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'True Blood': What would we do, baby, without us?

"Family ties" may as well have been the theme of tonight's "True Blood," "Night on the Sun," which slowed the plot way down in favor of scenes where characters who haven't spent a lot of time together this season got to check in with each other, while other connections were forged and broken. It was also quite a come-down after the last two blisteringly paced episodes, though I suppose that sort of thing is inevitable. I just wish that the whole episode hadn't been a long journey to a place we already knew we were going back to and that it hadn't undid one of its most interesting plot developments within the same exact episode. It makes it seem like the writers don't have a great deal of confidence in their characters to sustain interest, outside of the way we first came to know them.

Here's what I'm complaining about, less obliquely: In the first scene of the episode, Sookie breaks it off with Bill. Then, in the last scene, the two are back together again and having ravenous sex. I suspect that this is a part of a general motif in the episode, of people going back to things they should know are wrong for them, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating to have the show dangle a potentially interesting storyline -- let's see what Sookie and Bill are like apart, instead of together -- then take it away from us within the same episode. Anyone who's ever watched TV ever is going to know that these two are going to end up back together again by the end of the series. It's just the way the medium works. But along the way, we should get some interesting stories of what they're like both separate and apart. This episode is frustrating in that regard, though, again, it seems possible that this is all set-up for a more permanent break-up down the road.

Let's turn to the one genuinely awesome plot development this episode: Eric seduced Talbot so that he could stake him in the midst of post-coital bliss, the better to get his revenge on Russell. After a pretty sleepy episode, this was a genuinely shocking turn, and it explained just why Eric was so suddenly interested in Talbot. (I don't mind Eric's gleeful pan-sexuality, but I don't like it when characters are suddenly interested in other characters for no apparent reason.) On the other hand, it was easy to see why Talbot was weak enough to fall for Eric's trick, what with his lover marrying a woman to further his political gains and his sense that Russell was slipping away from him. It was a great moment and an unexpected twist, and it lived up to "True Blood" at its absolute best.

Sadly, the rest of the episode just didn't do as well. It makes sense that the show needs to slow things down before it flies off the rails (every roller coaster needs the eventual uphill climb), but "True Blood" almost always seems to do these things perfunctorily, as though it knows that it needs to do a slower episode now and again but can't be bothered to fill them with the same wit and verve that fill the more exciting episodes. At its best, "True Blood" is making you gasp and laugh and feel emotional whiplash. In these slower episodes, however, the show seems incapable of anything of the sort, instead settling for a sort of prolonged sulk, where everyone talks about their feelings, and it's as if everyone involved in the show is just marking time. Sadly, "Night on the Sun" is just such an episode.

Take, for instance, Jason meeting up with Crystal again. This storyline seemed to hit the same beats over and over, precisely because it's too early for the writers to tell us the story behind her and because there's really nothing more to her story than her secret. Well, she wants to escape her cruel family, so Jason helps her take care of that, but it's pretty much a nothing story with only one plot point. It was fun to see the guy going all Sawney Beane on that deer, but too much of this storyline felt like the show saying the same things over and over. The same goes for the Sam storyline, which has been hitting the same one or two points all season long and shows no signs of stopping. I still like the idea of Sam reconnecting with his family, and Sam Trammell is playing these moments well, but there's so little to the story that it can't sustain the slow down.

Really, that's the way I feel about "True Blood" storylines in general some of the time. Unless they're uncovering more of the world of the show, it sometimes feels as though they're so shallow that they suffer when they're not used to just propel us on to the next thing. This isn't a bad approach when the show is going full steam ahead (as it was in the last two weeks), but it definitely hurts the show when it stops to take stock of where it's been and where it's going. Even the more interesting and complex plots of the season -- like Russell's plot to take over Louisiana -- were hurt by the fact that this was an episode that didn't seem designed to move from point A to point B, but, rather, to stay at point A for as long as humanly possible.

I get that it's hard to write an episode like this. There are only so many ways you can do a "nothing happens!" episode on a show that's designed to make sure that things happen (frequently and excitingly) on a weekly basis. The world of "True Blood" is so rich and fascinating that it can't help but patch over some of these rougher spots, but this episode didn't even have that, preferring to spend most of its time in Bon Temps, where the storytelling has been like molasses this season. "Night on the Sun" didn't drive me nuts like some of the show's earliest episodes -- it did, after all, have that pretty terrifying assault on Sookie's house by the werewolves and some fun scenes where Bill tries to teach Jessica about her new powers -- but it was easily the least of this season so far. If nothing is going to happen in an episode of "True Blood," better make sure that nothing happens in a fun and fascinating way. This episode didn't pass that test.

