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'True Blood': And now ... Vikings!

July 18, 2010 | 10:00 pm

Pool
 There's some of the best stuff that "True Blood" has ever done in "Trouble." Eric's random flashback to his days as a Viking(!) in Norway are gloriously over-the-top and full of Gothic fun, right down to Russell standing at his doorway in a cape and then walking away into the softly falling snow. Sookie trying to put the pieces together of just what's going on continues to be fun, and so does the gradual reveal of whatever Bill's grand master plan happens to be. But then the show will cut to what is, essentially, a completely different show, and it loses a bit of its momentum. Now don't get me wrong. I could see Sam's family drama being interesting in isolation. I could see Tara's weird, psycho-sexual relationship with Franklin being interesting all by itself. I could maybe even see Jason's visit to the Dukes of Hazzard and love match with yet another inappropriate woman being kind of fun without the other stuff going on.

But when you compare all of these storylines to the building war between Louisiana and Mississippi and the secret histories of Bill, Sookie and Eric, there's no way they match up. They all feel like they're taking place in different TV shows, even though each and every storyline reaches a major turning point this episode. Sam realizes his little brother is in a massive predicament. Jason gets much, much closer to being a deputy and meets the mystery girl up close. Tara tries to run away from Franklin plus gets brought to Mississippi, where she meets Russell and sees Bill. Oh, and then Franklin proposes that she become his vampire bride. I mean, all of these things are fun in isolation, as mentioned, and I enjoyed most of the scenes that went into them, but there's little to no connective tissue among them. Even last season, when the two major storylines didn't have a whole lot to do with each other, they somehow felt more cohesive because they kept bringing in more and more folks from Bon Temps. This season, it just feels like everybody's off in their own little world.

Anyway, as mentioned, tonight's adventures in Mississippi are highly entertaining. There's the minor hiccup of never showing us how Sookie escapes the were-bar -- something I at least had been dying to see -- but everything beyond that is just ridiculously fun. I suspect the show is trying to set up Alcide as another love interest for Sookie, but I almost like him better as her partner in crime. There's a fun and feisty feeling to the two figuring out what their next move is going to be, and I love the way that the differences between werewolves and vampires mean that Sookie can, say, communicate with Alcide in ways she never could with Eric and Bill. I'm glad the show isn't pushing too hard on the romantic front at this point, and if "True Blood" ever decided it was time to turn the two into private investigators or something, I'd be all for it.

But that's not all! Russell finds out about the folder of information Bill had on Sookie from Franklin, and he spends much of the rest of the episode trying to figure out what Bill's really up to before Bill finally shows something of his true colors and attacks the werewolves before heading out to save his ex. Bill's motive, it would seem, was to figure out just what was up with Sookie's telepathy and see where she fit in the supernatural pantheon of the show. Russell suspects Sophie's behind all of this, though he doesn't know for sure (and neither do we), and he and Bill's attempts to stay one step ahead of each other give the episode a really propulsive feel in places. I love cat and mouse games, and the one between Russell and Bill has high stakes indeed.

But wait! There's more! Eric showed up in Mississippi to try to find Bill, claiming he needed to bring him in for dealing vampire blood (which is true, though he's doing so only to save himself from the Magister). Eric, of course, finds out that Bill is actually present in Mississippi, and then he finds the crown of his long-dead father -- killed by Russell's werewolves -- and has a flashback to Norway under the Vikings. We've known about Eric's Norwegian roots for a long time, but it's still such a kick to flashback to this sort of story because the last thing I'm usually expecting out of this show are random Vikings. This sequence is a lot of fun, as is the one that follows, where Bill and Alcide try to rescue Sookie but she's nearly taken by Russell's men anyway before blasting one of them off with previously unknown electricity powers. Or something. Tune in next week!

The downside to this is that every time we go back to Bon Temps (or hang out with Tara and Franklin again), the show feels like it's not really itself. It's not as though "True Blood's" pacing has ever been anything less than erratic, but it feels as though the wheels are coming off more often than not this season. I don't know what the point of Jason's new career ambitions are, outside of getting Ryan Kwanten to wander around without a shirt off, I guess. Similarly, I'm not sure why we continue to spend a scene or two each week on the birth of Arlene's baby or her relationship with Terry, to say nothing of Jessica's new career. And then there's Sam, trying to stand up for his little brother, only to find out that he's bought and paid for or something. Any one of these storylines could carry a whole season of the show on their own (well, maybe not Arlene's baby) or at least a handful of episodes, but the show keeps setting them off to the side, then bringing them back haphazardly.

Again, I don't know how much to complain about this, because when the center is as strong as it has been this season, it's easier to write off the stuff orbiting around it as so much flotsam. But at the same time, I'd like if there were some sort of unifying throughline running among all of these storylines. You could say that this is a season about origins, which would at least explain much of the Sookie and Sam storylines, but that doesn't explain what's up with Tara and Franklin or with Jason. You could say it's a season about finding your way within the political culture of your area, but that doesn't explain Sam's storyline. These stories all feel like different shows. For now, it's entertaining, but it'd be best if there were some sort of connection between them sooner rather than later.

Some other thoughts:

  • I did like Tara's fleeting escape from the mansion and that wolf running her down. The show's decision to use real wolves instead of CGI creations has paid off for the most part.
  • Random scene I liked: The other employees of the sheriff's department discussing mulch. I like the idea that this world is pretty boring outside of the crazy shenanigans we're shown.
  • Seriously, I get that Alcide helped Sookie escape, but we couldn't see it? That would have been so fun!
  • Predictions as to what's up with Sookie's powers? No fair if you've read the books.
  • Remember, I'm always looking for your thoughts in comments, in my e-mail, or on my Twitter.
  • "The last time you had any real money, you ended up at the slots in Biloxi, slaughtering a church group of elderly women." "They wouldn't let me have a turn!"
  • "You're a huge freak! I like your work."
  • "I don't know. That seems kinda wild."
  • "I do not care to be hypnotized, which is apparently what you walking dead people like to do."
  • "I can't eat day lilies."
  • "Fantastic!"

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

Photo: Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis, left) makes a new friend in Kevin Alejandro. Credit: HBO.

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