Sunday, September 7, 2014

“Doctor Who” Series 8: “Into the Dalek”/“Robot of Sherwood”

Posted By on Sun, Sep 7, 2014 at 11:37 PM

A combination of vacation with limited internet access, an apartment move, and a hellish cold kept me from seeing the second episode of Series 8 until this weekend. In fact, I watched it back-to-back with Episode 3. So I thought I’d merge them both into one review, much like the Doctor sharing his mind with a mentally ill Dalek. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?!

But honestly, I quite liked both episodes. “Sherwood” was the stronger of the two -- although they’re so incredibly different that it’s difficult to make a fair comparison -- but I thought they were both worthy additions to the “Who” canon. And more importantly, they gave us a much better sense of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, and again made great strides at making Clara an interesting, useful Companion.

First up, “Into the Dalek,” directed by Ben Wheatley and co-written by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat. This was a big-picture space story, with the Doctor trying to help a rebel star ship on the run from a Dalek war vessel. The rebel ship’s solution: miniaturize the Doctor and a small crew so that they could go into a malfunctioning Dalek that they had captured. By “malfunctioning” Dalek they meant a Dalek that had turned good --it saw the value of life over destruction. Once the “good” Dalek was fully operational, they would send it back to the Dalek warship as a Trojan horse.

The problem with this episode is that there’s an obvious flaw in the logic (several huge flaws, actually). If a malfunction has caused a Dalek to flip sides, what happens when you fix the malfunction? A-doy. However, the nature of the Dalek -- and the promise that a Dalek could actually turn good -- mirrored this new Doctor’s internal struggle about his own place in the universe, among other larger philosophical issues. There was also an unsubtle and yet still unsuccessful attempt to mirror the warrior Daleks with modern soldiers, specifically Danny Pink, the new instructor at Coal Hill School/former military/probable love interest for Clara.

The actual plot of the episode didn’t really work, the sets for the inside of the Dalek weren’t remotely convincing, the various subplots were handled clumsily, and the whole thing felt overly referential to me (I got “Star Trek” and “BattlestarGalactica” vibes at different points in the episode). So from a narrative standpoint, it’s got big issues. But from a character standpoint I thought it was successful. We got some great interactions between the Doctor and Clara, and the Doctor and the other humans around him. What remained of Eleven’s personality has been largely shed, as this new Doctor is a condescending dick most of the time -- and I LOVE it. Capaldi is so, so good at being a self-righteous son of a bitch (not a surprise) and I have weirdly never found the Doctor more lovable. At the same time, his personal crisis of self feels very real, and understandable given what he did as the War Doctor and even as recently as last episode, when he maybe sort of killed the clockwork dude.

Clara was actually useful again this episode, and not just a teary-eyed Fix-It button. And I’m starting to understand why these two seemingly disparate people would continue to hang out together, even when they each have very east outs. Clara even says bluntly that she’s now the Doctor’s conscience, and for Clara, even though he’s kind of a jerk, he’s still her friend who saves the universe again and again. It’s an interesting dynamic, and much different than anything we’ve seen since the reboot.

As for Danny Pink, he’s apparently back in Episode 4. I’m ambivalent. He’s a good-looking guy, for sure, and he had more of a discernible character after 10 minutes of screentime than Clara did for practically a whole season. But the weird flash-sideways the show did to show his internal thoughts, and ham-fisted presentation of his PTSD -- that had Moffat written all over it. Not in a good way.

Blessedly, “Robot of Sherwood” was written by Mark Gatiss, and it was a total hoot. It was a campy “Doctor Who” romp and still found some room to make some larger points about heroes and legends. The Doctor presented Clara with a classic Doctor question -- “Where do you want to go?” -- and she responded, oddly, by saying that she always wanted to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor assured her that no such person ever existed. Except when they showed up in 12th century England, there he was, trying to steal the TARDIS, making goo-goo eyes at a very fetching Clara (Jenna Coleman looked outstanding in this episode), and of course fending off the Sherriff of Nottingham and his alien robot goons. Wait, alien robot goons?!

It actually worked a lot better than I expected, in part because the design for the robots was so cool (I’d love to see them come back), and because it surprisingly tied into what appears to be the season mega-arc regarding The Promised Land. But mostly it worked because of the crackling chemistry between the Doctor, Clara, and Robin Hood (Tom Riley). The squabbling between Robin and the Doctor was laugh-out-loud funny, and the Doctor had some great ridiculous moments all his own (the spoon, blowing up the archery target, his testing of the various Merry Men).

It was also another strong episode for Clara, and given that Jenna Coleman is leaving at the Christmas episode, should Clara survive, I’d love to see her end up back with Robin and his gang. Clara was more “alive” in this episode than I can ever recall. She felt like more of a leading lady than a sidekick or hanger-on.

“Into the Dalek” also featured a brief epilogue with Missy, the stern woman who seems to be collecting people who died due to the machinations of the Doctor and bringing them to “Heaven.” In the series premiere she brought the clockwork man to a garden. In “Dalek” she brought a dead soldier to a tea party. I expected the Sheriff and his gold hands to pop up with her in “Sherwood.” My roommate actually asked, “Isn’t that the eyepatch lady from The Silence?” which goes to show you how predictable Moffat and his female characters have gotten. But people are lighting up the internet speculating about who/what she is. So I guess Moffat wins again!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

“True Blood” Series Finale: “Thank You”

Posted By on Sun, Aug 24, 2014 at 11:53 PM

I think we can all agree that this one falls under the “Whimper” category, not “Bang,” right?

