True Blood: “I Smell a Rat”


True Blood
“I Smell a Rat”
HBO, Sundays 6
Written by Kate Bernow & Elisabeth Finch
Directed by Michael Lehmann

“Will your blood ever wear off? I’m tired of dreaming about you.” —Sookie

I’m confused. So what, exactly, does vampire blood do? According to the first few episodes of True Blood, when a human drinks from a vampire, the vampire’s blood can heal the human of any wounds and also causes the human to have erotic dreams about the donor. If the human is near death and drinks the vampire’s blood, the human will turn into a vampire—but apparently not always. If the human drinks a bit of stored blood (not from the vampire), hallucinations, enhanced sex, and ecstasy follow, but nobody turns into a vampire. But these “rules” don’t always apply: while Sookie was healed of her wounds and had sex dreams after drinking from Bill, she was not healed of her wounds after drinking from Eric. Lafayette drank vampire blood from a vial and hallucinated, but did not have erotic dreams about the donor (whoever that may have been). Yet when he drank from Eric in Season Two, he had sex dreams about Eric. In tonight’s episode, Lafayette shares some stored vampire blood with his lover Jesus, and they share some kind of shamanic dream. Say what? I still don’t know what was supposed to have happened to Calvin when Lafayette gave him vampire blood to save his life—Calvin the shapeshifter now seems to think he’s somehow contaminated. Say what what?

In the Sookie Stackhouse books, there are two kinds of animal changing supernaturals: shapeshifters and “weres” (werewolves, were-panthers, etc.). A shapeshifter can assume any form at will; Sam and his brother Tommy are shapeshifters. A “were” can only shift into one animal shape, frequently involuntarily (as at moonrise); Debbie Pelt and Alcide Herveaux are werewolves. Shifters and weres can conceive children with mortals, but according to the books they are the lesser “weres”, who can only shift into one form. “Pure” couples—both partners are shifters of some kind—will produce offspring able to shift at will—but only the firstborn will have this power. Yet both Sam and Tommy can shift into any form, at any time, despite the fact that their father, Joe Lee Mickens, is a mortal! Say what?

Magic is fun to play with in fiction, and it lets you get around all kinds of tiresome real-life restrictions on what a character may do. But unless you want it to dissolve into utter incoherence, you need to have rules. There don’t appear to be any rules at all, at least not any consistent ones, with regard to the magic in True Blood. I’m starting to feel like I need a rule book, or at least some bubble gum cards to tell who’s able to do what to whom. Worse, I’m starting to feel overloaded with new supernatural creatures, which bring with them more “rules” to assimilate/guess at.

Sookie: “I’m a fairy? How #$%#@% lame.”
Bill: “Fairy is but one of the names.”
Sookie: “What other names are there?”
Bill: “Faer, the Old People… Aliens.”
Sookie: “Oh #$%#@% dammit. I really am an alien.”

Bill tells Sookie that she apparently has Faery or Fae blood, which accounts for her not having any blood type, and the strong attraction she has for vampires. (We knew it wasn’t her brains.) She feels vaguely insulted by this, which I find a little odd—was it better to be forever wondering where this telepathy came from? What I can’t figure out is why this is such a big secret. Wouldn’t Eric have figured this out at first bite? Bill claims that Fairies were wiped out long ago by vampires, but Eric is old enough to remember them and might recognize the taste. Certainly Russell Edgington is old enough to remember their powers, which is probably why he laughed when Sookie demonstrated them a few weeks ago. Moreover, Hadley is Sookie’s cousin and personal snack to the Queen of Louisiana, and she has told Queen Sophie-Anne all about Sookie. If Hadley takes after the family blood non-type, it’s no wonder she’s a favorite with Her Majesty. Eric has sampled Hadley and pronounced her “three stars”, so why can’t he figure out the relationship between Sookie and Hadley, and deduce their common heritage? Something is fishy in Sweden here.

What’s worse, from a dramatic point of view, is the implication that fairy blood mesmerizes vampires. If that’s the case, how genuine would Eric or Bill’s feelings for Sookie actually be? Do they love Sookie—or her intoxicating blood? Is she a drug or a lover? One might ask the same question about fangbangers, those humans who have sex with vampires in exchange for the intoxicating vampire blood. We have the potential for a ring-around-the-rosy blood club here, with none of the parties genuinely emotionally engaged with one another, a hollow and empty set of relationships with all the depth of a dealer/junkie connection. How depressing.

