TRUE BLOOD RECAP 6: HOPELESS

TRUE BLOOD RECAP 6: HOPELESS

Tonight’s meh True Blood was proof double-O positive of the Law of Fives. Seriously, if physicists applied themselves, I trust they’d find the Law of Fives almost as immutable as the Law of Gravity, and not nearly as funny.

nullAs much as tonight’s episode sort of amused us it was also reminding us that it was, in this final Alan Ball-written episode of this final Ball-supervised season, one over-repeated riff, theme or trope away from self parody, accidental camp or worse.

What I mean: a troop of rednecks in Obama masks yelling, “Yes we can!” as they blow up a vampire . . . . Well, can’t speak for you, but that’s pretty much what “trying too hard” looks like in True Blood terms.

But back to the Law of Fives: from The Wire to Alias to that other great vamp show, Angel, five seasons is just the perfect amount. Under, say, four seasons, is cruel undernourishment (Deadwood, Firefly, Terriers) and over five seasons, just wears a show down, out or beyond its strengths, even for titans (much of Lost and Buffy’s respective six and seventh seasons, sadly.)

The issues of time and termination are raised right off after Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård) lead the forces of the Authority to the insane asylum where the batty nihilist Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare) is getting ready to wreck havoc on everything he can find.

“Maybe you’re just bored after one thousand years but you not not make that decision for me,” says Bill to Eric, for not playing along/kissing ass with the Authority.

Eric, alas, is being pulled under by some deep seas of ennui now that he’s separated from Pam, the social context of Fangtasia, the love of Sookie (Anna Paquin and hey, remember her?), and now he learns that his sister Nora (Lucy Griffiths) is a crazed member of the blood cult fundamentalist Sanguinista movement. Skarsgård is such a terrific actor—who knew there were so many colorations of “disinterested because of multi-centennial pain”?

Jason, meanwhile, is pulled in the direction of ultimate discovery: a dream brings the vision of his lost father and a possible truth of his death.

Terry (Todd Lowe) is, as psych professionals might say, totally fucked.

He confronts Arlene with getting wasted in Iraq and his unit killing a family and his killing an old woman after she cursed him. “Now I’m being hunted by an evil smoke monster,” he complains, which when we saw them in a flashback looked just like the fire god from Wrath of the Titans but way smaller.  We’ll see what redemption looks like; I’m leery.

The show’s other problematic male, Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), did poorly this week as well. He visited his crazy mom at the convalescent home where Jesus used to work, which meant lots of zany sentences where the name “Jesus” was inappropriately placed in sentences.  Please.

At one point in this very randomly structured episode—I find myself writing about it out of sequence to try and enforce a shape on it which the writers didn't supply—Eric and Bill must glamor Sookie—hey, remember her?—lest The Authority have them killed for seeing something they shouldn’t have seen.

Bill goes gallant. He tells her that not only will she not remember this night, she will not recall ever knowing him and furthermore, she will only love those who live in the sun. Oh, Bill.

Eric, meanwhile, tells Alcide (Joe Manganiello and his freakishly well-defined upper body) to forget as well, and to take care of Sookie—and to develop a deep loathing of any physical contact with her forever.

But ten minutes later, Sookie reads Alcide’s mind and undoes all of this glamoring. Back in the day (last season) not remembering important things could power an entire season.

Now, I guess that the only reason the glamor scenes existed was to remind newer viewers what separates Bill (romantic!) from Eric (scamp!).

By the time Russell makes his appearance—"silvered" and bound—for an execution in the Council’s chambers, there’s an electric friction between the forced civil behavior of the council and Russell’s Southern gentleman nihilist nutjob. The performances come alive, but director Daniel Attias’s staging is clumsy.

Russell finds Roman’s notions of “mainstreaming,” of humans living with vampires in peace, to be nonsense. “Peace is for pussies!” he quips, a born politician yelling his first campaign button catch phrase.

Roman pushes the button on his killer I-Stake app but Russell doesn’t die—treachery!—and the episode flames out with Russell stabbing Roman in the chest: cue scratchy old blues record (a favorite, but tired True Blood trick).

Look, this is a not prime rub Blood. Or rather, the show Ball’s presided over for five years is getting some more parts together for the grand finales.

It’s just that Attias, an extremely experienced TV and film director, doesn’t display the needed élan or post-Hammer sleaze panache that Michael Lehmann or Romeo Tirone bring to knottier scripts.

