This week’s True Blood is a riff on grief and mourning, especially on how to move through the pain to find strength to go on. It is a slower paced episode than last week’s installment and the plots with the emotional heft to withstand scrutiny float to the top, while the weaker plots continue to sink. Fortunately, the vampire politics/revenge story gets a lot of focus, because that story thread continues to rivet attention as it moves from sweet affirmations of love to megalomaniacal world domination threats and nails every scene. Denis O’Hare as Russell Edgington has a big night as he delivers breaking news to the humans: Vampires are not just like you. They want to eat you. After they eat your children.
Last week, Eric exacted his revenge for Russell having his family killed by killing Talbot. During his stay with Russell, Eric appeared to be thinking on his feet, trying to use the king to save himself and Pam from the Magister while using Talbot to get to the king, with an eye to doing what he could for Sookie if the opportunity presented. This week, as he flies back to Fangtasia, he shows he didn’t have the benefit of a master plan when he did so and his demeanor inspires Pam to utter that unwelcome phrase: “Should I be panicking?”
The answer is no, as Eric may have been put into check in his chess game with the king, but he is not surrendering. The show is always on firm ground when the vampires have to deal with the human world and vice versa, so the focus on the uneasy border between the two worlds is wonderful stuff. Eric decides to draw on the connections between humans and vampires as he drops any games and simply tells the Authority (so far, three well dressed and techno-savvy vampires in silhouette) the story of his family’s massacre and why he’s been pursuing Russell for a thousand years. He is open about his grief at losing his human family and his need for vengeance to cope with the loss. He is also able to point out Russell Edgington has been feeding werewolves V for centuries as he uses them to try and bring about the down fall of humans and if that isn’t bad enough, his take on current vampire politics is “F*** the Authority.”
The decision to contrast the Authority’s use of modern technology with Eric’s Old Testament answer to processing grief is inspired, as Eric’s emotional story has to cross the cold distance set up by the use of monitors. Pam is affected by this side of her Maker she never knew, but Nan Flanagan is focused more on the campaign to pass the Vampire Rights amendment and she has the ear of the shadowy Authority. The encounter ends with Eric and Pam being put into lock down as they await judgment.
The look into what makes Eric tick continues as he reacts to Pam’s grief at the thought of losing him. In a very touching scene, he tells Pam that everything ends, even immortals. He implies that real immortality comes from the continuing of bloodlines, as he tells his child her response to his death should be to step into adulthood and become a Maker herself. It’s a nicely done homage to how the death of a parent forces even grown up children to face they are now the oldest generation. Pam crying in Eric’s arms illustrates the familial nature of their bond. If dark times show us what we’re made of, Eric reveals both his desire to carry his pain alone and his wish for Pam to create a new family to help her carry on. His take on grief is a conflicted one and it’s no wonder his own path of mourning has led him to such a dangerous place. However, he himself is dangerous and not by any means out of the game yet.
Nan may taunt Eric at every opportunity from her perch as the face of vampire politics to the humans, but the Authority nevertheless decides he should quietly sweep the Russell untidiness under the rug, taking care to clean up any messy residue. They appear to have faith he’s got the cojones to take on Russell, perhaps at this point more than Eric does himself. His hope when he opened up to the Authority was that they would take Russell seriously enough to give him resources to help take down the 2,800 year old vampire. Instead, they take him seriously enough to think he can take down Russell alone. It’s an implied compliment Eric could live without, because he’s not sure he can live with it.
When we get a look at Russell, we see him trying to handle a grief so deep he is reduced to inarticulate howls emanating from the depths of his being. Of course, being True Blood, he scoops up Talbot’s sticky remains into a crystal urn Talbot no doubt treasured and carries “Talbot” with him as he vows revenge upon Eric and the Authority. It’s vintage True Blood creepy fun, but underneath, we see Russell in his grief is now unbalanced. I suspect he’s been teetering on the line for centuries, because the arguments he makes for thinking humans are not “green” enough make little sense given his own lifestyle. He has his own McMansion, with pink trim, no less, and he first crossed paths with Eric because he is such an inveterate collector of things, as Talbot noted in their last fight. Russell may have come from a time with a strong connection to nature, but he lost this connection long ago. Perhaps what he is doing is displacing the sense of loss he feels inside onto humans—and if so, it’s a nice call back to Godric’s story line.
Godric, another old vampire, was a lost soul himself, despite his power. I thought his plot was ultimately about how to ground himself when immortality means all that you think you care about will vanish eventually. What you have all the time in the world, what do you live for? That existential question is ultimately one of the biggest differences between vampires and humans, more so than blood lust. Godric ended up questioning his own right to existence and regarding humans in a more positive light than we perhaps deserve. Russell takes the opposite stance and uses the modern technology he so despises to launch his public attack on not only humans but also the American Vampire League’s desire for equality. Denis O’Hare simply walks away with the show as the king scoops the American Vampire League’s campaign plans by declaring war on them and on humans, and all with time to hand off to Tiffany for the weather.
None of the other plot lines compare to Eric’s and Russell’s, but there are some nice moments. Bill’s trip to Tinkerbell Land is not among them—Ball just has to realise the cheese factor is too great even for True Blood. In terms of magical lands, go big or go home, and episodic TV can’t create anything that doesn’t look like an ad for personal grooming of some kind. However, we do get some nice development in getting a better look at Bill.
