HBO 8/9c PM, Tuesdays
Written by Brian Buckner
Directed by Daniel Minahan
“This kind of moral anarchy cannot be allowed.” —The Magister
Leave it to Alan Ball to make a vampire the voice of family values. In the Season Three opener for True Blood, the return to reason we might have expected after the chaos wrought by a maenad in last season’s climax is completely derailed. But whereas last year’s events were largely the work of supernatural forces, this year the driving forces behind the bubbling chaos in Bon Temps are all too human.
“I hate it when they make everything about race.” —Arlene
In last season’s finale, Jason Stackhouse shot and killed Tara’s lover, “Eggs” Benedict, in the mistaken belief he was threatening Detective Andy Bellefleur; Andy then accepted responsibility and told Jason to lie low. As I had hoped, the writers do not let the killing of a black man by (apparently) a white cop go unremarked, and there is a brief hint of racial tension in the ensuing hysteria. Oddly enough, it is triggered by the otherwise completely oblivious Arlene, whose remarks are misinterpreted—perhaps deliberately—by the enraged and grief-stricken Tara. And as usual, Arlene gets one of the funniest, off-the-top-of-her-head remarks of the night: “I’m sorry you fell in love with a serial killer, but honestly, who here hasn’t?” Good point, Arlene.
This episode focused pretty strongly on first kills by a variety of characters. Terry Bellefleur tries to comfort his cousin Andy by reassuring him that, despite having taken a life (as he believes), Andy can still be a good man. Terry may be appealing to the best in Andy, but Andy then turns around and appeals to the worst in Jason, who actually has killed someone. Jason is devastated by his misdeed, and bewildered when Andy tells him he must continue to behave like a horndog, which everyone expects, in order to allay any suspicion. Jason would prefer to be a “new Jason”, but reluctantly agrees. However, when he picks up a couple of Yankee coeds, he finds himself unable to perform. Despite Andy’s command (“Conscience on, dick off!”), Jason’s conscience gets the better of him, and he hallucinates bullet holes in the girls’ foreheads. Definitely a buzz kill for all involved.
First kills are not confined to the human population. Jessica’s clumsy attempts to feed off a truck driver wind up killing him, and all her efforts at reviving him, and later Turning him, fail. Bewildered and bereft, abandoned by both her maker and her boyfriend, she weeps bloody tears and tries to cope. Of all the first kills in this episode, Jessica’s is the most pathetic, and Deborah Ann Woll once again brought home the endearing, essential innocence of a teenager woefully out of her depth but gamely continuing to try.
And where is Jessica’s maker? Tied up in the back of a car by a bunch of vampire drainers. Cackling madly, they are snacking on Bill’s blood while he is held immobile by a silver chain. One drainer ostentatiously takes off his gloves; Bill watches closely. Once the crew is drunk on his blood, Bill purloins the gloves so he can escape the silver chain, kills the driver, and causes a wreck. Climbing out, he “calls” Jessica, who does not know how to respond. After feeding on an old lady (as respectfully as a Southern gentleman vampire can), he then is confronted with a pack of wolves. He warns them that he has fed, and then snaps out his fangs. I don’t think these are ordinary wolves. I do appreciate this more muscular (in every sense), action-hero version of the wimpy vampire Bill Compton. Maybe he’ll grow a pair this season.
Sookie, meanwhile, is frantically looking for her would-be fiancé. Getting no joy from Sheriff Dearborn, she appeals to Eric Northman, whom she interrupts in mid-coitus. Unfazed by his own nudity or Sookie’s disconcerted reaction, he denies any involvement in Bill’s kidnapping but says that, as the local vampire sheriff, it’s his responsibility to find Bill. He also makes it clear that he has more than an eye on Sookie, who is not sure where to look in a room full of naked people. Later, in conversation with his minion, Pam, it becomes clear that Eric is not only aware of Bill’s absence, but is almost responsible for it. Having promised his queen, Sophie-Anne, to get rid of Bill as the only witness to their illegal sale of vampire blood, he has hired someone to kidnap Bill. Unfortunately for his hirelings, the drainers got there first. There are almost enough twists in this plotline to fuel half a season of stories all by itself.