And I worry this problem will leak into next week’s episode. Until then, we have the relationship between newly turned vamp Tara (Rutina Wesley) and maker Pam (Kristin Bauer) continue to complicate. And Hoyt continuing to debase himself to impress Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) or because he really is a skeezy perv in the making while Jessica continues to solidify as the show’s most essentially decent person—whoddathunk?—and poor Sam the shifter (Sam Trammell) finally gets a family together for reals (if the Obama-faced crew doesn’t kill him.)

And Sookie (remember her?) goes with Jason to the fairy nightclub to learn more about their family/vampire issues. Sookie is actually kind of awesome in this episode: she’s discovered the rich world of grown-up self-loathing and Paquin's having hell’s own time not fluttering around that butter-colored set being all distressed and girly. She’s not angry, or sad either, she’s just over this vampire and fairy shit and her part in it. We forget, sometimes, that Paquin is a superlative, not just good, actor.

And that True Blood is, at heart, an incredibly lively, romantic, old school production. The queer hatred it poked fun at way back in 2008 feels way different now after the real Obama’s monumental legal changes, the elegance of Cooper and the acid of Savage changing the lenses but not the disease.

But the times are right, unfortunately, for the desperate, knowing self-gay-hate and pitiful monsters of desperate abjection and real fear of the terribly beautiful Teen Wolf. Even when it’s working, even when it’s delightful, True Blood already has the feel of a relic. I’m just not sure yet of what.

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, gothic.net, 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.

TRUE BLOOD RECAP 3: WHATEVER I AM, YOU MADE ME

TRUE BLOOD RECAP 3: WHATEVER I AM, YOU MADE ME

This week’s True Blood suffered a bit from Game of Thrones syndrome—too many people, parts, and ideas for all of them to properly register—but boy howdy were they mostly fine, fun and full of portent of freaky things to come.

nullAlthough the Season Five hot topic is vampire politics, the stories that gave off the most emotional heat belonged to Tara (Rutina Wesley), Jason (Ryan Kwanten) and Pam (Kristin Bauer).

““Whatever I Am, You Made Me” opens with Tara doing the full Terrence Mallick (!) as her enhanced vamp sense connects her to nature, the stars and the galaxies beyond–before hunger guts her.

Enraged with Sookie and Lafayette for not letting her rest in peace, she turns to Merlotte’s and Sam (Sam Trammell) who feeds her a six-pack of True Blood before she passes out.

Vampire Tara is all about wonder and rage, confusion and hyper vigilance. Wesley is killing false accusations of limited thespian skills. Pre-vamp Tara was two notes: terse and bitchy. I’m loving how she does nothing eerily, how she’ll perch on a table and not watch Sookie so much as scan her.

Ryan Kwanten is also developing as an actor as Jason slowly learns why he’s Bon Temp’s automatic sex machine.

This isn't a pretty process. It starts when he meets his old high school teacher at the grocery store. In a disturbing child's voice, he says, “I remember everything you taught me.”

They have sex. But with the phrase “statutory rape” in my mind, I watched Jason realize his high school teacher’s prior predatory acts have left him scarred and left with a sad brand of compulsive sexuality, with “a hole inside I fill with sex.”

But then Jason meets up with Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) who, in a lovely, soft scene, realizes that the last thing Jason needs is bodily intimacy. So Jessica flips off her sexy supernatural energies, and insists, strongly and intuitively that what’ll fix what’s ailing him is that he stay puts while she throws on a sweatshirt and grabs them both a beer. That is, even as an eternally teenage vampire, Jessica still has killer native nurturing skills to spare and we’re remanded that True Blood is mostly about one thing: female power.

In just this episode, we’ll see Sook use her fairy light burst to kick Pam’s ass when she fails to perform her maker’s duties with Tara.

We’ll imagine the portent of the powers of Salome (Valentina Cervi) which are literally Biblical. And see Tara’s unguided powers screw her up. The focus on female power both natural and supernatural is more repetitive than an old house beat and has been going on in endless iterations for four years now, enough to where you’d think Rolling Stone and other mass organs would have regular “Women of True Blood" issues.

Oh, how we dream. Anyway. Down in the chambers of the vampire Authority, Roman is dealing with the problem of what to do with Bill (Stephen Moyer) and (Alexander Skarsgård) and the news that Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare) has somehow broken out of his cement grave.  