I have actually been digging the laid-back, ongoing-wake feeling of the second half of this last season. I thought it was bold in its own way, and I enjoyed much of the character work it entailed. But I suppose I was expecting something more from the series finale -- something shocking, some water-cooler moment, like this show used to serve up on a weekly basis. But instead we got a very slow episode with only one true sequence of note. It all felt very much like “settling” to me. Or, I guess if we’re talking the stages of grief, “acceptance.” Which is fitting for a show that was so defined by death. But not terribly interesting or fun to watch.

Last episode’s cliffhanger -- the Yakuza were on their way to kill Sookie because she knew about Sarah Newlin and the Hep V cure -- was handled in roughly 10 minutes. Eric did what should have been done about four episodes back: he dispatched Mr. Gus and his assassins by, you know, using the vampire powers he has had for literally 1000 years. The Yakuza were totally throwaway villains. They were never a credible threat to the vampires (which made it so infuriating when Pam kept being taken hostage by them) and they had no real power position. At least we did get to see a blood-spattered Eric Northman grooving out behind the steering wheel of a kick-ass sports car.

The larger arc for the episode was, predictably, Sookie and Bill. As promised last episode, Bill came to call on Sookie to explain his rationale for rejecting the cure. And it really did make sense. He had lived his life, and his prolonged existence was unnatural, and detrimental to the woman he loves. So, noble. Good on Vampire Bill for being a Southern gentleman right to the end. Except, problem: he didn’t just want to die. He wanted Sookie to kill him using her magic one-time fairy bomb, which would also wipe out her fairy powers, leaving her free of vampires forever.

That was a Class-A dick move on Bill’s part. Not only is it messed up to ask someone else to assist you in your suicide. But he wanted her to do so in a way that would fundamentally change her entire life and -- forgive me, this is going to sound terrible -- ruin her for all other vampires. You can argue that he was only trying to give Sookie a normal life, something she’s always wanted. But you can also make a pretty strong case that this was Bill trying to control Sookie to the bitter end, and make sure no other vampire called her "mine." All those likability points he had racked up over the course of this last season? Gone now.

And then Bill went into a likability deficit when he more or less coerced Hoyt and Jessica into a shotgun wedding (the shotgun is loaded with wooden bullets, naturally) so that he could walk a daughter down the aisle before he died. The two of them reunited the DAY BEFORE and he started talking marriage because he was about to die. You are terrible, Bill! Terrible! But Hoyt and Jessica went through it in a wedding scene that seemed to go on forever, but which elicited absolutely no emotion from me. Seriously, I’m very invested in the Hoyt/Jessica relationship. I love those characters. The whole time I was watching that wedding scene I kept thinking, 1) WHAT NO WHY NO WHAT and 2) Why was Adilyn not there? Jessica and Adilyn have a very tight bond. Minor nitpick, but that literally is what kept preoccupying me during the wedding scene of two beloved characters. And that’s not great, show.

Following the wedding, a flashback with Gran (GRAN!!!), and a consultation with Reverend Daniels (it was weird to me that he had a larger speaking role in the series finale than half of the cast that’s been with this show since the beginning -- LaFayette didn’t even get a LINE), Sookie made the decision to give in to Bill’s request and fairy-ball him in his gravesite. (That sounds like something I should try some Saturday night…) And this scene was truly the only sequence in the finale that held any real suspense for me. That was partially because I thought the drama was gripping, as Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin -- married in real life -- must have been Going Through It while dealing with some very deep emotions. But beyond that, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I kept waiting for Eric or Jessica to show up to force the cure on Bill. I even started to wonder if they were going to give us a big twist -- that because Bill became Hep V infected with fairy blood, and Sookie was going to use her fairy bomb, that it would not only cure Bill, but make him human again. Between his increase in body temperature and Sookie’s sudden ability to hear his thoughts, I really thought they were going that way. Which would have been bold, but infuriating to a lot of viewers.

But they went an arguably even more controversial route, by having Sookie choose not to use her fairy ball -- keeping her an outsider, by choice -- and instead killing Bill the old-fashioned way, with a stake. (Bill helped her make the final stab.) That was difficult to watch, and kind of upsetting. Sookie actually killed Bill. There’s no way around that. She put a stake through his heart and then ended up covered in his blood and offal. I did not expect that, at all.

Unfortunately, the rest of the episode wrapped up predictably, with a montage that jumped in time one year, then five years (I think). A brief rundown of where the characters ended up, most of it not terribly interesting.

-Eric and Pam decided to manufacture New Blood themselves -- with Sarah’s image on the containers, and pimped in a horrible infomercial that I think included a cameo by original Sookie Stackhouse author Charlain Harris -- and became mega, filthy rich. I mean, richer. They reopened Fangtasia and returned it to its hedonistic glory days, and charged vamp patrons $100,000 for 60 seconds with Sarah herself, who was chained in the basement. And she went fully crazy. So that was kind of a bummer.

-Jason ended up married to Bridget and had babies. No surprises there.

-A grand Thanksgiving dinner showed that all of the current couples -- LaFayette/James, Arlene/Paul, Sam/Nicole, etc. -- were still together. Again, no surprises, and frankly kind of boring.

