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'True Blood': 500 storylines and nothing on

June 27, 2010 | 11:35 pm

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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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