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 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…