True Blood: “And When I Die”


True Blood
“And When I Die”
Sundays, HBO, 10

Written by Raelle Tucker

Directed by Scott Winant

“After everything we’ve been through, it’s a miracle we’re not screaming in a padded room somewhere.” – Tara

I’ve been complaining all year that there were too many characters and too many plot lines in this series; looks like someone in the writer’s room thought so as well. Taking a scythe, rather than a broom, to the overcrowded set, the Season Four finale sweeps away a handful of characters. No fewer than four, and possibly five characters exit the series. Add in the death of Tommy Mickens last week, and suddenly the dance floor in Bon Temps is a lot less crowded. That will be a big relief next year, and possibly we can see deeper, instead of more numerous, stories.

“What are we, like magnets for @#$%ing craziness?” — Tara

We begin with breakfast scenes: one between Lafayette and Jesus, and the other between Tara and Sookie. I liked these two scenes for different reasons. Jesus and Lafayette have increasingly been the soul, if not the heart of this year’s stories. Through thick and thin they stay together, support one another, love one another. It’s the truest marriage in Bon Temps. But this breakfast ends in a horrific discovery by Jesus: his lover is now possessed by the ghost of Marnie the witch. This is not even the first possession he’s suffered this year; Lafayette Reynolds gets more visitors than the Bates Motel. Meanwhile, Sookie and Tara enjoy a quiet breakfast in Sookie’s (make that Eric’s) house, an echo of their close friendship from season one. It’s nice to see Tara being her smart-alecky self again, without the screaming and the hysterics. Sookie’s sunlit kitchen is the scene of an intimate moment where two women share their hopes and dreams: a quiet life, grandchildren on the porch. No vampires, no werewolves, no supernatural beings, just two women with ordinary dreams. We’ve needed a grounding moment like this for awhile, and it was very well done.

“There’s something inside you that’s just missing.” – Hoyt

Another scene between old friends goes horribly awry. Jason, bless his thick head, is trying to do the right thing by his very dim lights. Having embarked on a romance with his best friend’s vampire, er, girl, he then gathers his courage to confess this to Hoyt. He chooses to do it while Hoyt has a chain saw in hand, which led to some tension. But Hoyt’s not that kind of guy; he lashes out at Jason, knocks him down, chews him out for violating not only the Man Code but the Best Friend Code. Beyond that, however, Hoyt Fortenberry will not go. True violence is not in him, and he stalks away to sulk. I have always like Hoyt, especially since he stood up to his smothering mother, but I especially liked him here. His words sink in to Jason, and emerge hours later as he is with Jessica. Does he really lack a heart? Is there something missing inside him? Jason has always been a man searching for validation from other people: girlfriends, football coaches, law enforcement, preachers. So when Jessica departs and a vampire version of Steve Newlin shows up on Jason’s porch, I was pretty sure that a) it was a dream and b) Jason was manifesting his need for reassurance from an authority figure again. Someday, I hope, Jason Stackhouse will grow up, and won’t need this kind of support.

“You talked to the dead because they were your only friends.” – Jesus

Jesus’ insight into Marnie’s character is dead on, but that doesn’t help. Sometimes the last thing a person wants to hear is the truth about herself, and Marnie is in a position to hurt Jesus in the worst way. Having possessed poor Lafayette, she now seeks to steal Jesus’ powers from him. Jesus has already told her (thinking she was Lafayette) that he wants to live a magic-free life, so this exchange should be easy. Unfortunately, Jesus either does not believe magic can be traded “like Pokemon cards”, or he realizes that the exchange will kill him. Marnie does not care, and later will erupt in rage when Antonia more or less tells her the same thing Jesus is saying: her quest for power is only a reflection of her loneliness, a cloak for her own self-loathing.

“I want your magic, brujo.” – Marnie/Lafayette

I was impressed last week, and am blown away this week, by Kevin Alejandro’s performance. As Jesus, he has been loving, funny, warm and supportive. Now he gives a master class in barely-controlled desperation, as he pleads with Marnie to spare the body she is in. When he realizes that only his death will satisfy her, he accedes in his own martyrdom. What he doesn’t realize is that before he dies, he will be forced to watch the demon he despises, the demon who scares Lafayette out of his wits, manifest in Lafayette. So poor Jesus’ last sight on Earth is of his beloved changed into something out of a Mexican horror movie, as he whispers, “Lafayette, I’m sorry”. I found this moment heartbreaking, not least of all because I was rather fond of the character. This being True Blood, however, I was confident that no one would really stay dead, or at least absent, very long. And I was right.

“Excuse me. We’re feeling a little crispy up here.” — Eric

Having spent a long time on Jesus’ final scenes, we then jump right over Marnie’s attack on Bill and Eric. We pan past through the carnage left in her wake, to the stake to which she has tied both Bill and Eric. Although Marnie herself never had a beef with the vampires, she has adopted Antonia’s quest as her own. She now prepares to burn them at the stake, in revenge for all the witches burned at the stake during the Inquisition. I never got the idea that all Inquisitors were vamps, so Marnie’s really reaching here, but it doesn’t matter. The point is that she’s gone off the rails entirely. The real fun twist on this scene was that Bill and Eric, who had been killing witches right, left and center all season, are now rescued by one. Holly brought salt along in her handy Wiccan first-aid kit, and uses it to draw a circle. Sookie, Holly and Tara do a witchy chant that brings forth most of the ghosts in the Bon Temps cemetery, including a few we haven’t seen in a while. Between them, the witches, and the ghost of Antonia, Marnie is finally dispatched. As she walked away, I tipped my hat to Fiona Shaw, an actress of great power and depth who gave us a fine portrait of a confused, not very smart but relatable woman who never really understood herself.

