True Blood’s storytelling style has evolved over the years into what amounts to “dropping the needle” on a concept album: Each individual episode doesn’t necessarily work on its own, but is more seen as a small piece of a bigger, (sometimes) more functional whole. The tricky thing—and the thing the show struggles with the most—is how each individual storyline within a season seems to be its own separate album working independently of all the others, so when you play them all at once, its dissonance has a tendency to overwhelm the senses. The trouble with this style is that, inevitably, sometimes within an episode, each storyline’s needle is going to drop on a pesky filler track. And much of this episode felt like filler, a transitional piece before we get to the big hit.
The one story that mostly escaped the filler tag tonight was Bill and Eric’s incarceration at the Vampire Authority. Unfortunately, even though this obviously wasn’t filler, that still didn’t make it very exciting. Most of the time was spent with Bill and Eric in separate interrogation rooms, but the information their interrogators were attempting to extract from them wasn’t really the point. The point was what the subject of the interrogations told us about the Vampire Authority and their enemies, the Sanguinistas. Bill’s interrogation was the more interesting of the two, simply due to the presence of Christopher Heyerdahl (The Swede on Hell on Wheels), whose compelling presence makes even the most stagnant of scenes more interesting. Also, Bill and Eric’s story finally brought us the introduction of this season’s biggest guest star in Christopher Meloni as Authority head Roman, and finally gives us the first glimpse of a recovering Russell, who appears to be the closest thing to a “big bad” this show has had since season two’s maenad. While everything here is definitely still developing, at least it seems headed in the right direction.
The other big story of the week was Tara and her new transition into a vampire, in which so little happened it could have easily been folded into last week’s episode and made the whole endeavor more interesting. From the start of the story in the episode until the end, nothing happened we didn’t already expect: Tara was wild, Tara runs away, Lafayette regrets turning her, and Tara curses both of them for what they did to her. The moment where Lafayette was going to stake Tara could have been sad and tragic, a tough but smart decision made through a curtain of regret. Instead, Sookie talks him out of it, and we continue with Tara’s not fantastic journey. I can only hope she left in search of guidance from maker Pam, because Pam is the one thing that could salvage this whole thing.
The remaining stories this week were so slight they barely registered as more than a blip. The most disappointing aspect is the show’s insistence on continuing the wolf pack story, which has been a bit of a narrative dead end since it started. This week, Alcide is revealed as the lawful pack leader since he killed the previous leader, but he proves he is more than just walking abs by wisely declining a position leading these psychopaths. This doesn’t stop the wolves from remaining in the story, though, as Marcus’ mom is insistent on grooming little Emma to be the next big thing in the pack despite her mom’s protestations, which Emma makes more complicated by finally shifting for the first time and proving once and for all she’s a wolf like Marcus and not a shifter. What’s getting lost in this entire storyline so far is Sam, which is a problem because he’s the one core cast member involved.
Another blip was Reverend Steve Newlin, who is looking like a bigger player in this season than I originally anticipated. His obsession with Jason has turned into an almost sexual hysteria, with him literally trying to purchase Jason from Jessica. This results in a fun little scene but nothing much more. Newlin has always been a sort of clumsy almost-indictment of religious fundamentalism, and he continues as such with his hypocritical post-vamp TV appearances where he embraces God’s love for all vampires but still can’t admit that he’s gay.
While Steve Newlin still repeats past patterns and publicly denies his true self, the object of his affection seems doomed to constantly be in a character loop. One thing the show has made clear over the years is that Jason might be a whore, but he’s a whore with heart. At least once a season, he has this revelation, tries to change his ways, is somehow punished, and reverts back to his bad behavior. This year, between not getting the exact relationship he wants with Jessica (and losing his best friend because of it in the process) and getting punched by a kid in the station for breaking up a marriage, Jason is once again faced with the same crisis of conscience he’s faced with every season. Jason is a fun character, but the reluctance to let him truly evolve is frustrating. He’s very effective comic relief—even the tired Reverend Newlin story last week was pretty darn funny just by sheer force of Ryan Kwanten’s charms—but right now, it feels like he’s in a comedic and character rut.
Last week’s premiere felt really promising, and a bit of a momentum-builder to set the stage for a better season. Because of the way True Blood tells stories, weaker episodes like tonight’s are inevitable. All you can do is wait for next week and hope the needles drop on more hits than filler.
- Roman’s bloodletting and feeding ritual is obviously meant to mimic the Catholic communion ceremony. True Blood doesn’t really dig any deeper on these sort of things than simply surface reference, unfortunately, so symbolic references are all we’re likely to see.
- Terry’s storyline appears to be a really slow grower. This week, he barely got one scene, and we only really learned one bit of information: that an old military buddy isn’t dead, and might be the one causing all of the mysterious fires.
- Pam’s flashback was nice, but horribly integrated into the narrative. I have a feeling each week we’re going to get a new piece of Pam’s backstory with Eric.
- Each week, there’s a lengthy scene that doesn’t seem to need to be there at all. This week’s winner: Sookie in the vampire defense store.
- Girl at party: “Can I just say that before you became a vampire, you were a massive dick.”
- Newlin: “I know!”