True Blood: Season 5, Episode 5–Let’s Boot and Rally

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?”

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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!

True Blood: Season 5, Episode 4–We’ll Meet Again

SPOILER WARNING – THIS IS FROM LAST SUNDAY’S US BROADCAST, AND MAJOR PLOT POINTS ARE DISCUSSED. DON’T READ AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN EPISODE 4 YET.

“Oh yeah baby, you survive. You always do. But goddam, do you leave a trail of bodies behind. You know what, you the fuckin’ angel of death.”

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This week, True Blood was mainly beating Sookie Stackhouse with a big guilt stick.

I mean sure, there was as usual plenty going on. But more than usual, Sookie was being dragged into it to face the consequences of her actions. Consequences, as she was reminded by Lafayette, Tara, everyone in Merlotte’s (via their thoughts) and finally herself, that usually leave a lot of people dead.

The biggest problem (ie arrest and conviction) about Sookie’s ‘murder’ of vengeful, V-addicted werewolf Debbie may actually have gone away, thanks to the selfless actions of her friends. Alcide came clean with Debbie’s parents that she was dead, but then lied and blamed it on the now equally dead Marcus Bozeman. Having overheard Sookie’s tearful confession to her brother, ‘ace cop’ Jason Stackhouse of the Bon Temps PD, helpful vampire Jessica contrived to glamour Sheriff Andy into forgetting all about the case.

Still, even if the matter is all cleaned up for everyone else (and that’s by no means certain), it isn’t for Sookie. She’s always been portrayed as an oasis of almost impossible goodness in the steaming pit of iniquity that is Bon Temps, but she can’t escape the fact that, however good her intentions, they always leave a trail of corpses in their wake. But Sookie is basically a nice person, so this realisation is weighing heavy on her conscience.

It doesn’t help that these days, when Lafayette gets pissed off, he does a Hulk-like transformation into some kind of evil Brujeria-style demon. And since it’s Sookie he’s pissed at, he takes it out on her elderly Honda Civic, bewitching it to accelerate unstoppably to speeds that must have been magical – a 1980s Civic couldn’t hope to go that fast without supernatural intervention. Sookie has the presence of mind to jump out, but the Civic gets wrapped around a phone pole – yet another of the show’s major characters that’s now met its maker (Soichiro Honda, presumably).

By this point, the viewer couldn’t help but sympathise with Sookie when she took refuge in the only course of action left – getting roaringly drunk on every bottle of spirits left in her house. Ironic, really, since it was largely ‘spirits’ that caused so many of her problems. But even in guilt-driven drunkenness, Anna Paquin maintained that perky optimism that defines Sookie as a character – perhaps it’s her fairy ancestry. Where most of us might revel in self-pity, Sookie found herself entwined in the understanding arms of the hunky Alcide (finally!), who’d popped round to tell her she was off the hook with Debbie’s parents. But whether it’s entanglement with the law or her own tortured conscience, I doubt we’ve seen the last of this theme about the consequences of Sookie’s actions.

The vampires too were faced with consequences from every angle. Pam had to face up to her responsibility as a Maker by commanding Tara not to destroy herself, while Eric, trying to find a lead on the missing Russell Edgington, faced up to his own responsibility as the Maker of Pam herself. Since only four people knew about Russell’s location, and Pam was one of them, Eric had to mercilessly interrogate her, leading to some all too real tears of betrayal on his progeny’s part.

Having already been dragged unwillingly into caring about Tara, that was plainly a bit much for her to cope with. Weeping tears of blood, it was actually kind of tear jerking when Pam begged Eric to release her from his command. Ultimately he did, but out of his own compassion – he doesn’t want her caught up in what’s to follow (“either Russell will have our heads or the Authority will”). Alexander Skarsgard was back to his icy, commanding demeanour but with hints of some compassion beneath, while Kristin Bauer van Straten brilliantly conveyed the depth of feeling she has under her bitchy facade, at least where her Maker’s concerned.

Back at Authority HQ, the political wrangling and backstabbing was carrying on rather excitingly. They’re a shifty bunch, the Chancellors of the Authority; keen on coexistence they may be, but I wouldn’t trust a one of them. Neither, it seems, does the Guardian who leads them, joining with Salome to browbeat the captive Nora into naming her apparent collaborators.

It still seems unconvincing to me that Nora is a mole for the Sanguinista movement, but if she’s not, it’s a role she’s playing very believably. It would be a bit of a waste of a good actress like Lucy Griffiths if spitting curses in a cell was all she got to do, so I’ve a feeling there’s more to this than there seems. And while we didn’t see it, she did lead Roman and Salome to another traitor – Drew, representing the stock-since-Anne-Rice vampire child.

Jacob Hopkins carried himself rather well in the part, exuding the necessarily unnerving adult confidence in a child’s body, so it felt like rather a shame when Roman staked him with the Authority’s Special Stake – whittled from the branch where Judas hanged himself, and tipped with silver cast from the thirty pieces he earned for his betrayal. The show’s sailing satisfyingly close to the wind on its religious overtones this year. Not only have we had the Vampire Bible and Salome explaining the truth of her story in the regular one, this week we had Dieter’s comment on the vampires’ holy text: “It’s just a book! I know the guy who wrote it and he was high the whole time!” A cheap shot maybe, but I smirked.

Again, these two plots took up the lion’s share of the episode, making me think that they’re going to be the dominant ones this year. But there was room for other subplots too. Terry and Patrick were off in South Dakota looking for their army buddy who might be setting all those fires, leading to another Iraq flashback that (perhaps) explained what it’s all to do with. Looks like Terry’s unit, defiling a mosque while stoned, half-assedly instigated a massacre of innocent civilians. No wonder he’s been so traumatised. Surprising though to see such a trenchant critique of such a recent war in a show like True Blood, where political allusions are usually oblique at best. Terry and Patrick found their old comrade in an underground bunker lined with murals of burning buildings – but I’m still not convinced he’s the man responsible.

And we found out about the mysterious young man who smelled so good to Jessica last week, in a pretty unexpected way. Sheriff Andy and the loyal Jason were invited to a debauched secret club night by the local judge who they’d helped out by ripping up his son’s speeding ticket. Suspicions were aroused when the busty beauties conveying them to the club insisted they be blindfolded, then hardened into certainty when they were thrust through a mystical invisible gateway to a party full of beautiful people dancing around semi-clad. Yes, the fairies are back!

This may not go down too well with some of the show’s fans, who found the inclusion of the fair folk in last year’s season a bit much to stomach. But I like the way True Blood’s fairies are shown in a very old school way, as tricksy, deceptive creatures to be trusted as little as the vampires they’re hiding from.

That they are hiding was confirmed in an infodump from Sookie and Jason’s cousin Hadley, last seen dejectedly giving blood to Louisiana’s now deceased queen vampire Sophie-Anne. At that point, she was dropping hints to Sookie that she knew just what she was; now she’s hanging out with the fairies for real, that’s pretty much confirmed. She assumes Jason’s come to hide too (which makes you wonder whether he too has some fairy blood, being Sookie’s brother and all), then drops some very heavy hints that their parents were actually killed by vampires, not a flood as everyone previously thought. This led to, predictably, a ruckus that involved Jason and Sheriff Andy being bodily thrown out of the invisible gateway, with two angry fairies giving them the old energy blast from the hands…

So, the plot thickens – but we can now be pretty sure that the main focus is going to be on the potential vampire sectarian conflict, and on Sookie’s growing guilt about her actions. How will the fairies fit into this? Despite their unpopularity last year, they didn’t actually feature all that much, but this year I have the feeling that they’re going to e quite heavily intertwined through the other plots. As, pretty much, an ongoing supernatural soap opera, True Blood has an enviable consistency of quality in its episodes (though not always brilliant) which means it’s easier to critique whole seasons than individual episodes. On the basis of what we’ve seen so far though, I’m not disappointed.

True Blood: Season 5, Episode 3–Whatever I Am, You Made Me

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 3 YET.

“Seriously Sookie, this is your plan? Pretend none of it ever happened?”

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This week’s episode of True Blood continued to restlessly stir the overseasoned pot of plotlines in this year’s supernatural gumbo, with plenty of steamy Southern Gothic soap to enjoy. Bill and Eric continued to be held in the clutches of the vampire Authority, which is increasingly being revealed to be full of unscrupulous, backstabbing political operators with secret agendas. Tara is not adjusting well (to put it mildly) to being a vampire, while Sookie is discovering that burying a corpse doesn’t make all your problems go away.