Bill and Sookie appear to be back together, despite their big break up just last episode. They follow up sex on the floor with fondling in the shower and it’s a little disquieting that Bill is so comfortable feeding on Sookie again after almost killing her. He makes healing his teeth marks a gentle moment, but the blood swirling down the drain recalls the shower scene in Psycho. He also looks quite ready to make a meal of Claudine until she back him off with the Fingertips of Light. I don’t think we’re supposed to think Bill’s issues with Sookie are resolved.
Even Sookie finally feels the dossier Bill has been keeping on her might be worth mentioning. Bill tries to slide the blame onto Eric, but as we’ve seen Eric trying to figure out what Sookie’s value is and why so many people care, we know that’s a lie. And despite Bill’s urgent need to tell Sookie what she is, he’s going to continue to protect his own lies. Bill’s response to unpleasant truths is always to hide them away and pretend they don’t exist. The grief both feel at the challenge to their relationship is unlikely to heal while Sookie is unaware of Bill’s duplicity. Though now that Hadley has revealed her own connection to the queen, Sookie should be connecting some dots soon. Please. Though I believe Sookie’s possible addiction to Bill’s blood has been hinted at, we need to see something more than willful blindness from Sookie.
Willful blindness doesn’t improve Jason’s story, either. It’s difficult to see the basis of his attraction to Crystal and even more difficult to accept Jason’s inability to see the Hotshot folks have some secrets to hide. Crystal certainly does and she jumps sides every five minutes, as quick to brand Jason a rapist as her fiancé as violent. The best part of this plot is the interaction between Jason and Andy, as Andy has to grit his teeth to repress his urge to remind Jason he’s not a cop and say, “Just go on.” I’m also worried about exactly why the V is not in fact locked up as evidence as Andy said to Jason and is instead in his desk. V is no substitute for Pepto Bismol, Andy.
Jessica and Hoyt’s story is much more successful. They’ve been set up as a parallel to Bill and Sookie this year, which was very apparent last week when Bill allowed his own feeling of unworthiness to leak onto Jessica, affirming her feeling she is inherently bad and Hoyt deserves someone better. But though Jessica is struggling with guilt at draining the trucker, she does not have the web of lies to contend with that Bill does. Her relationship shares some of the potential issues of any human/vampire pairing, but not the underlying trust issue. And Hoyt seems to be questioning being human as the most important quality in a girlfriend.
Summer represents normal life—on steroids. She stands for down home country life, exemplified by home cooking, good housekeeping and antique shopping for dolls. But she doesn’t stand for good communication with Hoyt. Hoyt can talk more with Jessica in a few stolen moments while Summer is in the bathroom than all day long with the human girl. So what is really of value in a relationship? The ability to grow old together or the ability to laugh together? I like that the show is not giving us easy answers on what constitutes a relationship.
Lafayette and Jesus are also dealing with defining their relationship and their story is vastly improved by the addition of Ruby Jean (Alfre Woodard is scene stealingly terrific). I love Lafayette and think Jesus has potential, but so far, their scenes have not gripped me. That changes as soon as Ruby Jean adds her craziness (or is it?) into the mix. I’m getting curious about who is actually revealing the truth as Jesus and Ruby speak in riddles and Lafayette allows his love for both to help him drop the defenses he’s used as a shield since he was a child.
Defenses are also big part of Tara’s story. She’s had nothing but one catastrophe after another, from her alcoholic mother to losing Eggs only to acquire psychotic Franklin. Despite Rutina Wesley being a strong actress, the constant victimization has been difficult to watch and it was great to see her grab agency away from Franklin and bash his head in to escape. And I say that despite loving what James Frain brought to Franklin. Despite his loony charm as a character, Franklin hurt Tara badly and she needs to figure out how to take the first step toward healing. And lo and behold, there’s a new waitress at Merlottes with a great shoulder to cry on.
I’m not sure what Holly is yet, but there do seem to be hints she’s not your ordinary waitress. At this rate, the real exotics on True Blood will be the humans, something I don’t think will improve the show, but for now, Holly is an interesting addition as she offers a way to heal to both Arlene and Tara. Of course, Tara’s search for a mother figure has blown up in her face in the past, so her reaching out at the Rape Survivor’s support group may not take her anywhere good. But it does allow her to face Franklin when he appears, full of grief and murderous intentions because he was not mourned.
The plot thread takes the implied theme on grief and makes it explicit. Franklin loses all charm as he furiously demands to know why Tara doesn’t love him. He’s angrier that she didn’t mourn him than that she bashed his head in. Franklin is desperately searching for a connection to another person, and he is so damaged he’ll kill Tara so he can be connected to her through his grief. I wish Tara herself had been able to vanquish Franklin, because she’s been so powerless throughout this series. However, I can also see the dramatic irony in Jason killing another male Tara is involved with. What I really hope to see is Tara finally moving forward from her status as perpetual victim.
That leaves me with Sam’s plot, which just hasn’t been strong this season. We finally got rid of his mother, Joe Lee and his awful underpants, only to have Sam hook into the Hotshot plot, which isn’t a huge improvement. And I’ve been intrigued by Tommy, but not if he simply ends up being Joe Lee, Jr., sans the underwear. Been there, done that and do not want more. I am very intrigued, however, at Sam finally blowing his cool so completely. It was a good hint that his lost years between leaving Maryann and starting Merlottes may have shown a side of him we’ve not been introduced to yet. He is another character who had to deal with grief and loss of a family at a young age and we don’t really know how he coped. It does seem increasingly clear the gaining of Tommy as family may pull Sam as much into Tommy’s world as vice versa.
Overall, I really enjoyed this episode of True Blood. Unlike last season, this season is gaining power and momentum as it charges toward the finale. There’s only three episodes left and I’m already in mourning for this show.