Hail to the King, Baby

True Blood
"Hitting the Ground"
HBO Sundays 6PM
Written by Brian Bockner
Directed by John Dahl

"Could we hurry this along? I am getting cold feet." —Queen Sophie Ann

At this point, I'm ready to swear fealty myself to the King of Mississippi. Russell Edgington is the most delicious villain we've seen in True Blood so far—arrogant, suave, witty, and ruthless. He is the only vampire I've seen yet who can hold his own onscreen with Eric Northman, and pitting these two against one another in a blood feud is a stroke of genius. In this episode, the King's ego and supreme self-confidence lead him to overreach himself: he is essentially declaring war on the vampire hierarchy (the "Authority") and setting out on a quest to reduce mankind to slavery. Call me crazy, but I love this larger-than-death ambition, this overweening pride in a bad guy. Bring on the clash of titans.

We begin with a long-awaited scene: the death (again) of Lorena. So far, she has been hit with a TV, thrown across rooms, set on fire, and had her head turned 180 degrees on her neck, and yet still she comes back. This time, Sookie stakes her while Bill holds her, and Lorena dissolves into the usual muck (and I note that Franklin, whose head was bashed in by Tara, did not dissolve, which bodes ill for Ms. Reynolds). I didn't really hear the next few lines, over the applause, whoops, and cheers in my living room. Buh-bye, Lorena, don't come back. I will miss your wardrobe, but I still have Pam.

Unfortunately for Sookeh, Debbie Pelt finds her kneeling over Bill's corpse, and pulls a gun on her. Alcide and Cooter and Tara get into the mix, and eventually shots are fired. This does not end well for Cooter, and Tara hustles Bill into Alcide's van. Sookie climbs into the back—bad idea. Now she's in an enclosed space with a starving, wounded vampire, and Bill wakes up and does what comes naturally. I didn't think Bill Compton could get any worse than being an ineffectual vampire who could not protect Sookie, but I was wrong. Now he's draining her, actively endangering her life. Tara, high on Franklin's blood, tosses Bill out onto the road one-handed, in full sunlight, and takes off for the nearest emergency room with Sookie. Bill is left blinking in the sun and wondering why he is not turning into toast. I'm right there with him; why can't Bill just burn up and go away?

The rest of the hour was spent watching Sookie sleep in a hospital bed and dream about Faerie. We were finally introduced to Claudine (Lara Pulver, Robin Hood), a character from the books I have been anticipating for a while. But I have to say that HBO's conception of the land of fairies was about as lame as a sixth-grade production of Peter Pan. Scantily clad young people dancing (badly) around a graveyard? A pool of magic water? Good heavens. But then, the whole concept of fairies is so monumentally lame that it is hard to imagine how HBO could have made it anything other than funny. However, we did finally get a clue about where Sookie's whole light-shooting-from-her-hand abilities might have come from; she was, after all, drinking light. I'm ambivalent about the introduction of this whole theme, as I was ambivalent about it when reading the books. Sookie is "supernatural" enough with her ESP abilities; piling on more abilities and a fantasy heritage just takes that character further from the audience. If everyone in Bon Temps, including our Everywoman heroine, turn out to be freaks, who are we to identify with?

"I thought that Lettie Mae was the worst mother I ever saw, but you take the cake." —Sam

Finally, Sam Merlotte gets to step up to the plate. Kudos to Sam Trammel for carrying this entire subplot virtually unassisted. Sam figures out what fans figured out in the second episode, that his brother is being forced to participate in dog fights. He goes "undercover" as a dog, infiltrates the kennel, and then takes out the guard in his human guise. He frees all the puppies and disrupts the fight; when faced with a savage dog when Sam himself is in human guise, Sam stares him down like the alpha dog he is. Gentle but tough, that's our Sam. He rakes down his useless, exploitative parents, and takes Tommy, bruised and bleeding, away from this hellish existence. I love the character of Sam; even more than Alcide, he is loyal, strong, wise, and determined. What the hell is Sookie doing with Bill, when she has this marvelous man panting after her? I must say that I earnestly hope this is the Very Last Time I ever seen Joe Lee Mickens' saggy underpants. I find this entire subplot interesting precisely because it is original. It is not in the books, so Alan Ball and his minions have invented a whole new background and history for Sam, then carried through with a solid family drama that tests Sam and allows him to develop. I look forward to seeing how his relationship with his abused brother plays out.

"I never thought I was smart enough to get depressed." —Jason

Don't worry, Bubba, you'll get over it. Jason thinks he's depressed because he can't figure Crystal out. Those of us with a little more cynicism are likely to think that Jason is just shocked to discover a woman who can say "No" to him. My only complaint with the Jason/Crystal storyline is that it is progressing so very, very slowly. Jason, having found the only white trash female he can really relate to, loses her to another man even trashier than Crystal. You know the residents of Hotshot are pretty low-life when Jason Stackhouse can look classy by comparison. And you know that Crystal and Jason will eventually hook up. Do we have to string this story along by inches?

"How'd you know I was a Tiffany girl?" —Pam

The dramatic peak of the episode, however, was neither Sookie's nor Tara's nor Sam's, it was King Russell's. As the creepy Magister continues torturing Pam (with silver earrings, no less), Russell intervenes, backed up by Sophie Anne and Eric. The Magister, for the first time, is disconcerted and off balance. Russell serenely takes advantage of that, and the Magister learns an important lesson: there is a world of difference between someone who abuses his authority, and someone who bows to no authority. The Magister, like the toady he is, blusters and calls on the reputation of The Authority (who or whatever that is), because he has no power of his own, only that which he exercises/abuses. Russell, however, acknowledges no master and no restraint, and therefore holds all the psychological cards in their encounter. He gets what he wants—marriage to Queen Sophie Anne, freedom for Pam, and—with an all too casual flick of the wrist—an end to The Magister himself. The sheer daring of that last scene took my breath away. This guy is king in more than name.

True Blood hit a season high in ratings this time out, pulling 5.2 million viewers. It also dominated the 18-49 viewer demographic, with a 3.0 rating. This is the highest rated show for that demographic for all of television, not just cable, at that hour. Truly, True Blood is hooking them in. Must be that vampire glamour…

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Copyright 2010 Sarah Stegall. All rights reserved.