HBO, Sundays, 9 PM
Written by Alan Ball
Directed by Daniel Minahan
Sometimes you need to destroy something to save it. That’s in the Bible. Or the Constitution. — Jason Stackhouse
There are scholars who tell us that the word hero derives from the Greek goddess Hera, patron of cities. Someone who defends a city is acting in her name, and therefore takes a variant of her name. This would make Jason Stackhouse not only the warrior of the hour, it puts him in direct opposition to Maryann, who is acting in the name of another Greek god. Personally, I’d put my money on whoever is acting in Hera’s name–she could take Zeus himself one-handed, whereas Dionysus is a Johnny-come-lately whom she nearly killed at birth.
Yes, we are down to this: handicapping Greek gods, their avatars, and their stand-ins for the final round of True Blood, season two. I have to hand it to Alan Ball and his staff, the weaving of classical mythology into this series is stupendous work. I love how he is laying the foundation for character change on the bricks of classical mythology: Tara becomes the Tantric bodhisattva of Tibet, Eggs Benedict is a traitor of the first water, and Jason is starting to live up to his heroic namesake. If next month he sows dragon’s teeth and sprouts an army of warriors, I will not be surprised. On the other hand, the vampire queen of Louisiana, whom one would expect to know better, spouts some of the dumbest “philosophy” I’ve heard on any show.
Sookie: Bill won’t be back until tomorrow.
Lafayette: Then I guess we better not plan on him saving us.
No news there, Lafayette. Bill the Vampire has decided to protect Sookie by leaving her alone in Bon Temps while he flies down to New Orleans to consult the Queen of Louisiana (Evan Rachel Wood, The Wrestler), Sophie-Anne. Her Majesty lives in a lavishly appointed Day Room, with brilliant artificial light, indoor swimming pool, window projections of an ocean (daylight) view, and stack of ancient editions of Vogue. She dresses like Garbo and acts like Dietrich, very much stuck in the mode of the Thirties. The most up-to-date artifact in her home is a game of Yahtzee. Her “court” consists of various nubile human blood donors, sorted by flavor. But the heart of all this wealth and eccentric taste is–a prom queen. Seriously, I expected much, much more from the Queen of Louisiana. We’ve already heard that Louisiana is supposed to be a relatively wealthy and powerful kingdom, because New Orleans is the heart of vampire tourism. One would expect Her Majesty to be getting a cut of that. I would expect her to be wise, strong, and mature–after all, strong vampires like Eric pay her homage. But what we saw was a spoiled teenager with the philosophy of an undereducated New Ager.
Sophie-Anne: William, surely you know that everything that exists imagined itself into being?
Oh, please. The world as will and idea? Her Majesty seems to be stuck in the nineteenth century for her philosophy; Schopenhauer’s idea that the world thinks itself into existence has never had much currency, and even less so in modern metaphysics. For all her alleged power, the queen is even more a relic of the past than Bill the Vampire. She plays Yahtzee, he plays Wii. She pretends to sunbathe, he actually braves the sunlight. Worst of all, Wood’s stiff overacting and too-bright, artificial manner made Stephen Moyer’s usually wooden performance look almost natural. By contrast, Deborah Ann Woll continues to amaze and delight at the nuance she brings to neophyte vampire Jessica. When her boyfriend Hoyt chastises her for attacking his mother, her self-defense is cut short as Hoyt drags Mama away. Her poignant murmur of his name, followed by her rage as she slams the door after him, tells us more than all of the excruciatingly extended scenes of the Queen and her minions. By the time we’d gotten through the Queen’s scenes and Sam’s visit to Fangtasia, I was longing for Pam to stage a coup d’etat.
As for her statement that maenads are deluded humans who have made themselves immortal in a futile quest for union with a godhead who will never appear–oh, for Pete’s sake. If humans could make themselves immortal by merely imagining it, none of us would die. This is Professor Harold Hill’s “Think System” from The Music Man. Not even Bill can swallow this tripe. His frustration and confusion are apparent as he tries to assemble this nonsense into a rational plan of attack. No doubt we will see this addled mess played out in the finale as if it were intelligible. I am disappointed that the talented Alan Ball could come up with nothing more coherent.
