Alan Ball’s a believer. Now on his last season as True Blood’s major domo, he continues to see no reason at all why Big Themes and literary stuff can’t coexist with camp, bodice ripper romance, Hammer gore camp and a Ken Russell-esque free-for-all approach to fantastic filmmaking. This week’s episode added family as a major element and ended up a sweetly, amusingly, and painfully memorable piece of work. 

nullIn genre dress, it playfully explored the pleasures of successful parenting while going very dark on the adjoined subjects of letting go badly, ultimate loss, and the persistent survivor’s guilt.

Pretty heady stuff. Not to worry—there are also state of the art splatter gore and broiling flesh effects. Still, the name of the season’s first episode—“Turn! Turn! Turn!”—continues to define everyone.

Even the non-familial characters were in extreme motion. We finally see the mix of LSD and mass murder in Iraq that caused Terry (Todd Lowe) to lose it. And somehow grief is making Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) a target for Jesus’ demon. And Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is still trying to sever himself from the childhood sexual abuse that’s sentenced him to a life of empty zipless fucks.

Lately the entire show seemed to be bent on deconstructing its hero, Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), to the point where the show seemed to have nothing to do with her.

I was missing the point.  With the memory of her grandmother fading, and so many people dying for her or at her hands, what she’s really about is survivor’s guilt. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, she hooks up with Alcide (Joe Manganiello, currently bouncing his wolfie goodness on-screen in Magic Mike). But that bit of oo-la-la is poisoned by Sook’s self-hatred. However, a single sentence at episode’s end changes everything. We’ll talk about that IN a bit.

What rules this episode is family, starting with Pam (Kristin Bauer) mothering Tara, three words I’ll enjoy typing for quite a while, it’s so beyond slash fiction fun.

As you recall, Tara (Rutina Wesley) tried to tanning-bed herself to death. Pam stopped it before Tara totally fried.

"Mothering" pace Pam is still bitchy and, well, Pam-ish, but still, she’s taking care of Tara. The question is, Why?

Easy answer: Eric said it was the right thing to do. And Pam worships Eric. And Eric made it clear last week that when you make someone a vamp, it’s akin to having a child, with all the same responsibilities. 

Interestingly, Pam’s bitchiness fades fast. She may quip of Tara’s reluctance to sink her teeth into a human, “three days and she already has an eating disorder”, but Pam really wants to help. When she finds a willing vamp fetishist at Fangtasia and orders Tara to feed, Pam wraps her arm around her young vampire and whispers encouragement. “This is who you are now . . . the top of the chain.”

Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) is also feeling good about his progeny, Jessica, who’s gone from whiny adolescent to very determined young woman over the span of just four episodes. And unlike your usual overpraised cable TV show where a female character’s “complexity” is defined by her ability to become as cynical and nihilistic as the males she’s secondary to, Jessica, who’s very aware of all the horribleness life (and un-life) has to offer, makes a conscious choice to become more morally centered, supportive, and empathic than the males around her. She’s a born leader as well.

Bill, who always failed at all these things, enjoys a rare happy moment as he regards her and says, “I think I did well.”

And sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do, or how hard you work. Because Pam is going to lose Eric and vice versa.

When Eric and Bill first return from their meeting with the vampire Authority—how about we call it the “VA”?—Pam tries a squirt of playful snark regarding Tara: “Congratulations, you’re a grandfather.”

But Eric is not amused. Instead, he grills her about Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare), the 3,000 year-old psycho-vamp who, having somehow broken out of the cement prison Eric and Bill created for him, will not only try to kill Eric, but destroy the VA and its goal of mainstreaming vampires into normal human life, for the sheer hell of it.

Eric tells her that whether it’s because of Russell Edgington or the VA, he’s going to die. And so he sets her free, officially, of all and any bonds to him. “I need you to live when I’m gone…you are my child as I was the child of Godric . . . and you’re a maker now . . . our blood will thrive.”

And then it’s done. He sets her free, ending a century-old relationship, but leaving her with child—Tara.

Trust me, True Blood is not my go-to destination for deep emotional experiences but, yeah, I got choked up. But this wasn’t TV-melodrama choked up. This was stranger, more like I felt when seeing, say, Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast when I was 15. Is Ball mining similar subconscious monster archetype energies? Without going full-out Jungian on you, I do think that we don’t care about beauties, and beasts, and bitchy vampires named Pam, and their sudden ‘familial’ feelings towards African American girls who’ve suddenly turned vampire just because. I think there’s always something they represent in a grand passion play happening beneath every surface—and if you’re a grand fantasy master, as Ball has proved himself to be (with the help of with his writer’s room), you know how to work the under-surface stuff.

