Southern gothic shenanigans
It’s a hot, muggy summer out there and we all know what that means. It’s time once again for our Sunday night trips across the state line to Bon Temps, La., for a visit with Sookie Stackhouse. Oscar winner Anna Paquin plays Sookie, the telepathic heroine of HBO’s hit southern gothic vampire drama, True Blood. There are enough vampire television shows and movies out there to quench the thirstiest of vamp fans, but True Blood might just be the craziest of them all.
When we last left Sookie, she was taking what she thought would be a quick jaunt into fairyland to visit distant faerie cousins. Instead, she finds her grandfather Earl, who disappeared from Bon Temps 20 years ago, though he thinks he’s only been gone for 20 minutes.
There are enough vampire television shows and movies out there to quench the thirstiest of vamp fans, but True Blood might just be the craziest of them all.
While they’re catching up, the Fae waitstaff attempt to get Sookie to eat some glowing faerie fruit. It turns out the queendom of the Faeries is just as warped as the vampire/werewolf/shapeshifter world she left behind. The faerie queen insists that Sookie eat the fruit and stay forever. Sookie zaps the queen across the room with her patented glowy jazz-hands, and all the the beautiful ethereal faeries turn into dark cave-faerie versions of themselves. Sookie jumps into an abyss and out of fairyland, landing back where she started, the Bon Temps graveyard.
Unfortunately for our hero, she doesn’t land back when she started. Over a year has passed since she left. The rest of the episode slows down a bit to let Sookie and the audience catch up with her family, friends, and the various citizens of Bon Temps. This is also a good way to introduce new viewers to the many True Blood characters.
The biggest news is that vampire Bill Compton, the love/hate of Sookie’s life has become king of Louisiana. We aren’t told how this came about since Civil War veteran Bill is a relatively young vampire. Last season’s finale ended at the beginning of a fight to the death between Bill and vampire queen Sophie-Anne, so I’ll deduce Bill won.
Sookie’s best friend, Tara, left town last year in an attempt to change her life. Tara grew up with an alcoholic mother, has anger management problems, and in previous True Blood seasons was kidnapped by a psychotic vampire and brainwashed by a psychotic ancient Greek Maenad. So to make a real break with her past does she go back to school to become a dental hygienist or get that accountant degree? Of course not. She moves to New Orleans and becomes a cage-fighter.
The ever-hot Viking vampire Eric is still running the night club Fangtasia with help from his vampire offspring, the ever-awesome Pam. Meanwhile, the actors who play them Alexander Skarsgard and Kristin Bauer, respectively, are still specializing in the driest, funniest line readings of the show.
Sheriff Andy Bellefleur has a V, the vampire blood drug, addiction. His deputy, and Sookie’s brother, the newly responsible but still pretty dumb Jason Stackhouse tries to hold Andy together while also taking care of a family of inbred hillbilly were-panthers. The ungrateful pride for some reason locks Jason in a deep freezer at the end of the episode, which is really rude considering he brought them all ice cream.
Sam Merlotte, the owner of what continues to appear to be the only restaurant in town, and therefore the employer of half the characters, has joined a shape-shifter supper club. They shift into horses and gallop freely after wine and dessert.
Fry cook/reformed drug dealer, Lafayette Reynolds has been dragged around to every Wiccan and new age meeting in two states by his boyfriend, nurse/witch, Jesus Velasquez, so that Lafayette might better explore his shamanistic powers that he discovered last season.
In this first episode, Lafayette meets new character, Marnie Stonebrook, played by Actress Fiona Shaw. Viewers should probably pay attention to Marnie because in previous seasons the newest character played by the actor with the most impressive stage and screen resume ends up being the big villain of the season. Two other clues that Marnie will be important: In a scene when the reluctant Lafayette joins the witches’ circle, the group is able to bring Marnie’s dead bird back to life for a brief period, and the fact that one of the early promos for the season has an exasperating Sookie saying “Oh great, now I have to deal with witches.”
If this episode sounds like a mess that’s because this is True Blood and the insanity seems to be entirely intentional on the part of series creator and show runner Alan Ball. The writers plot the show like a supernatural soap opera, mix in horror and humor, and finish it all off with some biting (pun intended) social and political satire.
In this episode the scenes of Eric making a pro-vampire public service announcement and Bill’s kingly ribbon-cutting duties are sharp and hilarious. What’s next, kissing babies instead of drinking from them?
There is a narrative structure of sorts within the show. Just as in classic tragedy the conflict rises until resolution and death and as in classic comedy the chaos rises until someone puts things back in order, in a season of True Blood the tide of magic, were-people, vampires, faeries, witches and serial killers--a.k.a. crazy shit--rises until around episode eleven when plucky little Sookie has just about had enough of all that crazy shit. She metaphorically stamps her part-faerie foot and, with major help from a rotating selection of her friends and suitors, manages in the twelfth episode to defeat the embodiment of the worst of the crazy shit. There’s usually several loose narrative threads lying around at the end ready to be picked up for the next season of mad, horror fun.
So unleash the witches, True Blood. Let’s see what kind of crazy they can bring to season four.