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'True Blood': 500 storylines and nothing on

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 I realize I'm far from the first person to say this, but I'm starting to worry "True Blood" has spawned too many plots in its third season. Look at tonight: You've got Sookie heading off with her new pal, Alcide, to find Bill. But that's only after she and Eric do a little werewolf detecting. You've got the adventures of Bill in his Mississippi prison with Lorena and Russell, but you also get to look into his past again. You've got Sam doing ... something with his birth family. Tara continues to go through the stress of losing Eggs and attracting a new suitor. Arlene is pregnant again, but the baby is farther along than it should be if it's Terry's. Jason is trying to become a cop while still dealing with the leftover feelings from last season. Jessica continues to attempt to hide that dead body. And the vampire PI is just generally making everybody's life miserable. And that's to say nothing of plots that basically don't turn up at all, like, say, Eric and Godric in World War II.

All of these storylines more or less shared the same hour, but they didn't really have a lot in common, beyond just featuring characters who exist in the show's universe. On most other shows with this large of an ensemble, the storylines are either pared down each week, or they all share some sort of thematic link. On "True Blood," the writers just come up with a bunch of crazy stuff for the characters to do, then toss their scripts in the deep end. This is not a bad thing, mind you. Part of the fun of the show is seeing what crazy stuff the writers can cram into every episode. But there comes a point where there's just too much going on, and "True Blood" is toeing that line. Realistically, how much more can the show put in there? I expect we're about to find out.

To its credit, "It Hurts Me Too" attempts to do all of this stuff over the course of an episode that's more about contemplation and developing character. In some cases, this is all right. I'm still enjoying Bill's weird Mississippi adventures, and Sookie being proactive is always fun. In some cases, it's a little more mixed. Tara, for instance, is finally starting to show some spine, but then she blows it at the end (with a little assistance from some vampire glamor). And in some cases, this feels completely unnecessary. As mentioned a couple weeks ago, seeing Jason go through emotional trauma is not something that the show was necessarily calling out for, and I've officially lost patience with the Sam storyline, which has hit the same two or three beats for three straight weeks now. We get it. Can we move on to see where this goes next?

But let's start at the end with one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen on TV. Bill, having once again learned that vampires can only bring humans misery (something that Lorena should really have made into a bumper sticker), pushes Lorena down on the bed and, after insisting he doesn't love her and so on and so forth, begins having absolutely the angriest sex you ever did see with her. For "True Blood," there's surprisingly little nudity, and that's because what comes next is just too messed up to be anywhere near nakedness: Bill grabs Lorena's head and twists it around until it's facing backwards and her lips are dribbling blood. Then, he continues his angry, angry sex, while Lorena babbles about stuff (at this point, I was too weirded out to pay extremely close attention) and her head just kind of bobbles there. If nothing else, "True Blood" has guaranteed that I won't forget that image as long as I live.

But I thought the rest of this storyline was pretty good. Flashbacks to Bill's tortured past can be hit and miss, but seeing him attempt to visit the corpse of his son back in the 1860s and reveal his vampire nature to his wife. This goes about as well as you could expect, and Lorena makes him glamor her so she forgets he was ever there and the two vampires go to bury his son. This had a nice sense of the Southern Gothic tragedy that I like about the show -- like a Flannery O'Connor short story with monsters -- and I liked the way it seemed like it was going to contradict previously known things about Bill's past and then found a way to neatly elude doing so. Similarly, I didn't think Bill telling Russell he swore allegiance to him was as big of a moment as the show wanted me to, but it was acted and directed well nonetheless.

Also, I never thought I'd say this, but Sookie is turning into one of my favorite characters on the show right now. For much of the first two seasons, Sookie was unfortunately reduced to someone who either pined too heavily for her love or someone who needed to be rescued. Now that she's the one doing the rescuing, the spark has come back into Anna Paquin's performance. Whether she's helping Eric bury the corpse of a trashy werewolf in a fresh grave or going into a werewolf bar (which is helpfully marked by a picture of a wolf hanging on the wall) and doing some amateur detective work, spunky Sookie is a fun character to hang out with, and I hope we see more of her in the weeks to come.

Also, you had Franklin, vampire PI, who enlivened most of the scenes he was in. I mean, he went over to Jessica's house and pulled a head out of a bag, then had an ad hoc puppet show with the head. It doesn't get much more enlivening than that! On the other hand, while he made Tara seem more fun than she has in a while when the two were in bed together, he then glamored her into letting him into Sookie's house. Lame, Tara! Keep with the spine! (Also, Sookie tossed Eggs a funeral with her apparently unlimited amounts of cash. I know Eric paid her for her help in Dallas, but, Lord, she's not MADE of money.) 