That last has become a surprisingly major plot point, in a show that often treats such deaths in a fairly cavalier way. Usually, the deaths that result from Bon Temps’ supernatural hijinks are quickly dismissed, but Sookie’s shooting of Alcide’s girlfriend Debbie is plainly coming back to haunt her in a big way. After discovering Debbie’s abandoned car last week, dogged sheriff Andy Bellefleur is making a typically sloppy Bon Temps PD attempt at investigation, but the arrival of Debbie’s parents has upped the stakes a notch. To add to the worry, Sookie’s going to find keeping the death secret rather difficult, given that she’s just turned one of the major witnesses into a vampire who’s none too happy about that.

There was a lot of focus on Tara this week, as her frantic flight from chez Stackhouse has rendered any attempt at keeping her vampirism secret a moot point. She’s really not happy about her new life, and not thinking too clearly; fleeing to Sam Merlotte for sanctuary, she makes him promise not to tell Sookie where she is. She seems to have forgotten that Sookie can READ MINDS, making that somewhat pointless. Add to that the fact that Sam’s ‘resourceful’ attempt at hiding her from daylight amounts to putting her in the diner’s freezer, where anyone could walk in and discover her, and you realise that Tara really didn’t think this through. Perhaps that shotgun blast left her mind more damaged than we thought…

But such are the problems of the newborn vampire, and they’re usually the responsibility of that vampire’s Maker, as Pam found herself unable to ignore however much she wanted to. The script drew parallels with the circumstances of Pam’s own turning, in more of those gradually unfolding flashbacks to 1905 San Francisco. All credit to Kristin Bauer van Straten, she manages to make her performance as the still-human Pam distinctive from the hard-bitten vampire we know today. She’s no less cynical, but still has some idealism about being a vampire; so much so that she forces Eric to turn her, slitting her wrists and declaring, “let me walk the world with you, Mr Northman, or watch me die.”

There was much musing on the making of vampires, and the responsibility of turning one loose on the world. We got to see Bill’s Maker Lorena again, as it turned out that the killer stalking Pam’s brothel was none other than Bill Compton himself. Later, Eric laid down the law about the responsibility of making a vampire, not willing to condemn Pam to that state (or to take responsibility for it).

Pam’s story was intertwined with Tara’s, to make the point that they had more in common than Pam was willing to admit. She may be willing to ignore Sookie’s frantic pleas for help (receiving a blast of fairy magic for her callousness), but when it comes to it, she can’t ignore the vampire she made. At the end of the episode, it was with an exasperated, resigned sigh that Pam put aside her pen to go to the aid of the suicidal Tara, currently cooking merrily away on a tanning bed.

The theme continued amid the Machiavellian intrigue among the vampire Authority, still divided over whether to execute Bill and Eric or take them up on their offer of hunting down Russell Edgington. Each season of True Blood has revealed a little more about the hierarchy of vampire ‘society’; previously, we’d only seen Zeljko Ivanek as the Magister, representing a higher authority. Now, we’re seeing that Authority itself, and while their machinations are fun, I can’t help feeling that we’ve seen them before – in Blade, for a start.

Still, there’s little truly original left for vampire stories to do, so that’s one we just have to take on board. And the bickering Chancellors of the Authority are good fun, especially the commanding performance of Christopher Meloni as hunky leader and Guardian, Roman. Clad in an immaculately tailored suit, it was still obvious that he was pretty buff underneath it; it was therefore no surprise that he finally got naked for a scene with the other most interesting member of the Authority – Salome. Who, as it turns out, actually is that Salome, the one who asked Herod for John the Baptist’s head on a plate.

I said last week that the ‘vampire Bible’ might cause concern for more devout Christian viewers of the show (assuming there are any). The presence of Salome is sure to exacerbate that, as she details the real story of what went on at Herod’s court, as distinct from what is said in “the human Bible.” We’ve already had Godric claiming to have met Christ back in season two, and now here’s another two thousand year old vampire to put the cat among the religious pigeons. She’s an interesting character, wily and seductive, and as incarnated by Italian actress Valentina Cervi is certainly easy on the eye for those who like girls. Bill and Eric obviously think so, as she manages to bed each of them in turn, plainly up to something.

