'True Blood': A great, gory, good time
"I Got a Right to Sing the Blues" is one of the better episodes "True Blood" has ever done, blending the grandly dark drama, the daffy over-the-top humor and the insane twists and turns the show is known for in nearly equal measure. There are a few scenes that don't work as well as they might -- Tara breaking Sookie out of the room where she was imprisoned was awesome in theory but edited a bit confusingly -- but for the most part, this was an episode that revealed the show clicking along on all cylinders. Remember, even as I complain about some things, I thought this was one of the show's top episodes. Now, let's complain about some things!
The Jason and Sam plot lines continue to feel essentially disconnected from everything else, as did the story of Arlene and Jessica dealing with the disgruntled customer. With all of the insanity going on over in Mississippi, with the way the show will occasionally just cut over to Sophie-Anne doing something equally crazy, it sure drags the show down when it returns to Bon Temps and a bunch of story lines that have nothing to do with anything. It's becoming increasingly clear that the theme of the season is staying true to oneself and embracing one's true nature, and I don't mind the ways these stories tie in to that idea. But I do wish that they didn't feel so disconnected from everything else going on. Last season, the two main story lines -- the Newlins and Maenad -- each had elements to keep us invested and tied in all of the characters. If you weren't really feeling the Maenad story line during a certain episode, well, at least Michelle Forbes' performance was reliably goofy and fun (I mean this as praise). This season, if you're not really feeling the Sam story line, there's just nowhere for it to turn. It can't suddenly reveal, out of nowhere, that Marshall Allman is an all-star actor on the level of Denis O'Hare, because he's not.
We got some interesting developments in all of these plots Sunday night -- it sure seems like Sam's family is into something unscrupulous, possibly dog-fighting, and Jason's new lady love is apparently engaged -- but they're all vague on both plot and emotional levels, and they drag when the stuff over in Mississippi moves along like a rocket ship. It's still not immediately clear why, say, Sam is so insistent on finding his family and bonding with them or what the whole deal with Jason's burgeoning cop career is (and just why it needs to be in the show). The problem is that the main plot is moving forward so quickly that we forget it's all happening over the course of a couple of days. Every time we flash back to Bon Temps, it's a reminder that, yeah, time is proceeding at what feels like a snail's pace. It wouldn't be realistic for Jason to abruptly become a deputy, but when the show insists on putting one thing after the other like in real life, it leads to story lines that move forward like molasses.
That said, there was a ton of stuff to enjoy here. Let's start with Franklin and Tara. I've been down on the weird psychodrama between the two in the last few weeks, but I very much enjoyed it this week, as Tara seemingly gave in to his demands because she felt so helpless, then beating in his head to make her escape. The show's been maneuvering Tara to the same position of reclaiming her strength that it maneuvered Sookie to earlier this season, and it's thrilling to watch that strength come spilling out all at once in this episode. Her bid to distract the werewolves with almonds just long enough to give Sookie a chance to smack them around was inspired, and I liked the escape from the mansion, even if the scene with Sookie and Tara beating up the werewolves was chaotically shot and edited, with a poor sense of where everyone was in relation to each other. I also loved Tara trying to get Sookie to leave Bill behind. Do it, Sookie! You're more interesting without him!
Every time I start to question the story line over in Mississippi, something happens to jerk my attention back to the show. It's either Russell tossing out some sort of note-perfect bit of dialogue or some crazy plot twist or some darkly demented scene. I long ago lost interest in the weird relationship between Lorena and Bill, but Sunday night's episode found a way to make it compelling again by putting the two in the same room and having Lorena torture Bill, rather than simply letting him die. The dialogue here, from series mastermind Alan Ball, was refreshingly complex and dark, and it really sank its teeth into the way that these two drive each other to distraction. They need to break from each other -- and the series gave them a way to do so -- but they keep getting drawn back into each other's webs.
But that's what "True Blood" is about, really. It's about how the things that are bad for you can feel so, so good and can end up taking your head out of the game. How much more helpful would Eric be if he weren't obsessed with revenge? How about Sookie, without her strange, continued devotion to Bill? The only person who's playing any sort of long-term game at this point is Russell, and that's why he's absolutely schooling everyone who comes up against him. This state of affairs probably has to change at some point, but in this episode -- which almost felt like a season finale -- Russell is on top of things, perfectly able to strike fear into the hearts of all around him and cunning about his master plans. Not everything works on "True Blood," but the things that are working are working so well that it feels a little uncharitable to complain about certain things. This is Grand Guignol as trash TV, and it's a whole lot of fun in an episode like this.
Some other thoughts:
- Sorry for the lateness. Traveling back from Comic-Con took way, way too long. If you're curious to know what happened at the "True Blood" panel, the Times' Scott Collins has the goods.
- One of my least favorite things "True Blood" does sometimes is compare the struggle of vampires to gain rights to the struggle of gay people to gain rights. It's clearly done as sly satire, but it falls apart if you think about it even a little bit. On "True Blood," lots of vampires are bloodthirsty killers who seem to have a low regard for humanity. It's easy to see why some folks are concerned. Gay people, however, don't need to feast on the blood of humans to live. There are some fun winks to this idea throughout the series -- including in Sunday night's scene in which the vampire debated vampire rights on TV -- but I'm glad it's receded to the background mostly. It's just a silly, facile attempt to make the show seem more cutting-edge and current than it is, and it doesn't make a lick of sense.
- Love the conversation between Russell and Sookie. That's just a very well-written scene of mostly exposition, and Ball pulls off nearly every single line. Tough to do.
- I DID like the trips back to Bon Temps when Lafayette was on camera. I don't know that this story line about his new love interest is the best thing ever, but Nelsan Ellis is so instantly compelling that I don't care so much.
- This episode had SO MUCH BLOOD and viscera. Rare to see the show head that far into splatter movie territory, but it always pulls off its voyages to gore-town when it wants to.
- The only story line I can't fit into that whole "being true to yourself" idea I developed above is Jason's, which just seems completely disconnected from everything. Little help here (preferably sans book spoilers)?
- O'Hare's delivery of "DO NOT DEFY ME! I AM YOUR KING!" was some marvelous scenery chewing. Again, tough to do.
- Don't forget: I always like your thoughts in comments, in e-mail and on Twitter.
- "I would just love to rip you open and wear your ribcage as a hat."
- "Those are dumped out of a can into a big pot and heated up. I mean, where do you think you are, lady? Red Lobster?"
- "Once, I threw a chain at somebody, and it wrapped around his neck by itself, like that face-crab thing from 'Aliens.'"
--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) has a new love interest on "True Blood." Credit: HBO
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