I’d already worked out that it was one of the shapeshifters impersonating Steve. Mind you, I’d guessed it was Sam rather than Luna, who must have also turned into a fly or similar to escape from the vamp larder, then dress in the good reverend’s clothes and reclaim her daughter. But it does beg the question of what happened to the real Newlin, last seen fleeing from the field where his lover had just been staked by Eric.

Bill’ s continuing machinations against Salome were also fun, but I had to wonder which part of Authority HQ that was occurring in, since they seemed fairly ignorant of the carnage being wrought outside. Still, I enjoyed the script again playing with our expectations of Bill, as he simperingly lied that Salome was his chosen leader. For a moment there, you thought he’d gone back to his old self and recognised some falsity in the ‘chosen one’ visions everyone had been having. But no, it turned out to be a scheme to get rid of his only remaining rival, by spiking what seemed to be Lilith’s blood with silver. So now Salome too is a puddle of goo,and Bill is free to be the ultimate leader. But leader of what, I wonder? By then end of this episode, he’s literally the only member of the Authority left.

Occasionally cutting into all this action was the oddly comic subplot of Andy Bellefleur’s fairy-related sexual misadventures. This culminated with his sometime fey lover Morella giving birth to baby after baby on the pool table of Merlotte’s, grudgingly assisted by his disapproving girlfriend Holly. It’s good that Holly and Andy have been given a bit more development this season, but was this really the time to have a comic interlude of fairy birth? It was fun, and made me smile more than once, but I was impatient to get back to Authority HQ and catch up on events there.

Which made it similarly frustrating that the script also chose this moment to return to the subplot dealing with the werewolf pack politics, which I’d thought pretty much dealt with. After all, with the death of Russell, surely it would be harder to get a hold of vampire blood to imbibe anyway?

But no, rascally old JD had been trapping vamps elsewhere, and force feeding V to his sometimes unwilling pack (not to mention forcing himself on some of the younger, more attractive females). Clearly Alice and his reluctant dad were going to have to put a stop to this, but with JD all V’d up, it seemed Alcide would have to fight fire with fire.

Again, this was well done, and good drama in its own right. But it felt inconsequential compared to the larger events going on elsewhere, and this felt like the wrong place for it to be. Still, Robert Patrick’s grizzled portrayal of Alcide’s cynical, broken father went some way to making up for its odd dramatic placement. Hopefully he’ll be back next year.

Along with, again hopefully, the answers to the questions I’d expected to find here. Were the visions of Lilith real? Last week I theorised they might have been Godric in disguise; I may have been wrong, but I still wouldn’t rule it out. How will the human/vampire tensions be reduced short of all out war? Who is/was Warlow? Why were the Authority troops suddenly so utterly incompetent they could have been recruited by Darth Vader?

Lots of questions, no answers. Don’t get me wrong, this was still entertaining. But as season finale its structure seemed all over the place, and the lack of resolution on so many important plot points was frustrating, even with the need for a cliffhanger to lead us into next year. I know a lot of fans have found this year’s season meandering and unfocused to the point of being hugely disappointing; personally, I’ve still enjoyed it even while recognising those flaws.

In one sense, it’s a shame that showrunner/creator Alan Ball is dropping out on a fairly unexceptional ending; but in another, we can hope that the new showrunner will inject some fresh blood into the show. This year, while still enjoyable, has had a real feeling of deja vu about it, with yet another attempt by vampires to take over the world, and the reappearance of fan favourite Russell Edgington. Perhaps next year, more intimate and innovative character-based arcs will help – it gets harder and harder for a show to keep topping its previous portrayals of near Armageddon. True Blood’s strength is its characters; I think that’s what it should be building on more than vague threats of a massive war.

True Blood: Season 5, Episode 11–Sunset

“Jason and Sookie and the inhabitants of Bon Temps are no longer our concern. They are food, nothing more.”

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With the end almost in sight, the few remaining separate plot strands of True Blood’s fifth season have finally intersected, losing that rather meandering feel it’s had a lot of the time this year. With the vampire Authority’s newfound religious fervour now impacting on all walks of society, it could hardly have been otherwise. But more specifically, the only other major plot thread that had remained separate – the Bon Temps fairies and Sookie’s quest for the answers about her parents’ death – is now directly linked to the vampire plotline, as the deranged Russell Edgington is on a determined quest for some fairy blood to enable him to walk in daylight.

This was a fast-moving episode, as plot twist followed plot twist. I’m going to have to swallow my earlier scepticism about Bill’s religious conversion – it seems he really is a true believer. Pam provided something of an explanation for this, as “nesting behaviour”. Apparently when vampires live together and feed together in a nest , they lose their ‘humanity’ becoming something altogether more monstrous and cruel. The explanation, if a little convenient, was necessary, as Bill’s current behaviour seems to fly in the face of what has previously been established about his character. Then again, the Sanguinistas qualify as a cult – and cults have ways of persuading their believers. Bill’s enforced isolation in the Authority’s underground HQ, and the narcotic effects of Lilith’s blood, certainly seem reminiscent of some cults’ brainwashing techniques.