Which, it turns out, is to try and discover whether either really is working with the Sanguinista fundamentalist movement (based on shagging, she concludes that they aren’t). We learned more about these fanatics this week, and it’s looking like they’re going to be the major plot for the season. Their intent is to rule the world, farming humans like cattle (again, we’ve seen this before – Ultraviolet, Daybreakers, Blade again). Not surprisingly, they consider the deranged Russell Edgington a hero (“the vampire Osama Bin Laden”). It’s therefore looking extremely likely that they’re the ones who dug him up and are currently feeding him luckless passersby.

So Bill and Eric are to be sent out as bait after all. But the Authority don’t completely trust them, so they’re equipped with self, destructing, Battle Royale-style “i-Stakes”, an amusing application of modern technology shaped like a crucifix that will administer a lethal pointy bit of wood should they misbehave. As commented by the vampire techie fitting them, “there’s an app for that” – ie, if Bill and Eric don’t do what they’re told, the press of a virtual iPhone button will turn them into piles of goo. I’m betting this will be a crucial plot point in upcoming episodes…

Back in Bon Temps, there wasn’t much of Terry Bellefleur’s mysterious ex-army-buddy subplot this week, just a quick altercation with Arlene as he took off on a ‘need-to-know’ basis with Patrick. Three episodes in and we’re already finding episodes being selective about which plots they feature; a necessary factor when you’ve got this many of them to deal with. Bearing that in mind, I was surprised when yet another was introduced; the tormented Lafayette, his conscience pricked by Arlene’s contempt for turning Tara into a vampire, went to the Dark Side for a mo, his visage turning demonic as he poured bleach into the diner’s gumbo. He recovered quickly enough to pour it away, but this does not look good for his culinary career.

Terry’s cousin, Sheriff Andy, was distracted from his already lackadaisical pursuit of police work by the revelation that his butt was all over Facebook, a result of his dalliance with Holly being discovered by her white trash kids. Touchingly, this made him decide to “go steady” with her – not a result I would expect from this scenario.

Fortunately, Bon Temps’ Police Department still has the razor sharp forensic skills of Jason Stackhouse. But Jason too is distracted this week by his ongoing existential crisis about meaningless sex. Perhaps he’s been talking to Don Draper. As a store clerk memorably comments to Jessica, “God gave him a penis and a brain, but only enough blood to run one at a time”. Actually that seems a fair description of a lot of men, but to give Jason credit, he seems to be realising this. Not that it stops him revisiting his schooldays when the teacher who ‘initiated’ him into sex returns to Bon Temps. He just feels bad about it afterwards.

Bad enough to actually turn down Jessica when she arrives on his doorstep, flustered after an encounter with a pretty young man who ran off when he saw her fangs. Who is he, what is he, and why does he smell so good to her? It’s enough to make her want to sit down and chat with poor tormented Jason rather than bang his brains out, which I’d be tempted to do. Perhaps that “only enough blood” comment applies equally to me…

So, plenty more to bite on this week, with at least two new plotlines – Lafayette’s ‘dark side’ and Jessica’s mysteriously nice-smelling boy – added to the already crowded mix. As I say, there are hints of having been here before with the vampire storyline, but if it’s done well enough that needn’t matter. And the rest of the overheated supernatural melee that is everyday life in Bon Temps has plenty we haven’t seen before to keep us interested as we go.

True Blood: Season 5, Episode 2–Authority Always Wins

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 2 YET.

“..as the beetle nourishes the lark, so shall human nourish vampire.”

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As it’s still only episode 2, the ingredients of the torrid Louisiana gumbo that is True Blood season 5 are still stirring restlessly in the pot without any clear direction. Having set out the season’s stall in last week’s rather frenetic premiere, this week’s was allowed to simmer slowly as the various plots marinaded in their juices. The result was an episode that felt a little deeper than last week’s even if it moved more slowly, but still managed to address the mass of convoluted plots we’d already established.

First and foremost was resolving last week’s cliffhanger, as the enraged, bestial vampire-Tara burst from the ground lunging instantly for Sookie’s throat. This was not entirely unexpected. We’ve already seen that a newborn vampire always wakes hungry, and is totally lacking in self-control, and this case had the added complication, as Pam pointed out last week, that Tara’s gunshot wound had removed a sizeable chunk of her head. Even with vampire healing powers, would she be too far gone to even remember who she was?

