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TV Review: True Blood – “Fresh Blood”

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Alan Ball offered us “Fresh Blood” last night, the second last episode of the season and a frustrating mixture of the sublime and the simply unnecessary. The writers bookend the episode with the exciting main story, but the middle lurches along from one unnecessary and unexciting supporting plot line to another, while we desperately try to see past them to follow what ought to be the central narrative of stopping Russell.

Russell trying to kill main characters in his bid to take over the world should not be treated like a side plot. And the actual side plots at this stage of the game should be folded into the main story, not dangling off by themselves. Thank goodness the Eric/Russell revenge plot is as excellent as it is, because it has about ten minutes out of 50 to make its impact.

The issue with the side plots is not the actors tasked with trying to sell them. True Blood has an excellent cast. I appreciate the skills of them all, whether it’s Arlene struggling with a baby left over from season one or Jesus trying to lead Lafayette down a completely separate rabbit hole from everyone else on the show. The issue is these characters are supporting characters, fine in smaller doses in support of the main story, but not able to carry their own separate narratives which fight for time with the season’s main arc. In addition to the usual cast, Alan Ball introduced enough new characters this season to populate a whole other show, and we simply cannot get emotionally involved with all the stories rushing past us.

Sam Trammell as Sam MerlotteThe biggest casualty of the overpopulated cast and whiplash-inducing story cuts is Sam. I have loved Sam from the first episode. He’s an everyman character, despite his shape-shifting powers. He hasn’t generated the kind of dramatic emotional highs and lows of some of the other characters, but his steadfast courage and basic decency in season two’s finale grounded that episode beautifully. I view him as a slow burn character, one who quietly but firmly offers an alternative to the over the top crazy all around him.

But the last episodes have introduced Sam to the crazy and I am not enjoying his transition. It feels much too abrupt, like the writers know they don’t know what to do with him and came up with something which has little purpose except to shock. Tommy puts his finger on the main problem with Sam’s shift into a human pit bull when he says, “You’re nothing but Joe Lee in a Sam suit.” I didn’t like the Mickens enough to care about them or enjoy their screen time. And sadly, Sam Mickens, er, Merlotte hasn’t made that story any more palatable. By the end of “Fresh Blood,” I had no issue with Tommy robbing Sam blind and just wanted Tara and Sam to go away.

Jason’s scenes don’t go much better. He always functions best when he’s part of someone else’s story, with his main contribution being his hilarious way of looking at things. Ryan Kwanten has a marvelous ability to bring this caricature of a Southern redneck to full-bodied life and make him oddly sweet and off the wall funny. But he has not made me care enough to want to follow Jason off into not one but two plot lines of his own. I don’t believe in his sudden love for Crystal and I don’t care enough for any of the Hotshot characters to be excited at the thought of Jason and Crystal riding off to their rescue. The incest revelation isn’t much a revelation at this point—Eric called the drug dealers “brother-cousins” way back in the beginning of the season.

Deborah Ann Woll as JessicaBut if the were-panther plot bunny is sickly, the quarterback glory days plot bunny is on life support and fading fast. I outright resented the time spent on Jason worrying about the high school football star. I don’t know him, don’t care to know him and do NEED TO KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON WITH RUSSELL! You know, that vampire who so frighteningly threatened to eat all our kids? Hateful graffiti slogans on the walls are no substitute for hints of what he’s actually planning to do and instead we get high school jock politics. Jason’s stories just let the air out of all that tension so nicely generated when Russell took to the airwaves.

I hate to say it, but Lafayette and Jesus don’t offer much more. Lafayette is an amazing character, but I think he functions best as a human offering his own feisty and playful take on co-existing with vampires. His earlier scenes with Eric and Pam sparkled. He is a surprising touch of warmth when he comforts Tara in her pain. But I don’t think he warrants a rabbit hole of his own unconnected to the main action. I was so hoping Lafayette, Jesus, and Ruby Jean would get folded into the vampire plot as supporting players, but at this late date that has still not happened. All these separate side plots are all desperately trying to establish themselves rather than furthering the taking over the world arc and this writing decision just slows. things. down.

Jessica and Hoyt fare the best and that’s because their story mirrors Bill and Sookie’s and follows the central conceit of the show: can humans and vampires have relationships other than prey and predator? Deborah Ann Woll is just luminous as Jessica and her scene with Hoyt is taut and sexy. This is the kind of subplot that furthers the main story rather than taking away from it, because it directly relates to the main theme.

That brings me to what should be the main story, because it is the season’s overall arc with the Big Bad. And fortunately, this plot is firing on all cylinders. Alan Ball made the excellent decision to fold Bill and Sookie’s story early on into Eric, Pam, and Russell’s and when the episode focuses on them, it is riveting. And though Russell has made such a splash this season, this episode makes it clear Eric is the heart of this story.

Eric’s journey this season has been admitting to feelings for humans, whether it’s his dead family or Sookie. His character has shown lovely texturing as the vampire allows us to see how much he still values his human existence when he daydreams about Sookie smelling his past on his skin, but then takes that past and single-mindedly pursues vengeance at the expense of the people in his present he cares about. The many facets of Eric’s nature have all had illumination and Skarsgard plays each one convincingly, without the need to try and fit the portrayal into an easy box. Eric both carries his pain alone and fiercely values family relationships. He will ruthlessly use anyone to gain a goal, but at the same time understands and will sacrifice his own needs to the big picture. He is manipulative but loyal. And his contradictory nature this season has been best displayed in his relationship with Pam.

One of the charges often laid against Eric is that he does not love anyone. Yet he is one of the most loved characters on the show and he’s had the most functional and deeply loving relationships, in contrast to the other characters and particularly Bill. Eric was clearly a loved child, despite his father’s chiding him about his responsibilities. And we saw in his flashbacks he was a beloved leader of his Viking band, who refused to leave him when he was dying, despite their own danger and Eric telling them to save themselves. He was loved by Godric and loved him in return. This vampire who gives the appearance of caring for no one in fact has been shaped by loving relationships and it is no real surprise, but wonderful to watch, when he reveals his love for his child.

Pam and Eric’s relationship this year has been tender and poignant, from Eric checking Pam’s injuries from the Magister to Pam telling Eric she doesn’t give a hoot about inheriting his estates, she wants him, just as he wanted Godric. This episode continues to illustrate the love between the two, as Pam has to accept she cannot save Eric from his decision to offer his own life to take down Russell. The scene between the two when Eric tells Pam she knows he loves her more when she’s cold and heartless, while giving her a tender kiss on the forehead, is absolutely lovely because it works on so many levels. The simple line conveys Pam’s heartbreak and Eric’s care for his daughter, while at the same time underlining Eric’s determination to follow through on his plan. He may be ruthless, but he is not cold and heartless.

Alexander Skarsgard as Eric NorthanHe is, in fact, much more reminiscent of his Maker, Godric, than he appears on the surface, and the writers play with the similarities to Godric’s death scene. Pam, like Eric, has to let go of her Maker and help him with a plan that looks to end in his death. She has to pretend to be overjoyed at Eric’s meeting of the sun so Russell will join him, and I loved Kristin Bauer Von Straten’s line reading of “Why don’t you join him?” as she feigns her tears are as joyful as Russell’s. The contrast of her sadness with Eric’s wonder at feeling the sun again on his skin is beautifully played and recalls Godric’s wonder on the rooftop as he turned to meet the sun and saw God. Skarsgard’s walk outside captures all his character’s nuances, from the game playing to the courage to the love of life. Eric’s complexities have grounded this story line from the beginning and though Russell is his usual devious and fascinating self, it is what is revealed about Eric that makes the final scene so moving and so gripping.

And what we find out makes Eric’s relationship with Sookie more ambiguous than Sookie has so far interpreted it (usually with good reason, it must said. Eric is no saint or romance novel protagonist). Bill’s strategy for most of this episode is to try and convince Sookie he is no Eric as he tries to regain her trust. And though the two of them indulge in some dreaming about their life together, the dream is clearly flawed, not only because they see a future that does not take Bill’s vampire nature into account (he’ll never be a third grade teacher), but also because the contrast between Bill and Eric may be on quite different grounds than Bill proposes.

Bill rather desperately focuses on Eric as the problem, as he asks Sookie why she went to the sheriff, but Sookie is honest enough to say she’s seen a different side to Eric that is just as true as his ruthless side and she’s finally suspicious enough to conceal from Bill the question she asked Eric. Bill hasn’t quite kept up with the program when he declares to Sookie, “I’m nothing like Eric.” That’s true—but what exactly does that show about Bill?

