True Blood: “Beautifully Broken”

Twist Ending

True Blood
HBO 9/10c 
PM, Sundays
“Beautifully Broken”
Written by Raelle Tucker
Directed by Scott Winant

“It makes me feel disturbingly human.” —Eric

No matter how far vampires get from the human natures they were born with, some things appear to be hardwired into the primate psyche. One of those things is hierarchy and dominance. Tonight we got a glimpse of the more overt expression of this drive among vampires, as we meet the King of Mississippi, Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare, The Good Wife). He might more accurately be called the Queen of Mississippi; despite his haut ton riding attire and impeccably British wardrobe, he’s as gay as the wallpaper and doesn’t bother to hide it. We learn that Bill was kidnapped by werewolves on the King’s express order, but the werewolves got their orders wrong. They were not supposed to be draining Bill. So His Majesty, looking down regally on his minions from horseback, calmly pulls out a dueling pistol from the days of Alexander Hamilton and shoots one of them dead. He may look like a pouf, but he’s a lord and master right out of the antebellum South, served not by black men but by werewolves. Producer Alan Ball, having introduced vampirism as a metaphor for gays, now appears to be treating werewolves as a metaphor for racism. This is going to be fun to watch.

So, the werewolves that were hinted at in the season opener, who appeared only in the last minute, now take center stage in the third season of True Blood. Bill has been kidnapped by them, Sookie is menaced by one outside the bar, Terry Bellefleur tracks one, and Jason Stackhouse tackles one. There’s a good chance that Sam Merlotte may be related to one. Looks like there’s going to be a run on flea powder at the local pet supply. Both Bill and Eric confront werewolves, and their first reaction is fangs-out ferocity from the moment of first encounter. As Sookie presses Eric for information about the werewolves, Eric flashes back to the Second World War, where he and Godric used the SS to help them hunt down werewolves. Recent movies like Underworldseem to be reinforcing a newly emerging trope of a vampire/werewolf blood feud (ahem) going back several centuries. Could all this be a supernatural grudge fest? Or just a war over hunting grounds?

One of the more interesting stories being launched in this season is Sam’s hunt for his family. In this episode, we meet his biological parents and his brother. Father Joe Lee Mickens (Cooper Huckabee, Dexter) is a normal human—or as normal as trailer trash gets. But mother Melinda Mickens (Anna Levine, The Crow) is a shifter. She explains rather incoherently that she gave him up for adoption when she was a teenager, then had his brother Tommy (Marshall Allman, Mad Men) after Joe Lee got out of jail. Tommy, astounded and insulted to learn at this late date that he is not his parents’ only child, takes his newly found brother for a “run” in dog’s guise, only to lure him into a near-miss with a speeding truck. Apparently the Mickens are not going to be a source of warm cuddly family feeling. I feel for Sam, valiantly trying to forge some kind of bond with the only biological family he has, striving for understanding, looking for love with all the wrong strangers. They aren’t going to give him the validation he is looking for, but it will probably take him a while to figure that out. Sam’s a stubborn guy, with all the loyalty of a dog; let’s hope he starts using that primate brain pretty soon as well. I fear he is going to be caught on the wrong side of the vampire/shifter divide emerging in this season.

Besides the King of Mississippi, we met a few new characters. James Frain sheds the urbane suavity of Tudor England for scruff and boots, as he brings us Franklin Mott, a vampire who seems to be spying on Sookie and seducing Tara. Certainly he seems to understand the spirit of wrath that is Tara incarnate these days. When she is insulted by a pair of drunk rednecks, Franklin is content to hold them while she beats the crap out of them. And he gets off on it, too—his fangs are bigger than Sophie-Anne’s. It’s an interesting new look for Frain, and I look forward to seeing this consummate Brit pull off Southern skank—hopefully better than Stephen Moyer does.

I will admit to liking Bill Compton better in these last two episodes. He has snarled and fought, spat and scowled, and has not been slow with fists or teeth in the fights he’s been in. I like this tough guy. I hope he sticks around. He’s a lot more interesting than the mopey Beel we saw most of last season. Maybe one reason I like him is that he has had not one scene with Sookie yet; for once it is more satisfying for these lovers to be separated than not. It’s also educational to see him interacting with a wider variety of vampires. He is subservient to Eric and Sophie-Anne, as his superiors in vamp hierarchy. But even as he partakes of the blood feast set before him at the King’s table (blood gelato, anyone?), he politely but firmly rejects the King’s assertion of authority over him. And for once, he moves decisively when Lorena, his maker, comes into the room: with no hesitation he throws a kerosene lamp over her, setting her on fire. Good on ya, Bill. Of course, last time he killed a fellow vampire, he had to stand trial. To kill his own maker must be a greater offense; things may be about to get ugly for Bill.

“What the hell is wrong with me, Lafayette?” —Tara

When a character starts echoing the audience, you’re doing something wrong. A lot of the audience for True Blood is asking the same thing: what is wrong with this girl? Granted, she’s had tragedy and terror in her life, but so have a lot of the citizens of Bon Temps. What makes her so special that she spends her life whining, fuming, cursing, or fighting? Lafayette’s attempt to scare her straight by taking her to see his crazy, incarcerated mother (Alfre Woodard, Three Rivers) backfires. Rather than alleviate her anger, it persuades her to drown her sorrows in some Wild Turkey. Lafayette may be gay, he may affect some effeminate ways, but he still has much of the psychology of a man. Men turn their anger into violence, by and large. Most women turn anger inward, into depression. Hence, Tara’s first reaction is to attempt suicide, then to turn to alcohol. Only when Mott gives her encouragement does she act out her anger as a man would, with her fists. But I seriously doubt that going a few rounds with a man who cannot hit back is going to make her feel any better about herself. The problem for me is not that Tara has not yet found herself, or found an answer. The problem is that I have not been given one single reason to like this character. I have been given many reasons to pity her, but not one reason to care what happens to her. For this, I fault the writers. The Tara of the books is much less prominent a character, so the Tara of this TV series is pretty much the creation of Alan Ball and his writers. They’re about to launch her on yet another arc of degradation and misery—it’s right there in Franklin Mott’s face. When will Tara catch a break—and when will we care?

“We can fight our natures together.” —Hoyt

The two blossoming romances in this series, Arlene/Terry and Jessica/Hoyt, continue to sink into pathos. Terry is way out of his depth with Arlene, and seeks advice from all the wrong people. Finally, he makes a list of the reasons she should like him, and recites it to her through a bathroom door. Of all the characters on this show, Terry Bellefleur is one of the most complex and yet simple; he ranges between a permanent state of abstraction, and intense focus (when tracking werewolves). Hoyt, trying to win back Jessica, tells her all the reasons they should be together—again through a closed door. He knows he is likely to run back to his mama, and is looking for Jessica to take that role with him, telling him what to do. But Jessica does not need a man to boss, she needs someone to tell her how to be a vampire, and Hoyt cannot do that. As these couples fight the weird circumstances shaping their lives, even the vampire becomes more human every week.

The record ratings for the first two episodes of True Blood have led HBO to order a fourth season. I can’t remember the last time a series got its renewal within a week of the season start, unless it was a reality show. I only wish more networks showed this kind of confidence in their shows.