The script played around with us there, as every time the ep returned to the increasingly desperate Sookie and Lafayette, Tara was still unspeaking and feral. Pam was no help; as far as she was concerned, she’d held up her end of the bargain turning Tara in the first place. “But you’re her maker,” pleaded Sookie, to be met with the expected sardonic shrug and acid tongue from Pam: “and I made her. I’ve done my part.”

Pam’s one of my favourite characters, with her dry bitchiness and reliably sharp tongue. I was glad that Kristin Bauer got promoted to the main cast a couple of seasons ago, but Pam’s still not been given any real history beyond occasional hints. We know Eric’s her maker, and she’s unswervingly devoted to him (in one of her rare examples of actual emotion that isn’t bitchiness).

But it looks like we’re going to learn a bit more this year, as this week showed a few flashbacks to Pam’s pre-vampire life in 1905 San Francisco, as a brothel madam plagued by a serial killer. Said serial killer was swiftly dispatched by Eric as soon as he got his hands on Pam (and didn’t Alexander Skarsgard look great in top hat and tails?), after which Eric high speed vamped it out of there with Pam looking lustfully after her mysterious saviour. The flashbacks didn’t go as far as showing her being turned, so I’m betting we’ll be seeing more of these as the season progresses.

Pam only turned Tara to gain Sookie’s help in finding the absent Eric; quite apart from her unrequited love, they’ve got a bar to run. But Eric and Bill were ‘safely’ in the arms of the Authority, and it was this plotline that the episode seemed to spend the most time on. It may be that this will become the main plotline for the season; but it’s still too early to really tell, on past experience.

Authority HQ was nicely realised as a grandiose (underground) office facility, complete with modern-style reception facilities and holding cells that looked suspiciously like redressed sets from last year, in which identical cells were to be found under Bill Compton’s house. Still, I suppose there’s probably a standard design for cells that will hold incredibly strong, near invulnerable supernatural creatures, so I can’t hold the similarity too much against the show.

What the cells also have are nifty vamp torture devices, in the form of UV lights in the roof, which explains the horrific burn scars on Bill, Eric and Nora’s cellmate, a wretched vamp with an insatiable desire to eat babies. In fact, the Authority seem to be dab hands at torturing other vampires, though I guess they’ve had plenty of centuries to refine their methods. Bill and Eric discovered another of these as they were interrogated; IV lines that injected silver solution into their veins. This seemed a bit extreme – since vampires are basically allergic to silver, and can’t metabolise it, this seemed likely to actually kill them.

Still, internal logic is best ignored in a show like True Blood, so I got on with finding out what the Authority were so pissed about. Turns out to be quite a lot. Not only are they rather unhappy about their PR spokeswoman having been staked by one of their captives, they’re also none too keen that one of their own was helping said captives to escape. On top of that, they’re pretty fanatical that their attempts to integrate with human society should succeed, and worried that a fundamentalist sect determined to interpret the ‘Vampire Bible’ literally could derail the whole thing.

This was pretty much a mountain of exposition as Bill discussed this new aspect of vampire society with his deceptively genial inquisitor Dieter. But the script kept it lively, cutting from Bill’s interrogation to Eric’s, and revealing relevant info in a drip feed (while drip feeding silver into our harried heroes’ veins). This ‘Vampire Bible’ (that’s not going to go down well in more Christian viewing areas) predates both Old and New Testaments, and claims that God created the vampire in his own image, then provided humans as food. They even have their own Adam figure, and tellingly, it’s female – Lilith (in our own Bible, the name for a demon in Hebrew mythology).

The Authority seem convinced that Bill and/or Eric know something about the fundamentalists who want to screw up the whole ‘mainstreaming’ process. Which they don’t. Well, unless they do, and it’s going to be retconned in; this is the first we humble viewers have heard of this ‘Sanguinista’ cult.

The Authority are also rather pissed off at Bill and Eric’s general disobedience and untrustworthiness. This suggests an almost complete lack of self awareness, as the show has established that these are some of the defining traits of vampires -  even Nan Flanagan was trying to recruit Bill and Eric to a revolution when they staked her. But still, you can see their point. Bill and Eric have defied orders from everyone at pretty much every turn, sometimes, very very stupidly.

The prime example of which was in not actually killing Russell Edgington – that’s bloody stupid by any measure. Have Bill and Eric never seen the show they’re in? Still, fortunately for them, it gave them a handy bargaining chip with the vengeful (and very angry) Authority council. Russell’s going to be coming for Bill and Eric; if the council want him stopped, they’d better keep their bait alive.