This was probably my least favorite episode of the season so far, though, as you can see above, it had its good points. At some point, I want the show to start to collapse some of these storylines together. It did this, for the most part, in Season 2, so I know it can do it. I'm just a little impatient for that point in the season to come back around again. At this point, as soon as you're getting involved in one storyline, it's on to another thing, and that makes everything feel more chaotic than it really needs to, even with the "Death Becomes Her" sex.

Some other thoughts:

  • * I liked the way Eric was very careful to make sure the wreath over the grave was in just the right place again after filling it back in. A nice little touch by the actor there.
  • * "True Blood" subtlety: The show cut from a shot of Pam diving out of frame to perform oral sex on another woman to a shot of cherry pie with a slice taken out of it. Classy.
  • * I kind of feel like the vamps' glamor powers are a little ... too powerful. It seems like they can get out of any situation whatsoever using them.
  • * Hoyt and Jason are a pretty good comic pairing, but they're both getting a little too mope-y at present. I'm just not sure Jason would be this broken up.
  • * "I got your rug all wet."
  • * "He had a Mississippi accent. Can't you people tell the difference?"
  • * "The legal blood alcohol limit in the state of Louisiana is ...?" "Uh ... when you're drunk?"
  • * "If I had a nickel for every time ... it'd be 15 cents!"
  • * "I got a terrible track record with letting people into this house."
  • * Got ideas and thoughts you want to share with me before "True Blood" Saturday? Talk at me on e-mail or Twitter.

--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)

Photo: Tara (Rutina Wesley, left) and Sookie (Anna Paquin) throw an impromptu funeral in the latest "True Blood." Y'know. For fun. (Credit: HBO)

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Comments () | Archives (14)

My wife watched the show for the first time tonight. I tried to explain who all the characters were and she finally said "Forget it, I can't keep all that straight."

And after she mentioned it, I realized I was having trouble doing the same thing.

True Blood is fun summertime trash TV, but you're right - too many plots spoil the escapism.

what lorena said while her head was facing down was william I do love you. She is one sick witch. Bill started screaming after that, he was trying to make her hate him, or hurt her and she loves it!! Oy. I loved tonights show. My jaw dropped at the last scene...it will all come together hang in there.

Agree with your recap. TB needs to go back to the season one southern charm/goth which was part Charlain's books and part Alan's storytelling. I would compare this season to someone talking so fast and going off in so many different directions , you start to tune out. I am starting to tune out. My hope is that Jason goes back to being fun and his character doesn't turn into a repetitive Tara/Maryann downer.
The closing scene was disturbing and wrong. I might wait until after I read the reviews in 2 weeks before watching the next episode. If I hear that Lafayette was funny, Pam and Eric had some great lines, or Jessica, Arlene, Terry, Bill, Eric and now Alcide had a remarkable comeback, I will spend the time to watch it. After all there really isn't much else on TV to watch and the economy is still keeping a lot of people at home.

Like the books... the show is becoming all over the place. Thats why I stopped reading the books. Way to much at once going on.

for us who read the books, we kinda can see where this is going. but I could see how it could be confusing those who haven't (read the books).

This was a really good review. I actually agree with you 100% For those familar with the books you will no the novels are all about Sookie's Universe and I feel this season has strayed away from Sookie a lot compared to the previous seasons. She is talking to a wolf (Alcide) one minute and then she appears at a bar (I assume its in Jackson)looking for Bill. I felt like there needed to be a scene between there showing Alcide and Sookie together in the car or unpacking at his apartment or doing something to show us they are no longer in Bon Temps.
I am enjoying Bill's storyline and I though Russel was a pleasant suprise; I wasn't sure about the actor in pictures but when I actually saw him in action in Episode 1 and I knew he would be good.
I'm not sure about Franklin. I can see him becoming a huge bastard but he has a certain charm. Good acting! The way he pulled the head out of that bag made me laugh.
With the addition of Arlene (and Terry's) storyline I do think it is too much. Sam's story I guess they aren't wanting to make it too choppy but at the same time I want to see where it is going. Jason needs to man up and I wish Hoyt and Jessica would resolve their problems. I am however, looking forward to seeing more of the Andy/Jason relationship; they are such a crack up.
Eric is finally shining. His little scene with Lafayette was rather amusing and his little comment about getting Sookie's carpet wet revealled a playful side to him which we should see more of as the story unravells.
Now, Bill and Lorena! I have read a lot of things about this final scene about people claiming it was rape and so on. It was definately controversial but what people don't understand is that yes, Bill was released, but Lorena is STILL his maker and at the end of the day she still has some power over him. Lorena was definitely wanting it as she said so in several ways. Bill's final angry cry shows it is not something he wants. Nevertheless, whilst Lorena is "evil" I find her somehow likeable. She's another character that seems to have some kind of Charm.
Pam and Jessica may also have an interesting bond later on.

