True Blood: “Never Let Me Go”

The Incredible Shrinking Vampire

True Blood
HBO, Sundays, 9 PM
“Never Let Me Go”

Written by Nancy Oliver
Directed by John Dahl

“Wherever I am, there will always be women.” —Eric

Let me get this straight: Vampire Bill, the heir to over two hundred years of vampire-as-seducer tradition, the direct literary descendant of Lord Byron himself, is in bed with a willing blonde and wants to cuddle? Cuddle? Count Dracula, not to mention Lord Ruthven, would turn over in his coffin. When did vampires start readingCosmo? Last season, Bill was a charming relic of the antebellum South, with courtly manners and a vaguely antique air about him. This season, he’s morphing into a daytime soap opera character, and Sookie is right behind him. They seem to spend all their time in bed trash talking every other vampire in existence, while overlooking the fact that most of the tragedy in Sookie’s life (Uncle Pederast, her grandmother’s murder, the recent attempt to kidnap her) was the fault of human beings. And when that bores even Sookie and Bill, they have sex. At some point, these two are going to have to wake up to the fact that sex does not substitute for conversation, friends, or a purpose-driven life.

Bill, Sookie, and Bill’s “ward” Jessica are in Dallas to help Bill’s boss, Eric, find a missing 2000-year-old vampire. My first question was whether it is possible for vampires to develop Alzheimer’s; maybe the missing Godric just wandered away? But no, he’s actually a sheriff, and his incompetent minions are wasting their time squabbling over whether to go to war with the humans. I actually almost wish they would—a smackdown between European vampires with trendy accents and Texans armed with superior firepower might be fun. In fact, I think we’re headed that way, as Jason Stackhouse advances further into the elite team headed by vampire-hunter Steve Newlin. With great secrecy, Newlin unlocks the armory for Jason, and reveals silver bullets, silver throwing stars, and wooden arrows to stake vampires. Steve says they have a guillotine “on order”—was that from last year’s Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog?

We finally find out Eric’s basis for concern—Godric is his maker. In a great little flashback, we see Viking Eric staggering away from a battlefield, mortally wounded, with his last two companions. They vow to follow him to Valhalla and speculate on what to expect there: Booze? Meat? Women? Which leads us to Eric’s cute little quote above. Godric (Allan Hyde, 2900 Happiness) is an elfin sprite in Pict-like tattoos, who admires Eric so much he wants to make him into a vampire. How completely Eric for him to ask, “What’s in it for me?” Eric would hustle the Devil and come out a winner. I loved this excursion into Eric’s backstory, which is fast establishing him as the most interesting vampire in this show. Compared to Bill Compton’s Civil War battlefield memory, Eric the Viking lying on his own funeral pyre awaiting death is far more compelling.

I rejoiced to see Sam Merlotte finally getting a little love—in every way—this week. The writers have finally stopped writing him as a whipped puppy, although they seem to have forgotten some of his backstory. Last year he seemed pretty well informed about his own kind when explaining his shapeshifting abilities to Sookie; he even mentioned a website. This year, when he realizes Daphne is a shifter, he says he’s never met another one. Really? Then how come both of them talk about werewolves as if they were trailer trash? Daphne herself worries me—apart from the ominous scars on her back, doubtless a brand from Maryann, she seems too innocent by far for Sam. And when is Sam going to wise up and stop dating his own employees? His batting average with them sucks—Dawn was murdered, Sookie is in love with someone else, Tara dumped him. Even though he didn’t date Arlene, her boyfriend nearly killed him. Sam really needs to find someone in another part of the forest to play with. Still, it’s nice to see him smile again, and I’m holding my breath that Daphne doesn’t wind up as the entree at Maryann’s next feast. Maybe Sam should pass out Star Trek-type red shirts to his waitresses.

Speaking of Maryann, she gets more intriguing every week. Now she’s moving in on Tara the way Hurricane Katrina moved in on New Orleans. She’s morphing, too: the ethnic party princess moves into Gran’s kitchen and starts wearing gingham and chopping onions. All of a sudden she’s Suzy Homemaker, bribing Tara to let her stay by filling the refrigerator with Tara’s favorites. This is seduction on a different level than Eggs’, but just as effective. More so, because it’s more subtle.

Eggs, as I said last week, is looking suspiciously like the puppet master in this scenario. When Tara tries to throw them out, he shrugs and asks her to move on with them. Eggs’ easy acceptance of a gypsy lifestyle reminds me more than ever of the ancient myths of Dionysus, who seemed to spend his time wandering around having orgies with his attendant maenads. Even more evidence that he’s pulling the strings—it’s always Karl who’s doing Maryann’s dirty work. He cooks, he cleans, he makes beds, he fetches towels, and he drives the car to Merlotte’s for a drive-by hoodoo session. Eggs? Stays home and relaxes with a good book. I have yet to see him lift a finger in that household. Definitely god material. The scene where Maryann revs up a massive snitfest in Merlotte’s from outside the bar was fantastic. From a technical standpoint alone, I have to applaud the first-rate timing of the dialogue, and the way the scene built to a classic Tara exit line.

I never thought I’d see Jason Stackhouse as an innocent victim of seduction. He’s a thoughtless horndog with little respect for women, even the ones who love and look out for him like his sister and grandmother. But now he finds himself in an odd position—venerating a woman, putting her on a virginal pedestal, and disturbed when she falls off of that pedestal. Is Sarah Newlin really attracted to Jason? Or using him for payback? Either way, Jason is headed for a fall. At the same time, the scene where he shows real “leadership” by helping his rival was illuminating, if perhaps less deep than the writers hoped. We’ve already established that Jason was a football star, so it’s no surprise if he knows that teamwork means working with people you despise.

My favorite character on this show is still Lafayette, but I miss him. He’s back, but so subdued it’s painful to watch. It’s never good when Lafayette is sad. He gives new definition to the phrase “doe-eyed”. I’m glad to see that, even though he would not open up to Sam or explain himself, even as his trauma showed in his eyes, he’s got enough of his mojo back to wear some nice eyeshadow and a lace scarf. Lafayette does everything, even depression, with style.

Overall, the show is entertaining and fun, even more so than last season. However, only four episodes into this season, Sookie and Bill are starting to pale on me. I watch this show primarily because of its “alternate reality” vibe—vampires and other supernatural creatures living more or less openly among humans, subject to the same vicissitudes as anyone else. (Do vampires pay taxes? Last time I looked, the IRS did not require corpses to send in 1040-EZ forms.) I like the way this story idea can be served up straight, or with a metaphorical twist. I like the hints of a deeper, more mystical world. But a standard soap opera romance that turns the highly symbolic, charged image of the vampire so much on his head that he cuddles his lover? No. Give us back Dangerous Bill the Vampire, and bring on more Eric.