Wow. Nine episodes into the season, and True Blood finally looks like a show I’d voluntarily watch. Not that it’s a flawless show by any means, but the addition of Lizzy Caplan’s Amy and Stephen Root’s Eddie, plus the enhanced awesomeness of Alexander Skarsgard’s Eric, made “Plaisir D’Amour” by far the strongest episode to date. The question is: Anomaly or turning point? Being the eternal optimist, I’m inclined to believe the latter, and I’ll speculate why in a second. But first…
How about that opening? I confess to approaching this episode with characteristic drag-assed reluctance, but the pre-credits sequence had me sitting bolt upright in attention. True to the show’s graphic, hyper-explicit take on the vampire genre, it probably shouldn’t have been such a surprise to see what happens when one of them gets staked. But after being weaned on vampires that explode into dust or shrivel into decay once they’ve been smote, it was a pleasant shock to witness the ungodly mess that attended Longshadow’s death. The torrents of blood gushing onto Sookie—shades of Carrie—combined with Ginger’s projectile vomiting had a thrillingly demythologizing effect. Vampirism (and humanity) can be pretty damned ugly. (It’s funny that Eric looks much more repulsed by Ginger’s outpouring than Longshadow’s: “Humans… Honestly Bill, I don’t know what you see in them.”)
After weeks of giving us virtually nothing (or no one) to care about, suddenly there’s intrigue on multiple fronts. Bill’s commitment to protect Sookie gets put to the test in the opening bit, but she doesn’t realize there’s such a heavy cost to his intervention. Given that (a) the victim was involved in ripping off the bar and (b) was in the middle of attacking Sookie, the killing seemed pretty easy to write off as self-defense or even bloody justice. But it makes sense why Bill would be in trouble: As he explains later to Sookie, if she killed another human in defense of a vampire, she wouldn’t be so easily exonerated, either. We don’t know yet the punishment for what Bill’s done, but it’s a clear sign that vampires do exist under codes and procedures that are distinctly separate from humankind, despite their outward attempts to join the flock.
Both of the new characters from last week are bringing a lot to the table. For those suspicious of hippiedom in general—that would be most of us, I’m guessing—Amy is the hippie promise and the hippie nightmare all rolled into one seductive package. She offers Jason the freedom to love and be “clean” and connected (to say nothing of the best sex of his life), but doesn’t seem to care that that freedom comes at a cost. When she kidnaps Eddie, she just sees an endless source for fresh blood; the only reason she would ever entertain for keeping him alive and happy would be to tap into his body for more. The love she offers Jason is either a total scam and/or completely selfish, because she values sensual pleasure above any and all emotional or moral considerations. That makes her a monster Jason, dimwitted though he surely is, has the glimmer of conscience to recognize eventually. Until then, she’s a very powerful and insidious influence on him.
As for Eddie, you just have to stand in awe of what Stephen Root has done with this character in such a short amount of time. We’ve spent hours with the likes of Bill, Sookie, Sam, Jason, and Tara, but in mere minutes, Root’s lonely, melancholy vampire proves a more affecting, genuine presence than any of them. Eddie’s story about how he became a vampire—a marriage that failed due to his unacknowledged sexual inclinations; his inability to find another man to accept his passions; his desire to become something else to get what he needed—was very nicely written and performed with remarkable subtlety by Root, who’s known for funnier parts. The show has gotten us so accustomed to seeing aggressive vampires (and people, for that matter) that Eddie stands out in sharp relief, and proves that vampire-kind has more nuance than we might have imagined. Jason rejects his warning about Amy, but he has to know this sad creature is speaking the truth.
Nevertheless, some vampires are just bad to the bone, and it’s an equal pleasure to watch Skarsgard chew up a little scenery as Eric. In previous episodes, his authority has mostly just been whispered about; yes, he occupies a throne of sorts at a vampire bar in Shreveport, but we’re finally getting a chance to see why. He’s confident, authoritative, and pitiless, not to mention equipped with a dark sense of humor that comes out at a couple points in the episode. Maybe my favorite moment: When his glamourer-in-chief Pam, after observing Sookie and Bill together, observes, “If I had any feelings I’d have chills right about now,” the curtness of his two-word response, “Not me,” had me in stitches.
There were still a few bum moments in this otherwise stellar episode, though. Nothing involving Tara did much for me—not her temptation to get the same exorcist who cured her mother to expel her demons, and not her hot-and-cold relationship with Sam, who wants to turn their casual friends-with-benefits thing into something more meaningful. And while the show ended in another strong cliffhanger—man is it good at those—Sam’s feelings for Sookie (and how they might screw up his thing with Tara) doesn’t much interest me at this point. But hey, considering how disappointing this show has been so far, having only a couple of niggling flaws is something close to miraculous.
• Eric is disgusted by Tru Blood, which he finds metallic and vile, but Bill gives him an idea for a slogan: “Tru Blood: It keeps you alive and it will bore you to death.”
• Not sure what to make of Jason and Amy’s psychedelic journey into CGI lushness, but at least they make that journey without clothes on.
• How much is Eric’s promise to the customers and staff at Merlotte’s that vampires “know” when a human has wronged them is empty bluster, and how much is a dire warning shot in Amy’s direction?
• How about Bill’s skilz at Wii Golf? It’s so absurdly incongruous to even see someone playing Wii in the antiquated gothic universe of backwater Louisiana, but if you’re a vampire, you’ve got lots of time to learn new things.