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 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 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.”

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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!

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.