True Blood: “Scratches”

I Was a Teenage Vampire

True Blood
HBO, Sundays, 9 PM

Written by Raelle Tucker
Directed by Scott Winant

“Sarah doesn’t just whip out her pudding for anybody.” —Steve Newlin

I think Sarah Newlin is cooking up more than pudding for new recruit Jason Stackhouse. In this episode, we see a lot more uncertainty from Jason in his new spiritual quest, as he finds his actual experience of vampires diverges more and more from the party line being laid down by Steve Newlin, the celebrity anti-vampire evangelist he looks up to. After he walks out of a group discussion, Sarah follows him, holds his hand, strokes his cheek, and bonds with him by telling him a story about how she lost her sister to vampires. What a convenient link. I wonder if it’s true. Poor Jason is just putty (or pudding) in the hands of every strong-minded woman who comes along, whether it’s Amy sucking him into her v-juice dependency or Sarah seducing him into the Stake a Vampire for Jesus club. I felt very sorry for him when he prayed for guidance in the wee hours of the night; if ever he uttered a heartfelt truth, Jason was right when he admitted, “I am so lost”.

Jason’s experience with women up to date has been with women who were fairly open and honest. Sookie, his grandmother, Dawn, even Amy did not hide who or what they were. But Sarah is phony on two fronts—as a religious person and as a wife. Like her husband, she projects all the plastic sincerity of a late night TV pitchman; but unlike her husband, she is seething underneath—with lust? Anger? One of the seven deadly sins is at work here, and I don’t think it’s sloth. Against a parasite like Sarah, Jason may have no defenses at all.

Parasitism seems to be an ongoing theme in tonight’s episode. We start with Bill tearing Sookie a new one as they drive back to Bon Temps after retrieving baby vampire Jessica. Angrily, Sookie gets out of the car and starts walking home through the woods (now really, Sookie). She is stalked and attacked by a beast she calls a bull-man, which leaves deep gashes in her back. Unable to heal her himself, Bill takes her to Fangtasia. There we are introduced to one of my favorite characters from Charlaine Harris’ novels, the hobbit-sized Dr. Ludwig. Dr. Ludwig is short, forthright, and takes no guff from vampires, not even one as lofty as Eric. Played with dry wit by Marcia de Rousse (Tiptoes), she matter-of-factly informs Sookie that she’s been poisoned by whoever scratched her, with toxins similar to those of the Komodo dragon, and is dying. Bill greets this with near-hysteria, and even Eric allows an actual expression to cross his face. Moreover, once Dr. Ludwig has finished pouring battery acid all over Sookie’s back and gouging into her wounds, Eric tries to supersede Bill’s blood donation. Up to now, Eric does not seem to have shown much more interest in Sookie than a house plant, but when he lunges to give her his blood, there’s a gleam in his eye we have not seen before. Bill had better hope Eric’s only interest in Sookie continues to be in her telepathic abilities.

Indeed, when Sookie recovers and learns that Lafayette has been confined in Eric’s basement, being tortured for weeks, she turns as cold and vengeful as any vampire. Like a Valkyrie to his Viking, she demands Lafayette’s release in tones that would crush Saddam Hussein. When Eric sasses her, she slaps him, winning a disbelieving gasp from Bill. Eric bargains with her—if she will agree to go to Dallas and hunt for a missing vampire, Eric will release Lafayette. Not enough for Sookie, who demands five thousand dollars (“I need a driveway,” she tells the astonished Bill). Belatedly stepping up to the plate, Bill doubles her demand and insists on going with her. Eric attempts to flirt with Sookie, perhaps to re-gain the upper hand in a conversation he’s gotten lost in, but Sookie’s having none of it. There is more passion and fire between Sookie and Eric in that three-minute scene than there has been between Sookie and Bill in the whole series.