Anyway, enough of making excuses for Bill. Thankfully, Eric really was feigning his ‘blinding light on the road to Damascus’ moment, and what’s more, the vision of Godric has finally persuaded Nora that she’s on the wrong path too. Luckily for them, the Authority think they’re both true believers, enabling them to leave the underground base after Eric’s seemingly reckless murder of a senior Army General. Once out, ostensibly on a quest to clean the trail that led from that murder to the Authority, they were free to messily slaughter the Authority’s handlers/bodyguards and disappear into the night, in a scene nicely underscored with Mozart’s Requiem.

The appearance of General Cavanaugh nicely filled in some backstory gaps about the whole ‘going public’ thing that vampires have done in the True Blood universe. It seems that the Authority have been negotiating with human authorities for decades, with former head honcho Roman having given assurances directly to the president of the US about future vampire behaviour. This makes sense – for such a seismic social event as revealing the existence of supernatural beings to the human world, a fair amount of groundwork would have to be laid.

That the General now feels the need to personally visit the Authority (a pretty bad idea, as it turned out) is because the human governments know that they’re behind the bombing of the Tru Blood factories, and the resultant shift back to vampires hunting humans. And as I’d theorised previously, the humans are more than prepared for such an eventuality. Not that Cavanaugh’s threats of new weapons and using footage of Russell and Steve to turn the public against vampires did him personally much good. At first glance, Eric breaking his neck looked like a damn silly thing to do, given that it was pretty much the first shot in an official war. But then, the war was on its way anyway, and Eric’s just hastened the endgame. Plus, it gave him the aforementioned opportunity to finally slip the Authority’s clutches and work against them.

This may prove less difficult than it first seemed, as cracks are starting to appear in the unity of the Sanguinistas’ religious devotion. Not only has Russell turned heretic and fled the nest, now various different Chancellors (firstly Bill) are being plagued by visions of Lilith herself, telling them that she’s chosen each to be the one true Leader, and that he/she should consume all that is left of her blood.

This is plainly not going to end well. Bill has already beheaded one rival, and perhaps the realisation that he’s not the only one to have such visions might finally break the spell that vampire religion has him under. But it also makes one wonder why Lilith would act so counter-productively to her own revolution. We’re still not sure if the ‘visions’ of her are any more than just hallucinations induced by the narcotic effects of her powerful blood. But if they are more than that, and given that the disunity and potential exhaustion of her last remaining blood seem sure to pretty much destroy the new fundamentalist Authority, I’m betting that these ‘visions’ aren’t Lilith at all. In fact, I’m wondering if next week will see the revelation that it’s actually Godric under the skin of that bloodsoaked female form…

Meanwhile, other characters are being drawn into the Authority’s clutches, even as Eric and Nora finally break free. Sam and Luna are already in, having disguised themselves as mice to try and recover the kidnapped Emma. Unfortunately for them, just as they find her (while in their human form), Authority guards turn up and make the assumption that they’ve escaped from the larder. Sam makes the interesting choice to volunteer as Bill Compton’s lunch; perhaps he can succeed in talking some sense back into ol’ tall, dark and undead before it’s too late…

And on his way up, he bumps into Pam, being hustled into a cell for the murder of irritating goth vampire Elijah. Pam’s taken the fall for Tara here, and again we see that beneath the snarky, bitchy exterior is someone who does have loyalty to her friends – even if she won’t ever admit she has any. I’ve enjoyed the way Pam’s been given so much screen time this year, and particularly loved her double act with Tara, whose vampirisation has given her previously tired character a new lease of life. Let’s hope that next week’s finale won’t be the end of her.

Or indeed of Jason, having served as bait in a trap set by the fairies for Russell Edgington. Having evaded Jessica’s faux-attempt to vampirise him (with her sly help), he now knows the deal with the Authority, and what Russell’s planning. Unfortunately for Sookie, his revelation of the news served to prematurely cut short her meeting with the fairy elder who seems to know the truth about the mysterious ‘Warlow’.

The elder was marvellously cryptic, existing on a “different plane” due to her immense age. In practice, this meant that she constantly danced around while frequently diverting the topic of conversation to whether Sookie liked various pop acts, including Kesha, Boyz II Men and John Mellencamp. Her erratic weirdness was nicely reminiscent of characters such as Delirium from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, although weird and cryptic beings of supernatural power are hardly a new idea.

Nevertheless, she was fun, so it’s a shame that Russell, having glamoured Jason into taking him and Steve to the fairy field, despatched her so quickly. Or did he? I wonder if it’s all part of her plan, and her apparent death will serve some suitably cryptic purpose of which Sookie and the other fairies are not yet aware.

They’d better hope so, because Russell, chock full of fairy blood, can now see their refuge and it’s a fair bet that he can get in too. Denis O’Hare’s performance as Russell this week was as marvellously full-throated OTT as ever – an actor who’s capable of subtlety elsewhere, he’s sensibly discarded it for the grand guignol excesses of this show. But having served as major villain twice over now, it would seems sensible for him to be properly killed off next week, lest the show become repetitive in its choice of opponents as so many long-running comic series do.

This penultimate episode had the feeling of a chess match, as the showrunner moved the various pieces into the necessary places for next week’s endgame. For me, that’s a better choice than last year, when all the plots seemed concluded in the penultimate episode and the finale served as a kind of epilogue. I’m expecting some serious action next week, as creator Alan Ball finally bows out as showrunner – let’s hope he goes out on a high.

