It’s probably not a great sign for True Blood when this quieter, more staid second episode is much easier to take than the loud, gaudy season premiere. After all, this is a show that stakes its very reputation on ridiculous excess—of story, of violence, of nudity, of absurd, bloody merkins—so when those things aren’t really working, what’s even left? (The answer, it seems, is Eric. Bless you, Eric.)
Not that the show’s trademark insanity isn’t present here. In fact, the first entry of my notes was “okay, this episode is bananas”—right before the episode slipped into a far more even keel, trading most of the bananas moments for a bit of much-needed world building. By far, the most interesting thing the show is attempting this season is an honest-to-goodness, large-scale human vs. vampire conflict, and so far it seems to be doing what it was afraid to do when the idea was introduced last season: give it some actual teeth. Instead of just being mentioned as some sort of nebulous, always-unseen background noise, the addition of Arliss Howard’s Governor and his ruthless anti-vampire policies have completely transformed this story into one that urgently affects these characters, and that is a good thing. Vampires no longer have equal rights—as demonstrated by some brutal television news footage of a vampire being dragged behind a vehicle, with a voice over exclaiming how this was now perfectly legal under the letter of the law—and vampires need to do something to stem the tide of persecution, before their rights are rolled back forever.
Naturally, Eric is the one who takes the initiative to bring about change. Eric has always been this show’s sort of alpha figure, lording over everything and everyone with a large sense of entitlement and initiative and very little patience for nonsense. When he goes to the Governor’s mansion and tricks his way into a meeting with the man himself, with the obvious purpose of glamouring all of the Governor’s horrible policies away, there’s no reason to think it won’t work and this whole endeavor wasn’t just another one of True Blood’s missed opportunities to tell a more interesting story. But something wonderful happens: It doesn’t work. This Governor, replete with fancy UV-emitting bullets and anti-glamour contacts, is tactical and thorough in a way humans haven’t been in the past, and the possibilities of him as a formidable foe are enticing. What the Governor doesn’t count on when he dismisses Eric with impunity, however, is just how pathologically clever Eric can be, which Eric shows when going directly for the Governor’s daughter to get some payback. Governor, why didn’t you give your daughter some of those fancy contacts?
Eric’s story was sort of the logical, even-keeled center of the episode, but far crazier things were happening in the margins. Craziest of all is Bill’s continued descent into Billith madness, a story that seems to be emerging as an excuse for the show to give Stephen Moyer and Deborah Ann Woll a lot of room to emote in the most over-the-top way possible. (Seriously, at one point I’m pretty sure their scenes switch from an episode of True Blood to a Tennessee Williams play performed by a misguided high school freshman drama class.) Bill spends most of the episode catatonic, lost in cheesy, Lilith-provided visions of a place she calls “No Place,” which is obviously a suburb of No One Gives A Fuck. Her visions are basically just an excuse to bring back the bloody merkin triplets and emphasize Bill’s continued “otherness,” this time in the creepy way he uses the power of compulsion to glamour a human and drain her of her blood without ever having to lay a finger on the victim. If there’s one bright spot about Bill’s story so far it’s the glorious way the episode ends, as he realizes he can see the future and that future features Nazi-esque UV light showers! It’s over-the-top, slightly offensive, and basically exploitative nonsense completely devoid of any sort of larger attempt at meaningful social commentary. So basically, classic True Blood!
While those two stories represent the sort of highs and lows that are endemic to the last few seasons of the show, there were also things pitched straight down the middle, a bit of grounding for everything else (if having your fairy grandfather travel to another dimension could be called grounded). You see, Warlow wasn’t actually Warlow at all, but Sookie and Jason’s grandfather Niall, come to help them with their Warlow situation. So basically Jason’s story last week was completely pointless, but that doesn’t matter, because comedy! Despite Rutger Hauer’s pleasing exasperated presence, it’s all an excuse to bring forth another “Sookie ex machina,” this time via a one-time light ball she can use like a nuclear weapon against vampires, presumably to defeat Warlow. Okay, show.
All in all, this was a more pleasing episode than the premiere simply because it seemed to have some intent behind it, at least in regard to building a more interesting world beyond Bon Temps. The vampire vs. human plot is more interesting and well-realized to me than pretty much anything the show has done in two seasons, so there’s a sense of anticipation bubbling under the surface here, and that feels exciting. Just don’t try to think too hard about the implication made here that this whole thing is headed toward a Nazi Germany allegory, lest you want your head to explode.
- Alexander Skarsgard’s performance as the nerdy fisheries employee was delightful. Also great was Eric flying away as the guards looked on with confusion, another fun example of the show’s ability to use vampire powers for humor. “They can fly?”
- Another great Eric moment: digging out the bullet in Tara’s side with a broken beer bottle. Use what you’ve got!
- Sookie meets another half-fairy who can read her mind, this time in the form of a potential love interest. Their dialogue is painful.
- Jurnee Smollett joins the show in this episode as an activist attempting to bring supernatural creatures and humans together, and wanting to start with Sam. She’s a great, dynamic actress so her scenes mostly work, even if the saga of “will Sam reveal himself” is old, old stuff at this point.
- As I predicted, Emma’s grandmother showed up to bring her back to the werewolf pack. Alcide is much more tolerable when he’s just a small participant in someone else’s story rather than when he gets his own.
- Did we really need Patrick’s wife to come looking for him? Was anyone clamoring for a firm resolution to that plot line? True Blood, please let things go. Just once! It’s nice!
- Andy and his half-fairy babies continue to be irksome. Do all half-fairy babies grow quickly? Because Sookie’s father was half fairy and this was never mentioned.