Well, True Blood upped the ante last night with a rather horrific scene involving Bill and Lorena. The scene will have lasting ramifications—though whether they are the ones the writer intended remains to be seen. We also meet Alcide at long last, and with this many new characters, Alan Ball will have to start pruning soon. The episode delivers on thrills, chills, and the odd touching moment, but the plot whiplash warning is still in effect. Fortunately, the first few stitches between different stories are also evident and very welcome.
I'll start with the Bill and Lorena story, since their ending scene certainly grabbed the attention. Bill's fiery reaction to meeting Lorena again is defused by King Russell, both for Bill and for Talbot, who is outraged at the loss of his rug. Russell and Talbot's partnership shows very nicely the strains and ruts a relationship can develop over time—and they have had lots of time to find annoying habits in each other. Yet, as Russell points out to Bill, they have a long-term commitment, something Bill cannot hope to have with Sookie while she is human. In fact, Russell smoothly but with a hint of sadness tells Bill he can desire her or desire her welfare, but not both. Russell's advice is to turn Sookie so they can have a future together, but Bill knows Sookie has never intimated she wants to be turned.
Russell's advice triggers a memory for Bill and a flashback for us, as Bill, hearing news of smallpox deaths, goes back to his home to check on his family. He's there to bury his son so his wife, Caroline, doesn't have to expose herself to the disease, but of course, he's also there to glimpse his old life. Caroline, however, reacts with horror when she realises Bill is no longer human. She cannot see her husband, only a monster, and loses what little grasp of reality survived the loss of her son. There is no old life for Bill to cherish, only loss.
Oddly, Lorena's addition to the scene actually calms it down, as she forces Bill to acknowledge he has only hurt Caroline by returning and the best thing he can do to help is glamour her into forgetting him. This Lorena has a few more sides to her than the jealous cruel creature we've met so far. In fact, she stops Bill from biting Caroline when his wife begs him to kill her. Lorena brings the situation under control, and, echoing Russell, tells Bill, "The only way to show your love for a human is to stay away forever."
Bill has only rage toward Lorena for this lesson—or so he tells himself. He decides the only way to protect Sookie is to accept Russell's offer to change loyalties from Louisiana to Mississippi. Russell is delighted at the success of his plan and lets Lorena know in no uncertain terms he is now looking at Bill with favour, not her. Lorena appears to have lost her gamble to get Bill back, but she knows him very well, better than we do, it turns out.
She visits Bill in his bedroom to see what she can provoke, and it takes very little for Bill to vent his rage at having to give up Sookie to protect her. That's not surprising. But it is surprising when Lorena kisses Bill and instead of repulsing her, he throws her down on the bed and has very, very angry sex with her. And that's angry as in snapping her neck so he doesn't have to look at her. In one way, the scene shows Bill giving up on his humanity with the woman he blames for having to do so.
But the scene is not poignant. I did not feel sorry for Bill. It's disturbing to find out Bill's rage can funnel itself into a rape fantasy, and the fact that Lorena wants his attention does not defuse that, because Bill would clearly be even happier if she didn't and hated what he was doing. He's not reaching out to Lorena, he's punishing her. We've always known Bill is a young vampire who is not yet in full control of himself, but this scene reminds us of his capacity for violence and perhaps also self-delusion. I know the scene did not leave me hoping Bill finds his way back to Sookie any time soon. The violence is certainly effective, but it has a big impact on Bill's characterization. I'm not sure where the writers are going with Bill's capacity to rape, but it had better be somewhere.
Bill's nightmare is only one of several bad dreams in the episode. Jason continues to lose his hold on reality as he faces not only bullet holes in his friends' foreheads but also the classic missing underpants in his test taking nightmare. Jason has decided he's Bontemps' gift to law enforcement and is destined to be a cop. Unfortunately, there are some pesky tests to take first and Jason has never been about the paperwork. I wish I cared a little bit more for Jason's issues, but not only do I wish Eggs' story would die a decent death and stay gone, I also find it hard to feel sorry for Jason's decision to burn the law enforcement application because I know he didn't intend to do any work to pass it. I like the guy, but my fears about not buying a dramatic plot for him are still very much there.