True Blood: Season 5, Episode 10–Gone, Gone, Gone

“You are destroying the world on the basis of a book that’s thousands of years old. You call that evolved?”

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The multifarious plots that have made up this year’s season of True Blood having mostly been resolved or incorporated last week, the season has finally come to a sharp focus on one major plotline amid the soap. The religious fundamentalist takeover of the vampire Authority by Salome and her devout followers is now threatening the uneasy coexistence between vampires and humans, as all Tru Blood factories are now out of action and the starving vampires of the world begin to turn on humans as the nearest food source.

Battle lines are being drawn, with Bud Dearborne’s now defunct hate group looking like just the first of many, while supernaturals, threatened with a human vendetta, draw closer together in opposition to the ‘normals’. But Salome’s religious revolution is already starting to crack, as such revolutions often do, with dissent in her ranks as to how seriously to take the vampire Bible.

That this plot has come to be the most prominent is hardly a surprise, even though (as I’ve often remarked) the idea of vampires deciding to conquer the world is pretty hackneyed now. Blade did it, Being Human did it (twice), and even True Blood itself did it earlier, with Russell Edgington’s frenzied rampage in season three.  That Russell is once more instrumental in this reheated plot might somewhat smack of running out of ideas.

But to be fair, there may be a limit to how much you can do with True Blood’s premise, that of vampires “coming out of the coffin” and trying to integrate into human society. The old ‘faction that wants to go back to the good old days of hunting’ plot is pretty much the biggest threat you can have, short of a full scale war which might be spectacular but would lack the depth we have in the machinations of those trying to provoke or avoid just that situation.

What’s made this particular take on the situation interesting is the religious fundamentalist angle. There’ve been snarky little barbs at religion throughout this season, and it’s hard not to see the vampires’ sudden piety as a comment on all fundamentalists, particularly in a year when a Christian-dominated hard-right Republican party is facing up to the polls with a similar religious devotion. The show’s dealt more directly with that kind of thing before, with season two’s Fellowship of the Sun, but this seems more subtle and, as a result, more applicable to fundamentalists of all stripes. It can surely be no coincidence that the opponents of the Lilith cult this week kept referring to “evolution”, and how the religion was holding vampires back.

Having dealt with the vengeful Ifrit, Lafayette’s brujo demon, and the Obama-masked hate group already, this week mainly concerned itself with the vampire religious conspiracy and Sookie’s continuing search for her parents’ murderer. Without having to juggle so many plots, and with a couple of episodes yet to go, that meant that this week could afford to breathe a little with regard to the characters. Hoyt particularly got what seemed a proper end to his torment, and some lengthy scenes resolved his conflicts with his mother, Jessica and Jason.

The scene in Merlotte’s Bar, mostly a three hander with Hoyt, Jessica and Jason, was actually genuinely tearjerking. Kudos to Jim Parrack, Ryan Kwanten and particularly Deborah Ann Woll as Jessica, who conveyed genuine sorrow as the camera lingered intensely on her in close up. Having in short order split up with the love of his life, found said love in the arms of his best friend, and been suborned into a psychotic hate group, Hoyt’s finally had enough of life in Bon Temps (understandably, as the writers seem intent on making him have as horrible a time as possible). So he’s off to work on an oil rig in Alaska. But before he goes, he wants to say goodbye to Jessica and Jason, then have Jessica cure his torment as only a vampire can – to glamour him into forgetting he’d ever known either of them.

It’s sad that Hoyt chooses to bury his pain rather than deal with it, but honestly, mightn’t we all do that, given the chance? Jess’s glamour must be pretty powerful though, for him to ignore the holes it would leave in his memory, holes that not even the unconvinced Jason can poke through, pulling Hoyt’s truck over in his cop guise as a last desperate attempt to get his best friend to change his mind. To no avail; Hoyt remembers his sister, but not him. So it looks like he’s really gone. But hey, this is True Blood, and not even death is a barrier to coming back, so who knows?

Case in point – Godric popped up again, as Nora and the apparently converted Bill made an attempt to convert Eric with a few drops of Lilith’s powerful blood. Nora joined him in partaking, and was pretty surprised to see not the expected vision of Lilith, but her calm-as-ever maker, to whom Eric appealed for help. But Godric demurred at fighting the vision of Lilith that appeared behind him; “it’s not me that needs to fight her”. At which point she ripped his throat out rather graphically, covering herself once again in blood. Still, Godric’s already been disintegrated by sunlight in season two, so I wouldn’t rule out seeing the enticing Allan Hyde again.

As a result of all this, it looks like Eric really is converted, along with Bill. This led to a very tense scene in which he tried to bury the hatchet with a suspicious Russell. Is Russell right to be suspicious? Eric’s slippery, to be sure, but it seems out of character for him to be able to fake quite such submissiveness. There again, I’m still not entirely sure that Bill is a true convert. These are the heroes of the show, and it’s not unnatural to suspect that, if they go over to the villains’ side, they’re probably faking it.

Russell himself has had enough of faking it though. After a quick meal from a local frathouse (Russell and Steve seem to be the only vampires to have left the Authority bunker in weeks), he’s ready for the next phase of his plan – obtain some fairy blood (from the obvious source) to complete the vampires’ conquest by walking in daylight unharmed. Trouble is, that’s expressly against Salome’s interpretation of the vampire Bible.