Bill and Russell both have negative views of Eric, but neither is shown to have a good grasp of the Viking vampire’s character. Bill is so focused on his relationship troubles with Sookie and rivalry with Eric, he misses the danger Russell poses to her that Eric clearly sees. To Pam’s reminder that there’s a bigger picture than his relationship with Sookie, Bill replies, “Not to me there isn’t.” And Russell compounds his earlier dismissal of Eric as a pretty sycophant by saying, “Eric, you are just a lump of muscle with a blood grudge. You got lucky.” In just a few short minutes, he’s changed his tune to “Clever boy, to tempt me.”

The clever boy, the manipulative sycophant, the loving father and son, the courageous sheriff, the ruthless leader—they all describe Eric and just possibly lover may as well. Despite the high stakes, Eric shows how much it means to him that he finally gets to drink Sookie’s blood, so much so Russell gets impatient. While Sookie is understandably upset with all the men in her life, her relationship with Eric seems rife with dramatic potential. Next season?

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About Gerry Weaver

  • Ana

    Wow… I loved this review because it reflected my many frustrations and little joys.

    I like a lot all the original characters (except Tara) but this season they’re just background (and lengthy ones). On the new cast, I loved Russell’s storyline and even Alcide’s but writers are wasting the potential on those. I really don’t care about the Mickens, Eggs (wasn’t he dead like 11 episodes ago?! let him go pleaaaaseee), or Lafayette’s boyfriend and mom.

    I even got happy when I saw Steve Newlin last episode because he reminded me the best of True Blood.

    I hope the finale is all about Russell and Jessica, because those are the only interesting stories left in TB.

  • VPG

    Gerry, one of the highlights of my week is getting to read your review of the latest True Blood episode. You do a fantastic job of expounding upon the good and bad parts of the show and picking up subtle nuances that other reviewers sometimes miss completely.

    You also seem to absolutely “get” Eric Northman’s character and that makes me love you. :)

    I really have nothing to add other than praise for your review because you more than adequately covered all of my own thoughts about the episode and how wonderful Eric and Pam are. Godric/Eric/Pam are absolutely the best vampire family ever, lol.

    Thanks for another wonderful True Blood review.

  • KatherineM

    You write the best TB reviews out there. Thanks.

  • MH

    I’ve enjoyed your reviews, and I think you are SO spot on with this week’s episode that I wish it could be forwarded to Alan Ball. Your assessment of the subplots and how best Jason, Lafayette, et al could serve the whole had me nodding so much that I needed a neck brace by the time I was finished reading.

    It’s the vampires, Alan!

    Small doses when not in vampire centric scenes are best like the really wonderful scene between Tara and Andy although it concerned Eggs and another storyline I couldn’t care less about. I’m so sick of Eggs that I don’t even have them for breakfast anymore.

    Sam? They’ve killed Sam as a charcter for me.

    I totally loved your viewpoint of Eric; he’s my absolute favorite character on this show followed closely by Pam and Jessica.

    Russell, Talbot, and Franklin (although I wish Franklin had been handled differently)were great characters but they get killed off while boring characters are maintained. Now we’re going to endure a conspiracy plot between Mrs Fortenberry and Summer? Sigh!

    If they would cut the pointless storylines down or out, then maybe they could focus on character development, and I’m referring to Sookie. Of all the characters, she is the most disappointing particularly compared to her stronger book counterpart. A stronger, smarter Sookie wouldn’t need lame gimmicks like the fingers of fail or dream fairyland to see her through. (Sorry went into rant mode for a minute.)

    Absolutely love your reviews!

  • Penny L

    I LOVED this review, and I also wish it could be forwarded directly to Alan Ball!

    Your view of Eric’s evolution as a character and how masterfully Alex Skarsgard is playing him is just spot-on. I also really think your thoughts about how Bill misinterprets Eric and Russell are very insightful. I hope next season will focus far less on the secondary cast members (who are indeed all fine actors … it’s the excessive screen-time and unwieldy number of subplots that is problematic). Focus on the core story of the vampires (let Skarsgard work his magic) and yes, focus more on Sookie. The show needs to be more than her narrow first-person POV in the books for sure, but she’s gotten completely lost in the series lately.

