True Blood: “Spellbound”

The Witch War

True Blood
Sundays, HBO, 10

Written by Alan Ball

Directed by Daniel Minahan

“There’s no such thing as forever.” — Sookie

True Blood started out as a series of murder mystery books, but is now pretty much a Southern Gothic soap opera. I’m no longer used to seeing this much violence in a single episode; I hate to say it came as a welcome change of pace, but it was more interesting than watching pretty people sit around and moan about their love lives. Given the generally slow pace of story development in this season, it was surprising to see how quickly matters between the witches led by Martonia and the vampires led by Bill Compton came to a bloody head. Unfortunately, this led to a scene where Sookie and her BFF Tara wind up standing literally on opposite sides of a battle. I’m sorry matters have deteriorated to this, but I’m not astonished; Tara has withstood more than any human should have. She’s become the series whipping girl. Want someone tortured, physically or psychologically? Trot in Tara and her amazing vulnerability.

“She has a warrior’s heart.” — Eric

This episode starts where the last one left off, with an enchanted Jessica reaching for the Sun. Just as she starts to fry, Jason Stackhouse explodes out of the light and tackles her, saving her life (so to speak). His old football coach would have been proud of Jason at that moment. Since they are already attracted to one another, but Jessica is with Jason’s BFF Hoyt, all manner of guilt ensues. Did I mention “soap opera”? Meanwhile, King Bill is marshalling his forces, both military and political, to fend off Martonia. He manipulates a reporter into giving him air time to spin the news, sets up a meeting with Martonia, and accepts Eric’s offer of help. He’s so desperate, he even accepts Sookie’s offer. Maybe he’s hoping that Eric will get killed in the battle, and he can do the whole King David/Bathsheba story with Sookie. In any event, when matters come to a head in a graveyard battle between witches and vampires, both Eric and Sookie wind up as casualties. Eric falls under Martonia’s spell again (fifty to one odds he gets his memories back) and Sookie winds up shot. It was a quick little war, but it was suitably vicious. It was thrilling to see Eric the Warrior again, once more loosing his inner berserker Viking on his enemies.

“All is possible.” — Sookie

Of course, we had a couple of detours along the way, primarily to bring fans a long-awaited love scene between Sookie and Eric. The famous and long-awaited shower scene gets re-vamped (heh) into a fantasy sequence right out of a cheesy romance novel, with snow and pillows and soft focus and lots of skin. Eric is at his saccharine best in this scene, vowing undying (heh) love to Sooks while staring soulfully into her eyes. I’m starting to miss the old Eric’s snark, but I’m pretty sure it will be back very soon. This can’t go on forever, as even Sookie realizes. It’s a lovely dream, wrapped in silk and feathers, bound to vanish like snow (or vampires) in sunlight. And it’s blood-linked, as the scene makes clear. Apparently Sookie’s half-fairy blood plus Eric’s thousand-year-old vampire blood (ew) adds up to a psychedelic combination. In the midst of all this lovey-dovey bonding, however, Eric begs her to run away with him. And Sookie, apparently forgetting all the pain and heartache she’s suffered at their hands, insists on staying with the vampires she loves to help defend them. I thought Sookie could not be glamoured, but here she is talking like one of Bill’s minions.

“I can forgive him for killing our folks, but I can’t forgive him for what he did to you.” — Sam

Two of the other romantic triangles get cursory attention this week: Alcide’s story continues to go nowhere, slowly, and Sam’s goes more complicated. He’s trying to make up to Luna (who, perversely, continues to blame him for his brother’s misdeeds) and finds out that her ex is Alcide’s pack leader. Marcus snarls at Sam and decries him as a lowly “shifter”, but my money would be on Sam in a fight. Marcus can only become a wolf. For all we know, Sam can become a Kodiak bear, a lion or some other more dangerous beast. Of course the shifter supreme at this moment is Tommy, who gets a hilarious turn being Maxine Fortenberry. Determined to swindle her in a land deal, Tommy steals her clothes and jewelry long enough to meet with an agent buying the oil rights to her land. The sight of normally prim, self-righteous Maxine cussing like a sailor and drinking everyone under the table was funny, the kind of fun we used to see every week on this show. Other than that, however, I’d like to see the last of Tommy Mickens. Maybe we’ll get lucky, and one night when he’s impersonating Sam the Alpha wolf Marcus will take him out.

“You are a sad, sorry freak, Bubba.” — Jason

The problem with this particular soap opera is that it doesn’t have the timing that a real soap opera does. Soaps are on five hours a week; True Blood only gets one hour a week. That’s not really enough time either to whet viewers’ appetites or to sate them; it certainly isn’t enough to handle a magical war, three romantic triangles, a demon baby, a medium’s crisis of confidence, a cop’s addiction to v-juice, and all the other minor plotlets that litter the landscape. As if that’s not enough, we got another story line opened in this episode, as Lafayette dreams about a Thirties-era woman of color (the woman in yellow we and he have been seeing around Mikey) whose baby was murdered. And then the woman possesses Lafayette. That guy’s not a medium, he’s an extra-large. Sure, the one thing we needed on True Blood halfway through an overloaded season was yet another mysterious person with Powers.

“We must restore the sacred power of Creation to this wounded Earth.” — Martonia

What we need is an apocalypse. We need a final battle at the end of this season that wipes out 50% of the characters in this show, especially most of the ones Alan Ball has invented. This show needs to be lean and mean and funny again, with the black humor that made it fun to begin with. What we’re getting right now is a bloated and unwieldy suite of disconnected stories. It may be that Alan Ball plans to connect all these stories in a finale. So what? By the time we get there, the audience will be so bored and/or confused it won’t matter how clever a tie-in Ball and his writers conjure up, we won’t know and won’t care how they are intertwined. I expected that the Witch War would kill off a bunch of characters, clearing (and simplifying) the field. Instead, Martonia’s spell killed off only one vampire. Are we now to suppose that King Bill’s orders to the vampires of Louisiana was heeded sufficiently to save them all? Or is Martonia simply not as efficient and powerful as she likes to think?

“So we’re not just protecting ourselves, we’re killing vampires?” — Tara

At least we’ll probably get a chance to see some of these tangled tales sorted out over the long term: HBO has renewed True Blood for a fifth season. Anyone surprised by that has not been paying attention; True Blood is one of HBO’s highest-rated shows, consistently bringing in over 5 million viewers a week. Another twelve episodes next year will bring the show’s total to 60, which will make it one of the cable network’s longest running series. So far, Charlaine Harris’ series of Sookie Stackhouse novels is up to thirteen; dare we ask for that many seasons of True Blood? Then again, why bother sticking to the novels, when the show has gone its own way now so completely? If so, I hope the series finds a way to streamline itself, sharpen its focus, and concentrate on the really important elements.