But onward.

You’d think the cold, 007-ish underground world of the VA would be the last place for anything domestic, but the show’s on a family roll, so here we go.

When VA head Roman and his . . . whatever she is, Salome (Valentina Cervi), are unable to torture ex-chancellor Nora into spilling info on who else is up to anti-mainstreaming, fundamentalist no good, she only cracks because it will save the life of her brother Eric, with whom she’s sleeping. (Ah, incest, what would cable TV dramas do without it?) And after Salome reminds her that for centuries she’s been like a sister to her.  

Meanwhile, out in a grassy field somewhere, Andy (Chris Bauer) and Jason are in a limousine with the obsequious Judge Clemmons (Conor O'Farrell).  The Judge is taking them somewhere really deluxe for serving Bon Temps so damned well. And with a flash of light they’re magically teleported to a Moulin Rouge-y fairy nightclub because in True Blood,a fairy nightclub is always a light-flash away. And frankly, that sort of gleeful disinterest in how the show “logically” gets characters from point A to B is one of its many charms.

Captain Andy runs into Maurella (Kristina Anapau), the spacy girl he had fairy sex with at the end of last season. Jason runs into a girl he knows from some time ago who says he and Sookie are in great danger from the vampires—worse, she tells him that vampires killed Sookie and Jason’s family and will soon kill them all!

Before he can find out anything more, some guards throw Andy and Jason out the cosmic portal—big burst of light!—and they’re on their asses in that grassy field. Run credits to a cover version of Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again.”

So there it is. A smoking gun, why Sook’s been almost predestined to be involved with vamps from the git-go. Or—Ball’s just screwing around with us until something else entirely happens. This is one of the joys of tuning in. But what I’m mostly taking from this is Pam and Eric, the look on both their faces when they realize there’s nothing they can do no matter what they want. Such beautiful flowers are sprouting up in True Blood to soil this fine fifth season.

Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times,, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out New York.



I love True Blood, and I pray this is the end of it. The tea leaves all read "buh-bye," but in this first episode, we’re mainly talking mop-up from last season’s remarkably messy—even by Blood  standards—finale. But before we get into the particulars, some thoughts from this devoted Trubie.

I know there are people who feel the show was great when it was an elegant, fleet, and witty anti-intolerance fable. And feel that, as early as Season Two, when Maryanne the cannibalistic Maenad (Michelle Forbes) started having psychedelic Southern-style Burning Man-ish parties on Sookie's impeccably well-maintained lawn, the chronicles of everyone’s favorite fairy telepath—Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin)—had already fallen into their shark-jumping phase.

Me? I always said that, like that lawn or the improbably ever-fresh pitcher of lemonade in Sookie’s fridge, there were things about True Blood you just accepted. I said, “Cannibalistic Burning Man run by a Mad Maenad? I’ve waited my whole life for this!”

And then when Seasons Three and Four gave us the batty-beyond-belief Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare), Vampire King of Mississippi, a white trash were-panther named Crystal Beth, the lounging vampire Queen Sophie-Anne Leclerq (Evan Rachel Wood), who loved nothing more than to play Yahtzee (!), the revelation that Sookie was a fairy, that Jesus (Kevin Alejandro), the love of darling Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), was in fact a powerful Mexican bruja, and a curse caused Pam (Kristin Bauer) to embark on the holy grail of finding the right foundation—Smashbox? MAC? Maybelline?—to cover her rotting face, some called foul.

But me, I was in seventh heaven as the show gave up even the slightest lip service to realism on the road to becoming the most faux Southern fried nü-Hammer, blood-Romantic, were-vamp gore-show, splat-palooza of all time,and it became clear that Blood creator Alan Ball would not drive 55, and the only way he’d stop was if he were six feet under.

And now it must end. It must not be allowed to become an undead parody of a parody of itself, like Dexter.

My sense of Season Five, from its tagline—“Everything is at Stake”—onwards points towards end games from which the show will not be able to renew itself without becoming a faint Xerox of past bloody wonders.

So with the prayer of “I love you—now die,” some highlights:

The episode opens one minute before the very end of last season’s finale, whipsawing from Sookie accidentally shooting Tara—whose fate will have to remain a secret for a spell, sorry—to a hilarious frenzy of tidying as, a few miles away, Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) clean up the sticky remains of Nan Flanagan (Jessica Tuck) who’d just outed herself as anti-Authority before meeting the True Death at Bill’s hands when he learned she desired some of Sookie’s fairy power.  