-And finally, Sookie ended up pregnant by a man we never saw. We only know that he’s brown haired and had a beard. It was an interesting choice to not tell the audience who she ended up with, and I found the end of the scene where she killed Bill weirdly shot -- she walked out of the graveyard, and it seemed to me that she was headed a different direction than home. But regardless, it looks like Sookie got her normal life without giving up her extraordinary talents. And I guess that’s a happy ending? Maybe?

I just want to remind viewers that this show used to routinely feature town-wide orgies with meat pillars, ancient vampires with jars full of the remains of their staked gay lovers, white-trash wolf goddess Miss Deborah Pelt, vampires having their heads twisted 360 during particularly rough sex, death camps, the frequently nude body of Joe Mangianello, crazy inbred were-panther she-rapists, and even Minerva the Ghost Parrot. But we ended with everyone eating a nice Thanksgiving dinner and basically being nice and boring. This was the series finale equivalent of that functionally alcoholic, wild cousin you always admired coming home wearing pleated khakis and with fiancée named Peter. Peter is an insurance adjustor, has male-pattern baldness, likes birdwatching, and just can’t get enough of “Hot in Cleveland” or the sultry sounds of Michael Buble. I understand that we all have to stop being messy sluts at some point, but…not like this, “True Blood.” Not with a tasteful community turkey dinner. I bet they even served cranberry sauce from a can. FROM A CAN!!!

“Doctor Who” Series 8, Episode 1: “Deep Breath”

Posted By on Sun, Aug 24, 2014 at 6:59 PM

After nearly a year of teasing, we finally got to meet our new Doctor, Peter Capaldi. Of course, first episodes with new Doctors are tricky. The character himself doesn’t really know he really is, so it’s difficult for audiences to get a handle on him as well. I felt that way about Tennant and Eccleston in their first outings, and slightly less so about Smith. The new Doctor -- I’m honestly not sure what number we’re supposed to refer to him as at this point -- was all over the place this episode, pinballing from confused naïf to needy old man to heartless bastard. And honestly, I didn’t mind any of that. But the episode itself had some significant issues, most of them symptomatic of showrunner and episode writer Steven Moffat’s increasingly tiresome indulgences.

The set up: the people of Victorian London were astonished to find a Tyrannosaurus Rex stomping its way up and down the Thames. The police called in reptilian Sherlock Holmes analogue Madame Vastra, who of course brought along sidekicks Jenny and Strax, and gave the Victorian cops sophisticated alien technology that nobody bat an eye at, which served to keep the dinosaur penned in the river. And then it hacked up the TARDIS, which had been stuck in is throat.

That is, more or less, the entire extent of the dinosaur plot. It was brought through to Victorian days after it tried to eat the TARDIS, which was thrashing about through time during the Doctor’s transformation. Yes, the dinosaur played into the larger plotline, but in an extremely tangential way. It was basically just Moffat saying, “Look at how cool and awesome I am! I can have a dinosaur!” Lots of pretty, flashy things that ultimately mean very little. That’s Moffat for you.

The larger plot unfolded slowly -- too slowly, I would argue -- and involved cyborgs stealing human parts to stay alive. If elements of the villains (who I don’t believe were ever named) seem familiar, that is in part intentional, as this episode indirectly ties back to an episode from Series 2…also not-so-coincidentally written by Moffat, and featuring well-regarded monsters of his own design. And it ended with an odd epilogue that introduced what I assume will be a recurring nemesis for the new Doctor, Missy, a stern, vaguely batshit woman that at first blush seems to be made from the same mold as Madame Kovarian (the eyepatch lady who worked with the Silence to kidnap Amy’s baby, who never had a pay off) or Tasha Lem, the Mother Superious of the Papal Mainframe, who also basically went nowhere. I recognize that we saw Missy for literally 2 minutes, but my sense of déjà vu was powerful.

But the episode was ultimately much less about the villain of the week and more about establishing the new Doctor, his relationship with Clara, and his relationship with the viewers (that long exchange outside the TARDIS in Scotland felt like it was delivered less for Clara and more for this show’s legion of fairly new fans, who are used to cute young Doctors). And in those respects, it was a qualified success. I’ll break down what I thought worked, what didn’t, and what has potential.

WHAT WORKED:

-Capaldi is great when the Doctor is playing mindgames or being menacing. No surprise there. The rumor is that this is going to be a much darker Doctor, but the tone of this episode was all over the place. It worked best in the moments when the Doctor was showing us his dark side. There were moments where he felt a bit like Fourth Doctor to me -- dismissive of humans, yet still protective of them. I would like to see more of that and less of the puppy-dog stuff we got toward the end of the episode. But I like the moral ambiguity of the character and hope we get more of that.

-Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are always welcome, and they held this episode together from my standpoint -- especially Vastra, one of the few female characters Moffat writes well. (Possibly because there’s no male-female sexual dynamic there, as she is a lesbian and also a reptile? Discuss.) I will say, however, that Strax’s humor is starting to fall a little flat for me. There are only so many times the “all Earth creatures look the same to me” thing will be funny. But I did enjoy him beaning Clara with that newspaper. I also wonder if Moffat used the trio as a kind of crutch here, because if it was just Clara and the new Doctor, I don’t think this episode would have worked at all in terms of audience buy-in. Which brings me to…

WHAT HAS POTENTIAL:

-Clara. Going into this episode I hated Clara. Well, not hated. I was frustrated by her because she’s such a dud of a companion. Jenna Coleman is lovely, and the acting has been passable at least. But there’s no character there. Once the mystery surrounding Clara was resolved at the end of S7, we were left with, basically, a very cute girl who was often chipper but then sometimes cries. Seriously, if you had to describe Clara’s personality, how would you do it? There’s just no “there” there. Thankfully she got some meat put on to her character bones this episode, even if it seems a bit revisionist. Clara is now apparently an egomaniac and a control freak. I don’t recall that being the case prior to this, but hey, I’ll take anything I can latch on to.

I was also glad to see her show some gumption this episode. This was the most interested I’ve been in Clara since she was Oswin in “Asylum of the Daleks.” That said, after nearly a dozen episodes with her, she’s right down there with Martha as the least interesting of the modern companions. So I’m not all that upset to hear that Coleman’s leaving at the end of the season. Because even as the Doctor was asking for her help, I found myself extremely dubious that this mature, complicated man would really want to have this -- forgive me -- basic girl zipping around time and space with him. The pairing just doesn’t make sense to me. But she did grow on me this episode.

-The new TARDIS and the new intro look pretty enough (apparently the new intro was based off of a fan-made one?), although feel a little soulless. But we spent barely any time in the TARDIS this episode, so I’ll have to see more before I decide. I do dig the Doctor’s new duds, and am fascinated by the fact that he’s not overly attached to his sonic screwdriver. I can only recall him using it once or twice this episode. Clara used it more than he did. And it’s notable that he’s never using it in any of the promo materials.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK:

-The broad humor fell flat almost every time, especially when Capaldi was supposed to be handling it. I’m sure he’s a funny guy, and god knows he can let out a stream of insults that will curdle your innards. But he’s just not the right actor for the sillier moments called for this episode. What would have worked with Tennant or Smith seemed painfully awkward here, and I hope that Moffat and the writers recognize that and stop trying to force it. Different actor, different Doctor.Time for a different approach.

-Speaking of time for a different approach…how much longer with Mr. Moffat be running this show? Listen, he’s had a good run. He has contributed many great elements to the “Who” canon and he’s written some crackling episodes with iconic moments. But his flaws as a writer (and we all have them) have become more and more evident, and he doesn’t seem to be interested in hiding them, or in progressing creatively. This episode’s plot was classic Moffat: overly complicated, silly on the face of it (a hot-air balloon…made of human flesh), a specific tension-building gimmick (“Don’t blink!” “Deep breath!”), and everything was fixed tidy-widy with a deeply felt speech and one action. There’s a word, “contrivance.” It can be both a compliment or an insult. With Mr. Moffat, I used to apply it positively. I haven’t done so in a very long time.

As I said in the beginning, first episodes for new Doctors are always a bit of a mess. The audience doesn’t yet know its lead character. The lead character doesn’t himself. The companion is terribly confused, and sometimes even feels betrayed (Clara had good reason to at various points this episode). I left the episode without a firm grasp on Capaldi’s Doctor, but eager to know more about him. What did you think?

Monday, August 18, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 9: “Love is to Die”

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 4:00 AM

The wake for "True Blood" - which is really what the second half of this season has felt like - continued with more characters making their peace and accepting their fates. It's certainly not the most exciting way to wrap up a show - there is no Big Bad, no real threat left to menace our protagonists (except the Yakuza, but...come on). But I'm actually grateful that we get to see these characters prepare for the great TV graveyard in the sky. Most series finales give us maybe a 10-minute epilogue that shows us what happens to characters we've spent years watching. This show has given us half a season of people basically getting their affairs in order. That sense of finality is appropriate for a show that is, when you get down to it, largely about life and death. And that was underlined in the penultimate episode.

First, some housecleaning: Sam is gone. As in, totally packed up his trailer, resigned from his position as mayor, moving to Chicago to be with that supremely annoying woman and what I hope will be a litter of mogs (half man, half dog) in her uterus. We discover his abandonment of the town when Sookie and Jessica showed up at his trailer - for no reason whatsoever! - to find letters left for Sook and Andy Bellefleur. Sam laid out his reasoning, but it would resonate a whole lot stronger if he wasn't ditching a place he'd committed to leading for a person he knocked up within hours of meeting. The relationship between Sam and Nicole has been so poorly executed - in part because it happened so quickly, in part because Nicole is generally insufferable - that it has, in turn, made Sam radioactive for me. He was always a drip, but at this point, I'm glad he's gone. This show did that character very few favors. And Rob Ford is glad that at least in some fictitious universe, there is actually a mayor less competent than him. The upshot to the abrupt Sam defection: the TV show is definitely not going to end the same way the books did!