    Again, I really, really enjoyed this review and agreed with every word! I only wish I’d written it. :)

  • Danyne

    Gerry, you did it again – an amazing review, with exactly the breakdown that I had thought of on the lows, and the highs. Too much of the side characters taking over the show, when the heart and main story of Eric/Sookie/Bill/Pam/Russell hardly gets any airtime. Maddening…

    It was moving to see the wonder of Eric feeling the sun again, and yet being fully aware still of the entire scenario, that it wouldn’t last, and his uttered hope in his native tongue that his skin starting to smoke wouldn’t show…and he really shows his courage and character with his “Be brave..we’ll die together.” That’s jaw dropping commitment, he is really a giant of a hero!
    Had to chuckle at the cheery, cartoonish phone ring in the midst of the intense conversation between Eric and Russell. Russell’s face as well, lol, he was mystified and somewhat disturbed by it, hilarious.
    Denis O’Hare should get an Emmy nod, he was a great villain. Looking forward to seeing how Eric is saved (I’d love it if it were Sookie…but she’s not even revived yet off the table) and did I see Godric in the previews? A vision perhaps, to carry Eric through this..? It seems to me Russell should burn much faster than Eric, being 3 times older. We’ll see…looking forward to your spot on review in two weeks!

  • Gerry

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments! It’s too bad about the side plots that aren’t feeding into the main plot–I’m really hoping Alan Ball notices he’s got way too many stories to service this late in the season. But the vampire led plot is just so good, it keeps me coming back for more.

    I’m not sure yet whether Eric is actually sacrificing himself and something outside his control will save him or if he has an ace up his sleeve. I tend toward the first scenario, because Pam is so sad. I do think Russell’s age will factor into his downfall, which is nicely ironic, because it’s his age that makes him seem so invincible.

  • http://www.ericnorthman.net DeeDee

    You get it way more than Alan Ball does, and he claims to have read the books. Keep on keepin’ on!

  • Øystein

    Like Godric said; a vampire burns faster, the elder they get. So I am pretty sure Eric doesn’t die. Besides, that would kill the whole show.

    I have read the books, and it’s a good thing that they change the story a bit, so it still is exciting to watch the show, but seriously, Eric can’t die. I also have to agree with everyone here, that some of the non-vampire storylines is just boring. Ball should definatly have more focus on the part where vampires is included for the next season!

  • Nancy

    As always such a lovely write-up. I do have one thing to add concerning the moment when Eric is drinking Sookie’s blood from her neck. He’s also lovingly petting her head as if to say, “Don’t worry. Everything is alright.”

  • Christine

    Gerry, you are truly an angel with keen insight. And you have the guts to say it like it is. I was OverJoyed reading your review on the last Episode of True Blood and I was cheering you.

    I agree with each and everything you said.

    Lastly, you were way too kind to Bill, but that just added to the charm of the review.

    Thank you

  • http://fabib.wordpress.com/ fabi

    Very god review indeed! I also hope the writers had done a good focussed finale for this season because this has been my favorite so far and deserves it… and the waiting period is long enough and we deserve it.
    Your description of Eric is brilliant.

  • http://roydupuis-online.com ANV

    Hi Gerry,

    I couldn’t post in the last review, (real life gets on my way LOL) but I’ve read it and I also loved it!
    You always express with the right words what most of us feel, and makes us realise of a million things more that we don’t notice or just don’t understand. Your keen eye is a light in the darkness, and you never left us something to add haha
    And even when you always say wonderful things about Eric is not like you are on a particular “team” like other reviewers.
    I wait your reviews just as eagerly as I wait for the episode, and as “trubies” LOL we know how much that is.
    Ok, enough with the praise. I know these are silly details, but if you have time to answer I will like to have your opinion.
    What do you think about Eric gulping before biting Sookie? Talking with other friends we’re thinking that maybe it was “too much”, like a bit overacted. I even think it was dangerous, to show so much feeling for a human (especially one that you’re trying to “sell”/use/trade) in front of Russell. I mean, Russell could notice it (and actually kind of did) and suspect that there’s a big chance the whole thing is a trap.
    Also, I didn’t enjoy that Sookie jumped and screamed so much when Eric bit her, because I’m sure he did it in the less painful way, (and even soothed her while he was drinking!)
    But then again maybe I’m thinking the whole thing too much, she was being drained after all, and Eric was in an “end game” sort of position, so he gulped because it was the last time he would see her.

    Sorry for my english, and thanks once again for another great review!
    Cheers!

    Alby

  • TF

    Best review I’ve read on an episode…ever. I find myself giving the hurry-up signal to the tv for the side plots. I don’t understand why they take time away from the complex characters and storylines, only to give us Jason scenes.

    The Eric and Russell scenes are the most memorable, but it seems like they are given the least amount of time in the episodes. I think it’s a testament to their acting. Alexander is able to give such emotion with a simple stroke of a cheek and a look. I think he is underutilized. I’m hoping they trim the fat in season 4.