Alas, a pack of ninjas (or is that a flock, a murder or a bushel?) bag them in silver netting and stick them in a limo trunk. Eric’s shout of “That’s the Authority we’re up against!” not only IDs their attackers, it suggests a more epic storyline that would render any little tales from humble Bon Temps, LA passé.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian), ex-head of the Fellowship of the Sun, shows up gay and glamouring himself into Jason’s apartment, availing himself of that law of physics that says for every standing body of flesh there is a correlative moment when that body WILL fuck Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten).

But then the door slams open, Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) declares herself “the progeny of the king of Louisiana!” and Newlin’s old news for now, as Jessica mounts Jason.

Shock cut to: A spy-movie-style male and female pair listening to Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs” in a limousine. In the trunk, Bill and Eric are bound in silver netting (take note, slash fiction folks—this will be a good year for you).

One of the show’s more casually ridiculous escapes transpires: Bill finds an umbrella and stabs the car’s gas tank, which, after he asks Eric for some fire, blows up. Seriously. Bite this, believable solutions!

Crawling from the wreckage, the McCartney fan, whose name is Nora (Lucy Griffiths) finds Eric, and the two embrace and smooch deeply.

Nora is Eric’s sister and yeah—more TV incest. Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Bored to Death, Dexter, Supernatural, WTF?

At first I had no idea. But then a seeming cop-out, Eric’s revelation to Bill that he and Nora are “only connected through our maker” had me thinking. Because their “maker” is Godric (Allan Hyde), who died, or ascended heavenwards in a swirl of light and ecstatic disintegration season two’s “I Will Rise Up”.

With “everything at stake,” why would the show bring on someone who is Eric’s only living connection to the person he loved more than anyone or anything in his life, Godric?

Okay, before I mull myself into a coma, back to what Nora was actually doing. She’d planned to save Bill and Nora before their umbrella-gas-tank maneuver because, hot taboo sex aside, she’s a ruling member of the Authority working to tear the damned thing down from the inside.

So, Vive la révolution! Except Nora, Bill and Eric get caught by more Authority ninjas and there’s something about the way one of them bullhorns “Do not fucking move!” that makes me think Bill and Eric are screwed for quite a while.

Otherwise, here are the updates you need:

Captain Andy. An APD to all you Wire fans desirous of Chris Bauer nudity—your prayers are answered. Captain Andy is seen consorting with witch Holly (Lauren Bowles). Nice butt, Chris—who knew?

Terry. Terry (Todd Lowe) is now playing guest to his old Iraq war pal Patrick (Scott Foley). Flashbacks, fistfights, hallucinations occur—within, like, five minutes of screen time. How do you ratchet things up from there? A: Terry has kids, a wife, a life, oh dear.

Lafayette. Is this horrible? I want him to die so he can be with Jesus (boyfriend Jesus). Of everyone on True Blood, nobody has suffered more and gained less than Lafayette. So when he and Sook look for Jesus’ body and it’s not there, I’m thinking that if my end game theorem is true, maybe there’s a way Lafayette can peaceably slip this mortal coil and be forever with his beloved Jesus.


Jason. This whole episode is like a Stations of the Cross redemption trip for Sookie's older brother.

He tries to apologize to Hoyt (Jim Parrack), but Hoyt just calls him a girlfriend-fucker, accurate but hardly sporting.

He goes to Bill’s house, where Jessica is having a party with college kids her own age in a kind of adorable/pitiful simulation of what her life would have been like if the whole vampire thing hadn’t happened. After Rock Banding The Runaway’s “Cherry Bomb” (one of those True Blood moments sure to become a viral animated GIF), Jason leaves with some hottie but gives her an impassioned speech on how he wants be a better man instead of having sex with her, and still the space/time continuum did not collapse. Which leaves . . .

Alcide (Joe Manganiello). Who saves Sam (Sam Trammell)—whose problems with Luna (Janina Gavankar) are just confusing at this point—from becoming puppy chow for the werewolf pack that thinks he killed Marcus (Dan Buran). Alcide tells the pack that he’s a lone wolf now, and then he hightails it to Sookie’s to offer his protection from Russell, who, despite being buried under a few thousand tons of concrete the last time we saw him, is somehow back!

Russell. The only American vampire willing and able to punch his fist through someone’s chest on national TV and gloat about it. Russell (Denis O'Hare)—the one-vamp/one-man guarantor of True Blood quality!

Me, I’m going out on a limb here and predicting a terrific, apocalyptically satisfying season of over-the-topper-most True Blood. May it be its last.

Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times,, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out/New York.