Poor sheriff Bud Dearborn also decides he's living in a nightmare when Hoyt turns up yet another body in his patch. As Andy matter-of-factly runs down the evidence that a vampire must have ripped the body's head off, Bud has a meltdown instead, declaring that murder is so rampant in Bon Temps, "It's like crab grass!" Exit stage left and I suspect an opening has been made to increase Chris Bauer's time on the show. I'm all in favour, if that's the plan.
Besides creating space for Andy, the body (who is the missing trucker from last week) links Jessica's story to Franklin's. James Frain has made a big impression in a short time—his Franklin is genuinely menacing, strangely attractive, and just plain enjoyable on screen. He's one of my favourite newbies (I also really enjoy Denis O'Hare), making me laugh at the macabre ventriloquism act with the dead man's head. Poor Jessica has no chance against this vamp and he extracts all the information she has about Bill, Sookie—and Tara.
Tara starts out really strongly in this episode. From her really loud sex scene with Franklin where she firmly refuses to give him so much as her name to the Eggs funeral scene with Sookie, she is likable again, vulnerable but sassy, hurt but sticking up for herself. I was so relieved to get my Tara back—when the dratted writers served up another side of zombie Tara, like we were missing her. Thank goodness Franklin is fascinating, because the sight of a glamoured Tara looking blank and inviting bad news into Sookie's house is so last year. So far, Tara's interactions with Franklin have been interesting, but please, writers, give her back her spine. On the positive side, storywise at least, Franklin has linked Jessica and Tara to whatever he's up to in Bon Temps.
Eric's story also starts to knit into several other characters, and that is always a good thing. "It Hurts Me Too" springs to life when Eric takes Sookie's bullet in order to save the attacking werewolf for questioning. In what may be meant to resonate with Bill's loss of control with Lorena, Eric appears to lose control of himself when he spots the Nazi/runic tattoo on the werewolf's neck. With a snarl, he tears the man's throat out, and only when he finishes does he realise he's knocked his chances of seducing Sookie back several paces. In a wonderful True Blood moment, he ironically says, "I got your rug wet." However, he responds to Sookie's chiding about losing control by telling her a werewolf hopped up on vampire blood is strong enough to be dangerous even to him. Skarsgard forces us to wonder how out of control Eric really was.
The actor has a delicate touch with Eric, never shying away from Eric's hard places while still allowing a certain vulnerability to shine through. And he's funny, which helps even out his sneaky side. Sookie appears a little off balance with Eric as she gets to know him better. She's come a long way from comparing him to cancer when she hesitantly asks Eric just how fast he can get to Jackson if she's in trouble. Eric, knowing he has his hands full with the Queen and the Magister, can only tell her it's not likely to be fast enough.
Being Eric, he has a plan and that plan is Alcide, the werewolf whose family owes him a debt. Again knitting story lines together, Eric sends Alcide to look after Sookie as she investigates werewolves in Jackson in order to find Bill. Alcide is a relatively good werewolf who detests Russell's wild band of werewolves, especially since his ex-girlfriend is now engaged to Cooter, the leader of the pack.
Joe Manganiello's Alcide physically looks great—he's a believable and very in-shape werewolf. I found him a little underwhelming on the whole, though, because for a guy who's supposed to be looking after Sookie, he doesn't have much of a plan when he lets her loose in the werewolf bar. The whole plot would have met a quick and bloody end if the bartender hadn't shown up with a bat. Still, early days, so hopefully Alcide steps up his game.
Eric, on the other hand, has an abundance of plans and this week they include his reluctant salesman, Lafayette. The vampire pulls back from the openness he had with Sookie and decides to manipulate his best salesman to shift even more V before the Magister sniffs out the operation. Nelson Ellis and Skarsgard are a great team, always fun to watch, and Kristin Bauer Von Straten just adds to the mix, so I'm looking forward to seeing where the V investigation goes.
Sadly, I don't feel that way about Sam's story yet. I love the actor, but I don't like or care about his family yet and it's been three episodes. In what may be a calculated move, I didn't even care much for Sam when he was embarrassed his hick family had shown up at his bar. I suspect we will find out he's got his own secrets hidden away in his office, and I only hope I will still care by the time they are revealed. I hate saying that, but my heart actually sank every time the scene switched back to his bar.
Overall, the episode was very good, though not as excellent as last week's. With all the new characters, the large cast is getting unwieldy and the knitting together of story lines needs to pick up speed. I also hope the writers know what they are doing in making Bill's character so full of stark contrasts. What did you think of "It Hurts Me Too"?