Ah, True Blood, you are as addictive as V, moving in surprising and powerful ways and occasionally just a bit scattered in your southern charm. Episode two, "Beautifully Broken," showcases the series' strengths and weaknesses, fortunately with the balance heavily weighted to the positive. With new characters popping up everywhere to introduce themselves, usually with gallant charm but occasionally with sly malevolence, and a breakneck pace to the well written plot, this episode continues season three's strong opening.
Let me begin by clearly stating I love the show in general and enjoyed this particular episode. I surrendered without protest as character upon character and plot upon plot raced by, ratcheting up the stakes for familiar characters and newbies alike. I laughed and jumped in surprise and was moved, sometimes all at the same time. That's Alan Ball at his best, thinking up the most outlandish plots that nevertheless work perfectly in his world and reveal layer upon layer in his characters. However, some of the issues from last season do appear to be hovering over this one, and I hope Ball manages to steer clear as the season unfolds.
I'll start with some of those potential problems, before getting to the strengths of the episode. Last season, the show had a pacing problem, as the writers developed two separate story lines which didn't come together until the final three episodes. The maenad story thread, despite the excellent Michelle Forbes, had to spin its wheels in the middle of the season as some of its key players had headed off to Dallas for the riveting Eric/Godric storyline. When the maenad story picked up again, it did so largely without Eric, despite how compelling he had just been in Dallas. The soggy middle and underuse of key characters did not improve the maenad story and I hoped we would see a more integrated third season with more even pacing. "Beautifully Broken" is a little disappointing in that respect.
Though each separate plot piece is well written and acted and pushes the characters further into trouble as they look into their pasts, the pieces together do not form a seamless whole. Instead, the seams are clearly visible, because at this point the different stories do not hook together. And the multitude of new characters, though each very intriguing, means each segment is very choppy, as the show cuts back and forth among the story lines. That's an issue, because we need to care about the characters. We need to invest in what they desire, vicariously feeling their fear and their joy. That is a little hard to do even with some of the strongest segments, never mind the ones with Tara, Jason and Sam, which are taking their time getting going.