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!”

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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.