A New Press Play Column: 10/40/70: Melancholia

A New Press Play Column: 10/40/70

This experimental film column began its life at The Rumpus, and we are very excited to see it continue here.  The column freezes the frames of a film at the 10, 40, and 70 minute marks, using these points as the foundations for an essay.null

10 minutes:

The remarkable thing about Melancholia’s early, just married, journey-to-the-castle scenes featuring newlyweds Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) is that, in retrospect, you come to understand that Justine was just play acting. In probably the freshest use and subversion of the Dogme 95 style since The Celebration, these early scenes convey a spontaneity and naturalness (as opposed to the elaborately staged, slow motion prelude) that is highly expressionistic and self-consciously artful. Although the prelude has received the lion’s share of critical attention, it is the scene in and around the limousine, as it maneuvers a sharp turn in the dirt road that leads (presumably from “the Village,” which remains off screen and implied) to the place where Justine’s depression will first express itself. Manuel Alberto Claro, Melancholia’s cinematographer (the film was shot digitally on an Arri Alexa), has said that his “aim is to make images that are in love with the story and not with themselves.”

And so this moment, at the 10 minute mark, we have the tenderness of Justine’s hand on Michael’s cheek, a gesture which seems so genuine but which, in a fine example of delayed decoding, suggests a different meaning, one in which Justine (who will end up having sex, in just a few hours, not with her new husband, but with a young man she is introduced to by her boss at the wedding party). The great English literary historian Ian Watt,, in a study of the works of Joseph Conrad (whose romantic determinism has something in common with von Trier’s), defined delayed decoding as “the forward temporal progression of the mind, as it receives messages from the outside world, with the much slower reflexive process of making out their meaning.” It is, perhaps, only at the end of Melancholia that we remember the early lightness of spirit around the 10-minute mark and wonder: was this all a heroic feat of acting by Justine?null

40 minutes:

Having disappeared from her own wedding reception, Justine is tracked down by her brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland). At the 40-minute mark (which comes during his line “On whether or not we have a deal” from the exchange below), we see him in near silhouette profile, his face filling nearly half the screen:

JOHN: Do you have any idea how much this party cost me? A ballpark figure?

JUSTINE: No, I don’t. Should I?

JOHN: Yes, I think you should. A great deal of money. A huge amount of money. In fact, for most people, an arm and a leg.

JUSTINE: I hope you feel it’s well spent.

JOHN: Well that depends. On whether or not we have a deal.

JUSTINE: A deal?

JOHN: Yes, a deal. That you be happy.

JUSTINE: Yes, of course. Of course we have a deal.

John seems to be speaking not only to Justine here, but to us as well, as the film’s (or any film’s) audience, demanding that we acknowledge “the deal” (the relationship between the film and ourselves) and that we uphold our end of the deal by being “happy.”  In other words, did we get a good “product” for our ticket? (John, as a totalitarian in the realm of feeling, does not instruct Justine merely to act happy, but to be happy.) On one level, John’s instruction is a weird reversal of Jonathan Franzen’s distinction between, in fiction, the Status model and the Contract model. In the Status model, Franzen’s argument goes, the feelings of the average reader simply don’t matter: if readers don’t “get” the book, they are philistines unable to appreciate the complex work of genius. The Contract model, on the other hand, presupposes that “every writer is first a member of a community of readers, and the deepest purpose of reading and writing fiction is to sustain a sense of connectedness, to resist existential loneliness; and so a novel deserves a reader's attention only as long as the author sustains the reader's trust. This is the Contract model. The discourse here is one of pleasure and connection.”

John, from this angle, is von Trier’s sly stand-in for a tyrannical director (“do you have any idea how much this [movie] cost me? A huge amount of money”) who orders his actress [audience?] to “be happy.” And Justine has pretended so well up until now. She flees the set in costume, the ridiculous costume that is her wedding dress, and is cornered in the dark by her dark director.null

70 minutes:

Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) near the beginning of Part 2, on the phone with Claire, who has re-entered the orbit of full-blown depression, a depression which brings her fatally close to Claire. “Hello, darling, how are you?” Claire asks Justine, John hovering and speaking in exasperated whispers (perhaps giving voice to our own “common sense” as viewers, the part of us that resists seeing Justine as the noble, tormented sister who dares to face the truth of extinction, unlike Claire), “Just do as I’ve told you. There’s a taxi down the street, waiting for you. Just open the door and get in. Just get in the cab, darling.” Claire is caught in motion. She passes through frames more swiftly than her sister, as if movement can help her elude the inevitability of the internal catastrophe that is her sister’s fate and her own.

The in-between moment of this frame is un-reckonable, the looming of a vast Disorder.

The Village cannot be reached.

The horses will not cross over.

Nicholas Rombes can be found here. For more entries from the 10/40/70 series, check here.