A True Blood episode is basically as good as whatever storyline is up on the screen, minute by minute: there's no other show that can change from being this bad (Sam Merlotte and his drunk family) to this good (Franklin's psycho-courtship) so quickly. "Trouble" was for the large part enjoyable, especially in that it moved the central Mississippi-Louisiana war storyline forward quite a bit and reunited Bill and Sookie. But almost every time we flashed back to Bon Temps, it was back to snoresville -- unlike season 2, it remains to be seen just how much the town action is going to tie into everything else this year.
Franklin, perhaps aware of how dull things were getting in Bon Temps, has brought Tara to Russell's mansion in Mississippi and continued his wooing of her, which involves tying her up, threatening her with death if she puts the slightest foot wrong, and telling her constantly how much he loves her. He had so many choice lines this episode: "This one is spectacularly different. She's such a fucking disaster, we could be twins!" he exults to Russell. "Franklin, you're a huge freak," Russell retorts. Spot-on. I have tremendous sympathy for Tara, though, which is new. One drunken hookup leads to her being held against her will again, for the second consecutive season. Last time, at least she didn't know it was going on. Now, she has to play along with Franklin's insanity to try and escape -- but she doesn't have long, cause he's planning to turn her.
"We need to talk," she tells him. "Women say that, it goes black, and I wake up surrounded by body parts," he warns. Apparently Franklin has something of a gambling addiction along with being a bloody psycho, but he does his job well, and Russell seems very interested in Bill's files on the Stackhouse family. Our hero appears to be recovering quickly from last week's descent into evil: sure, he doesn't help Tara out and he's still rebuffing Sookie even when he's face-to-face with her, but once again his motives seem to be governed more by gamesmanship rather than the epic breakdown he had while hate-fucking Lorena. "There's a payoff somewhere," guesses Russell. We can only hope.
James Frain and Denis O'Hare are both fully embracing the True Blood method of acting -- that bigger is always better -- and that's what's making their scenes oh so much fun. Joe Manganiello is going for a more brooding tack, and since I'm resistant to his persistent shirtlessness, it's not working as well for me. Him and Sookie being detectives isn't bad, since it's always good to see Sookie use her telepathy aggressively, but every time they turn into the bad breakup club all the energy gets sucked out of the scene. I honestly could care less about Alcide's nutty ex-girlfriend (Brit Morgan, so cute on The Middleman, is going for a reality-TV vibe in playing Debbie, screaming "I WILL CUT YOU!") and how nice she used to be. The werewolves in general aren't sparking much interest for me: they seem to have a society as medieval as vampires, but without any of the class and presence. Alcide stands out as the only one who pauses to think before doing something, and he's not exactly a great mind himself.
Werewolf politics are dull, but vampire politics are great, and with Eric hanging in Jackson now, we're just a couple steps removed from a big showdown if Sophie-Anne and the Magister show up. With Alcide being thrown in as a new suitor for Sookie, I was worried that the Bill-Eric rivalry was being forgotten, but it was back with a vengeance this week as Eric engaged in some delicious game-playing, currying favor with Russell and seemingly edging Bill out, despite Bill renouncing his claim to Sookie. But even if Eric has goopy sex fantasies about her, his number one obsession appears to be pissing Bill off.
But while he enjoys one-upping Bill, Eric actually had a lot of heavy shit this week: Skarsgard conveyed his underlying fears for his and Pam's life well and then got an out-of-nowhere flashback to his Viking times that seemed to pinpoint Russell as his father's killers. Now, that may have been a thousand years ago, but Viking blood feuds die hard, it seems, and I think Russell finally has a truly worthy opponent for the rest of the season (I like Bill, but his approach to Russell was the same as his approach to everything else: assimilate, and see what happens).
Back in Bon Temps, there were some typical laughs from Jason as he spent his first day on the job as a copper (which mostly involved him falling out of his chair and making paperclip limbo chains) and then fell fast and hard for the ethereal girl from a couple episodes ago, Crystal. She seemed equally charmed, but who wouldn't be by a fake cop who pulls you over while shirtless, saying "I wanna know you?" I don't know what to make of Jason's latest conquest other than she seems to be a more authentic version of Lizzie Caplan's character from the first season, full of talk about nature and togetherness and being one and yadda yadda. She's like a little forest elf!
Cuter still was Lafayette's cautious courtship with Jesus, who came by to hang out at Merlotte's. Lafayette is so on-edge these days he woulda scared him off if Jesus wasn't so into him, but their pool-playing scene was the highlight of the townie part of the episode. I don't really see the appeal of Kevin Alejandro because of his stupid facial hair but my girlfriend assured me he is adorable. I hope this doesn't take a Tara-esque turn for the worse, because it'd be nice to see Lafayette get a nice, normal boyfriend. It's his first one, three seasons in!
I won't say much about Sam's dumb family, which is really the Bon Temps deadweight that I'm talking about. I was glad to see a non-rebellious side to Tommy (especially his flirty, encouraging words to Jessica) and I'm sure there's something deeper at work than Sam's dad just being a drunk, but I don't care enough to guess about it.
Oh, and let's not forget the fantastic cliffhanger, the True Blood special: Sookie's magical zap powers, not glimpsed since the closing episodes of season two, reappear as she fights Russell's werewolves. "Fantastic!" he proclaims. Damn right. I was wondering when they'd pick up that thread again.
Talbot thinks Tara is a "good, pretty girl" and Franklin a "fugly psycho thug." He's basically a smarmy doorman (Franklin calls him a "cleaning lady"), but I appreciate his zingers.
Bill calls Lorena a "tiresome cow." I really hope this season is her last. She's not funny, she's not very sexy, and she doesn't feel dangerous anymore, so what's the point of her?
Every scene with Franklin in it was golden. I didn't know what to make of him showing off his incredible texting skills, but I was on the floor.
Todd Lowe continues to be an absolute standout this season even though his plot with Arlene (she's pregnant but he ain't the daddy!) is third-string sitcom stuff. "This is what normal people do," he proudly proclaims to Sam as he moves in with Arlene.
Jessica continues to be wasted every week -- she's so great in her little scenes but has absolutely nothing to do! Fix this, please, writers!