HBO, Sundays, 9 PM
“New World In My View”
Written by Kate Barnow & Elizabeth R. Finch
Directed by Adam Davidson
“Humans are shockingly susceptible to just about every form of thought manipulation.” —Bill the Vampire
It takes a lot of chutzpah to steal from a vampire, but this episode of True Blood completely belongs, as I predicted, to Maryann the Maenad. There are vampires in this story, but none of them holds a candle to Michelle Forbes’ superb portrayal of this ancient priestess. In the flick of an eye, her smile changes from warm welcome to cold menace and the temperature of a scene drops like a rock. Her evocation of an ancient, wild blood cult leader fits perfectly into a modern milieu, in fact, she fits better than the vampires who live in Bon Temps. Jessica and Bill are awkward creatures compared to Maryann’s smooth, effortless domination of an entire town.
Sookie and her brother return to Bon Temps in a limo carrying Bill in his coffin, and find that the town has descended into chaos. People are fighting and coupling in the streets, urinating in public, banging their heads on posts. As detective Andy Bellefleur puts it, “it looks like New York City!” The pair go about looking for their friends and find more disaster: Daphne is dead, Tara is in the grip of Maryann’s madness, Sam is missing, and the maenad has taken over Gran’s house and is redecorating it in sirloin. Most of the town has developed black irises and corneas. At Bill’s house, they find an increasingly annoyed Hoyt trying to control his maenad-maddened mother and his angry vampire girlfriend. The recent chaos in Dallas begins to look like an oasis of meditative calm. Sookie and Jason were commenting on their way in that coming home felt different; now they realize with a shock that they really can’t go home again. Like the hobbits returning the Shire in The Lord of the Rings (the book, not the movies), they find chaos and destruction, the loss of everything that anchored them to their past and their place in the world.
“I ain’t about to sit back and let monsters destroy my town.” —Jason Stackhouse
So Jason picks up a chainsaw and takes charge. Watching Jason Stackhouse turn into a mythic warrior, complete with a scene where he arms himself with the “weapons” of a road crew (chainsaw, nail gun, road flares), was both heroic and hilarious. He faces down a maddened crowd at Merlotte’s fearlessly, almost rescues Sam, and improvises an on-the-spot impersonation of a cultic god. Apparently Jason paid more attention to the manner and methods of the Reverend Steve Newlin than I thought; he certainly showed a flair for preaching, invocation, and—finally—smiting. I must applaud the writers who have taken Jason from the brainless horndog of Season One and changed him, right before our eyes, into a potential leader and major influence in his world. We recognize the more mature and responsible man even as we still see the boyish innocence and fun-loving, energetic kid from the first season. As Sookie saw, he has both brains and leadership qualities. My congratulations to Ryan Kwanten on a seamless performance.
More kudos go to Nelsan Ellis, whose Lafayette continues to charm and delight. Self-centered and arrogant in Season One, he shows vulnerability and real affection for his cousin in his rescue of Tara. His forlorn admission of his past sins against her, his determination to find her soul inside the creature she has become, even his defense of her to Sookie, show that he is fast developing the kind of compassion he lacked in the first year. Sam Trammell’s shapeshifter Sam once again did a dumb thing for a good reason; thinking Arlene was in danger he came out of hiding to rescue her, only to find that she was the bait to lure him into Maryann’s sacrificial web. Still caring more for his town than himself, he makes himself into a sacrificial lamb for the crowd and urges Jason and Andy to run. Instead, they improvise the aforementioned god impersonation, and Sam shifts into a fly to escape. I wondered why Sam waited for a distraction to shift. I suspect Sam is trying to keep secret the existence of shapeshifters, not for his sake but for the sake of other shifters that may be out there. In this he shows the loyalty of a dog for the pack, not at all a surprise in this character. Sam rarely thinks of himself first, which is one of the reasons I love him so much.
And what about the vampires, supposedly the central force in this show? They didn’t add up to much in this episode. Eric appears only as part of yet another Sookie-dream, and once again shows more emotion in two minutes than Vampire Bill in a whole hour. Alexander Skarsgard didn’t even have a spoken line in his scene, but still conveyed enormous vulnerability, longing, and desire worthy of a Harlequin Romance hero. Apparently Sookie’s subconscious has begun to recognize that there are better options out there than Bill the Colorless. Bill not only once more spectacularly failed to defend Sookie (Maryann’s blood poisoned him), he got to utter the stupidest line of his entire career, warning Maryann away: “I strongly suggest you remove yourself immediately.” Oh yeah, those words will strike terror into the heart of any 2000-year-old demigoddess. Sure, Bill grew up in an age when people talked like that—but he’s been living in our world for a hundred years. Maryann’s older than he is by an order of magnitude, yet she speaks in a contemporary idiom. English isn’t even Eric’s native language, and he is more terse and pithy than Bill. Despite his constant claim that he wants to live in mainstream society, Bill just doesn’t get it. He just can’t quite grasp modern life, modern idioms, modern values. Every episode makes him more pathetic, and Eric more attractive. He’s so stiff even Sookie is beginning to look for a replacement—or at least her subconscious mind is.
The developments in this episode had me both worried and hopeful. The entire town is now under the spell of Maryann (with the puzzling exception of people like Andy, Hoyt, Lettie Mae, and Lafayette). At some point, she will be defeated, sent away, whatever. The town will have to return to some kind of “normal”. My worry is this: who is Sam going to trust? Can he ever again work in the bar with people like Terry and Arlene, who have done their level best to kill and eat him? Having nearly literally sacrificed himself for their sake, will he ever be able to trust them? The only solution to this problem may be mass amnesia, which would have to include not only the entire town but Sam, Andy, and possibly Lafayette, the Stackhouses, and the vampires. I don’t see how that is possible, but then the writing staff of this show could probably make me believe anything.
Finally, I take note that Sookie appears to have discovered or acquired a new power. She repels Maryann with what looks like a flare of light, enough to fling her away but not enough to do any lasting damage. Maryann, rather than being frightened, is fascinated. Like Eric (both the real one and the dream version), she recognizes that there is far more to Sookie than meets the eye. Nice foreshadowing for what I think will be a major development in Season Three, which has been announced by HBO recently. I’m glad to hear that we’ll have another season of blood from this fun, sexy, and exciting show.