Too bad for her. As I mentioned many weeks ago, it looks like Russell’s far from a true believer, it’s just that his aims happen to partially coincide with the fundamentalists. I never thought they’d be able to control him, and now they’ve reached an uncompromisable disagreement, it looks like I was right. Abandoning that louche Southern accent for his (presumably original) Germanic inflection, Russell took to the table to roar defiance at his former cohorts before lighting out for the wider world. Sookie should look out.

As if to underline this, she had to deal with the newly vampirised county coroner as early as the pre-credit teaser. Star Trek alumnus John Billingsley has been fun as Mike Spencer over the years, always lending the role a faintly creepy, unwholesome air, and he’ll be missed now that Sookie’s turned him into mush with the aid of a pair of chopsticks. His interest in Sookie had been hinted at earlier, and it was nice to see it finally followed up on – in a pretty terminal sort of way. As a vampire, he didn’t just fancy her, he found all that fairy blood wonderfully intoxicating.

And it was with the fairies that Sookie was mostly concerned this week, the last plotline that has yet to be resolved or intersect with the Authority story. With the discovery of a mysterious scroll in a hole under her gran’s bed (Jason’s investigative experience seems finally to be paying off for him), the Stackhouse siblings were back on the trail of the enigmatic ‘Warlow’, the vampire responsible for their parents’ death.

Discovering that the weird glyphs on the scroll were in “no human language”, it was time for a quick visit to fairyland and a chat with the ever-obliging (and pleasantly open-shirted) Claude. Turns out the scroll is a some kind of deal done with Warlow, by which the first fey Stackhouse daughter is his by right. Meaning, of course, Sookie. The scroll dates from 1702, so that rules out Bill being Warlow, but not Eric. However, with Russell presumably now on the way, my money’s on it being him. It’ll certainly be an anticlimax if it’s a vampire we’ve never seen before.

So, it looks like everything’s finally coming together. Elsewhere, Sam and Luna, apparently aware of Steve Newlin’s new ‘pet’ (ie little Emma), have stowed away in the good reverend’s bag as mice, and are now running the halls of the Authority. New favourite double act Pam and Tara have put themselves on the bad side of the newly theocratic Authority by staking the odious goth Elijah, installed as Eric’s replacement. Since staking other vampires seems to be a no-no generally, this will not make them popular.

Only two more episodes to go then, and this felt like the calm before the storm with all its character development and long, introspective scenes. It’s taken a long time for True Blood to settle into some kind of focus this year, and I can understand some people’s objections to that; at times, it’s seemed almost wantonly rambling. But for me, the strength of the characters, both in writing and acting, have kept it consistently entertaining even when we didn’t know which plotline to look at first. Let’s see what the season’s climax will bring…

True Blood: Season 5, Episode 8–Somebody That I Used to Know

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 8 YET.

“Praise Lilith! Praise Jesus! Praise Moses’ cock, I am born again!”

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It was another ladle of torrid supernatural stew in the overseasoned mix of this week’s True Blood, still frantically juggling its excess of plots with surprising aplomb. The coup within the vampire Authority was less prevalent this week (although still hanging heavy over the show) and with good reason – this episode is the first to be directed by Stephen Moyer himself. Consequently, it was fairly light on the presence of Bill Compton; but when he did show up, it was for Very Important Plot Points.

After his vision of Godric last week, Eric was the first to sober up from the heady brew of Lilith-blood, recognising that he was high as a kite, and he managed to talk Bill down too – or so it seemed. Salome’s plainly eager to get back to the old ways as soon as possible, and had Steve Newlin go out and round up some unwilling human victims. But when she offered a pleading young mother to Bill for for lunch, he was less than keen. His avowal that he would not deprive a human child of its parent was obviously rooted in his own experience, but in case we missed that, we got an interesting flashback to him visiting his daughter’s deathbed in 1910.

But did the memory of his daughter’s unsuccessful pleas to be turned change his mind? It didn’t seem so at first, but the script sprung a surprise on us (and Eric) at the very end, as Bill was the one to propose the cleverest solution to converting mainstreaming vampires – destroy the source of Tru Blood itself, forcing them to feed on humans or starve. It’s an audacious plan that would likely work, hence our surprise at Bill after his generally humanitarian views up till now. Is he faking it? If so, he’s taking Eric in too – and he’s given the Sangunistas a genuinely good strategy that they hadn’t thought of themselves. It’s a measure of how successful the show is at balancing its vampires between sympathetic and genuinely threatening that I’m still wondering.

So once again, it seems that Eric Northman could be humanity’s only hope. Still, even I could tell that his attempt to reason with Nora on behalf of the spectral Godric was hardly likely to work. Religious fanatics tend to be deaf to actual reason, particularly when it conflicts with their deeply held beliefs, and so Nora proved, declaring the repentant Godric in his final days a “perversion”. The apparent tears in Alexander Skarsgard’s eyes were a nice touch – but then again, I thought vampires only cried blood?

The vampire storyline was mostly on hold this week, mainly dealt with at the beginning and end of the episode. Even Russell was comparatively subdued (well, as subdued as Denis O’Hare can be giving that performance). He seems to have taken up with the newly vamp/gay/comic relief Steve Newlin, which is fun, though I can’t see it ending well for either of them!

