Well, one thing True Blood‘s latest installment showed very clearly last night is the show is indeed hitting the ground running—the pace was fast and furious. It also showed what is often the series’ weakness—when it’s good, it’s very very good, and when it’s bad, it’s horrid.
We saw both extremes in “Hitting The Ground,” as the question of what exactly Sookie is (the horrid) played in contrast to Russell’s power play against the Magister (the very good). There was a little middle ground—Sam finally found his balls and Jason reminded us why he’s so adorable when we don’t have to care about his plot. Jessica was missing altogether, and I hope the decision to off three characters from the overcrowded show creates some space for her to come forward in the story again. Come to that, I missed Franklin, too, though I guess he needs a little time to regrow his head. Only on True Blood.
The show opens with Lorena drinking Sookie’s blood with murderous intent, only to break off to remark on how absolutely delicious she is and use one of her last moments to establish Sookie’s theme for the week: “What are you?” Lorena has been a rather wonderful force on the show, obviously evil, yet very compelling in her obsessive pursuit of a vampire who detests her. And she looked great doing it, embodying the edgy elegance of her favourite era. I’ll miss her, though she served her purpose of reminding the audience Bill is a conflicted vampire, holding on to his humanity by denying the baser urges he nevertheless has.
I wasn’t overly happy at the manner of Lorena’s dispatch, though. Bill and Sookie together has not been one of the stronger plotlines in the past, and both characters benefitted from being apart this season. I had been hoping the two would avoid some of their more irritating tendencies when they reunited. But I found it a bit anti-climatic on Sookie’s part when the only way she made good on her threat to kill Lorena was by Bill holding his Maker still for her. I question Bill having the strength do so to his Maker even with his chains and Sookie needing Bill to come rescue her is a tired refrain on the show.
In fairness, she then goes into Rescue Bill mode, overruling every suggestion Alcide and Tara make regarding Bill and brushing aside Tara’s anger at Bill leaving her to die at Franklin’s hands. Brushing Alcide off I can understand, as he seems to take turns being led around by the nose by one furious female after another. Debbie Van Pelt has a great scene with her ex-boyfriend where she turns truly menacing and holds all the power even as Alcide locks her in the slave quarters. Clearly, we’ll see her again, even if we won’t see Coot.
Coot’s end was also anti-climactic. Alcide and Coot have been positioned as rivals all season, and I expected at some point, we’d see the two fight it out. But the problem with having the werewolves turn into actual wolves, I guess, is that no one on set wants to have actual wolves fighting each other. It’s a valid issue from an animal handling point of view, but dramatically, having Alcide simply shoot Coot when he runs into the shed lacks, I don’t know, vigour? And I think Alcide needs all the vigour he can get.
Tara, on the other hand, has grabbed back her season one kick ass personality and she spends the episode trying to get Sookie to see past her rather rose coloured vision of Bill. Sookie shows just how little she understands about vampire nature when she decides to feed the almost dead Bill with no one around to help him keep control. And control is not Bill’s strong suit. In a decidedly unsexy scene, Bill overpowers Sookie and drinks her almost to death. Although this was not a conscious decision, we’ve seen enough of the side Bill tries to keep hidden from Sookie this season to know he is no innocent victim in the shenanigans around Sookie and she needs to start seeing him clearly. If this doesn’t do it, she needs to join Franklin in some relationship therapy.
It’s at this point Sookie’s storyline veers from breakneck with some issues to outright silly. Why would the doctor randomly choose a blood type other than O negative to transfuse into Sookie if she doesn’t know her blood type? That’s just sloppy writing. And to go from there to some enchanted magical land populated by scantily clad terrible dancers who shop at the Disney store—egads. Claudine is going to be important, since she holds the key to the now getting annoying question of what Sookie is, but I recommend Alan Ball keep Claudine in Bon Temps’ world, which nicely plays off the fantastic elements against the Southern backdrop.
I also didn’t like the decision to change the rules of vampire nature and allow Bill to face the sunlight. I loved Tara making the choice to kick him out of the van and wondered how he’d save himself. The option to make Sookie’s blood change his nature is not a good one. The basic rule of writing fantasy is to establish the rules of the world and then stick to them. That keeps the action logical and believable, which is pretty key when luring viewers into the world of vamps and weres. We’ve gone willingly so far, but I think Ball should tread warily on changing up the rules to rescue someone.
All in all, Sookie’s plotline was riddled with irritating elements. I’m hoping we see logical kickass Sookie join Tara next week.
The Eric/Russell plot line, in contrast, was excellent. We join Queen Sophie Ann in a gilded and no doubt solid silver cage as Eric drags poor Hadley in to play a game of chicken with the queen. If she doesn’t tell him why Sookie is interesting, he’ll drink Hadley dry. He’s taken the precaution of letting Hadley know his plan, so she can work on the queen, too. Sophie Ann won’t budge, but Hadley turns out to be a player herself, knowing enough to surprise Eric when she whispers some secrets in his ear. The scene has some parallels to Bill almost killing Sookie, but it also has some key differences. Eric is always in control and shows he has no intention of killing Hadley unnecessarily when he feeds her his blood to heal her from his bite. And he keeps that same control as he goes to rescue the person he loves, Pam, from the Magister.
The scenes with the Magister at Fangtasia showcase what’s working so well this season. The dungeon is charged with the intensity Denis O’Hare brings to Russell as he reveals his master plan to take back authority from the Authority, whatever it is, while Eric’s own plans introduce subcurrents that swirl around the edges of Russell’s power. Zeljko Ivanek shows why he is such an in demand character actor as the Magister goes from oozing menace toward Pam to outrage at Russell’s blasphemy to fear for his life. Eric goes from the ruthlessness he showed to Hadley to tenderness as he makes sure Pam is alright, while still keeping his eye on Russell as he tries to prevent the king from going overboard and ensuring the Authority gets involved by killing the Magister. We know, as Russell doesn’t, this is not because Eric is loyal to the king but because he has his own plans for him. Russell, whose desire to take control of the earth has dulled his political acuity, doesn’t listen to Eric and strikes off the Magister’s head. As it hits the ground, the stage is set for us to find out a whole lot more about deadly vampire politics. This stuff is pure gold.
Now that we are finally rid of Joe Lee’s droopy underpants, I hope Sam and Tommy join the vampire story somehow, rather than have to further fend off their parents. Sam Trammell shows why he is such a good actor as he first deepens his Louisiana drawl to impersonate a red neck dog fighting fan and then tells off Joe Lee, but I remain unconvinced the pay off was worth the plot. I also hope Sookie and Bill rejoin Eric and Russell and not necessarily together, either. And of course, Tara has yet to get rid of Franklin, and I hate to say “Thank goodness,” but dang, he’s fun. Not a boyfriend prospect, of course, but very enjoyable in his own batty way. With any luck, the next five episodes will focus on what really works and back slowly away from cheesy dances and Sookie silliness.