The bulk of the episode dealt with two love triangles: Sookie/Bill/Eric and Jessica/Hoyt/Jason (and all of the tertiary characters sucked into their drama vortices). Although it is arguably the more important one, I'll tackle the Sookie one first. Last episode ended with a cliffhanger, with Vampire Bill refusing to drink Sarah Newlin's blood, thus curing him of Hep V. Bill clumsily attempted to justify what is basically his elective suicide. Nobody in the room agreed with him (except for probably Sarah...), and in fact some responded by delivering multiple hard slaps to the face. Later, in a somewhat odd scene that I rather liked, Bill explained his reasoning to Eric: he's doing this for Sookie. As he has stated multiple times over the course of the series, he brings her nothing but darkness and death. Just as vampires are attracted to fairies for their light, fey are attracted to vamps for their dark. That may be the corniest analogy for the allure of a bad boy I've ever read, but damned if isn't pretty accurate. Bill knows that if he lives on, Sookie will never be free of him. And while it's never said explicitly, I got the strong impression that Bill was warning Eric off of her as well (this episode definitely was playing up the Eric/Sookie romance). So by accepting the True Death, Bill believes he is, in some way, VERY late in the game, being chivalrous.

Even though it's infuriating, this turn of events actually makes logical sense. Bill never wanted to be a vampire. He's been self-loathing ever since we met him. He did embrace his situation in the seasons where he was vampire king of Louisiana and (*shudder*) Billith. But in general, he has always resented what he was turned into. This current trajectory for Bill feels very full circle to me.

The Jessica plot is less instrumental to the show's endgame (I'm guessing), but had all The Feels. After Bill refused the cure, Jessica demanded that he release her from her maker bonds; he did so, and it was very sad. At first I worried that Jess was going to do something apocalyptically stupid - kill Sarah Newlin, attack the Yakuza, force Bill to drink the cure, go public with its existence - but instead she just went to Hoyt's house, where she interrupted another fight between Hoyt and his girlfriend, Bridget. This was a fairly selfish move on Jess's part, but at least she admitted it herself. After she started telling Hoyt about their shared past, which she glamored out of his memory, Bridget lost her shit, Jason came over, Hoyt punched Jason the eff out, and Jessica and Hoyt had several really lovely reunion scenes that essentially boiled down Jessica's whole existence on this show, and reminded us of how much she changed. And then, they totally did it. While the Bill and Sookie sex scene from two episodes back was hard to watch because it was just so...grim, this one was hard to watch because it seemed like something that should have really been private.

I was worried when the show brought Hoyt back, thinking that nothing good could possibly come of it for him, Jess, or Jason. But I was wrong. Unless something absolutely horrible happens next episode (TOTALLY POSSIBLE), it looks like Hoyt and Jess will get a happy ending. And that's so cute.

Meanwhile, Jason and Bridget predictably got together, but not TOGETHER together. The shared a few charming scenes, and Bridget determined that she was going to teach Jason how to be friends with a girl and not sleep with her. Which may be exactly what Jason Stackhouse needs. (It was actually a great Jason episode too, more or less distilling all of his best qualities. Minus the gratuitous nudity. Which was missed.)

Finally, in between playing Sookie's errand boy, Eric found time to finally have sex with Ginger. Kind of. In a spectacularly silly yet hilariously perfect scene, Ginger got to have her way with Mr. Northman, exactly as she had always imagined it. Readers, I'll need you to give me your interpretation of that scene, but I'm not sure Eric even, um, unsheathed, before Ginger went into a full-body climax and a beffudled Eric left her crumpled, blissed out, and snoring on the floor. Oh, Ginger. My hope is that, with Sam gone, she will be elected the new Mayor of Bon Temps. She cannot possibly be worse than her predecessor. And the mayoral fashions would be STUNNING!

Pam dyed Sarah Newlin's hair in preparation of selling her around to the highest Hep V-infected bidders, gave her some sage advice ("You were born a hooker, and you're going to die a hooker")...and then was promptly captured by the Yakuza. Again. This is at least the third time this season that Pam has been taken prisoner by the Yakuza. Humans. Just regular humans, with guns and swords. I've got a problem with that. Pam's characterization on this show has been problematic for a few seasons now, but based on the way they've treated her lately, she's either stupid or weak. I don't think either thing is true of Pamela de Beaufort. She has been turned into Bargaining Chip Against Eric more times than I care to count, and it's lazy, lazy writing. I think the show is better than that, and the character and actress SURE as hell are better than that. We ended the episode with her chained to a table by the Yakuza, a giant stake over her heart, as Mr. Gus grilled Eric about whether or not Sookie knew about Sarah/the cure. After Eric admitted that she did, Mr. Gus asked for her address, just as Vampire Bill came a-callin' at the Stackhouse Manse of Murder. So in the season finale, death is literally coming knocking on Sookie's door. Subtlety: this show is not interested in it, which is true to its nature. I wonder how many more people will die in that kitchen.

Next: IT ALL ENDS!

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 8: “Almost Home”

Posted By on Sun, Aug 10, 2014 at 11:13 PM

In this episode, Bill Compton cemented his place as the biggest idiot on this show. And that’s really saying something, given the terrible decision making all around, especially from the Stackhouse clan. But Vampire Bill is really the absolute dumbest.

Before we get into that, I realized about halfway through this episode that something wonderful has happened this season: I actually care about these characters again. I truly had had just about enough of all of them at the beginning of this season, with the exception of Jessica, who is never not great. But the emotional scene between Lettie Mae and Tara, the quiet conversation between Bill and Sookie, and the legitimate peril for Jason, Jessica, and Adilyn (I remain ambivalent about Wade) made me realize that I actually am invested in what happens to these characters.