With the vamps in the background, we got a lot more concentration on some other plots that had been growing in importance. The hate group/lynch mob that Hoyt had fallen in with got a lot of mileage this week, as, predictably, they’d kidnapped Jessica as a little treat for him, the intent that he could kill her himself. Again, the script toyed with our expectations – surely Hoyt’s bitterness is only surface deep, and he wouldn’t kill his ex in cold blood (so to speak)? Actually I had some genuine doubts about that, particularly now we know that the otherwise sympathetic Terry Bellefleur is actually a war criminal.

But no, Hoyt couldn’t kill Jessica, even if he couldn’t forgive her either. One of the key themes this week was that of former friends/lovers/siblings finding themselves irrevocably separated by life changes, and here that was underlined by a quite sad little conversation between Hoyt and Jessica about how they’d drifted apart. It neatly echoed Eric and Nora’s argument, too.

Sam and Sheriff Andy were closing in on the hate mob from another direction, as Sam intimidated their unrepentant and uncooperative captive with the neat trick of turning into a cobra. But Sam was in for a shock of his own, as the hospitalised Luna, under heavy stress, had shifted into the shape of none other than – Sam Merlotte! Cue, the increasingly sour disbelief of the Sheriff – “I hate this goddamn town”. No wonder his predecessor retired.

We know from last year how dangerous it can be for a shape shifter to imitate another actual person, but the seriousness was mixed with humour here. Sam Trammell’s idea of playing a woman playing Sam Merlotte wasn’t particularly subtle, but his slightly camp femininity was certainly good for a laugh. As was his mopping Luna/Sam’s fevered brow while admitting, “you’re very handsome”. Sweetly, it was his kiss that brought her back to herself; but I wonder whether more will be made of this incident or if it will simply be one more thing to come back to in later years?

It looks like Lafayette’s brujo problem may be over – certainly he’s got away from Don Bartolo, with the murderous assistance of his angry wife. This left Jesus free to spectrally appear in Lafayette’s car (now an elderly Volvo Amazon – I wonder what happened to the Mercedes?). It was a nice directorial touch from Moyer to keep Jesus slightly out of focus in every shot, emphasising his nebulous reality.

But Lafayette still has problems, as Arlene and Holly have roped him in to help with Terry’s problems in his capacity as a medium. Fed up, he’s started charging for these services – well, so would I. But it’s another hair-raising seance (except for Lafayette, who doesn’t have any hair) as the murdered Iraqi woman Zafira makes an appearance, and boy, is she pissed. Turns out she will lift the curse – providing Terry kills Patrick. Or vice versa. Either way, one’s got to kill the other. Cue Patrick doing a runner – but I wonder if the show will have the balls to make Terry go through with this. Certainly won’t help with his PTSD, that’s for sure…

The Shreveport werewolves popped up to finally have that duel between buff, heroic Alcide and disreputable, V-addicted JD. After a particularly raunchy sex scene between Alcide and his hot young female trainer (which had me straining at the screen trying to see the details of Joe Manganiello’s brief, out-of-focus full frontal), the challenge was on. With the added spice of having to hunt a terrified college runner to the death. Alcide being the heroic type, he dropped out rather than try that, but fought JD anyway. He was about to have his head stove in when Martha turned up to give JD a damn good bollocking. I guess if the mythos is following genuine wolf behaviour, only a male can be pack leader. And yet Martha is so obviously the best candidate that perhaps we’re about to see a werewolf feminist revolution.

Tara was having problems with asshole customers, as a racist high school acquaintance popped up in Fangtasia to insult her all over again, under the impression that customer service rules would prevent Tara from returning fire. For a while it looked that way, especially when Pam turned up to give her a scolding and offer the spoiled prom queen a drink on the house. I was particularly sympathetic, speaking as a former store clerk who never got backing from the management when it came to dealing with awkward customers. So it was a very pleasant surprise that Pam had captured the former prom queen to be Tara’s plaything and lunch. I guess Pam would be a pretty cool boss after all, though you wouldn’t cross her – “You don’t know me that well. My mad face and my happy face are the same.”

Sookie, persuaded by an unusually eloquent Jason not to blast away all her magic, was experimenting with new fairy powers (with a little help from the local fey gang). Turns out she can project herself into the past and inhabit her mother’s experiences, to try and solve her parents’ murder. Instead, much to Claude’s surprise, she managed to project herself into the vampire that killed them. He was wearing another of the show’s convenient hats to hide his identity, and I’d assumed that it would turn out to be either Bill, or, more likely, Eric. That would be the interesting, if a bit predictable, thing to do.

But no, turns out the attacker’s name is ‘Warlow’ – at least according to Claudine, who was seen blasting him with fairy magic in the past. Sookie’s new power has aftereffects though, as a spectral ‘Warlow’ materialised out of thin air to growl threats at her. Still couldn’t make out his face though, and I’m convinced that the name is fake and it’ll be a vampire we’ve seen before. Maybe not Bill or Eric, but if it’s someone previously unknown, that would be as much of a cheat as the solution to most Agatha Christie mysteries.

It was another fun episode, charged with the usual heady mix of violence, action and supernatural sexiness. Stephen Moyer did a perfectly good, and occasionally inspired job of directing, and I’m surprised he hasn’t tried it before; though I guess being one of the leads of the show is quite a heavy workload in itself! I know no other cast members are trying it, at least this year. With all these plots being given virtually equal weight this season, I doubt any of them would have the time.

