When I found out I would be filling in for David on this episode of True Blood, I immediately started composing an epic screed of the season in my head. After all, there was no way the jumbled, disjointed mess of storylines that has defined season four so far (and, hell, season three as well if we’re getting all honest here) would manage to focus itself enough to turn in a mostly compelling hour. Imagine my surprise when “Cold Grey Light of Dawn” turned out to be a relatively streamlined, forward-moving, almost suspenseful hour of television. Finally!
True Blood is a difficult show to analyze on an episode basis, because it’s easy to forget its style of telling stories is often “throw everything imaginable into the first half of the season and then slowly attempt to bring it all together by the end.” This strategy can be maddening on an individual episode basis but has been employed with a bit of success in the past, particularly with the maenad business in season two. As season four progresses, it’s easy to see the strings being pulled in a similar fashion with the witch story, as more and more of the periphery characters become entwined with the story as it emerges as the main arc. Although there are some characters who will likely always seem to be dancing along the edges of the narrative – Sam, I’m looking directly at you – at least it feels like, as a whole, they’re building towards something now, instead of just aimlessly flitting to and fro.
Antonia’s complete possession of Marnie last week was what this story needed to truly get off the ground, and this week she finally got to show why the vampires are so afraid of her, as she brings a coven of witches together to compel all of the vampires in the Bon Temps area to meet the sun. Bill manages to get some warning from the ancient rapey Sheriff who started this whole mess in the first place, and devises a plan – all of the vamps in the district will be instructed to leave town, and those who don’t told to bind themselves in silver in order to resist the compulsion. This binding leads to one of the better sequences of the season, in that it finally forces Jessica and Bill into a room together and lets them have a real conversation. They’ve always had a nice rapport and natural acting chemistry, and it’s a shame the show hasn’t quite known how to make the most of it. Bill’s compassion towards his progeny causes him to not bind her has tightly, and so she manages to break free, leaving us with the cliffhanger of Jessica opening the front doors and bathing her body in sunlight. It’s a striking sequence, suspenseful, well paced and acted, but if Jessica is really dead I’ll eat my hat. (I don’t wear hats, so first I’ll buy a hat, and then eat it. Promise.)
That brings me to Eric and Sookie, which has been probably the most talked about aspect of the season so far. As a book reader, I’ve always approached the show with a bit of a different – and more cautious – attitude. Although the books haven’t been very good in quite a while, the characters they created are strong (and numerous) and the world rich with possibility. In particular, the fan-favorite fourth book has long been held as the gold standard of the series, so when I heard they would be doing a version of that story this season I was intrigued. Intrigued, and also terrified for what it might become because of one man: Alan Ball.
Alan Ball’s writing often seems to live in a sort of hyperreality – the exaggerated suburbia of American Beauty and the heightened over-examination of grief and self in Six Feet Under, for example – and the only thing that seems to keep that hyperreality from spinning out of control is the fine tether of the actual reality surrounding those worlds grounding its characters. True Blood finds itself completely divorced from reality due to its supernatural elements, and these allowed flights of fancy have been like catnip to Ball’s brain, as he can take characters’ actions and emotions far beyond what could ever be considered rational to an almost maddening degree, especially for the humans.
This is basically a long way of saying that the Eric and Sookie of season four are not the Eric and Sookie of book four, due to the liberties the show has taken along the way, and I must admit it’s been difficult for me to separate the two entities. That being said, the story has been enjoyable enough up to this point due to some fun work by Alexander Skarsgard. The past few episodes, however, have been trying way too hard to push them as a true love story without truly earning it in the storytelling, and the strain is showing on the actors a bit. The dialogue isn’t helping matters, with the sticky sweetness turned up to maximum sugar, but as the sweeter the sentiments get the less compelling the conversations become. The idea of Sookie and Eric, and of what it means for them once Eric inevitably regains his innate Eric-ness, is interesting. The execution, however, has been less so.
Despite any reservations about the current state of Sookie and Eric, the show took major strides tonight in building a cohesive main arc for the season, something that’s been sorely lacking up until now. The vampire stories are always the most compelling, and bringing all of the vamps together to fight a common enemy in Antonia is smart. As annoying as she can be, pulling Tara into the opposite side of the fight shows promise, and if you’re going to force yourself to give another random character like Holly some screen time, might as well add her to the main arc as well. Not everything is integrated smoothly, and parts still feel downright leaden, but for once I have a bit more confidence that this might just be rectified by the end of the season. And that little bit of confidence is more than I’ve had in the show in over a season, so I’m calling it a victory.
- The Skinemax factor was at a level ten tonight, huh? (Is there an HBO version of this term? HBOZonelatenight? Nah.)
- Jason is so much better now that he’s been disentangled from that Hotshot mess. Please, more comedy for Ryan Kwanten, less raping.
- Does anyone else get the feeling that Lafayette is going to be the one to solve this whole Marnie/Antonia mess? I don’t see any other reason for pointing out he and Marnie were the only mediums.
- Ghost Nanny is still haunting Mikey, and now Lafayette can see her. I dunno. Thoughts?
- “I am not a zombie!” Pam is delightful. Also, that makeup/CGI work during her treatments was stellar. Disgusting, and stellar.
- You know your plot is boring when lookers Alcide and Debbie get naked and it’s a snoozer. Instead of sexposition a la Game of Thrones, what they were doing was sexboresition. Or something. (Although I do think their story is going somewhere, it’s just doing it at a snail’s pace.)