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'True Blood': You want werewolves? Oh, we got werewolves

June 13, 2010 | 10:46 pm

Magister
 "True Blood" is a show that's going to be difficult to write up for a family newspaper. I took note of many of the best lines from Sunday night's episode, then was only able to use about three of them, as they weren't riddled with swears. One character introduction came as another character was chained up, naked, in a basement. The series has never met a sex scene it couldn't enliven with a little blood or borderline insanity, and it's rather fond of things like people dining on the hearts of others. It's also, when it's in its groove, like nothing else on TV or in the history of TV. It's silly, sure, and only about skin deep most of the time, but, Lord, when it gets going, is it ever fun.

Fortunately, "Bad Blood," the third-season premiere, is an episode that is a lot of fun. When I was asking to be put on this assignment, I said that "True Blood" was a show where I liked certain elements a whole lot and found other elements to be pretty trying. Indeed, I like the show more and more the further it gets from what is ostensibly its central relationship, the love affair between Vampire Bill and Sookie Stackhouse. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm on Team Eric or anything, but when he and Sookie are on screen together, it's fun and exciting, and you never quite know what's going to happen next. Sookie and Bill keep ending up in boring rehashes of Harlequin romances. For me, it's no contest: When Sookie and Bill are apart, the show comes alive. When they're together, it drags.

How fortunate, then, that we open Season 3 with Bill kidnapped and taken off to Mississippi by werewolves. Sookie's hot on his trail, of course, but without the other to mope around with, the two show off some of the zest that must have gotten Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer cast in these parts in the first place. "True Blood" is at its best when it's moving forward so quickly that you can't adequately formulate objections to it (since it is so, so often really far over the top), and "Bad Blood" was a complete success in this regard. If you weren't digging one particular storyline, well, show-runner Alan Ball and his writing staff had eight or nine other plotlines just around the corner.

But let's return to Bill and Sookie for a moment. Bill almost seemed like the kind of crazy hellcat the show had always insisted he was in the past, and Moyer finally was up to the task of playing this. When the episode ended with him facing off against a bunch of werewolves single-handedly, it was the big, over-the-top Gothic climax the episode needed. But his awesomeness didn't stop there. He was feeding on an old woman, then tricking her into thinking her son asked him to drop by. He was burying himself to avoid sunlight. He was escaping from the wolves as they drove around in their truck and tried to feed off of him. He was proactive and crazy and all of the things you want out of a borderline unstable hero.

Sookie, meanwhile, was getting similarly proactive in trying to find her vampire love, even going to Eric for his help (though Eric was plotting to kidnap Bill himself, but that's for another time and place) and embarking on her own journey to find the guy. Sookie can be kind of stupid -- I honestly think that's part of the character's charm -- but when she wants something, she's pretty tenacious. And this episode provides a good example of the kind of spunk she has when she needs to get something done, and she needs to get it done right now. I'm not sure I bought that everyone in Bon Temps was going to be so hard on her for not immediately saying yes to Bill's marriage proposal, since everything was ridiculously crazy last season, but I also bought that this was one of those things typical of people who lived in small towns on TV -- even small towns infested with vampires. I also liked when Sookie puzzled out that Bill might not have called Jessica, but he might very well have "called" her, using his connection to her as her maker. Good stuff.

I'm less certain on many of the other plotlines, though I get that almost all of them were just setting up for the season to come. For one thing, I'm not sure I want to see Jason going through a lot of emotional trauma. Jason's a character the show keeps trying to force drama onto, but he's also a character that is much better when utilized as comic relief. I haven't seen much in the way the character is written or performed to suggest that his guilt over the murder he committed last season is going to be anything other than a way to give Ryan Kwanten something to do while everyone else is off in the vampires vs. werewolves storyline. Similarly, I long ago burned out on stories about Tara trying to deal with her emotional issues.

I do like the idea that Sam is going to go off and find out about his birth family. I'm a sucker for a storyline like this (being adopted myself), and the fact that Sam is probably going to find out more about his particular powers is going to be something that makes the season hum along, I'll bet. It certainly helps that his ability to change into a dog has a nice resonance with all of the werewolves we meet in the episode, and that scene where he and Bill have their weird, homoerotic talk in his dream is a hoot and probably sent half the Internet's fan fiction communities to buzzing.

But what really worked for me out of these other plots was the way that the show teased out more about vampire society. I'm still not sure about Evan Rachel Wood's vampire queen character (I think that Wood is playing the part a little too blandly to really work), but I'm greatly enjoying the way that everyone is respectful of the Magister (played wonderfully by Zeljko Ivanek) to his face and snickers about him and makes jokes behind his back. I'm intrigued to see how all of this plays out and learn everything we can about the weird blend of courtly values and modern politics that seems to make up vampire society. The best thing about "True Blood" has always been the ever-expanding universe it's set in. Every time we get another look at that world, a closer, more involved look, the better the show is.

Some other thoughts:

  • * Hi! I'm Todd VanDerWerff, the new "True Blood" guy. My apologies for being a little late tonight, as I've been running behind on this assignment all week. But now that I'm caught up, let me know what you'd like to see. I was writing thousands upon thousands of words about "Lost" per week there at the end of that show, and while I don't know if "True Blood" is quite deep enough for THAT kind of analysis, it's certainly a fun show with passionate fans, and I'd like to give y'all something to chew on between episodes.
  • * Oh right. Jessica killed a guy, and she's messed up about it. Deborah Ann Woll is one of my favorite actors on the show, but not even she could save the go-nowhereness of this plot so far.
  • * This show needs to give Lafayette more to do and soon. He's such an engaging character, and he so often ends up in the role of a scold for some reason. And the less we see of Tara's mom, the better.
  • * "I'm in no mood for lesbian weirdness tonight, Pam."
  • * "Yvetta, meet Sookie. From here."
  • * "What am I thinking about right now? You know. In my brain."

--Todd VanDerWerff
twitter.com/tvoti

Photo: The Magister (Zeljko Ivanek, left), Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), and Sophie are hot on the trail of Bill after some werewolves take him in the "True Blood" season premiere. Credit: HBO

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