True Blood: Season 5, Episode 7–In the Beginning

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 7 YET.

“I have been born again. Made again, in my new Maker’s image.”

TrueBloodRussell

After the glut of action last week, it was back mostly to intrigue and plotting in this week’s True Blood. Hardly a surprise, as the season’s only halfway through – I really don’t think they could have maintained (and stepped up) that level of madness for the next six episodes!

Foremost in the intrigue was the ongoing backstabbing in the vampire Authority. After his deliciously feral rampage last week, Russell Edgington was contained surprisingly easily by Authority security, though not before amusingly hanging Eric from a nearby pillar. Given the sheer power Russell had displayed and his apparent madness, it seemed odd that he should be so easily overpowered. But as usual, there was a reason. As speculated last week, the whole thing had been deliberately orchestrated by Salome as a kind of palace coup. With Roman out of the way, Salome was free to let her Sanguinista beliefs all hang out. Escorted to her chamber, Bill and Eric found her luxuriating in her newfound power, along with the now freed Nora. And – surprise, surprise – a newly contrite, ‘born again’ Russell.

I was as sceptical as Bill and Eric about Russell’s claim to have turned over a new leaf, but I needn’t have been. Whatever Russell’s true intentions, the Sanguinistas’ agenda of subjugating humanity is pretty much in line with what he’s always wanted anyway. As a consequence, we got to see Denis O’Hare back to his sinister, manipulative turn as the deceptively friendly Russell, all laid-back charm and convincing Southern manners. He’s still the best villain the show’s come up with, and it’s nice to be reminded that his evil encompasses far more than just unrestrained ferocity.

Russell may or may not be a believer in the Sanguinistas’ fundamentalist religious beliefs, but he’s certainly playing along convincingly enough. As Salome assembled what was left of the Council to commit the ultimate heresy of drinking Lilith’s long-preserved blood, Dieter was the only dissenter; and for his pains, he got a lightning fast decapitation at Russell’s hands. The Authority are falling like dominoes – Roman last week, and now Dieter. I shall miss actor Christopher Heyerdahl in the part; he does this sort of thing so well that he’s pretty much typecast (see also his bloody terrifying turn as the demon Alastair in Supernatural).

After that demonstration of the rewards dissenters can expect, it was no surprise that the remaining Council members were jumping over themselves to join Salome in her ‘heresy’. Of course, Bill and Eric aren’t ‘believers’, but don’t see the harm in playing along. After all, as Eric says, “it’s just vampire blood. What could happen?”

Quite a lot, as it turns out. As the mother of all vampires, Lilith’s blood plainly has quite a kick. Hence the immediate jump cut to the whole fang gang stumbling through the party thronged streets of New Orleans, plainly in a trippy/drunken state, and eager for confrontation with the ‘”cattle” of humanity. Russell seems to have found a new soulmate in ‘gay vampire American’ Steve Newlin, who admires his Blues Brothers-style disguise.

Bill and Eric were just as affected as the rest, joining in as they terrified an impatient cab driver who dared to sound his horn at them. The cabbie got off lightly though. In a darkly comic scene, the vampires showed up to slaughter a pretty nauseating wedding party at a nearby bar, their appearance heralded by Russell suddenly joining the bride in singing ‘You Light Up My Life’. Frankly, after that I’d have been tempted to slaughter them.

And it seems the slaughter has been capable of actually summoning up Lilith from beyond the grave, as she formed herself from a pool of blood and stepped out full-frontal nude to join her subjects. It wasn’t clear whether this was real, or a hallucination brought on by her powerful blood. But Eric had a different vision, as a spectral Godric popped up to tell him that what was happening was wrong. It seems ironic that Eric, previously shown as pretty amoral, is now becoming the conscience for other vampires. But it was nice to see Allan Hyde as Godric again; being as natively Swedish as Alexander Skarsgard meant that they could carry on a fluent conversation in that language.

So, perhaps unexpectedly, Eric’s conscience may be humanity’s only hope. It’s a measure of how well done True Blood is that I really don’t mind seeing the plot of vampires trying to subjugate humanity yet again – even this show has been there before, with Russell’s plans in the third season. Strategically though, it looks a bit dodgy. After all, humanity all know about vampires now, and they outnumber them millions to one. Surely even with their powers, those are odds the vampires can’t beat? Stay tuned, I guess, and we shall see…

If the Sangunistas’ plans seemed rather familiar, so too did one of this week’s other main narratives, as Hoyt became increasingly caught up with the gang of good ol’ boys going around shooting supernaturals while wearing Obama masks. They may be a bit more amateurish, but this surprisingly diverse hate group are basically a rerun of season two’s Christian hate group (and Steve Newlin’s old outfit) the Fellowship of the Sun.

Still, the show’s having some fun with them – they got some laugh out loud dialogue as Hoyt proclaimed “I’ve felt more love and affection in this hate group than I have anywhere else”, to which their leader passionately replied, “that’s right, hate groups are about so much more than just hate!” They may be pretty dense, and the dialogue may be pretty funny, but there’s a good underlying point there about the feeling of community and shared identity that presumably holds hate groups together. Perhaps it will be developed further in later episodes.