In my ideal True Blood Season 3 I wouldn't have the addition of Arlene's story as great as she is. If her and Terry weren't such fun characters I would be frustrated with this plot. Somehow I think Tara's story is necessary but I think Sam could have been encorporated a differently. Lafayette I dont think needs a huge part. I think we need more Sookie and Alcide (and even Eric) but It think They are showing a good amount of Bill's story.
Addition of new characters is just making some of this go crazy. Let's hope it sorts itself out. Having read the books, the third one was actually my favorite followed by the fourth. I'm hoping the show will be just as good otherwise Season 4 will be a complete spin.

I am an adult and I think I can handle more than sub-plot at a time. The show isn't your usual spoon fed drama. I appreciate that. Where you see little cohesion I see a lot of cohesion. The writers are taking the audience deeper into the world "supernatural beings". Until recently, this supernatural world and the existence of supernatural beings had remained hidden from humans. I feel as if the True Blood world as in real life is dealing with Pandora's box.

Vampires have gone undetected until the recent great revelation. Their powers such as "glamoring" make complete sense in a world where they killed people for food and somehow remained undetected for thousands of years. This power explains how they've gotten away with feeding off of humans without detection.

Where you see problems, I see clear explanation of why things are the way they are in the True Blood universe. The only thing they have not explained is the difference between "Weres"-- their strengths and capabilities compared to shifters, like Sam or vampires. They keep saying their vicious creatures but yeah if I turned into wolf I'd be vicisous, too. I think the fact they had them turned into actual wolves is lame. They should be akin to the Lycans in the BBC's Being Human, the Underworld Trilogy or even the Del Toro movie the Wolfman then I could see why vampires are so frigtened of werewolves. Those creatures are more like savage beasts.

I didn't even notice/make the connection to the cutaway of the cherry pie. Awesome catch. I agree on every point. I actually liked that for the first time in 2 seasons the "best friends" Tara and Sookie acted like they liked one another for the first time. This version of Tara is a little less annoying; lets keep her around.

My mouth hung open for several seconds following the closing of the episode where Bill twists Lorena's head around (complete with special effects a la John Carpenter's "The Thing").

I thought there was no way they'd top Bill setting Lorena on fire, but Alan Ball and the gang managed to outdo themselves. I told my friends I'm done with the show--that was almost too much for me.

What Lorena said "I. Still. Love you!" Was that the creepiest danged sex scene ever! (I wanna know how Bill did that with his pants on??) Uhhhggg! This scene took the 'love/hate' relationship to a whole other level! Geeze.

Will LaFayette still be 'discrete' driving around in a sports car? I think not... (he's one of my favorits by the way) I'm looking forward to that story line and the whole queen/king, who's selling and doing what thing, and where's Eric going with this?

And the sheriff stating he 'quits!'. That was too funny. I've always wanted to hear a sheriff or law person say that in one of these 'small town goes haywire' shows or movies. I mean really? How many dead people does it take before a person goes 'What the hell? I've had enough now!'.

I think that's what I really like about this fun and silly show. You never know what irreverant and wacky stuff is going to happen.

Dead-on as always Todd - lots of stuff going on. I thought they waited too long to pull all the story lines together last season. I'd like to see them do it sooner this season - and end the season with a reall 'bang'. I've been rather disappointed with the 'lack-luster segue to the next season' ending of the last two seasons.

I like ALL of the story lines...keep it going!

My favorite line was Pam's: "I'm right in the middle of something." LOVE Pam!

Veron,
Totally agree! I watched with some people who hadn't read the books, and I think they thought totally different things about the episode. All I can say is trust Alan Ball! I'm sure he will bring everything together seamlessly, and probably in highly dramatic fashion, even if we do have to wait until the season finale for it!

I can appreciate that the show has so many directions because
it constantly leaves you guessing. Can't say I agree with people who complain about how much sex is in the show because in reality, it reflects peoples' actual lives. You may not be one of those people but it's out there in heavy, heavy quantities. I'm not stressing that the first three episodes are going so fast but moving at a slow pace. It's speculation but the others voiced that the reason there is no new episode today is because the show is about to pick up. I do know from recent (small) spoilers that things are going to get extremely tight and chaotic before Russell makes his first move into Louisana but that's all I'm going to say. People complained about season 2 after the first three episodes because it was "moving too slow". There's about 8 more hours left to the season, let it mature before you express disappointment.


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