True Blood: “Fresh Blood”


True Blood
“Fresh Blood”
HBO, Sundays at 6
Written by Nancy Oliver
Directed by Daniel Minahan

It’s pretty sad when the hottest love scene in a series built on orgiastic sex is not between the lead characters, or the secondary characters, but between two third-ranked peripheral characters. I refer to the reunion of Hoyt and Jessica (aka “adorable baby vampire”). Having discovered one another in a shy, fumbling romance, then broken up, they now come together again with a more mature understanding of what love requires: honesty. Hoyt puts aside his repressive upbringing and freely admits his love; Jessica confesses to having killed one victim because she could not control herself, because she cannot, despite her best efforts, live on fake blood. She has to have real human blood. Her remorse and shame over this crime prove that she is, in many ways, the most “human” supernatural being on this show, and thus the most relatable. In a moment that mixes the macabre with great tenderness, Hoyt freely offers her his own blood, and then wraps his arms around her in a loving, passionate embrace when she sinks her fangs into him. Now that’s love.

Other than that, this episode left me pretty cold. For one thing, there are too many plots wrapping up too hastily in this next-to-last episode of the season. The pacing has definitely been off this year, with the storylines jumping and crossing and dodging one another like volleyball players on speed, yet rarely do they intersect. What does the saga of King Russell have to do with Jason’s jealousy of a younger athlete? Nothing whatsoever. What does Tara’s trauma at the hands of Franklin Mott have to do with Bill and Sookie’s disintegrating romance? Nothing whatsoever. What does Arlene’s pregnancy have to do with Sam Merlotte’s search for his family? Nothing whatsoever. So why are all these threads tangled into the same show? There is no unifying plot, no overarching theme, no strong hand to guide us through this maze of clues and half-hints, these overheated melodramas that ultimately mean nothing to one another. Real life is a tangle of intersecting lines, but here, each set of stories is as carefully compartmentalized as the Pentagon’s payroll. They do not touch at any point. I’ve been hoping all season that they will culminate in some blazing, apocalyptic season finale, as they did last season. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed, but now it’s more a matter of hope than anticipation.

Writer Nancy Oliver at least has a theme of sorts for some parts of this episode. Both Sookie and Lafayette’s stories at this point revolve around their heritage, as secrets are revealed neither one even suspected. Bill Compton’s spying, er, investigation into Sookie’s family tree has revealed that she is part Fairy (oh, the fun we can have with that word, in light of the gay-friendly writing on this show). Lafayette (or as I like to call him now, La-la) has discovered, via vampire blood, that his ancestors were sorcerers. Both Sookie and La-la find themselves the subject now of intense scrutiny by people who want to exploit them for their bloodlines, not for who they are as individuals. Sookie gets bitten/drained by Eric and Russell, and La-la has to throw an importunate Jesus out of his house.

Sookie Stackhouse must have a spleen made of titanium or something. This is the second time in three weeks she’s been pretty much drained of blood. The first time, Bill “refilled” her, and now Eric and Russell have drained her again, seeking her fairy-blood’s ability to let them walk in the daylight. My first thought as Russell and Eric were chowing down on Sucky was that these guys are going to have a lot of Bill in them now—my, aren’t they going to have interesting dreams. My second thought was that Sookie is becoming a walking blood bank for vampires; maybe she needs to move into a house made of silver. She is furious at Bill for “betraying” her again, although it’s been made plain to us that it’s part of a plot Bill has laid with Eric. Since I saw that coming back in the opening credits, and Sookie has been part of Bill’s plotting before, and Sookie knows how convincingly he can lie—did it never occur to her that this was part of a plan? And that her “overhearing” one of the vampires’ (Bill?) thoughts about the plan would give her a clue? But no, her first thought is that Bill is betraying her—once again. One can hardly blame her for mistrusting him—indeed, her “let’s start over” fantasy struck me as naïve even for the incredibly gullible Sookie Stackhouse—but did she really think Bill had suddenly capitulated to Eric, let alone Russell? I wondered, briefly, if she was playing along with the plot, but I dismissed that possibility. Sookie just isn’t that smart, or that skilled at hiding her emotions.

