True Blood: “I Will Rise Up”

“In this, I see God.”

True Blood

HBO, Sundays, 9 PM

“I Will Rise Up”

Written by Nancy Oliver
Directed by Scott Winant

Eric: This is the beginning

Holy aphrodisiac, Batman! They oughta be bottling Eric Northman. Besides absolutely dominating this episode, it turns out that just a few drops of his blood is enough to turn Sookie into a witty, ironically self-aware temptress–at least in her dreams. If this is what a mouthful of Eric does to a human, the imagination staggers to think what a pint or so of it did to Lafayette two weeks ago.

We start with a bang, indeed, as Luke says goodbye to the world by detonating his suicide bomb. One of the first vampires it takes out, alas, is Stan; I will miss his hat and his sneer. The elegantly contemporary vampire nest is reduced to a charnel house full of groaning vampires, one of whom is Eric, who shielded Sookie from the blast but caught a few stray pieces of silver. He languishes in fine romantic style until she summons the courage to suck the bullets out of Eric–inadvertently sucking in some of his blood. Which, it turns out, was his devious intent, as Bill arrives (too late, of course) and informs Sookeh that her actions were not only unnecessary, but that she has now been bonded with Eric.

Bill: He will be able to sense your emotions.
Sookie (to Eric): You big lying A-hole!
Eric: Bill, you’re right, I believe I can sense her emotions.

Later he informs her, shamefacedly, that she may possibly feel some distant, lingering form of sexual attraction towards Eric. I thought this was hilarious, in light of the fact that Sookie darn near drained Bill in the second episode of the series but hasn’t figured this out. Apparently, Bill’s blood is not an aphrodisiac, in fact I suspect it would cure nymphomania. (And seriously, has Bill Compton never had a sit-down, serious talk with his girlfriend about vamp chemistry, rules, lifestyle? For a couple who’s been together this long, she still seems completely clueless about vampires. Is Bill living so far in denial he can’t even tell Sookie what she needs to know to stay safe around his kind? Even Eric has more sense of responsibility than that.)

As I predicted, this season is shaping up to be all about Eric and Maryann. This episode is pretty much his; I suspect next week’s may be about Maryann. This episode gave us new insight into the Viking vamp, re-cast his entire character in a new light, and afforded some excellent scenes to both Anna Pacquin and Alexander Skarsgard. It may well be the best episode of this entire season.

There are three outstanding scenes in this single episode, any one of which would have made this a stellar installment. First there is the dream sequence between Eric and Sookie. In typical dream fashion, Sookie says and does things she might want to do in her waking life, but can’t or won’t. Even better, the Eric of her dreams is a Romantic hero to put Lord Byron (model of the first vampire) to shame: tender, charismatic, kind, and with a million-dollar smile. His husky voice and smoky-blue eyes whisper sensuality, his intense focus on Sookie eroticizes every word he speaks. For a moment, I wondered if I had mistaken this for an episode of Red Shoe Diaries. “You’d trade the sun for the moon and stars,” says Eric. Who knew the hard-hearted cynic had that kind of poetry in him? Whether this is the “real” Eric or not, it will revolutionize the way Sookie sees and responds to him.

The second outstanding scene is the one between Jason and Sookie, as the brother and sister catch up on events of the week and re-bond over memories and shared grief. This was the best I’ve seen yet from Ryan Kwantzen, who showed us Jason’s essential innocence mingled with a growing maturity that is long overdue. Anna Pacquin shone with sincerity and integrity on a level we haven’t seen in awhile.”I don’t want to feel anything,” he confesses to Sookie. Boy, did you come to the wrong soap opera, buddy. I now have a glimmer of hope that Jason may yet recognize that although Sarah and Steve Newlin may have been manipulating him, the leadership qualities he showed at the Institute were real, and his (as we saw when he effortlessly corralled a group of shocked vampires and made them quiet down). Out of that insight into himself, Jason not only is confronting his essential loneliness, but is reaching past it in a very authentic way to re-connect with the sister who has always supported him. Both actors kept the scene quiet, focused, and very intense without resorting to the histrionics we’ve seen all too often from this volatile pair. And of course, that scene ended with the hilarious on-screen meltdown of the Newlins, right down to the bruise still on Steve’s forehead from Jason’s paintball and Sarah’s snarky remarks about Steve’s hair. What a perfectly balanced moment!

Finally, there is the heartbreaking farewell to Godric on the roof of the Hotel Carmilla. Eric uncharacteristically breaks down in front of Godric, pleading for him to stay, but Godric is determined to “meet the sun”, to give up his undead existence forever and truly die. We’re never told exactly why Godric is this tired of life, but actor Allen Hyde conveyed such world-weary exhaustion in his affectless way that I was not surprised when Eric volunteered to join him. Fortunately for the future of Sookie’s dreams, Godric forbade it. In a lovely, touching moment, Sookie takes Eric’s hand and promises to stay with Godric to the end, which Eric cannot do. (I’m trying to believe that Godric’s sparkly end was not a sly reference to Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight.) As sole witness not only to their farewell, but to Eric’s complete emotional collapse, she sees that the real Eric is in fact as capable of love as her dream-self envisioned. Godric’s death strips Eric of his stony facade long enough to show the humanity he has so long repressed; the fact that Eric can allow himself this vulnerability in front of Sookie speaks volumes for his unacknowledged feelings for her. Underneath the vampire of ten centuries lies a more complex, perhaps lonely and very human soul–which Sookie’s intuition already told her. Watching that farewell, I thought of how Eric’s past is being stripped away from him, as the only being on Earth who knew him when he was younger is leaving. There is no longer an anchor in time for him, no longer a reflection of his younger self. Like  Jason, Eric faces a long-delayed maturity.  Eric and to some extent Sookie change before our eyes in believable and characteristic ways, into slightly altered version of themselves–sort of like real people. Skarsgard, Hyde and Pacquin pull this scene off with full conviction. It was top notch writing, acting and directing, as throughout this entire episode.