And that really is where Season 7 is a success to me -- so far, at least. The mega plotline about the Hep V vamps and now the Yakuza and the Sarah Newlin cure -- it’s fine. Not exactly riveting, except for seeing how the main cast members infected by the disease will get out of their impending doom. But there has been some strong character work this season that reminded me why I liked this show to begin with. (Well, the characters and the campiness, and also all of the sex and nudity. Which has been in short supply lately, so please fix that, show.)

All that said, these people are still incredibly stupid.

First, we wrapped up the Lettie Mae/Lafayette/Tara/Reverend plot by having Lettie and Lala trip on James’s vampire blood while at Tara and Lettie’s old house. And this time, the Reverend joined them and realized that maybe his wife isn’t totally nuts. (Kidding; she is absolutely cuckoo.) They all had a shared vision of Tara, who kind of brought them back in time to her 5th birthday party, which was interrupted by Tara’s drunk, rageaholic asshole dad. The V trippers watched as Tara’s father assaulted Lettie Mae in the past, and child Tara took the man’s gun and aimed at him -- but did not pull the trigger. She then buried the gun in the backyard, which is what V apparition Tara was trying to show them in the present. This was a very roundabout way for Ghost Tara to essentially give Lettie Mae a Care Bear Stare: Lettiehas to forgive herself for letting Tara down, because Tara let HER down by not killing that bastard when she had the chance. (That is some deeply messed-up logic, by the way. “It’s OK that you became an abusive drunk, because I should have shot Dad years earlier.” GRIM.) But Ghost Tara gave Lettie the gift of closure, and that was really lovely. And I’m glad Tara got a proper send-off on this show, considering how integral she was to the earlier seasons. But that seemed like an awfully convoluted way to get to that resolution when your nephew is a guy who can channel spirits. (Also, the best part of this to me was the family currently living in the home, horrified as these vampire-blood junkies just dug up their yard and stomped through their house. Can you imagine?)

The Teen Sex Idiots in Peril plotline was resolved after Violet sent pictures of Adilyn, Wade, and Jessica in bondage (not, like, sexy bondage; actual bondage) to Jason, prompting him to head to Violet’s mansion. Coming along for the ride was Hoyt’s random blonde girlfriend, Bridget, who had a big blow-up with Hoyt over children, which amounted to basically nothing. Violet quickly dispatched Jason and was about to begin some truly twisted Spanish Inquisition-style torture before Hoyt barged in and shot her dead. From where did Hoyt come? Did he tail Jason the whole way? Violet is hundreds of years old and was taken unaware by a dude with a gun? One shot was all it took? Weak sauce, show. There was some nice symmetry in that Hoyt killed the woman who killed his mother, even if he’s completely unaware of that fact. But, like so many of this show’s Big Bads, it was quite anticlimactic. Also, thanks for waiting until her last two episodes to make me like Violet. A raving madwoman with massive insecurities and a sweet sex dungeon is a character I should not have to force myself to like. She could have been the second coming of my beloved elegant wereblossom, Debbie Pelt.

The out-of-left-field rescue threw Hoyt and Jessica together for several heart-tugging exchanges. It all reminded of me of how much I liked that character in the beginning, and how adorable he and Jessica were together. (And also, I forgot what a hot piece Hoyt is. Especially now that he’s got a bit of Alaskan oil-man swagger. Am I right, ladies?) I can’t see how any of that is going to end well, but I so loved seeing them together again.

But then, I also didn’t hate Sookie and Bill together this episode. I only hated them separately. After Eric was healed by doing a shot of Sarah Newlin, he randomly flew to Sookie to tell her he was OK. (Again, this seemed very weird to me -- especially since she was at Bill’s house at the time.) Dumbass Sookie then drove to Fangtasia to get the secret of the cure from Eric and had to deal with the Yakuza, who were…unpleasant. (Except for the beefy tattoed ones; they were fine.) There was a whole fake-glamouring scene that tipped off the head of the Japanese contingent that something was up, but I didn’t understand why Sookie didn’t use any of her mind-reading abilities or other tricks during this sequence. Ultimately she found out about Sarah -- who is really, truly crackers, referring to herself as a new messiah -- went back and got Bill, and they all waited around for him to be cured. And then Bill said no. He didn’t want to drink.

So, there you go. Vampire Bill had a cure right in front of him and he willingly passed it up. Going into that scene I figured one of three things would happen. He would either get JUST to the point of drinking Sarah and die in a bloody pile of veins and irony, he would go nuts and kill Sarah instead, or he would decide not to do it. The last one makes sense given Bill’s irritating self-loathing and his acceptance that he brings only darkness into Sookie’s world. (This was subtly -- excuse me, “subtly” -- driven home by Bill’s dream in which he and Sookie had a shadow baby. So, confirmed crossover: Sookie is Melisandre from “Game of Thrones” and the shadow baby that killed Gay Renly was her kid with Bill. You’re clever, HBO!)

And nobody thought of Willa whatsoever.

Monday, August 4, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 7: “This May Be the Last Time”

Posted By on Mon, Aug 4, 2014 at 7:45 AM

This fairly low-key episode was notable primarily for the next few stops on the Long-Gone Character Cameo Train. This time around we got more Hoyt, psychic torment courtesy of Steve Newlin (and a cameo by the decapitated former governor of Louisiana), fairy granddad Niall, and best of all, the long-forgotten Dr. Ludwig, who I don’t think we’ve seen since Season 2. Between then and now Dr. Ludwig has divested even more of her shits, and now she has absolutely none to give you. Onward!