I was disappointed in Russell in this episode. It appears that losing his beloved consort has taken all the starch out of him. The self-confident swagger is gone, the ebullient bonhomie that interlaced his evil genius with black humor is gone. I miss the tyrant with the sense of humor, the suave feudal lord who was mad, bad, and dangerous to know. What he have instead is a whining, weepy Russell grown maudlin, carrying around his Cup-o-Talbot and talking to paintings. He’s not only boring, he’s stupid. He actually listens to Eric’s suggestion that he suck Sookie to gain the ability to walk in daylight. Russell has never, heretofore, shown any longing for sunshine, so his sudden passion to stroll about in the noonday sun comes out of left field. Eric is so bent on revenge he risks his own life (so we may call it) to tempt Russell out into daylight, convinced that fairy blood will protect him. In all these millennia, has Russell never learned or heard of the limitations of fairy blood? To make this story work at all, it became necessary to systematically demolish the Russell we had grown to love in previous episodes, to make him weak where he had been strong, stupid where he had been canny, foolish where he had been bold. The King, I’m afraid, is dead.

Another heritage takes center stage briefly, as Arlene continues her hypocritical quest for release from pregnancy. Adamantly opposed to abortion, she nevertheless resorts to witchcraft to be rid of her unwanted fetus. Somehow, it does not strike her tiny brain that using “decoctions” to rid herself of a pregnancy is pretty much the same as, if not as effective as, a D & C at the local women’s center. I found Holly’s herbal medicines reminiscent of the tanna-root teas that Mia Farrow downed in Rosemary’s Baby, another movie about a reluctant mother afraid of her own womb. I suspect that Holly’s intentions, like those of the Castavets in that movie, are to keep the baby in Arlene while deceiving her that her wishes are being fulfilled. Arlene, locked in her own ambivalence and denial, can’t bring herself to say out loud that she really wants to be rid of this baby, and so allows herself to be manipulated by the well-meaning Terry and the not-so-well-meaning Holly. I could almost feel sorry for her, if she were not so utterly lacking in self-awareness.

Finally, we have the heritage Crystal has revealed to Jason: she is a were-panther. Worse, the breeding history of her own pack is so corrupted, she has to mate with her own half-brother in order to bear viable offspring and keep the Hotshot were bloodlines going. Jason reacts to this stunning news by going out to look for Sookie—and becoming completely distracted by football practice at the local high school. What? Oh, boy, Jason has gone back to being stupid, rather than stupid and funny. On the one hand, he’s smart enough (or experienced enough at football) to realize Kitch cannot possibly be as good as he seems to be. On the other hand, he’s so worked up about Sookie that he abandons the search and goes home to Crystal, and accepts her for what she is. As if Jason Stackhouse ever turned a woman down, for any reason. At least he seems to have met his mate, if not his match.

“You’re going to hate yourself for sayin’ that.” —Terry Bellefleur

The only other hint of a heritage coming to the surface is our haunted hero, Sam Merlotte. Sam, having been the support and pillar for most of his community from day one, loses it completely when he faces his own past. Drunk and abusive, he channels his own useless father, as even brother Tommy can see. I liked the scene where his anger broke through, when he chased all his customers out of his restaurant and did his best to alienate everyone who loved him. All except Tara, the one who stands fast. After all she’s taken, I would think Tara would be the last person to sit still for this self-indulgence on Sam’s part. But then again, after all she’s taken, nothing Sam does would even raise a welt. Having established ad nauseum that Tara is unpopular and Sam is not, we end on a hot love scene, the only one close to Hoyt and Jessica’s.

As a genre piece, this episode gave us some new ideas to chew on—primarily the daywalking aspect for vampires, but also the idea that were-creatures might inbreed themselves out of existence. I have to say the fae don’t interest me much. Executive producer Alan Ball likes to say they function like aliens in this universe, but we’ve seen better aliens elsewhere. Otherwise, this episode completely lacked suspense or drama on most points. Does anyone really think Eric’s daywalking will kill him? Yeah, me neither. Does anyone believe Sookie will finally reject Bill once and for all? Yeah, me neither. Does anyone believe Jason will get out of his visit to Hotshot unscathed? Yeah, me neither. Will Sam ever come to terms with his white-trash, shapeshifting family? Maybe; he needs to relocate them to Hotshot. But for the most part, despite some pretty fights between Bill/Pam and Bill/Eric, this was a slow-moving, confused, and bloated episode. Again, too many stories, too complex. I applaud the writers for giving characters like Lafayette and Arlene significant parts to play, but do we have to have such elaborate stories? This episode felt like an unfinished anthology of unrelated stories, not an integrated whole.

The finale airs two weeks from now, after a Labor Day hiatus. By that time, I may have forgotten all these Byzantine details. Even with this lackluster episode, however, True Blood continues to draw what some critics have called “Super Bowl” numbers—for a cable show. Since HBO makes their money off subscriptions, not advertising, the network is not terribly concerned about the Neilsen numbers. But as a measure of popular success, it’s telling that while only 1/3 of the country gets HBO, the show pulls in nearly 13 million viewers a week. Those are good numbers in any season, and phenomenal in summer. The romps in Bon Temps will be around a while yet.