“I think life is violent and cruel by nature, so when something good comes along, you gotta stop and celebrate.” Sam

Ah, Sam. His parents and his brother have been murdered. His brother stole everything he valued. He’s been deceived and betrayed on every hand, but he still, down deep, has that fundamental good nature that we love. He may be down, but Sam Merlotte is never out. His tale is pretty much peripheral to this entire season; take it out and you would not in any way change the course of the main story. But Sam is the earth element of this show; he grounds it in practical, matter-of-fact good sense. He’s not a patsy, but he’s a pretty basic guy, not given to extremes, a man who, like Sookie and Tara, just wants a normal life. He has a chance for one, with Luna and Emma, so I’m hoping our last sight of him, facing a growling, unknown werewolf, is only a melodramatic flourish and not a new threat. I would miss Sam more than any other character in this series.

” What if our hearts can’t be trusted? It’s our brains we should be listening to.” – Alcide

Who knew the big guy was a philosopher? Alcide proves to Sookie that he’s not just a dumb werewolf, but a patient man with the strength of character to admit a mistake. He’s made a mistake trusting Debbie Pelt (is there a better name for a werewolf than something “Pelt”?). He wants to try to forge a relationship with Sookie. He’s willing to wait, to see how things develop. Of course, on this show he’s unlikely to take his own advice: if these people acted sensibly, where would the drama be? So I am sure he will get into trouble soon enough, probably in a face-off with Sookie. I just hope it wasn’t him growling at Sam behind the bar. Unfortunately, his ex doesn’t think at all, either with her heart or her brain. Sookie comes home to find Debbie waiting in the kitchen with a shotgun (and why would a werewolf feel the need for a gun at all?); when Debbie tries to shoot her, Tara jumps between them, taking the blast. Sookie dispatches Debbie with the other barrel, and cradles a bleeding Tara on the floor of the very kitchen where they had their cozy chat at the beginning. It was an effective, if obvious, full circle moment.

“There’s only one way I see this ending, and that’s me walking away with neither of you. ” – Sookie

If it’s taken me a while to get to what many viewers think is the real story of this season, it’s because I’m reluctant to revisit something so openly and shamelessly soap-opera. I get the idea the writers aren’t that taken with the Sookie Dilemma, or at least that they take it with a grain of salt. After Sookie’s sexual-liberation manifesto a couple of weeks ago, she finally gets her vampire three-way, vamp style. In short, she winds up literally between Eric and Bill, with everyone decently clothed, donating blood to both of them. Um, okay. Not exactly the bedroom romp True Blood is (in)famous for, but in character. The sizzle and tension of this triangle dribbles away in a talky scene where everyone says obvious things, like Bill’s “You’re the love of my life”. Does anyone believe she’s going to stick to her vow to renounce both of them? Anyone? Bueller? Yeah, I thought not. I appreciate that the writers are trying to do something Charlaine Harris could not – resurrect the Bill/Sookie romance. I’m not sure anyone can do that, however. To make it work, you’d have to make Bill a lot more interesting. Although he’s been a great King this year, and defends his “backwoods kingdom” from Nan very effectively, as a lover and dramatic character he continues to pale, literally, beside Eric.

“This kind of power, it’s not meant for us.” – Jesus

I’ll say this for the finale: almost everything got wrapped up. Unfortunately, there was so much to wrap up, mere action could not do the job. So we get an hour where people are constantly talking, talking, talking. This was mostly hilarious in the middle of what, in any other week, would have been a hot sex scene between Jason and Jessica. I mean, does anyone really believe Jason Stackhouse would get all talky and philosophical when naked with a woman? The pacing required that the Marnie story be wrapped up in double-time, so what we got was a good bit of double-talk. Antonia, who spent ten weeks doing her level best to kill every vampire in sight, now suddenly does a 180 degree turnabout and talks about tolerance, eternal peace, and live and let live for all God’s creatures. Seriously? And what the hell happened to the fairies? What a dynamite opening the season four premiere was: fairyland, evil fairies, a vortex leading to Earth, the return of Sookie’s Grandpa. It might as well have happened on another show for all the impact it had this year. I consider the disappearance of the very promising fairies as a cheat. I hope the writers and producers take a good look at this middling season and realize that they have to have fewer storylines, not more, and fewer characters. This is not a real soap opera, it only mimics one; without a five-day-a-week schedule, it does not have the luxury of long, drawn out overlapping plots. Cut to the chase, give us more action, and more special supernatural powers. For example, we haven’t seen Alcide become a werewolf for a long time (unless that was him outside Sam’s trailer). For that matter, Sam hasn’t changed in a while. What happened to the supernatural elements of this show?

“Dude, I’m dead. You’re a medium. I will always be with you.” — Jesus

We get a host of reappearances in this season finale, as the writers and producers clean house with a vengeance. Not only does Jesus come back to comfort his grieving lover, we get ghostly cameos of Gran and René. We also discover that you can’t keep a good vampire down, as Alcide discovers that Russell Edgington has somehow freed himself, or been freed. Words cannot describe my delight in having the King back in play. We get one new character into the mix, Terry Bellefleur’s old Marine buddy Patrick Devins (Scott Foley, Gray’s Anatomy), whom René does not trust. And we lose, at least for now, four characters: Jesus, Nan Flanigan, Marnie (again) and Debbie Pelt; we may have lost Tara. So that is four, and maybe five characters erased from the list. Keep your scorecard in pencil, however, not ink: Season Five is already in the works, and who knows who will come back? As Jesus tells Lafayette: Everything is temporary.