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.
The 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.