  • http://konfettii.blogspot.com/ konfettii

    Brilliant, as always!
    (btw, I take back everything I said about Arlene a few weeks back. Now that the secret is revealed I’m over the storyline. TB apparently is not. Be careful what you wish for, I suppose *facepalm*)
    I agree that Bill’s line about there not being a bigger picture for him spoke volumes and it seemed to sum up why I’ve been so uncomfortable his his character this season. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it until now, but suffice it to say he is, in fact, nothing like Eric. I try hard not to compare these two, but it’s hard to avoid it when even the characters are doing so!
    I found the Jess/Hoyt storyline very sweet. Wasn’t sure what was happening with Mrs. F and Summer. At least I hope I don’t know, because what I saw gave me some very creepy shivers. Jessica’s willingness to let Hoyt judge for himself what and who he loves is a fantastic contrast to Hoyt’s mom, with her tales of intruders and murder and guilt to prevent her son from ever leaving her.
    Besides the ending, which I think was possibly my favorite in the entire series, I adored the Bill/Pam fight at the beginning. Even Yvetta teetering down the stairs, declaring she was officially NOT on Team Eric any longer, make me giggle.
    And what else can be said about Eric you haven’t already? His character is extraordinary, made all the better by Pam methinks. I felt his fear and his amazement when he walked into the sun. It takes quite a bit to emotionally move a cynical old bag like me, but this did.
    Thank you again!

  • Gerry

    Wow, so nice to hear from you all!

    ANV, I liked the way Skarsgard played that whole scene, with so much of what he did being able to be read different ways, depending on how much the character knows.

    I think the moment Russell concentrated on to decide whether Eric was for real or not was when he said Eric had to go first into the sun, and Eric handled that moment very convincingly. Since Russell has no more interest in Sookie than a blood buffet, he’s not especially attuned to Eric feeling more for her, especially since Eric just offered her up on a platter. I think if Sookie and Eric had been exchanging emotional looks, that would have felt odd to Russell, but Sookie isn’t reading Eric any differently than Russell is. I think the moment Eric takes, with his swallow, signals both his deep delight in finally getting to taste Sookie and the sadness he’s hiding that it will be almost the last thing he does and that doing so leaves Sookie thinking the worst of him. It’s a loaded moment for him in so many ways.

    But I don’t think Russell finds it out of character that Eric takes his time biting her or strokes her hair. Eric is a sensual vampire, well versed in seduction. He stroked Russell’s jacket when they were going to Sophie Ann’s and was very seductive with Talbot. Russell actually has a fair amount of experience with Eric’s sensuality.

    I have to say, I give Sookie a pass for screaming as she’s offered up to two vampires to feed on her against her will while her boyfriend sits and watches. (-: The vampire bite may be sensual when you are in to it, but I doubt it feels good when you held down and drunk almost to death. I did love Eric’s touch of stroking her hair. As usual, I think you can read it two ways: as his usual delight in touching someone he wants and as a way to try and signal Sookie he’s not really working against her. I just don’t blame Sookie for not finding it comforting or sexy in those circumstances. Perhaps later, though, she’ll remember he was as gentle as he could be under the circumstances.

  • Danyne

    Gerry, probably not the place to ask, but do you review other shows? Maybe Dexter perhaps? I don’t watch Lie to Me…but with a new season rolling in, just curious to know what else you’ll be reviewing.
    How about Fringe? :-)
    You’re a hit, I hope you get bigger! We need more excellent insights and reviews!
    Looking forward to your TB finale review….even though I am not looking forward to the end of TB Season 3. *sigh*

  • Gerry

    Danye, thanks so much! Right now, I just do True Blood and Lie To Me. I’m on the fence about Lie To Me, but with new writers coming on for season three, we’ll see. I have watched Fringe off and on and have liked it. I’m tempted, though there may already be someone doing that show here. Not that I can’t also write on it, but if someone already has a following, it may not make sense for me to. But I’m intrigued enough to look into it. (-:

  • DJ

    I’ve loved this season the best of all and there has been so much great stuff going on! But, at the same time, I feel like this was the worst episode of the season, except for the Russell and Jessica plot lines of course, and it doesn’t feel like the season finale is in two weeks, there is so much going on and leading nowhere.

    This review was great and I agree with it 100%, it addresses all my issues. I only wish I had discovered this blog sooner, and I’ll be sure to read all your reviews next season!