Some other thoughts:

  • * Lafayette and Tara's scene was fairly sweet, and while I'm still not sure what the deal is with his mom (and/or Jesus), it's providing for lots of fun speculation. It helps that Alfre Woodard is such a stitch in the role of mom.
  • * It sure seems like there are a lot of people in the opening credits who were never there before, like the actress who plays Crystal. Have I just not noticed this all season? I'm a pretty big credits geek, so I'd normally see something like this.
  • * The dead also returned to wreak havoc on the living (in a different way than they usually do on this show), as Franklin turned up while Tara was showering to sink his teeth into her and Rene turned up while Terry was singing to Arlene's baby belly. Both were dream (or hallucination) sequences, but both carried that sense that menace was just around the corner that the show does so well.
  • * In general, it was a good episode for Tara, who also got to tell Sookie that if she takes Bill back, she's just like a woman in a country song, and women in those kinds of songs usually end up dead.
  • * I don't know if you saw "True Blood" Saturday, but if you've read the books, please, please don't spoil what happens next for those of us who haven't. We appreciate it!
  • * The quote selection is paltry this week both because it wasn't the funniest of episodes and because so many of the funniest lines can't be reprinted here.
  • * Drop me a line via e-mail or Twitter or post in the comments if you have thoughts and want to tell me that I'm wrong and this was the best episode EVER.
  • * "Where am I supposed to put my birds?!"
  • * "No way." "Way." (Here, the line is funny because of the way Stephen Moyer delivers, "Way.")
  • * "Got a black eye cuz she's so clumsy she walked into a wall." (Again, the delivery here is funnier than the line on paper.)

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

Photo: I still have no idea what's up with HBO's press site, so here's a fairly nondescript picture of Tara (Rutina Wesley). (Credit: HBO)

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Comments () | Archives (38)

I just wish that the whole episode hadn't been a long journey to a place we already knew we were going back to and that it hadn't undid one of its...

Hadn't undid?

Lindsey: This is not about protecting myself from spoilers. Thanks to a number of unapproved comments and e-mails, I pretty much know where all of this is going. And that's OK! I don't really get worked up about spoilers.

That said, even if I had read the books, I would be keeping this a spoiler-free zone, precisely BECAUSE it's a mainstream blog. No matter how many people read the books, there will always be some who watch the TV show and haven't read the books, and they'll want their experience to be pure. A number of them comment here and frequently ask for no spoilers. And people who want to discuss where the series may be heading in relation to the books are more likely to do that at sites specifically devoted to that task than at a site that's part of the Los Angeles Times, which is, after all, a very mainstream publication.

This isn't about me trying to shut down anybody's voices. It's about me trying to preserve the experience for the people who really don't want to be spoiled. In the end, no matter how big of sellers the books are, there are still going to be a ton of people who've never read them and want to watch the TV show without knowing how it all ends.

I like your blog and such a useful information sharing. I appreciate your blog and thanks for that.

I pretty much agree with you. Couldn't spoil it if I wanted since there's no way the show can follow any of the book storylines any more. They've all been destroyed.

"episode that didn't seem designed to move from point A to point B, but, rather, to stay at point A for as long as humanly possible."

Yes, that's it exactly.

Also, why don't Sam's parents get a job if they need money? lol. Seems better than having your son dog fight. Especially after he provided them with a place to stay. Or if they weren't going to do that, I would imagine being able to shift would probably allow you to steal money from a lot of places.

Anyway, you mentioned it might be nice to see Sookie and Bill apart, but they really haven't spent any time together all season.

Finally, I'm confused if werewolves are supposed to be stronger than people or not. If they are it would seem vamp blood or no, Sookie should have got her a** kicked. I just feel like they aren't being real consistant in how the powers play out.

Still love the show.

"You killed my Cooter!!" Classic line.

I totally do not agree with you. I thought it kept with the same pace as it has been for the last few weeks.

Its all about the setup.