Sam and Sheriff Andy got their fair share of this plotline too, as they continued their investigation into the shooters. So we got treated to the spectacle of Sam writhing around sniffing at the floor to track them while a deputy looked on in some surprise, and Andy paying a visit to his crusty predecessor as Sheriff, Bud Dearborne, for a bit of professional reassurance. It was nice to see the ever excellent William Sanderson back for a cameo as Bud, who was none too sympathetic at being interrupted by Andy when he had a hot tub appointment with his fancy woman in his wife’s absence!

Lafayette’s brujo demon problem also got some prominence this week, as he travelled down to see Jesus’ uncle Don Bartolo, unsurprisingly the one behind the whole thing. As nasty as ever, Bartolo promptly clobbered Lafayette, sewed his lips shut and prepared to sacrifice him to retake the ‘magic’ that Jesus had given him. I expected Lafayette to be last minute saved by Jesus’ ghost, but in the event it was Don Bartolo’s abused wife who stepped up and stabbed him from behind. Like the Master said in Doctor Who after a similar plot development, “it’s always the women”. But are Lafayette’s problems over? Somehow, I rather doubt that…

There was also time to pay quick visits to some of the other plotlines, just to keep them bubbling along. Tara and Pam got one significant scene, as Tara’s reformed alcoholic Christian mom turned up at Fangtasia to disown her while she was pole dancing. A comforting chat with Pam showed how she’s mellowed as a character, despite trying to hide it; she now thinks of herself as Tara’s real mother. It was a nicely played little exchange, though I kept being distracted by Pam’s new frizzy hairstyle – I don’t like it. Nice to know I’m paying attention to the dramatic details that really matter.

After a scene of Arlene watching her and Terry’s wedding video (presumably a new recording, as it was clear this happened during Sookie’s absence in fairyland), we got to see a quick look at the man himself as he waited resignedly for death at the hands of the fiery Ifrit. But as it turns out, the Ifrit isn’t ready to kill him or Patrick – yet. It popped up, laughed at them, and buggered off. I’m guessing they’ve made a strategic miscalculation here – the curse was that “you and all you love will burn”. I think Arlene and the kids are probably next on the charbroiling list, and Terry had better get back to Bon Temps pronto.

And finally, Jason and Sookie were dealing with the revelations from their fairy cousins. Jason, trying to reconcile his friendship with Jessica with the newfound knowledge that vampires killed his parents, ended up in an almighty fight with her at Bill’s mansion. Only in True Blood could a domestic tiff end with one of the participants being shot in the head after having tried to drink the blood of the other, with both able to come back for round two at a later date!

Sookie, meanwhile, had been told by Claude (more of Claude, please) that, being only half-fairy, her magic was finite and could be exhausted. Leaving her, basically, as normal and human as anyone else (which isn’t many people in this show). It was an interesting dilemma, summed up in a conversation with Sam – if you’re in a minority group trying to fight prejudice from ‘normals’, would it count as giving up to simply succumb to the temptation to join their number?

Given the show’s recurring subtexts, it was hard not to see this as another comment on real life outsiders like homosexuals, particularly with the myriad, usually religiously-backed, ‘ex-gay’ therapies so common in the US. Sookie maintained that even as a ‘normal’ she could continue her fight against prejudice and injustice, but even so it was disappointing to see her decision to try and exhaust her fairy magic and give up her identity. Jason was rushing off to investigate, so perhaps he’ll talk her out of it…

It would be easy to criticise the show this season for a few things – primarily, redoing plots it seems to have done before, retreading past glories by bringing back previous villains, and cramming so many plots in that it’s hard to keep up with them. But True Blood does it all with such gusto that it’s still hugely enjoyable, a mad, OTT supernatural soap whose excesses are hard not to love. There may be little here that’s new, but I’m still enjoying it immensely.

True Blood: Season 5, Episode 6–Hopeless

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 6 YET.

“Maybe you’re ready to die. Maybe you’re bored after a thousand years. But you do not get to make that decision for me.”

TrueBloodRussellRoman

As I predicted last week, it was all action in this week’s ep of True Blood, as the multifarious plots careered forward at breakneck speed. Unlike, say, Game of Thrones, which rests some plotlines in most episodes, this one managed to squeeze pretty much every one in, while showrunner Alan Ball’s script, typically, still managed not to neglect the rich characters in the mix.

Sookie had her hands full dealing with two of the plotlines this week. First, we had to deal with her expedition to find the missing Russell Edgington, along with Bill, Eric and Alcide. In the deserted hospital last week, they’d found Russell seemingly laid out on a stretcher and barely capable of movement. Again as predicted, he was faking it, and mayhem soon ensued as his werewolf henchmen erupted from every available crevice.

As I’ve remarked before, Russell is probably the show’s most effective villain, due in large part to Denis O’Hare’s full throttle performance. Returned from the grave and plenty pissed, he didn’t hold back this week with the mania. After Alcide had seen off the werewolves, some taciturn Authority soldiers turned up to retrieve Russell, Bill and Eric, and Russell was set to stand trial at Authority HQ.

