After what I considered a reinvigorated S4 last year, summer favourite True Blood is back with fresh episodes (and butt shots). So can the show maintain its creative resurgence?
Let’s bitch it out…I can easily understand why some people have issues with True Blood. As early as season one, the show began to diverge fairly steadily from its origins (the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris). Having read parts of the first book – they weren’t really my kind of fiction – so I’m okay with the show embarking on its own path. Like all adaptations, there’s value in comparing the original source material with the visual adaptation, but at the end of the day the new product still needs to be entertaining on its own.
With that in mind, however, True Blood has never been a perfect product. It’s “vampires as gay allegory” was interesting, but never went anywhere. “It’s HBO so let’s pack in the swearing and nudity” is amusing, but Spartacus – if we’re being honest – is far more daring and more adept at using both to titillate and advance the story. As a part of a trifecta of texts that reintroduced vampires into the mainstream (Twilight and, to a lesser extent, The Vampire Diaries, being the others), True Blood has always been the older, slightly more desperate sister.
But if the Southern-fried antics of this rag-tag bunch of supernatural beasties is your kind of dish, True Blood has always been the guiltiest, gutsiest and goriest of summer pleasures and I’m glad to have it back. In terms of where it’s been and where it’s at, I’d say ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ comes in somewhere between S3 (the introduction of Dennis O’Hare’s Russell Edgington) and S4 (the reign of Fiona Shaw’s Marnie Stonebrook).
My biggest issue with S3 was that despite O’Hare’s great turn as Edgington, the majority of the season kept everyone separated in their own storyline for far too long so that we, the audience, were forced to balance around twelve of them at any given time (several of which, in true True Blood fashion, were also either boring and predictable, or flat out terrible).
S4 mostly rectified this problem by streamlining the Marnie-Antonia (Paola Turbay) possession storyline so that other storylines played into it, including Pam’s (Kristin Bauer) face decomposing and Sookie (Anna Paquin), Tara (Rutina Wesley), Lafayette (Nelson Ellis) and Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) all being kept prisoner in the magic shop. Oh sure, Terry (Todd Lowe) and Arlene’s (Carrie Preston) devil baby storyline was a disappointment that took up big chunks of the early part of the season without a big pay-off, but it tied into the theme of the season (possession) by exploring a kinder, gentler kind of ghost.
‘Turn! Turn! Turn!” suffers because it reverts back to S3’s model of incredibly scattered storylines, so we have:
- Sookie and Lafayette cleaning up Debbie Pelt’s body and turning Tara into a vampire with Pam’s help
- Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric’s (Alexander Skarsgard) bromantic capture-escape-capture by the Authority with a brief semi-incestual (but not really) sexy detour into Nora (Lucy Griffiths)
- Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten) getting hit on by out-and-proud vampire/pastor Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian) and then coming to grips with the aftermath of his affair with teen vampire, Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll)
- Tie for dud of the night: Sam (Sam Trammell) taking the fall for Alcide’s (Joe Mangianello) murder of pack leader Marcus
- Other dud of the night: Terry and Arlene’s uncomfortable hosting of Terry’s old Iraqi commander, Patrick (Scott Foley), and
- Finally, Sheriff Andy (Chris Bauer) learning that waitress, Holly’s (Lauren Bowles) grown sons are dicks
So…that’s a lot. The problem is that True Blood often has difficulty balancing the appropriate weight and interest level in all of its stories at any given time. It seems that for every interesting story like Bill sleeping with and killing Lorena (Mariana Klaveno), we get a lacklustre one like Sam’s redneck, loser family storyline. At this point, going into the fifth season, a great deal of how you feel about the show is whether you like or dislike the characters. I personally don’t mind Tara because I think S4 did a good job of turning her from a harpy shrew into a battle-weary, but ultimately bad-ass best friend. I personally prefer less Sam because I think the series has saddled him with some of the worst storylines in its history, including his current dull-as-drying paint story with Luna (Janina Gavankar). Others may feel differently and view Tara’s vampiric return with dismay or take interest in Sam’s challenging situation with Bon Temps werewolf community. To each their own!
As it stands, at the end of the first hour, here’s where I stand: I’m interested to see more of Sookie, Pam and Lafayette’s attempt to control Tara, cautiously interested to see what Newlin hopes to do with Jason (apart from glamour him), generally ambivalent about Jason’s relationship with Jessica, bored with Sam, Luna and anything werewolf unless Alcide is shacking up with Sookie or taking his top off. The Authority stuff has promise (especially since Christopher Meloni joins the cast new week) and Russell Edgington, while far from my favourite villain, has the potential to infuse some horror and laughter into the show (aside from Pam’s barbs, tonight’s premiere was light on chuckles and sunshine). Like any show, it’s best to give it a few episodes to see how it all evens out, so I’m excited, though a bit worried that this could splinter into a million different (potentially eye-gougingly boring) stories.
- Pam should always be made to wear “Walmart sweatsuit” – her disdain at the shoddy attire reminds me of the time she was forced to ruin her heels to accompany Eric through the mud
- Lafayette’s inability to call up Jesus (whose body is missing) is a nice, quiet moment in an otherwise speedily paced episode. I also liked how both he and Sookie had grief stricken moments of reflection in the bath as they washed away the horrors of S4. I did not, however, appreciate the suggestion that Lafayette was considering committing suicide with that cutaway to the razor. I like his new bald look, but the razor better not be a foreshadow of Lafayette taking his own life later this season
- Good to know that Sookie is OCD when it comes to cleaning up bodies. If you should ever finding yourself in the clean-up business, now you know the formula: lemon over ammonia over bleach. Then again, I guess Sook has cleaned up a body or two from this kitchen before, right?
- Eric f*cking and kissing his sister, Nora: creepy or hot? Is this at all inspired by Game of Thrones? Has George RR Martin somehow made incest ‘okay’? Or is True Blood desperately trying to ride the ‘edgy’ bandwagon that HBO is now on?
- What’s up with Terry, Patrick and the fires that have claimed the lives of other members of their Iraq squad? I honestly have no idea where this is going, but if I could give out the true death to any one storyline, it would be this one. Do we really need to know more about Terry’s time in the military at the expense of more time with Bill, Eric, Sookie or even secondary cast members like Jessica? I’m leaning towards no.
- Finally, plenty of man flesh on display tonight: Jason’s entire left side (nice leg), Sam and Eric’s bums and – if that’s your thing – the nude backside of Andy. For the straight males…well at least you got Jessica’s little red riding hood costume again. That’s something, right?
That’s it for the premiere. What are your thoughts? What is Newlin after with Jason: a boyfriend or something more sinister? Are you excited for Russell Edgington (glimpsed, presumably, feeding on someone in a grotty warehouse)? What will become of Bill, Eric and Nora now that they’ve been captured by the Authority? And if you could play Guitar Hero with Jessica and her drunken frat friends, would you pick ‘Cherry Bomb’ or something else? Sound off below!
True Blood airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO