"I'm Alive And On Fire" S4 / E4
- B- Community Grade
The most interesting thing about this week's True Blood, to me, was that it was one whole hour of Sookie consistently being tough and useful. So often, the heroine of this show is reduced to something between cheerleading bystander and captive object; but although she stayed pretty silly (at one point warning Eric that crocodiles would bite off his "you know what"), she at least managed to look like an adult, both in facing Bill down and in separating the dick-measuring contest between Alcide and Eric that went on for the whole episode.
"I'm Alive and On Fire" slowed down a little on the vampire side of things to do some surprisingly decent character work (the amnesia story, while still very hokey, continues to impress) and at the same time sped up on a lot of the other, weaker plots like the witch coven, Jason's insemination experiences at Hotshot, and Tommy's scheming, which was also welcome. Now, I'm not about to engrave an Emmy or anything—for one, the return of Tommy's white trash animal-fightin' stereotype parents was something I had hoped to avoid—but it's always good when True Blood stops teasing such plots out and jams the gas pedal a little bit.
Let's start with Tommy. Since this season started, I'd been wondering what the point of having him around was; aside from serving as a needle in Sam and Hoyt's side, he felt mostly like a weird holdover that they didn't know what to do with, plot-wise. I suppose it's not surprising that his past as a dogfighter (where he's the dog) is being revisited, nor that he and Sam's lovely trailer-livin' parents are back to corral him into his old line of work. But, even on this show which has so many flawed characters, Tommy's main difficulty is sympathy, which you really don't have for him outside of the general awareness that he's so awful because of his miserable upbringing.
If we hadn't seen that rather ugly side of him last week as he schemed to swindle Hoyt's mother, then things might be different, but as it is, my thoughts on his capture by Joe Lee were more along the lines of "You didn't see this coming?" I also wondered why he couldn't just turn into a bird or something to escape the collar, but I figured there had to be some canonical explanation there about how to entangle a shifter that I had forgotten. Until that moment, though, I will allow that Tommy's reunion with his mom Melinda was borderline sweet, especially as we in the audience could tell she was holding a secret back and he couldn't.
Sam hanging with Luna (who I still think of as "horse lady") and her daughter at home was maybe a little too cloying, although honestly, Sam's a lot easier to take being overly sweet than he is being a big grump. The revelation that the girl's daughter was a werewolf was pretty amusing, though. Is no one in this town not able to turn into an animal? I remember Sam thinking of himself as sorta unique when this show started off; now, he could probably get elected Mayor by all the shifty peoples around town. At this point, it's just a question of when the werewolf shows up, and if he's someone we know, but considering they all got wiped out last season, it'd have to be Alcide or a new character, and I don't know that it being Alcide would make any sense given what we know so far. But this show can be very incestuous.
Those were the weakest stories this week, and I didn't outright hate either, which is a big improvement for season four so far. Jason's escape from Hotshot was very well-executed, with an authentic heart-to-heart with the youngest, virginal lady of the town and a triumphant victory over one of those panther douchebags. Jason's best when he's all puppy-eyed, as he was talking to the virginal lady. The thing is, where do they go from here? As a coda to Jason's time in Hotshot, it would be fitting (his goodbye to Crystal was pretty absolute) but confusing, since it wouldn't make sense why we spent so much time there.
More likely, he will be turning into a panther himself soon, but if he can evict the current jerkbag male contingent in Hotshot, maybe the storyline can take a turn for the better. Lack of characterization has been the problem there, in terms of the men (simplistic, animalistic villains, which we had plenty of last year with the wolves) and the women (Crystal, in particular, whose motivations have fluctuated wildly) but that is something that can be repaired, maybe. I just feel like the show's in a rock and a hard place here; if it abandons Hotshot, that's as disappointing as if it sticks with the town.
On the coven front, we got a major bit of infodumpage, first through Bill and Nan talking about the danger of witches (the last major incident was the "Spanish Massacre" hundreds of years ago, they say) and, if you hadn't figured it out from that alone, the dreamy revelation that Marnie has been channeling the witch from this massacre, and otherwise, she's not too impressive. Fiona Shaw is doing a great job switching from furiously intense and shouting in Latin to scatterbrained and matronly, scrabbling around in her books and beseeching people to stop saying fuck. The scene where she freaked Pam out by turning her flesh against her was particularly impressive. It's rare to see Pam troubled at all, but Kristen Bauer and Fiona Shaw sold the impact of the conflict well.
But how do Jesus and Lafayette (and, I suppose, Tara) play into all of this? Because having them as nervous bystanders isn't going to do anyone any good. It was being suggested that Lafayette was the jumpstart for Marnie to do real magic, but at this point, he's not doing much of anything. I'm hoping he taps into it and gets to do some magic on his own, perhaps heroically. Lafayette as a cool customer is what I enjoy, not Lafayette looking nervous and worrying about dungeons (as much as that makes sense from a character perspective).
Let's wrap up with our vampire buddies (plus, guest star, pubic-area showoff Alcide!) and the object of all their affections. Eric's jaunt in the sun (especially his swimming) was a joy to behold, given how it's so rare to see Eric smile in a non-sardonic capacity. From the butt-pinching to start the episode off to his childish squaring-off with Alcide to his fear of sleeping alone in his cubby, it was all material that could have come off poorly if it wasn't so well-played by Alexander Skarsgard. Cute-Eric's romance with Sookie is, of course, chugging on forward (they had an almost-kiss interrupted by Bill at the door), but the amnesia has been a good dash of humor for the season so far.
Bill's discovery that Portia is his (deep breath) great great great great granddaughter was wonderful in an entirely different way. Yes, there's an element of black humor there, too (they already banged, so not much he can do about the incest problem), but it was one of those fun True Blood nuggets, a problem an "out" vampire in society might end up encountering, particularly if you're like Bill and you live in the town you grew up in. The revelation was played perfectly, as Bill and Portia's grandma (a moody Andy made a welcome appearance too) chuckled over her family tree until it dawned on them that Bellefleur and Compton blood got mixed together a long time ago. Even though I figured out what was going on pretty quickly, it was a genuinely exciting, creepy moment as their faces both fell.
Oh, but I can't leave without celebrating a SERIOUSLY creepy moment. Arlene's been gazing at that baby of hers for three weeks with no real payoff, but the baby scrawling "baby not yours" on the wall (intended for Terry) in red marker was a very nice, skin-crawly moment. It's probably just The Shining, but there's just something about that scare tactic. It always works. I know I've been bitching a lot these three weeks, but sometimes, I get proven wrong, and this shit pays off.
- Jason's description of an ideal first time, replete with presents and candy, had me wondering about his own first time, which I'm sure had none of that.
- Bill's a pretty confident bureaucrat. "How'd the execution go?" "Oh, very smooth, completely justified."
- Sam puts down Hoyt's mom pretty nicely. "There is no family feeling in your soul." "I could point out that you disowned your own flesh and blood."
- Oh, guess who is definitely jealous of Sookie? Alcide's girlfriend, Debbie, who doth protest WAY too much.
- Andy's grandma Carolina does not allow Red Bull in the house. "No, you won't. It's vulgar."
- Among other properties, Eric has an apartment in Paris and a plantation in Barbados.