The major tension from the episode came from three arcs: Eric and Pam tracking Sarah Newlin, Vampire Bill staving off death, and Violet toying with kidnapped sex idiots Adilyn and Wade. We’ll cover the last one first, since it’s the least important. Violet did not kill the teen lovebirds right away, instead taking them to a palatial mansion that she apparently owns -- the creepy portrait on the wall suggested as much. This house, which I’m guessing is not in Bon Temps, was dripped in finery and came complete with a well-stocked sex dungeon. (Sidebar: If Violet had this kickass pad somewhere nearby, why was she willingly living in Jason Stackhouse’s den of iniquity? If you are regularly screwing Jason Stackhouse and you have access to a tricked-out bone palace, you take Jason Stackhouse to the sex dungeon! This is common sense! As a viewer, I feel robbed of the opportunity to see Jason investigating that toy chest. Violet is truly the worst.) Anyway, at first Violet was a consummate host. After Adilyn and Wade realized that neither one of them was interested in Violet’s kinky wares, they had what was almost certainly terrible, awkward step-sibling intercourse. And then Violet woke up, entered in truly unfortunate negligee, and threw Wade around like a ragdoll before turning her attention and fangs on Adilyn. And that’s why you don’t follow some crazy-ass vampiress to a second location, kids.

Andy and Holly spent the episode aimlessly searching for the missing teens, randomly ending up at Holly’s ex’s lake house. There Andy had a good cry and Holly was really pretty awesome. She assured Andy that their story would have a good ending. I’m not sure about all that.

The highlight of the episode was, weirdly, Arlene. I felt like this episode was a lovely thank-you to Carrie Preston, who has been with the show since the beginning and sometimes stuck in some thankless storylines. As much as I loved cholita-glamour Arlene, I am digging more maturely dressed Arlene. More than that, she had a great scene with Sam in which she more or less told him he’d be wrong to ditch Bon Temps at Nicole’s request. And then she had a few scenes with her vampire paramour, Keith (I think), who would be a lot more attractive if he didn’t dress like the lamest member of a biker gang based out of Peoria, Illinois. Seriously, that wallet chain. You are 500-something years old. KNOW BETTER. The first scene was a V-induced dream, in which Arlene fantasized about hitting it with a vampire and also did not-right things on the bar’s pool table. The second scene was actually quite sweet, and very well acted by Preston. Someone needs to hire her after this show is over.

We got one brief scene with LaFayette and Lettie Mae digging holes in the backyard of Lettie Mae’s old house, so that storyline is still a thing.

Jason spent the episode shirtless, teasing Sarah Newlin with death via her mental breakdown (also sometimes shirtless), and quietly dying inside while trying to comfort Hoyt over his mother’s death. That was partially because his former best friend doesn’t remember Jason at all due to Jessica’s glamour, and partly because Jason couldn’t stop lusting over Hoyt’s very attractive new girlfriend. That is going to end in tragedy, and I’m actually kind of disappointed by that since Hoyt was the one character who had a really nice endpoint to his story. He got out, but they had to drag him back in.

Vampire Bill continued to have his very boring flashbacks to meeting his original wife. I hope those are building up to some big revelation, because otherwise the only worthwhile element is Bill’s luscious Civil War-era man wig. His rapid Hep V infection was more or less blamed on consuming Sookie’s fey blood, which does make for a kind of irony given the number of times Bill screwed her over. Sookie called irritable dwarf physician Dr. Ludwig, and she just walkeda round verbally slapping everyone. It was great. Eventually she ditched that situation when she discovered that Niall was Sook’s grandfather, stating she wanted no part of any of it.

Speaking of, professional Colonel Sanders impersonator Niall did appear, and I am pleased to report that RutgerHauer is now only marginally more bedraggled than he was the last time we saw him. Which, if memory serves, had him stuck in the hell dimension in which he trapped Warlo. So I have no idea how he got out of that. Sookie called Niall to help Bill, and after tricking her into making pasta (shifty fairy!), he said he’d try, even though he dislikes Bill. That was a lie too, and Niall essentially told Sookie that Bill done shit the bed. Sookie was not exactly grateful for the diagnosis. I’m hoping that’s the last we hear about Sookie’s fairy nature before the end of the series, because this show is incapable of executing anything fairy-related in a way that isn’t corny and lame.

Finally, Eric and Pam and the Yakuza interrogated Sarah’s vamp sister, until diseased Eric freaked out and staked her, snuffing out their only lead seconds after they discovered that Sarah actually has a cure to Hep V. Pam wants Eric to take it. Eric seems ambivalent about the prospect. The Japanese contingent wants to synthesize Sarah’s blood, sell it as New Blood, and use Eric Northman as their spokesvamp. Great idea;thos ads should feature as little clothing as possible. Just a tip.

Sarah ended up at the old Fellowship of the Sun compound from Season 2,where her descent into madness continued. Now, you would think that any of the people tracking this woman -- including the Japanese government, which presumably has significant technical and financial resources -- would take a moment and make a list of all the likely places Sarah might end up. Because I would put the Fellowship compound fairly high on there. And yet, there were no henchmen already waiting there, because these people are idiots who have let her escape two times already. The episode ended with Pam, Eric, and the Japanese arriving at the campus, which was not the most exciting cliffhanger.