And talk about your parasites. When we finally see Lafayette in the light again, he is not only not a vampire, he is covered with vamp bites. He’s a broken and defeated man, albeit still sassy enough to call Pam a bitch. When Sookie and Bill take him home, all he wants to do is curl up in an afghan and weep. Nelsan Ellis broke my heart in that scene. I dearly hope that Lafayette can get his groove back; his character is one of the shining treasures of this series.

While Sookie and Bill are away, Jessica is left on her own. Lonely and uncertain of herself, she drops by Merlotte’s. There she discovers that just walking through the bar makes her the focus of every man’s attention. It begins to dawn on her that there might be some fun advantages to being a teenage vampire. She catches the eye of Jason’s friend Hoyt (Jim Parrack, Supernatural), a large, sweet, not very bright young man who has no prejudices against vampires. Before long, she’s taken him home and he’s showing her how to play Wii—until her thirst gets the better of her. Deborah Ann Woll played Jessica as a perfect teenager—awkward, shy, eager to learn, and endearingly embarrassed when her fangs popped out like a surprise erection. (“This is so embarrassing! I’d die if I wasn’t already dead!”) Far from being the loaded weapon Bill describes, she came across as a lonely and confused young woman who desperately needs guidance, not bullying. So far, her only experience with parental authority has been negative. When Bill comes home and finds her making out with Hoyt, his violent reaction is just what she expects in a “father”, and she screams her defiance.

Bill is failing on several levels in this episode. He fails to understand or support Sookie, unfairly judging her for “not understanding vampires” despite the fact that he has been at considerable pains to not act like a typical vampire. It is hardly surprising that Sookie judges all vampires by the one she loves, and doesn’t realize how different, really different, Bill Compton is. At the same time, he can’t seem to keep up with Sookie. While they had a tender moment during her recovery, when he fed her with his blood, a few minutes later he was standing open-mouthed while she went to bat for Lafayette, and only backed her up belatedly and slowly. Worst of all, he absolutely cannot handle his ward, Jessica. He treats her like dirt, gives her almost no real instruction, fails to see her deep need, and shows her at every turn how disgusting he finds her. He is not much of an improvement over the father she tried to kill last week. I am hoping at this point she runs away with Hoyt.

What I found most interesting in this episode, as I have found all season, is Maryann. Michelle Forbes plays her as the perfect enabler, telling everyone how awful their lives were until she came along, promising that she’ll make everything better if they only stick with her. She’s a vampire of a different kind—she wants your soul, not your blood. There’s a strong implication that whatever attacked Sookie in the woods was working for Maryann, who does not want her protégée Tara moving out. To further cement Tara’s loyalty, Maryann keeps throwing Eggs Benedict (Mehcad Brooks) at her, plying her with drugs to make her miss work at Merlotte’s, and throwing an orgy that would make a frat house blush. The question nagging at me now is: why? What does Maryann want? I think I’ve pretty much figured out who she is—the contents of that stew pot at the party make me think that Detective Bellefleur will now never solve the murder of Miss Jeanette. The question isn’t even what she is—the statues of Pan all over her house are a dead giveaway. What I wonder is, is she here for Tara? For Sam? For kicks and giggles? She continues to be the most interesting figure on the show.

Alas, Sam is no longer as much fun as he used to be. On the verge of running away from Bon Temps, he goes for one last midnight run with a dog, and winds up skinny dipping with Daphne the barmaid, whose back scars resemble those on Sookie. The only person who knows he’s bugging out is Terry, who like all prophets, has no honor in his own country. Terry Bellefleur, like the mythical Cassandra, has never been wrong, but nobody believes him. So when he calls Sam a coward, I take note. The shine is off the dogman, a little.

This episode was sharply written, snappily directed, fun to watch. The series has not failed to entertain on any level, except for the Tara/Eggs story, which seems to be stalled. Otherwise, from week to week, I look forward to the next episode. Sookie says, “The more open my mind gets, the more evil I see,” but the more of this show I see, the more fun I see.