After two very lackluster season finales in a row, it's hard not to feel wary of True Blood. Both times, it set a lot of crazy plots in motion and then resolved some of them rather boringly and let the others just dangle, to the extent that I'd forgotten about them now that season four has rolled around. At the same time, of course, the love triangle (or love rhombus, now that Alcide's in the mix) of Sookie and her many suitors no longer holds nearly as much interest as in seasons past, but it remains a core pillar of the show's narrative.
With that all said, season four seems to be offering the same mix of somewhat entertaining plots and somewhat dull plots, with a heady sprinkling of off-the-wall nuttiness, at least on the basis of its opening episode. Dishearteningly, it seems one of its season-arc plots is going to involve witchcraft, without breathing much new light into the topic. On the other hand, in the final moments, there's a development for Bill's character that bodes pretty well in terms of giving him something to do that's not just gazing at Sookie mournfully. At this point, this show has the vampire stuff pretty much down, and the world-building in that regard will remain the most interesting aspect of the show, I think. It's everything else that's a problem.
OK. Let's acknowledge the quite batty first 10 minutes of the show, shall we? Here I am criticizing True Blood for being more of the same, but I have to admit I don't remember any pitched lightning battles with armies of disfigured fairies after a surprising but welcome guest appearance by Gary Cole before this episode. Sookie's fairyhood is not a particularly captivating plot. The weirdly-accented ladies who spirited her away were obviously more creepy than friendly, so I'm happy to see that acknowledged in the opening act, as Sookie realizes her and her grandfather and the bellboy from season two (all the psychics we know about) are all trapped in a gilded cage, eating glowing fruit and losing lots of time.
When she tries to leave, she breaks the spell, revealing all the fairies to be hideous crone types who are worried about vampires, or something. Their explanation didn't make any sense to me, but I'm sure they'll be revisited as the season goes on. Sookie and Gary Cole make a nice pair as they escape, and Paquin and Cole sell his "death" scene very well, and it's all very action-packed. But after that, with Sookie back in Bon Temps, she reverts back to the passive nobody she usually is, cryin' about her men, taking up a job at Merlotte's, and sitting around crying and drinking hot cocoa.
We also learn that Sookie's been gone for about a year, allowing True Blood to make its first, genuine leap ahead in time after its first three seasons covered about two months or something ridiculous like that. I am glad they finally solved this problem, because it had become absurd to think of how much these characters had gone through in such a short period of time. It means that we don't have to suffer through Jason trying to become a cop; he just is one now. Neither do we have to endure any of Arlene's pregnancy. The baby's here, and he's pulling the heads off of dolls, perhaps belying his EVIL NATURE.
Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I like Lafayette's new mohawk, but it doesn't seem like he's progressed much in his relationship with Jesus, who is just now nudging him to get back into magic after their first experience together last season. I like Kevin Alejandro just fine, but I don't like Jesus. He's a gentle bore of a character who possesses none of the mystery or air of danger that he should have. The addition of the coven, with legendary English actress Fiona Shaw at its center, is even more worrisome. Shaw is the latest in a long line of thespians enjoying themselves on this show, and she does a great job, bringing real menace and character to the rather ordinary "everyone's-hands-in-a-circle" chanting and possession scenes. But the storyline in general worries me. True Blood occasionally finds new spins on old topics, but so far there's no evidence of that here, and the black arts in general feel like the hoariest of themes to explore. I thought werewolves were cheesy enough last season, but this may be even worse. I hope Lafayette isn't dragged down into this plot for the whole season, as Tara was by Maryann in season two.
Oh yeah, Tara. So, now she's a lesbian and an ultimate fighter. Sure, that sounds interesting, doesn't it? But remember, we're dealing with Tara here. So it is decidedly not interesting. At all. I audibly groaned every time we cut back to her and groaned even more when I realized we might be cutting back to this plot over and over again. Not that Tara does much better when she's integrated with the main cast. She really doesn't do well anywhere on this show. I'd be happy if that was the last we ever heard of her, to be honest.
I started groaning every time we cut to one of the boring old Bon Temps citizens. OK, I still enjoy Terry Bellefleur (and apparently he has a sister or something now called Portia whom Bill is sleeping with), but Arlene needs something better to do than just eye her baby nervously. Hoyt and Jessica's little domestic drama with the eggs was kinda cute, but the later scene that explored Jessica's desire to sleep (or eat) around was way less so. I'm happy for them to break the couple up, but please, do it quickly; don't subject us to another season of them pining for each other and never getting in on any action. Jason is still palling around with the Hotshot kids, who luckily throw him in a fridge at the end of the episode. Andy is addicted to vampire blood, which I don't remember being a plot last season, but I might have just forgotten about it. Chris Bauer goes into a rage better than anyone, but V addiction has been done to death on this show. Oh, and Tommy appears to be suffering from a broken leg, where I guess Sam shot him. Sam's anger management class seems to be getting drunk with three shifters then all of them going riding out as horses.
The vampires, though, still hold some interest. The best scene of the episode was the cross-cutting between Eric's fine bit of acting for a vampire infomercial and Bill's more old-fashioned community outreach approach at a senior center. Alexander Skarsgard still holds the screen's attention like nobody's business, and Bill's approach is fitting with his character as well. Their wooing of Sookie is equally on the money: Bill gives her a mournful gaze and backs off, while Eric has bought her house from under her and is now ready to claim her, I guess through transit of property. But most interesting of all is that Bill is now the King, I guess, of Louisiana. Since the last thing we saw him doing in season 3 was fighting Sophie-Anne, it's safe to assume he won that battle. But a bit of authority (and an apparent interest in the witch coven) will give Bill something to do other than worry about Sookie, and he'll do it in a nice purple suit.
There's some promising stuff in this episode, but a lot of yawns too, and dramatically, it doesn't work at all, bumping from that crazy opening act to a lot of Sookie reunions and general table-setting. That doesn't mean season four will be bad, necessarily. But True Blood usually starts its seasons with a lot of energy, so it's a little disappointing to see that bang gone.
- "If your job is to look after me, can't I just say you suck?" Sookie says, fairly, to her fairy godmother.
- Andy's mad he lost the Louisiana safe streets plaque to Webster Parish. "YOU OWE ME A PLAQUE!"
- Terry used to put squirrel heads on lizard bodies, to invent new animals.
- "Going to the Piggly Wiggly for me is like going to the morgue for you."
- Sookie's excuse for being gone, "vampire business," is weak even by this show's internal logic.
- Pam, on the money as ever, calls Hoyt the "tree in the plaid shirt."
- "Such a strange sensation when the reality matches the picture in my head so precisely."