'True Blood': Finally, a 24-hour news channel I'd watch
Sure, he'd probably place me under the subjugation of a race of vampire overlords, but, man, he's one charismatic dude, and he sure knows a way to make his point in a memorable fashion. Indeed, the last scene of this episode was one of the best the show has ever done, and that was almost all due to Denis O'Hare's performance as Russell. Sure, the speech he was handed was well-written, and the moment as conceived was such a brutally shocking one, but O'Hare had to make all of this come together, and he reminded me of just why he's become the most fascinating "True Blood" villain to date. This was the kind of shocking TV moment people will be talking about for years to come, and everyone involved carried it off with absolute aplomb.
American Vampire League spokeswoman Nan Flanagan is in her limo, driving on her way to the airport to head for Oregon to try and drum up support for a vampire rights bill. She's been in Bon Temps to try to suss out why, exactly, Eric killed Talbot and try to bring him back under the sway of the Authority. After she finally lays the problem of what to do with Russell at Eric's feet and tries to wash her hands of the whole mess, it seemingly becomes obvious that Russell is going to make Nan the next target of his campaign of terror, after killing the Magister a few weeks ago. It certainly helps that she's in the midst of a romantic moment with a lovely young lady, all the more unlikely to be ready should Russell somehow invade the limousine. Above her, the TV babbles on about the rights amendment and how Oregon is the latest battleground, the anchor distilling the story as much for the people of the world of "True Blood" as for the viewers at home.
Here's where the scene's devilish genius comes into play. We're expecting Russell to strike back at Nan, but then the camera holds on the TV anchorman talking. At first, we just figure that this is a way for us to get all caught up. But then the camera holds longer and longer and maybe a little too long. And right after we've had the thought, "Is Russell going to show up on TV?" we hear a clatter in the background of the TV news set and see the anchor look worriedly off camera. Then Russell appears from offstage and rips out the anchor's spine, shoving him aside, delivering a speech about how he is the true face of vampirism, and humans will have to learn that they are not his equals. He spends much of the speech clutching the bloody spine, and even when he tosses it over his shoulder, he's constantly folding and unfolding his one bloody hand with his clean one, a nifty image for the uneasy place Russell occupies in vampiredom. And it all concludes with the episode's best line, as Russell throws to the weather girl.
Honestly, this moment is so rip-roaringly brilliant that it kind of overshadows the rest of the episode, which was good but nothing incredibly special up until this point. If I were giving out grades or something, this final scene would elevate the episode a whole letter grade or more, simply because it's the kind of TV surprise we haven't seen before. "True Blood" has sometimes played around with the uneasy relationship between humanity and vampires, but it's tended to keep it on a relatively small scale. We're aware that there's lots of animosity between the two groups at all times, but unless that animosity directly affects our characters, it plays out in the background. Now, for the first time, "True Blood" is forcing those larger questions of just how vampires can coexist with humans on a societal scale into the foreground, and it's all coming courtesy of one of the best characters the series has ever come up with and one of the best performances to ever grace its screen.
I've sung the praises of Denis O'Hare here week after week, but it's worth pointing out again that he's perhaps the perfect actor for this show. He's over-the-top, but not so far that his character's emotions become unrecognizable. He's perfect at conveying his contempt for humanity in the most flamboyant fashion possible (since it, after all, involves killing a newscaster), but he's also very good in the scenes where he's making us feel his grief for Talbot and talking to an urn filled with blood and gore. He's rarely asked to play subtle, but he finds the subtlety in these moments anyway, and that keeps him from being just another mustache-twirling villain. When Russell says that he wants to elevate vampires above humans, you really believe it because O'Hare seems to really believe it. He's fantastic every week, and he makes a great villain who's fun to hate.
After that final scene, the rest of the episode seems almost perfunctory to discuss, but there were some great moments throughout. I wasn't a big fan of Jason's plot line, since I think it's about time for him to start asking Crystal some hard questions about just what's up with her and her family, but I did like when he saved Tara from Franklin. (When I saw him pull the shotgun out, it was a great reminder of how last week, he loaded it with wooden bullets, and the show trusted the audience to make that connection.) Bill going to Sookie's magical yogurt commercial land was unexpected, and it seems he's got a much better idea of just what is up with her at this point, though we're going to have to wait until next week (and hopefully not any longer) to get that answer ourselves. There were also some very well-written scenes featuring Tara and Arlene dealing with their individual psychological traumas, scenes that didn't undercut the seriousness of what had happened to them with goofiness.
But at the same time, all I want to talk about is just what Russell's up to. That's the sign of a great villain, particularly on a TV show. In the back of your head, you should always kind of want the villain to succeed, just because it would be kind of fun to see him do so. Russell is such a great villain because he plunges full speed ahead with his own plans, regardless of what anyone else might do to get in his way. I'm sure that he'll fail, because this is TV, and we certainly won't end this season with Sookie dead or anything like that (at least, I assume we won't), but man, it's fun to reach a place where it seems like there's no way he could possibly fail.
Some other thoughts:
- * Bill and Sookie continued their little dance around whether or not they're going to split up, and it was kind of boring. Zzzzzzzz ...
- * Sam had to keep his brother from being mean to the help at Merlotte's. This was similarly boring.
- * On the other hand, I enjoyed seeing Jessica and Hoyt share that scene together, which was genuinely sweet and involving.
- * I'm also enjoying the Lafayette plot line in spite of myself. It's more vague than I'd like, but he and Jesus have good chemistry, and it's just nice to have a plot that involves him in a more thorough fashion.
- * The Russell back story we got from Eric here was much appreciated. It sure seems like he's always around when civilizations start to crumble, so his intentions for the United States seem less than honorable.
- * Remember to leave your comments or get in touch with me via e-mail or Twitter.
- * "Just once I'd like to not find a dead body in my house."
- * "What is he? A magician?!"
- * "Now, time for the weather. Tiffany?"
--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) has a conversation with Nan (Jessica Tuck, right) as Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) looks on. (Credit: HBO)
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