Russell Edgington, who as we all recall, is the 3,000 year old psycho-vamp who once ripped someone’s heart out on live TV, and has now somehow escaped from being buried in a few tons of cement by Bill and Eric.

In the first iteration of something we’ll hear several times, Roman explains that the only thing that will help vampires beat the insane Fundamentalism of a “Sanguinista” movement that believes in a future where all humans are farmed for food is ‘mainstreaming’, or simple co-existence with humans.

Russell Edgington, he bellows, is “the poster boy of the anti-mainstream movement . . . it’s Osama Bin laden.”

Bill promises that he is a firm anti-fundamentalist. Eric, who’s totally not into politics, kind of shrugs his agreement.

After this little chat, fans of Veronica Mars get to see Tina Majorino again playing a techie who in this case straps harnesses on Bill and Eric that are like GPS’s that blow you up. Eric: “How’s this work?” Tina Majorino: “There’s an app for that.”

What’s remarkable about this season so far is how peripheral Sookie’s been. Later, after she admits to Alcide that she did indeed kill his ex-wife—which as you’d expect, pisses him off a bit—you could have extracted Sook from the episode and lost nothing.

Especially when we get a whole lotta Pam circa 1905, San Francisco. As a whorehouse madam reaching the twilight of her years as a viable sex industry product. And yes, Bauer adds just enough vulnerability for us to buy the idea that this is Pam from over a century ago and not so much as to ruin the character’s flinty credibility.

The scene also shows Eric meeting Bill for the first time, and of course Bill’s being impossibly, annoyingly gallant.

When Bill’s gone, she explains the uselessness of an aging woman, and begs Eric to change her into a vamp.

In one of the episode’s best lines, Eric says that ‘making’ a vampire is an eternal responsibility. “Would you toss a new born baby in the gutter?” he asks, and we can’t help but think of Pam and Tara.

Pam ends the conversation by slashing her wrists—vertically, of course. “Let me walk the world with you, Mister Northman,” she says, “Or watch me die.”

America swoons as Eric’s fangs pop.

Meanwhile, back at vampire Authority HQ, Salome takes Bill for a seductive walk. She is the Salome, Daughter of Herodias, the Seven Veils, all that, and “from a seriously fucked up family,” she quips.

Of course, lost girl stories are catnip for our Bill. When she practically begs for a reason to trust him, he finds it under his zipper.

Then, after taking a shower, one hopes, she plays Eric.

The best way to Eric’s heart is through his maker, Godric. So she goes there before seducing him.

Bill and Eric meet later and realize they’ve been played but why . . . why?

We get another good teaser from the kitchen at Merlotte’s. It’s Lafayette, suddenly pouring bleach into the gumbo, looking into the mirror and he’s wearing Jesus’ demon-face. (Which freaks him out but cheers me up: Jesus will return!)

Then we’re back to Authority HQ, but a deluxe bedroom that looks like the swankest W Hotel room ever. It’s Roman’s private chambers, and Salome, who’s been a very busy girl today, is very naked because this is HBO.

Salome assures him that neither Bill nor Eric is Sanguinista.

And then Roman goes through the mainstreaming vs. Fundamentalism discourse as if this were broadcast TV before the Internet and major plot points had to be repeated endlessly.

The up side is Mr. Meloni sans shirt is a pumped and ripped side of quality beefcake.

He purrs to Salome, “You’re my secret weapon” which, when purred to someone out of the freakin’ Bible, is worth considering—or not. At this point, we don’t know just how far Ball is willing to go with his trashing of the Christian Bible’s power and so we can’t extrapolate how badass Salome might be. Still, if she’s worthy of Roman’s attention, one imagines her destructive powers must be at least above the average Biblical icon’s.

And then we see poor lost Tara, who started the episode with her mind in the stars, breaking into a tanning salon and sliding into a tanning bed. As her body fries and she screams, we cut to Pam who, as Tara’s maker, can sense this and sighs “stupid bitch” but it’s the sighed “stupid bitch” of an exasperated mom, which is, after all, what Pam’s become.

In every way that matters, in teaching her how to take care of herself, how to feed herself, when to go to ground, when to rise, everything in her new life, Pam is Tara’s new mom. Many a drinking game was played based on what would happen to Tara after she was shot in the head last season. Nobody got drunk enough to see “Pam’s a mom” coming.

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, gothic.net, 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.