Sookie had already left, which was unfortunate as her fairy magic had once again been capable of blasting Russell off his feet. As is standard in this plotline (see Marvel’s The Avengers for a recent example) the Authority’s confidence that they could hold the deranged villain was entirely misplaced. Dragged in for execution, Russell revealed his true colours (as if he’d ever been hiding them) in an enraged tirade against both the Sanguinistas and the Authority, calling them both hypocrites for their differing fundamentalist views of a holy book he regards as nonsense.

Yet again, this is interesting stuff from a religious perspective, painting both factions as irreconcilable fundamentalists whose only difference is their interpretation of the vampire Bible. As almost every major religion is rent with sectarian conflict derived from such different interpretations, you couldn’t really look at it as just an attack on Christianity per se. And yet the universe of True Blood has rarely featured any other religion (Greek gods and Celtic faeries notwithstanding), so it’s hard to see it as anything else.

It looked like Russell was poised to be a Sanguinista martyr, regardless of his own views and much to the cellbound Nora’s apparent ecstasy. And yet when Roman used his phone to activate Russell’s iStake, things went tits up in a major way. Not only did it not work, but Russell was on the hunky Authority leader in a microsecond, gorily staking him. I shall miss Christopher Meloni as Roman, but this was not at all an unexpected turn of events. Nora may indeed be the Sanguinista fanatic she seems, but I think she and her movement are going to find out that Russell is far from the easily manipulated pawn they expected!

The only question we still haven’t had answered is that of who freed him in the first place. Given that it was her responsibility to fit Russell with that iStake that mysteriously failed to function, it looks like it could be Salome. But the delight of this show is that this kind of reveal at this point is almost certainly a red herring. Or is it a double bluff, and that’s what we’re meant to think?

Still, Russell’s back to cause havoc, which can only be a good thing for the fans, and we can expect more of him next week. Unaware of his rampage, Sookie had to deal first with Alcide’s apparent, sudden revulsion to her (a nice touch, as jealous old Eric had glamored him not to touch Sookie “like that”). Understandably vexed she went off on a rant at the bar about how much of a pain in the ass the men in her life were. As if to prove it, up popped Jason, to drag her off to the fairy nightclub in search of the truth about their parents’ death.

No surprise again that Sookie found the magic gate to the club in seconds, dragging Jason in behind her. The fairies, as ever, are all deceptively good looking, but in a very artificial, photoshopped-magazine way. Given that they apparently shape themselves to the onlooker’s conception of beauty, that’s an amusing comment on society’s unreal expectations of appearances these days. Unless, of course, the show’s casting people missed the irony…

Be that as it may, I’ve never cared much for artificially gym-buffed men with curiously hairless bodies, so it was a relief for me that Sookie’s required torrent of exposition was delivered by one much more to my taste. Claude (previously played by a different actor when he helped Sookie escape Queen Mab last year) is played by cute, slender Brit Giles Matthey, who we’d previously seen so intriguing Jessica a couple of episodes ago. I hope to see more of him (as it were) as the season progresses.

Together with Hadley, he revealed that these were a rogue sect of fairies hiding both from Mab and the vampires, and that a mysterious vampire had indeed lured the Stackhouse parents to their death in a flood all those years ago, drawn by the scent of Sookie’s blood in their car. As we didn’t see the vampire’s face, this is yet more intrigue, not to mention another burden of guilt for poor old Sookie, the unluckiest woman in Bon Temps.

Arlene wasn’t faring much better though. Terry and Patrick had fled the frankly terrifying Ifrit and returned to Bon Temps, only for Terry to finally explain the whole thing, including his part in what is, basically, a war crime. Of course, Arlene leapt to the conclusion that he was off his meds, and this was another manifestation of his PTSD, but Terry was adamant about not returning to their house and putting her and the kids in danger. So maybe Sookie has competition for that ‘unluckiest woman’ title; after all, Arlene has had her first husband turn out to be a serial killer, been haunted by a baby snatching ghost and had her house burned down already since the series began!

Terry’s cousin Sheriff Andy was meanwhile on the trail of the redneck shooters who’d been hunting shapeshifters (and it turned out, other supernaturals), with Sam as his ‘dogged’ assistant. Luna’s daughter, in wolf form, had fled the attack to her grandmother’s house, and it looks like this plot at least might be put to rest now; Martha seems happy to be involved in her granddaughter’s life without wanting to take her from her mother.

In an increasingly crowded season, putting one plot at least to bed has to be a good idea. But there’s still Marcus’ old pack to deal with; Alcide knows they were the ones helping Russell, and he’s out for blood in a duel with their nominal leader. Lafayette got to discuss his dead boyfriend’s spectral head apparition with his incarcerated mother (the excellent Alfre Woodard). And Tara, taking something of a back seat this week, is still smarting at Pam’s virtual enslavement of her. While Hoyt, desperate for anyone to suck his blood, can’t be convinced that Jessica doesn’t want him any more (and it looks like he’s right). Resorting to offering his throat to a scuzzy older guy vampire, he’s rudely interrupted by the mob of shooters, who seem to know who he is…

As I said, a heck of a lot going on this week, with the action slightly crowding out the ironic humour that’s often present in the show. The characters were far from neglected, but with so much going on, they didn’t really develop very much. Still, it’s hard to carp when the show is moving with this kind of breathless, riveting pace. We’re actually only halfway through the season, so I’m guessing the show’s going to have to take a breather at some point!