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'True Blood': Finally, a 24-hour news channel I'd watch

I think it's now official. I would vote for Russell Edgington for president.

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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Comments () | Archives (12)

Correction to the review: Nan was there to question Eric about the disappearance of the Magister (who was investigating the selling of V), not the death of Talbot.

Highlights for me:
-The Arlene and Holly scene discussing her pregnancy.
-Tara at the support group for rape survivors, and her scene with Lafayette.
-The scenes with Pam and Eric. They were tender with each other. Learned that Eric equates sharing his emotions as being "weak" and that he is a Virgo.
-Russell as always, stole the show. Crazy whispering to Talbot in a bottle and his speech.

Wow, you are right on point. That last scene with Russell was short of brilliant, I had to watch it 3 TIMES..... It was such a blast, I was close to tears, with regards to the 1st season of TB, this season has been pretty amazing, I wasn't very fond of season 2, maybe a few of the shows and story lines. Keep the good times rolling.

Loved last night's episode but please Bill and Sookie's hot passion was NOT boring. It was hot and LOVED i!. I take you are an Eric fan and if the same scene was with Eric and Sookie we probably would never here the end of it from you.

Let's stick to the facts this is True Blood not the books and up to now Bill and Sookie love each other very deeply to the point Bill would sacrifice himself for her (proved it several times). Geesh what is boring about that! Many would love to have someone love us that much and so passionately.

The Authority was talking to Eric to find the missing Magister, nothing to with Talbot. Do you think Russell reported his death?

James Frain and Denis O'Hare were GREAT! Sorry to see Frain leave but he left with a big splash! (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

I can't wait to see the more of the King of MS. wreck havoc on the vampire PR. Maybe he will take Nan out.

I LOVE seeing a Pam and Eric together. A sweet scene between the two was a big surprise.
Great show!

think the Summer character is hilarious! the 'can't do much antiquin' after dark killed me! this show had great comedic moments like this one, which set up sweet scene between Jessica & Hoyt and Russell's national statement on-air!

What an eisode huh? I'm really looking forward to seeing this one again. "Talbot-in-a-jar"! When I saw Russell talking to his Talbot, I thought that would be his high-point for the episode. How wrong was I! You've hit all the great moments Todd! Denis O'Hare is truly amazing in this show.

I don't care for the new character that was introduced a couple episodes back (sorry, can't remember her name off hand - the new waitress and rape victim's group leader). She doesn't appear sincere for what ever reason. It must be the way she looks, or the way she's talked to Arlene and Tara regarding each of their issues. And no, I don't have a problem with here suggestions. It's just a feeling I'm getting from the character.

Ah Jason... saves the day simply by dumb luck. He loaded the gun to kill Bill, and winds up killing the real bad guy. How lucky was that? He really does mean well, I know. But was there ever a character that was quite so clueless? Elmer Fudd maybe?

So we're to believe that Bill doesn't, or hasn't known what Sookie was? I've assumed Sophie Ann sent him to 'acquire' Sookie.... So she didn't tell him why? And why did he say that he wanted to know why Eric was interested in Sookie? Eric only found out about her 'powers' recently and he was interested in her before Hadley told him. I'm not sure if I'm confused, or if the writers of the show have done the confusing. Just going to wait and see.

Ah, what a fun ride!

I agree that the scene between Eric and Pam was very touching. Eric is Pam's "Dad," after all. You can tell they care very much for each other in a non-sexual way, which in this show is kind of a breath of fresh air. I liked it very much when Nan said to Eric something along the lines of "you wanted Russell, he's all yours, and leave the AVL out of it, since it's your mess to begin with." Ok, so it's not really Eric's mess, but it was interesting that the AVL decided to give Eric free rein.

Will miss James Frain. He's an amazing actor in everything he does. He plays "deranged" very well.

And how about Sam taking out all his frustrations on Calvin Norris? I thought it was mighty unfair. So Calvin was being belligerent, but he got something that went PAST a beating. I liked Sam's character up until then, I'm sorry to say.

You made me laugh about the "yogurt commercial" land. I'm still not quite getting it... I mean, I GET it, since I've read the books, but it seems a little hokey. Claudine should just meet Bill in plain ol' real life... and Sookie too, for that matter.

Hey, the yogurt commercial comment was better than a "Massengill" commercial comparison! At least this week we could appreciate that it was lovely there (the Bon Temps Cemetery?!?) without all the actors from the musical Hair in the background. Also, am enjoying the Jesus/Lafayette/Ruby Jean story. Can't wait to see what's up with Jesus! And I totally agree that Denis O'Hare's RE is beyond brilliant. I thought the Mary Ann maenad story of Season 2 was stupid and boring. I look forward to every scene with Russell in it. He is a piece of work. Season 3 is the best of the bunch, and I'm already dreading the end of it. I still can't get over the fact that we have to wait almost another year for Season4! Waaaaahhhhh......

I agree with your review completely! True Blood has some wonderful actors. I liked this week much better, however, I am totaly over Bill and Sookie's relationship.

When Bill emerged from his underground lair and entered Fae Land (for lack of a better name), decked out completely in white in that cheerful environment (ignoring the gravestones), I expected him to go into a song and dance imitating Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” For those familiar with the Perry video, I’m sure you can picture Bill on a cloud, nude, singing about the wonders of Fae Land. “Bon Temps vamps, we’re undeniable… cold, dead, pale, we’ve got it on lock…”

Okay, that was a joke, but the thought did enter my mind when I saw that scene.

Overall, I think this has been an outstanding season for “True Blood,” and I believe Russell (O’Hare) has turned in one brilliant acting performance after another, with his newscaster-murder scene being one of the finest scenes the show has had. The entire cast, in my opinion, has been excellent this season. I do, however, have two suggestions. First, stop propagating new storylines as if they were amebas in a lab dish – sharper focus is in order. Second, resolve issues, because right now the series is being slowed, and even rendered frustrating at points, by leaving issues dangling in the air without resolution.

I have to wonder how the writers are going to get themselves out of the corner they wrote themselves into.

Sure, Russell's gleefully bloody rampage was fun, but it was ON-AIR. Very, very visible against the media milieu of the show's "universe". How can any other vampire powers-that-be hope to convince the "American" public that he was maybe just the 'crazy old vampire uncle' that happened to escape from his closet? Major disavowal coming, I assume.

--More convinced that Holly (the waitress) is going to be Evil. Her rounding up the vampire-disaffected women of Bon Temps spells trouble.
--Previews indicate Eric prods Bill to tell Sookie "the truth" about something. Book readers might guess what this is. I hope it's the same something.
--Somewhat bothered that the Hotshot residents are being depicted rather heavy-handedly as hicks. Hollywood really does love its "Good v. Evil" setups.


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