'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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