One thing was made clear to me: the real queen of Louisiana is still Lafayette Reynolds. It’s easy to be a hero when you fear nothing, but when you fear Eric and guns and all supernatural beings, yet go forth to do battle with them nonetheless, you are a hero. Lafayette shakes as he drives away, gun in hand, to confront Maryann, but he goes nonetheless. He’s the only person so far to actually attack Maryann. He cowers from a hallucination of Eric in Lettie Mae’s dress (thank you for that hilarious moment, Alan Ball), but is still together enough to work with Sookie to extricate them from a standoff. And his quick-thinking distraction of Arlene and Terry was wonderful fun. Thus the last scene, when he confronts Sookie with the characteristic black eyes that show us he has fallen under Maryann’s spell, was a real disappointment. I had hoped that, despite himself, Lafayette could overcome his innate weakness of character and stand tall against the mad hedonist. He’s a fallen hero, then, but a hero nonetheless. And still wears better eye shadow than anyone on this show.
Tara, as usual, disappoints. With all due respect to the superb job Rutina Wesley is doing, her character gets more charmless every episode. In this one, she shows how twisted she really is, by distorting her own mother’s spirituality and turning it into a weapon against her. She has internalized the mindset of a substance abuser without actually becoming one; she will do anything, say anything, hurt anyone she has to in order to get back to her drug. She’s not even honest about her drug–she thinks she’s in love with Eggs, who has been shown time and time again to have hardly any personality outside of what Maryann gives him. But Tara is no sooner back in Maryann’s purview than she is once again turned, becoming a pawn of Maryann in the blink of a blackened eye. I should not have been surprised or disappointed to see this, as she spent so much energy distorting her mother’s love; perish forbid that Tara recognize any good in Lettie Mae, because if she did so she would have to take responsibility for her own soul, instead of blaming Mom for everything that’s wrong with her. I like Tara less and less as the series progresses.
I hardly even know what to say about Sookie. More active when Bill is gone? Check. Brave enough to walk into the Hellmouth that used to be her own house? Check. Smart enough to fool the coroner long enough to conk him with a skillet? Check. Able to read people’s minds and therefore anticipate Lettie Mae’s hostage moment? No. Apparently, Sookie is telepathic only when the plot demands it. This is bogus. Either she is telepathic or she isn’t. I can understand Maryann blocking her, but there was nothing blocking Lettie Mae’s feeble mind, and no reason Sookie could not have read it.
Clearly, Alan Ball has no love for organized religion. He made that clear in Season One, where the overtly Christian characters, with the exception of Gran, were universally portrayed as delusional and self-righteous. Now he has taken on disorganized religion–paganism. Sophie-Anne’s ravings have diminished Maryann from an immortal, invincible being–worthy of the greatest hero’s attention–to a deluded and pathetic wannabe, who has somehow stumbled upon means of mass hypnosis and a facile philosophy of self-enlightenment but has not yet stumbled across true self-awareness. The God Who Comes never does, and the God of Christianity has been replaced by the God of Steve Newlin. The two are remarkably similar: they both demand blood. No doubt this says more about Alan Ball than about religion, per se.
The outstanding moments in this episode remain the property of Jason and Andy. Their bonding conversation in the truck, their grudging and growing respect for one another, their shared machismo commitment to save their town was a wonderful maturation of a carefully delineated story line. Second place goes to Eric, Sam and Pam in Fangtasia, with Arlene’s children, or “teacup humans” as Eric calls them (thereby disproving Sookie’s belief that he has no sense of humor). I loved Pam’s line about Maryann: “That thing owes me a pair of shoes.” Maybe Eric should pit Pam against the maenad. I’d put my money on Pam.
I loved seeing Eric fly (finally!). I loved Sam being a good surrogate dad to Arlene’s kids. The Queen’s line about alpha males, which I will not repeat in a family-oriented review, was priceless. And Sookie’s concern for Gran’s house was exactly the same as mine: she’s going to have to burn down that house to cleanse it. If Sookie winds up with Tara as her roommate next year, I want to see some major belly-crawling on Tara’s part first. Followed by some honest, in-depth therapy.
Last week’s episode pulled in 5.3 million viewers, a stunning number for a cable show. If you add DVR and On Demand viewers to that, it rises to an unbelievable 12 million viewers. The major broadcast networks would cheer at numbers like that. Of course, True Blood has been renewed for another season and will return in the summer of 2010. However, a short-term disappointment is in store: due to the Labor Day weekend, there will be no new episode until September 13. On that lucky day, we will find out how all these storylines wrap up, in the finale of Season Two. I can’t wait.