As I said, this was quite an infodump, so it was no wonder the episode had to focus on this plot strand particularly. It looks like religion – and religious sectarianism – may be shaping up to be one of the main themes this year. The script found time to show that from other angles too, as we found that the lovelorn Steve Newlin had ‘come out of the coffin’ to pretty much replace Nan Flanagan as vampire spokesperson on national TV. It’s a good strategy; what could reconcile religious vamp-haters better than a converted Christian?

Amusingly though, Steve may be out of the coffin but he’s certainly not out of the closet, at least as far as TV is concerned. Asked about his ‘significant other’, he referred to a ‘she’. The show may have been making a bit of a point here – middle America is starting to accept vampires, but gays are still a step too far in the True Blood universe!

That’s unfortunate for Steve, since he’s still absolutely fixated on the undoubted physical charms of the none-too-bright Jason Stackhouse. As he gatecrashed Jessica’s keg party and actually attempted to buy Jason from her, it became clear that once again, Steve’s going to be the more comic adversary this year.

With the focus this week mainly on the vamp-Tara and Authority plotlines, the other subplots got little more than a cursory glance, but each had its own little moment. Jason, still (disturbingly) the sharpest mind on the Bon Temps PD, was advising Sheriff Andy on his sex life, when his own came crashing back to haunt him. A teenage boy gave him an almighty thump because Jason’s wayward pecker had caused the boy’s parents to split up (“Is there any woman in this town you haven’t slept with?” asked the exasperated Andy). This caused Jason, ever the sensitive soul, to reflect on the damage he’d done, and try to mend fences with former best bud Hoyt. It was to no avail, but at least led to the comic moment of Hoyt’s dragon of a mom thanking Jason for splitting up her son and “that red-haired slut”.

Bon Temps’ other redhead, Arlene, was getting increasingly worried about Terry, who’s taken to seeing Rambo-style flashbacks of Iraq and making doomy pronouncements in his sleep: “We’re all gonna die. It’s coming for us.” This led to a chat with ex-platoon buddy Patrick, but Terry himself turned up before Patrick could spill the beans as to what it’s all about. But Terry himself did spill some beans – the whereabouts of their former comrade who might be setting those fires. Now what’s the betting that it’s actually Patrick who’s been doing that, and Terry’s just given him the location of his next victim? D’oh!

Elsewhere, there’s shenanigans with Marcus’ old werewolf pack. Alcide, defying wolf law, isn’t going to take over the pack. This is probably just as well, as they all seem to want to kill him. At least Sam’s off the hook, but he and Luna have to contend with Marcus’ mom wanting visitation rights for her grandchild, who given her mixed parentage, could just as easily be a werewolf or a shapeshifter. Comic cliffhanger number one came as Luna discovered which; bursting into her daughter’s bedroom, she found a cute little wolf pup in a nightdress. Awww…

OK, that’s hardly too worrying, but the other cliffhangers might be. After toying with us all episode, Tara finally revealed that her mind’s still there after all. Unfortunately. Because her best friend and her cousin have just turned her into the thing she hates most, and her first words to them are “I’ll never forgive you both”. To add injury to insult, she can’t even storm out of chez Stackhouse without being sprayed with liquid silver. I can’t see that helping her get over it.

Meanwhile, the camera panned across a pile of gruesomely dismembered bodies to finally show us Russell Edgington. He’s not looking too good; covered in nasty looking, chain-shaped scars from the silver used to restrain him, he can barely move. But somebody dug him up, and is plainly throwing victims at him – I wonder, could it be these Sanguinista cultists we’ve been hearing so much about?

Week two then, and the gumbo that is True Blood still simmers in search of this year’s true flavour. Traditionally, each season has started in a mess of mutifarious, overheated plotlines, before settling on one (or sometimes two, but no more) as the main ones on which to focus. Which ones these are are rarely clear so early in the season, and again, this year is no exception. But there’s still plenty to enjoy here, in the morass of simmering supernatural excesses. And I note with approval that Denis O’ Hare is in the opening credits – even if Russell isn’t the main Big Bad this year, it was his extraordinary performance that made the character so memorable, and I’m glad he’s back.

True Blood: Season 5, Episode 1–Turn! Turn! Turn!

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!”

TrueBloodNoraEric

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.