Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

True Blood: "Timebomb"

Illustration for article titled True Blood: "Timebomb"

Hey, True Blood fans. Emily's on vacation in a corner of our planet that doesn't have HBO and/or "the Internet" and/or, possibly, television, so I'm your guide for the week.  - TV

I have to admit upfront that I am not the True Blood fan Emily is. I didn’t like the first season much at all for the same old reasons, but I’ve enjoyed season two in spite of a lot of the problems the show had in season one, which still exist but have been minimized. My biggest problem with the show stems from the leads. Sookie Stackhouse is, by necessity, a narrator character in the books, but that’s translated over to the TV show as well. There’s been an admirable effort in the second season to make her drive more of the action, but, like a narrator would, she spends a lot of time racing from place to place and observing the action, rarely doing much to drive any of it. She’s always getting caught up in other people’s plans, and that tends to make her seem more passive than active. That can be death for a show like this. Similarly, I’ve never quite bought the Bill and Sookie romance because I’ve never quite bought that Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin have a ton of chemistry. These things, though, tend to be in the eye of the beholder, so I’ll cut those who disagree a little slack. Still, the plotlines where Bill and Sookie’s relationship is tested but they come through to have cutesy pillow talk in the end are generally my least favorite in any given episode.

Similarly, I have trouble with the show’s portrayal of vampire culture and how it tries to equate that subculture, often too cutely, with the homosexual subculture in the U.S. I’ll get into this a little more in the section on this week’s supposed wrap-up of the Fellowship of the Sun plotline, but I often find myself thinking that the Newlins’ thinking isn’t so incredibly far off as to be actively hateful whereas I think exactly the opposite when our real world Newlins take to the airwaves to speak out against gays. Yeah, the tactics they end up employing at the church are monstrous, but none of the political stuff on the show strikes me as having the sort of nuance to it that would earn the sociopolitical commentary it seems to be striving for.

But, that said, I’m not sure any of this matters in the end anyway. True Blood’s ultimate goal is probably just to provide a good time, and, outside of the Sookie and Bill scenes, I generally have one. The show has decidedly amped up the humor in the second season, and with its universe fairly well established, it’s been able to amp up the pacing too. I tend to watch True Blood episodes in clumps, so perhaps I’m a bit off-base on this, but I don’t find the complaints that the show has too many slow-moving episodes to be accurate at all. This season has been all about headlong motion, plunging forward at all times on multiple storylines that are proceeding at multiple levels. Sure, I find some of these storylines more interesting than others, but they’ve all made remarkable process over the course of the season. (Another criticism I don’t buy: It doesn’t bother me that all of these characters are terminally stupid. I think that’s a part of the show’s charm.)

Anyway, tonight, the show mostly just stuck to making progress on its two big plots for the season, tying the lengthy, usually boring story of Bill and Lenora’s connection in to what seemed to be the big climax for the Fellowship of the Sun plot. It also made some progress on the storyline of Maryann being a Maenad and enslaving seemingly half the population of Bon Temps into her weird orgy cult. Some of the other plots had their moments, but tonight was all about moving the ball forward on those two counts. And for the most part, the show did an admirable job.

Let’s start with the Maryann plot, which has been lurching forward more erratically than anything else on the show. At times, it seems to be building tension very slowly and then it will do something like just blurt out the complete backstory of Maryann in one scene, as it did last week. It’s so stop-and-go that it occasionally blurs some of the very good work Michelle Forbes is doing as this wicked queen type figure. Forbes is having a grand time as this crazy throwback to the ancient Greeks who’s turned up in this tiny Louisiana town, and the scene of her preparing her hunter’s soufflé, complete with Daphne heart, were sublimely over-the-top gross-out gags. (It certainly did not help that I was eating chips with very red salsa at the same time.) I’m less certain about her plans for Tara and Eggs, though it seems certain she wants to give them some sort of demon baby at this point. Tara was actually my favorite character in season one, but now that they’re forced to follow what happens to her in the books, she’s gotten shanghaied into that most irritating of TV plots, the “What just happened?!” “I don’t know!” plot where variations on the two above phrases are repeated over and over and over. Also, someone framed Sam for the murder of Daphne, and he ended up in jail, when he’s the one person who could, conceivably, stop Maryann. The scene where the cops caught up with him for the murder was stupid on all sorts of levels (I have no idea why he’d just hang around when he heard the cops showing up, especially when he can TURN INTO A DOG), but, again, I’ll forgive a lot of that.

It was the Fellowship of the Sun that really held my interest, as it has throughout the season. My central problem with the plotline is this: Steve and his followers’ blanket hatred of vampires doesn’t seem as unmotivated and needless to me as the show wants it to seem. It’s not like when fundamentalist Christians launch blanket attacks against gays, and it’s clear that they’ve not evolved along with the rest of society. While the rest of the True Blood world does seem vaguely more accepting of vampires, most of the vampires we’ve seen are or were bloodthirsty killers who have capacity to utterly destroy most humans they come across and are – literally – demonic forces. The vampires we’ve gotten to know are conflicted about the wrong they’ve done, but the show seems to think this is, somehow, enough, as though murdering people is not a sin that should be punished. I realize this is kind of an old argument, but it gets to the heart of what I didn’t like about the show in the first season: True Blood is a show with a cool universe that caters to people predisposed to like vampires. If you’re not one of those people, though, it’s hard to see what everyone sees in them outside of them being generically cool. (Though it’s entirely possible that Alan Ball, just like everyone else in Hollywood, just doesn’t get fundamentalist Christianity.)

That said, the conclusion to the Fellowship of the Sun arc was really inspired. After Godric insists that Eric exit the building with Sookie and not kill anyone, we get the amusing scenes of Eric trying to pretend to be a congregation member then being unavoidably detained and held down by silver (one of the cooler things about the True Blood universe, to my mind). As the seeming sacrifice of Eric proceeds, it’s stopped by Jason, armed with a paintball gun (and while I’ve liked the story where Jason and Sarah were falling in love, I thought the line about Jason having been to heaven was really stupid). From there, it turned into a standoff with a bunch of angry vampires, bent on destruction, until Godric stopped it all, lit with seemingly heavenly light, insisting that everyone proceed in peace.

I like this idea of vampires trying to treat humans as equals, and I think it will go a long way toward righting some of my problems with basic conceptualization of the show. This is obviously, obviously a fun universe to play in, filled with so many cool little twists and turns as it is, but it needs to evolve and grow in ways it hasn’t quite yet. This is a promising development. That is, it is until the episode ends with Luke coming to the house party, clad in silver and seemingly equipped with a suicide bomb. (Though after the Jason death fakeout and given how many important characters are at that house party, I have to assume that the bomb will turn out to be a bunch of hot dogs painted red or something.) It was an excellent, excellent cliffhanger to yet another compulsively watchable episode, but I hope it doesn’t undo what’s been done.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

  • OK, this is kinda long, so we’ll keep this brief. That scene of Jessica realizing her hymen was going to grow back over and over and over was a really terrific little vignette, full of raw passion and heart and humanity. I really like how the show is using her to explore the process of becoming a vampire.
  • God, I hope this show finds more for William Sanderson to do. He’s such a great actor.
  • Sodomizing a tree? That’s a thing?
  • “A bull. In a dress. With claws.”