“So, you’re more like a shaman in a Sunday hat.” —Lafayette

I guess what’s starting to bother me is the sheer overwhelming number of supernaturally gifted/damned creatures in this show. The only real human beings left now are Tara, Jason, Lafayette, Terry, and Andy Bellefleur. I think Jason is about to get snared by a werepanther (Crystal), and Tara has come close to being Turned. After tonight’s shared shamanic dream with his lover, it appears that Lafayette himself may have some supernatural blood in his heritage—and if Lafayette has it, Tara may have it, too. No wonder Lettie Mae and Ruby Jean are nut cases. I was really hoping that Lafayette could remain the sweet, simple guy he is, preferably with a guy just as sweet and simple as he is; if he turns out to be some kind of brujo, I will be disappointed. Probably.

The most human and lovable men in Bon Temps are still Hoyt and Terry. Hoyt has the good sense and good heart to finally dump Summer the Tiny Airhead and go back to Jessica, despite their, ah, physical difficulties. After he drinks Jessica’s blood to heal his wounds, however, I think their sex life is going to heat way up. Terry shows us a heart as big as Louisiana when he unflinchingly accepts Arlene’s confession that her baby is not his baby. Is this great soap opera, or what? I’m afraid both these men are going to wind up profoundly hurt by love, but they are at least going into it with eyes wide open. It’s that risk taking for the sake of love that makes either of them worth his weight in Erics, Bills, or Alcides. Gene Roddenberry—champion of the human heart over any alien any time anywhere—would have been proud.

Actually, the Arlene/Terry storyline may turn out to be the most intellectually challenging of the season. Arlene is convinced that her child, fathered by serial killer Rene Lenier, will turn out to be just as evil. She seems to think the potential for serial killer behavior is genetic, like eye color, and can be passed on the same way. Terry, however, vows to “surround this kid with love” and raise him or her to be a decent human being, implying that serial killers are the result of poor nurturing. This nature-or-nurture argument is an old one, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out.

“Tara, you know, I ain’t that deep.” —Jason

Ah, Jason. Just when he seemed to get it all together, he goes and puts his foot in his mouth, in time-honored Stackhouse fashion. Having re-established that warm and caring connection he had in Season One with Tara, having comforted her and given her hope that there was some decency left in men, he blurts out the terrible secret: he killed her lover, Eggs. I cannot imagine any statement, delivered at any moment, better designed to destroy her fragile self-esteem. I honestly don’t know why Tara has not completely left the rails. I hope Alan Ball has something more in mind for this character than merely becoming the eternal punching bag for Bon Temps. While her rage served her well in her final confrontation with Franklin, it is still eating her up inside. In classic female fashion, she turns her rage inward, where it becomes despair. She needs help, and Holly ain’t it. Apparently, neither is Jason, whose good intentions never match his abilities.

“It’s not respect when your employees think you’re a psychopath.” —Sam

Alas, Sam has a dark side. At first, shaggy Sam with his, ahem, hangdog look was sexy and vulnerable and all kinds of sympathetic. Until we got into his flashback to an earlier life as a con-artist—and killer. It seems that once upon a time, a younger Sam Merlotte used his shifting abilities to become a thief. Well, no news there, we saw that in Season Two. What we didn’t see was his vengeance on a pair of double-crossing con artists. Self-defense is one thing, but shooting a man in the back of the head, when he’s lying on the ground? Very dark. The shine is definitely off Sam Merlotte, no matter how sympathetically Sam Trammell plays him now. Even so, of all the mysteries great and small in Bon Temps, one of the most puzzling is how every woman on this show takes him so lightly. Sam’s a great character—in fact, he’s better than the Sam in the books—and yet none of them has looked past his surface, human or shifter. Trammell continues to show us new layers to this character every week, making him and Lafeyette two of the best on the show.

Bill and Sookie may have an on-again, off-again relationship, but apparently that is not the case for the actors who play them. Anna Pacquin, who plays Sookie, and Stephen Moyer, who plays Bill, were married August 21 in Malibu, California. The common wisdom says that real-life couples have no on-screen chemistry; I don’t believe it, but I guess we’ll see.