True Blood: “Shake and Fingerpop”

Party Animals

True Blood
HBO, Sundays, 9 PM
“Shake and Fingerpop”

Written by: Alan Ball
Directed by: Michael Lehmann

Luke: One thing you can count on: God will make sure that evil gets punished!
Jason: Oh yeah? Then explain Europe to me.

Okay, we get it. Maryann’s a party animal, and turns every room she’s in into a party. Or, to be precise, a Bacchanalia. Because it is pretty clear to me by now that if Maryann isn’t a maenad, she’ll do until one comes along. It’s also clear whom she serves, as evidenced by the fact that she loves drunks so much. We first met her (as her bullheaded persona) when Tara was driving drunk. She sets off her first rave at Sam’s bar, and without too much effort gets Andy Bellefleur to fall off the wagon. If alcohol isn’t available, she’s more than happy to light up some weed. As long as something is intoxicating and likely to break down inhibitions, Maryann is all over it.

So what does she get out of it? Because if there was ever a walking, talking embodiment of the idea that if something is too good to be true, it isn’t, then Maryann is that person. She clearly has an agenda, with secrets inside secrets. If she’s a classic Greek maenad, as she seems to be, she serves Dionysus, the god of wine, or as some people know him under his Roman guise, Bacchus. Maryann seems to know all his names; I won’t swear to my rusty ancient Greek, but it seems to me by the end of her latest Bacchanalia, she was chanting a series of appellations for the god: Bromios (“thunderer”), Agrios (“wild one”), and Erikryptos (“hidden”). Moreover, she arches her arms over her head, mimicking the pose of the goddess figurine Sam discovered in his house when he was 17, and found again two weeks ago. Clearly, she is a servant of the god.

Which raises the question: where’s Dionysus himself?

My answer: he’s right there, in bed, finally, with Tara. I noticed last night that “Eggs” Benedict has been present at every party Maryann has started: Sam’s bar, Maryann’s house, Sookie’s place. He’s also pretty handy with a guitar, as Dionysus was said to be a patron of music. And after last night’s love scene with Tara, there’s no question he has the body of a god. He is totally focused on Tara, and we never see him in a scene alone with Maryann. So possibly, the real story behind these orgiastic revels is that the god is once again seducing mortal women, much as he used to do back when tunics were the fashion of the day.

“He holds this office, to join in dances, to laugh with the flute, and to bring an end to cares, whenever the delight of the grape comes at the feasts of the gods, and in ivy-bearing banquets the goblet sheds sleep over men.” —Euripedes, Bacchae 379-381.

Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe Eggs is Apollo; that would explain the nymph called Daphne (see Bulfinch’s Mythology).

But (and I have to say I never thought I’d say this) the orgies are getting old. I realize that the frenzy is supposed to be building—what started at Sam’s bar with one dancer going all black-eyed has become a mad spectacle that now sucks in everyone in Bon Temps. I get it: Maryann’s driving them all mad, mad, mad. And I am yawning. Maybe orgies caused a lot of fainting and pearl-clutching back in Euripides’ day, but this pretty much looks like a Grateful Dead concert from 1969 to me. Seen one bare-breasted drunk dancer, seen ’em all. The kind of behavior we’re seeing, including dirt-eating and face-planting, can be seen on any college campus on a weekend. In an era that celebrates hedonism in all its forms, ritual sex seems almost quaint. I prefer rampant sex to scenes of screaming men being dismembered, to be sure, but now and then a little break from all the pelvic thrusting would be nice.

Which brings me to the delightful Jessica. My opinion of this character did a 180 degree turn in this episode. From her adolescent embarrassment at her fangs popping when she gets turned on, to her hilarious bouncing coffin at the Dallas airport, to her mischievous glamouring of Leon to shout out naughty things about her church nemesis, to her “room service” order (male, straight, B positive), she was a delight in every scene. I have not seen teenage actors embody teenagers as perfectly as 24-year-old Deborah Ann Woll (The Mentalist). She hit every note of Jessica’s journey of self-discovery, right down to the I’m-entitled! tone of her reply to Bill: “I’m on the phone!” If Woll keeps this up, she’s going to steal every single scene from Daddy Vampire Bill, the beigest vampire ever.

Speaking of room service, I loved the digs at Eric in this episode. First, he books a room for Bill and Sookie with no bed. Cute. Then Vampire Bill orders the most expensive synthetic blood on the menu, then doesn’t drink it, just to piss Eric off. I can only imagine how Eric will react when he gets the bill for Jessica’s “room service” order.

And just when I was thinking Eric was mad, bad, and dangerous to know, we get the scene where he lets Lafayette drink his blood to heal his gunshot wound. The ensuing madness, with Lafayette dry-humping the furniture while Eric nearly dies of sheer boredom, was hilarious and campy. Apparently, the older the vampire, the more powerful an aphrodisiac his blood is. God help Vampire Bill if Sookie ever gets a taste (ahem) of/for Eric. And I hope someone gets a leash on Lafeyette: if he shows up at one of Maryann’s orgies high on EricBlood, they’ll have to call out the National Guard. I also have to wonder about the Godric character Eric is so worried about: if Eric’s 1000-year-old blood has Lafayette turning cartwheels, what on Earth would Godric’s blood do? He’s supposed to be twice as old as Eric. Maybe he’d have Eric turning cartwheels. I wanna see that.

There is so much happening in this episode that it’s easy to skip the subtler stuff, but I have to give a shout out to my man Jason Stackhouse. From his malapropisms (“The first evil is the pre-medicated decision to be a dick!”) to his barbecue-laced fantasies of Sarah Newlin to his casual expertise with a paintball gun, he gets better every week. I like this Jason better than last year, when he was all about teh sex. If Amy taught him anything, it was to start to look for what makes him authentic, to look beyond defining himself just as a sex object. Now he’s starting to come out from under the spell (glamour?) of the soul-sucking Fellowship of the Sun, he is starting to see the hypocrisy around him. I loved his reaction to Reverend Newlin’s gun; you could almost see the wheels in his head grinding painfully through the question, “What kind of church camp requires firearms?”.

All in all, this was one of the most free-wheeling and funny episodes yet. Writer/creator Alan Ball opened up the world for viewers, with an episode that takes most of the players to Dallas and the rest of them to ancient Greece (metaphorically speaking). There was just enough of the light touch to balance out the monotonous orgies, and plenty of Vampire!Flying!Action to make us go “Oooooh!”. We got a new character I’ve been waiting for (Barry the Bellboy), new dimensions for Jessica, and a new lease on life for Lafayette. My only disappointment was the character of Sam, who is morphing from an adorable scruffy puppy into the kind of puppy who pees on the floor. He was much sexier and funnier last season. Overall, though, this one was a treat. I look forward to next week, when I hope to hear vampires with Texas accents. Can’t wait, y’all!