Apparently I'm one of the few people on the planet that think this was a great episode. You get everything in this one ... including (finally) good acting from Sookie and Bill. They were both great in the hospital scene. The Bill and Jessica story line was nice. Any time that Lafayette gets story time is good, Hadley walking around in that skimpy/sexy outfit was a sight for us hetero men. Russel was fantastic (as always) ... come on ... silver SPURS! for cryin out loud that dude is wicked. I really want to see Alcide kick some ass though. And I would have been over joyed to see Sookie spray Debbie's guts all over the walls ... she is an annoying/psycho/freak. And you would be hard pressed to top Eric pulling out the gay card just so he can invoke his revenge ... really great stuff. And I do agree the "No way" "Way" exchange between Jessica and Bill was pretty funny. Tommy calling out Hoyt about Jessica is getting pretty interesting too. All in all (IMO) great episode, keep it up.

Y'all know, all the episodes are not going to be all that you think they should be. Right now True Blood I think is the most entertaining show on tv. I have not missed one show as of yet, and I do not plan too.

Well, at least the above photo was from the actual aired episode. Not like the last 'oops' picture!

I don't think there was anything 'post' about that coital bliss? I think Eric was 'back there' for other reasons. Which was why the scene blew me away. Anyways, I thought the scenes with Eric made the whole episode worth while. Even though the rest of the episode was quite predictable. Bill and Sookie. Eric and the wolves attacking Sookie. Tara having nightmares about Franklin (isn't he gonna show-up at some point?), and on and on. I also appreciated and noted Jesus' comments to Lafayette about his 'energy' and taking care not to let it turn 'dark'. Hmmm...! I'm really tiring of the Arlene and Terry story line. I suppose it's going somewhere - but I don't care. Maybe it's because I don't like the Arlene character? But I feel like I should.

And, thanks to all the spoilers last week it was no surprise for any of us that read this blog - that Sam and his brother 'smelled that' of Crystals father and betrothed - was it? ho humm....

Another comment about the 'Postmortem' - I guess we're back to 'filling in the gaps' huh? They've never made clear what the differences were in werewolve and vampire power - so here they are filling it in. At least it was pretty funny. I suppose I should just start considering them part of the episode or series. But when they come from left field - like the Snoop short?

Good post Todd! Looking forward to next weeks episode and posts.

I understand what you mean about this episode being a little slow. Although, the last 10 minutes made up for the slowness. I think they're going somewhere really deep with the storylines, especially with Arlene and Terry, and b/c i read the books, i know they haven't even scratched the surface of the Were community and Jason and the people of Hot Shot. Even though i can tell it's not going to be exactly like the books, I have faith that Alan Ball and co. will do something with these storylines that will blow us away like he usually does. Either way, i think this season is the best so far...

Wow you sure did a lot of complaining for a perfectly good episode of a TV show you obviously like.

The series almost in NO WAY resembles the books so don't worry about a spoiler from the book.

"I just wish that the whole episode hadn't been a long journey to a place we already knew we were going back to and that it hadn't undid one of its most interesting plot developments within the same exact episode."

Bad grammar aside, I agree. Those of us who HAVE read the books and appreciate that the show and the books are two separate creatures, still want the main plot lines to remain at least NEAR each other. That's besides the fact that, YES, Sookie has got to break up with Bill 'cause he's just so bad for her, period. So if she did it in the beginning, I don't see the point of undoing it at the end... except for a gratuitous sex scene (gratuitous because it shouldn't have happened again between the two characters). It paints Sookie as weak, and she isn't.

Seems to me that if you didn't see where Eric was going with his seduction a few episodes back then you are clearly missing all forward progression that has been playing out weekly - be it slow moving or fast paced! Watch a little more closely it always moves from point A to B and sometimes C, D, and F but isn't that the point it gets there but it never finishes the storyline completely until that season is over, therefore; leaving you wanting to comeback next week to see what other crazy plot they have in store or where the plot from the week before might be ending up. Thank you though for the continued blog - nice job!


Eric had a funny line, too: "well, I like a lobbed off head as well a the next vampire...", or something to that effect.

You're wrong, this was the best episode ever!

I'm gonna make a prediction that next episode Sookie and Bill WILL break up.
They fought a mutual enemy and couldn't help having sex afterwards; as you do.
And they still have feelings for each other.
But Sookie still knows he's not good for her, and she will try and not see him.
The after -break up sex was not in the books, but the break up was. And they're still not together, and this is book 10 we're on now.

You'd be fairly thick to not realize Eric was going to kill Talbot sooner rather than later. Just two episodes back Eric asked Talbot how long he's been a vampire to gauge his ability to kill him.

I couldnt agree with you MORE!
I want so desperately to see Sookie and Bill apart, it's ok if they end up back together, but lets see her without him, let's see Sookie with Alicide for a time, or with Eric for a few episodes, it makes for much more interesting tv.

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