A visit from the Queen showed us a refreshingly strong Sophie-Anne Leclerq (Evan Rachel Wood, Thirteen). Last year, her languid Lana Turner-esque queen seemed far too weak to dominate a tough guy like Eric Northman. This time around, she snaps, she snarls, and her fangs are bigger than his. Her artificial manner serves her well when we see her obviously lying to the Magister; hers is the face of a spoiled diva who no longer cares enough to hide her duplicity. Eric tries to warn her of the danger she has put them in, but all she cares about is raising enough money to pay her back taxes to the IRS. Of all the absurdities the writers have introduced into this show, the idea that a vampire Queen of New Orleans is desperate to pay her taxes is the most hilarious. Once again we see that the Internal Revenue Service is more powerful than death itself.
“Hell hath no fury like a vampire queen gone broke.” —Queen Sophie-Anne
The Magister (Zeljko Ivanek, The Event) has come to investigate the illegal trade in vampire blood. He clearly doesn’t believe either the Queen’s or Eric’s denials, and charges Eric with finding the seller. What I don’t understand about this is why the Magister needs Eric’s help at all. If, as he says, the trade is widespread in the Bon Temps area, it strikes me that it would be child’s play for him to acquire a buyer, glamour him or her, and learn who he bought the vampire blood from. Even more, since anyone who drinks vamp blood dreams of the vampire who “donated” it, the buyers would be dreaming of Sophie-Anne, a dead (ahem) giveaway to any vampire investigator. So I must conclude that either the Magister is an idiot—unlikely—or that he already knows that the Queen, at least, is tied to the illegal sale of vampire blood, and he is toying with her. This, I have no trouble believing.
Of course, we get more evidence of the aphrodisiac qualities of v-juice in this episode. Ball and his writers cannot resist reminding us that anyone who has drunk from a vampire then experiences erotic dreams about him or her, as Sam Merlotte dreams homoerotic dreams about Bill Compton. This scene was funny and squirm-worthy at the same time, as we see Sam reluctantly surrendering to Bill’s vampire spell, while we are regaled with lines out of a bad porn film: “The water in Arkansas is very… hard.” Kudos to both Stephen Moyer and Sam Trammell for keeping this scene hot and funny at the same time.
The best characters in this episode, however, were not the leads. Ryan Kwanten once again gives us Jason Stackhouse as idiot savant of Bon Temps (“You really want to f*** somebody’s life up, tell them the truth. They ain’t never going to be the same!”). I look forward to seeing how this bumbling, well-meaning but essentially featherheaded boy-man is going to deal with the aftermath of Eggs’ death. I also look forward to seeing how Jessica and Hoyt will deal with their continuing fractured relationship; talk about your mixed-up relationships. Can a nice Southern boy find happiness with a nice Southern vampire girl? Stay tuned. Jim Parrack and Deborah Ann Woll keep me riveted every week. And Nelsan Ellis’s Lafayette steals every scene he is in, as always.
The one character whose arc is, for me, completely depleted, is Tara. Rutina Wesley does her best, but Tara is consistently written as a scream embodied. When she’s not wailing over Eggs at high volume, she’s cussing out people who mean her no harm, people who love her and mean well. Her inept and useless mother allows her to lock herself in a bathroom, where Lafayette finds her trying to kill herself with pills. I almost wish he would let her succeed, because I long since passed the point where her histrionics left me other than annoyed. The only reason I could possibly be interested in this character further would be if this season saw a redemptive arc, one where she found peace with her demons (real or supernatural) and became once again the smart, sassy Tara we saw in Season One. Otherwise, she’s done.
One other element I didn’t care much for were the coeds Jason takes home. Despite the fact that this entire show is set in the South, with mostly relatable Southern characters, we once again get Yankees slumming for some strange in the swamplands of the South. It’s not as offensive as a racial stereotype, but it is annoying and I wish it would go away.
True Blood got a festive welcome back from 5.1 million viewers, a 38 percent increase from the Season Two premiere. If we add in 1.3 million viewers from the 11:00PM replay, we get 6.4 million viewers, making it a definite hit for HBO. I’m willing to bet some of those 1.3 million viewers were earlier viewers who tuned in for a repeat of Alexander Skaarsgard’s nude scene, or the bare-chested seduction scene between Sam and Bill. I know I was. No matter how you juggle the numbers, it’s clear that Season Three is off to a (a)rousing start.