When the folklore of vampirism started making its way into modern literature in 1819, vampires were depicted as being as different as possible from humans, a predator waring a mask. Bram Stoker’s Victorian take on the legend, Dracula (1897), emphasized the ruthlessness, selfishness, cruelty and sheer evil of the blood-drinking undead. Modern vampire stories, starting with Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and continuing on through TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Moonlight, Forever Knight and Blood Ties, oddly enough tend to focus more on the human aspects of the vampire. Perhaps this reflects the general secularization of society, in which the religious aspects of vampirism (demonic, damned revenants cursed by God to kill their own relatives) is rejected, leaving us only with the more attractive traits of sexuality and immortality. The wonderful aspect of True Blood is that it shows us these charismatic creatures, but also shows their horrific side–while Eric the dream lover is appealing, one cannot forget his berserker dismembering of Royce a few weeks ago. It’s very satisfying to see this balance restored to the myth.

My hat’s off to writer Nancy Oliver for her masterful balance of scenes in this all-too-short episode. She parallels two scenes in which vampires bid farewell to their makers, but the emotional temperature is at different ends of the spectrum. Lorena’s goodbye to Bill has ominous overtones of vengeance, Godric’s farewell to his “Father–Brother–Son” Eric is touching and full of love. And we got two rescue scenes mirroring one another–Bill arrives too late, as usual, to do anything to help his Sucky, but Lafayette waltzes into Maryann’s lair and rescues Tara nearly one-handed, while casually slinging Eggs around like a sack of laundry. I don’t think Season One Lafayette would have gone to the trouble, but after his time in Eric’s dungeon, Lafayette may have different feelings about people who are under the control of manipulative supernaturals. Then there’s the romantic mirror twins: Hoyt/Jessica and Terry/Arlene. Neither of these pairs has actually had much success bonding sexually, but they sure are bonding on other levels. It may be because both men seem unafraid of their feelings. Hoyt Fortenberry (Jim Parrack,Supernatural) continues to be the sweetest man I’ve ever seen on television, and watching him sing his sweetheart to sleep and then stand up to his horrible mother was one of the most satisfying moments of the evening. It’s long past time someone took this man seriously. Maxine Fortenberry (Dale Raoul, The Office), cartoon that she is, rings true to this daughter of the South so clearly she scares me.

Which brings me, finally, to Maryann. I think she is one of the more unique characters on television, a villain who is portrayed without irony, with complete self-knowledge, who preys on her victims with a peculiarly vicious kind of cruelty, one which draws them in based on their deepest longings and fears. Maryann’s speech about ecstatic mysticism had just enough psychological (and possibly religious) truth in it to be dangerously seductive. And like Eric, she lets the facade crack just enough to show the desperation at the heart of Maryann, the priestess who needs to “unite with her god”. Michelle Forbes continues to awe me with her ability to show us both of Maryann’s faces at the same time. She commands every scene she’s in, and I long to see her up against Eric. In the meantime, her rising desperation is cranking up the temperature in Bon Temps past the boiling point, and matters are obviously about to break out into the open. Even Sam can feel it; he finally reaches out for an ally against Maryann, and goes to Andy Bellefleur. I think Andy’s finally going to get an explanation for Sam’s naked run through the woods last year.

We may have lost one of the best though shortest-lived characters on the show, Godric, but we got more of vamp spokesperson Nan Flanagan (Jessica Tuck, Cold Case). On camera, she rolls her eyes delicately at the Newlins, but behind the scenes she’s a real ball-buster. She has no problem “firing” a vampire older than she is, taking on Eric’s belligerence with cool savoir-faire, and generally acting large and in charge. I keep fantasizing about a confrontation between her and Pam. Awesome. The vampire politics, hierarchy and “legal” system are one of the most interesting features of this show, and I wish we got a little more information about them than we do. I love the soap opera aspects, don’t get me wrong, but I’m also riveted by this vision of an alternative way of unlife.

This episode works on so many levels–as an exploration of existential isolation and our attempts to connect, as a plot development moving us towards a blockbuster climax,  as a  comment on evil, grace and redemption, and finally as an exploration of what true love may be. It’s an outstanding hour of television, albeit one which demands a lot of background from its viewers. Godric’s final speech resonates with irony, wonder, and depth, to a degree I seldom see in series television. It’s a wonderful coda, a wonderful insight into what can happen to a human soul which lives essentially forever, and yet never loses the sense of wonder.

“A human with me at the end. And human tears. Two thousand years, and I can still be surprised. In this, I see God.”

Bravo. Bravissimo.