Oh, actually, that’s not true -- the episode ended with Sookie and a Hep V-vein-covered Bill having unglamorous sex on the floor. Which was also not the most exciting cliffhanger. So there you go.

Monday, July 28, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 6: Karma

Posted By on Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 12:33 AM

Anyone who has ever had issues with lawyers needs to watch that magnificent segment with Vampire Bill and the attorney. And then they need to slow clap, clap, clap at its last 2 minutes, rewind, and watch it again. Seriously, that was a thing of beauty, and probably especially gratifying for anyone who has been on the wrong end of a lawsuit.

As has become the trend this season, this episode featured a lot of slow, quiet character scenes that orbited around one riveting sequence -- in this case, Bill’s ill-fated attempt to change his will. Overall I thought it was another solid episode for the show, and I found the Bill/Sookie storyline to be poignant in a way that I was not expecting.

Let’s start the dissection with that plotline. As we discovered last episode, Bill has contracted Hep V. He fairly calmly called a lawyer who apparently specializes in vampire end-of-life issues (which is weird, given what we found out about the legality of vampire wills this episode). In the waiting room, which recalled that scene from “Beetlejuice” to me, Bill discovered that his disease was progressing very rapidly -- he experienced the first signs the night before, but as he sat there the telltale veins sprouted up all across his extremities. Could this have something to do with Bill formerly being Billith? Could it have to do with his exposure to Sookie, who frankly is sometimes enough to make anyone sick? Could it simply be a plot device since we have only four episodes left? We will find out!

Jessica overheard Bill’s Hep V admission, and quietly imploded, because she is still a teenager, and she just found out that her father is dying. She made the ethically dubious decision of disclosing Bill’s diagnosis to Jason and Sookie -- next episode, Jessica will tape a PSA about the importance of HIPPA guidelines -- which sparked a pretty brutal realization on Sookie’s part: she is infected with Hep V, and she infected Bill. Remember the scene a few episodes back, before Alcide died (let’s all take a moment to reflect on his bare backside), when Sookie had cut her arms open to draw out the Hep V vamps and then was bathed in their blood when they got shot up by Those Idiot Townspeople? At the time I remember thinking, “Sookie, you need to get yourself to the free clinic stat, because you have ALL the diseases now.” And she has at least one: Hep V. There is something very interesting about a show that has been so steeped in casual sex for its entire run -- I mean, vampire fiction is by and large a stand-in for overt sexuality -- concluding with its three main characters all suffering from what is a very thinly veiled take on a sexually transmitted disease. Were I a member of the Slut-American community (*ahem*), I might feel as though my lifestyle was being judged here.

Jessica’s cry for help also set another plotline into motion. Violet, who overheard Jason and Jessica getting it on last episode, attempted to win Jason back by playing the subservient, nubile girlfriend. We’ve all been there, sister. I can’t blame a girl for using every weapon in her arsenal to keep her grip on Jason Stackhouse, even something as clichéd as rose petals scattered all over the place (that said, there is something unwholesome about rose petals on a Bud Light throw pillow). But Jason Stackhouse allowed his psychotic vampire girlfriend to go down on him basically just after he had slept with another woman. Vampires have heightened senses. They can hear and…taste things. I’m no expert on relationships, but it seems like a VERY BAD IDEA to let a 500-year-old crazy woman with fangs put her mouth anywhere near your junk after you have just intimately introduced it to another lady. I’m just saying.

Anyway, Jessica’s call to Jason prompted Violet to burst out in a rage, and then leave a note for Jason saying they were done. Jason read it and was all, “PIZZA FOR EVERYBODY!” Except it couldn’t possibly be that easy, because Violet is the swap meet, undead version of “Fatal Attraction.” And she has decided to take her vengeance on Jason and Jessica out on Adilyn and Wade -- Holly’s son -- who are totally doing it now, leading to a very nasty fight between Andy and Holly. Arlene fixed things, which, let’s be real: if you are taking marital advice from Arlene Fowler LenierBellefleur, look at your choices. Look at your life. Your months-old teenage fairy daughter humping on the son of your future witch wife is kind of the least of your worries, Andy. The episode ended with Violet tracking down the teen runaways and basically leading them to their deaths, because they are stupid and horny and all three are totally extraneous at this point. At first I questioned why Violet would choose this particular path for vengeance, but Adilyn is important to Jessica and, to a degree, Jason, since she is the daughter of his friend and coworker. I have to show respect to quality vindictiveness when I see it.

Elsewhere, LaFayette and Lettie Mae returned to Lala’s house to find Vampire James waiting for them. After a great eyeroll from Lettie Mae, who knows some lustin’ when she sees it, Lettie Mae quickly convinced James to give her some of his blood so that she could communicate with Tara. James encouraged LaFayette to join in, given the shared psychedelic experiences V can create. Thank you for being a walking plot device, James. But next time have the decency to do so without your shirt. While tripping, LaFayette and Lettie did interact with Tara, who led them on a merry chase to the cross with a snake we saw before, then a weird glimmering portal, and finally the rundown house where she lived with Lettie Mae. There Tara dug up the backyard in her discounted David’s Bridal gown. Before they could find out what she was looking for, Reverend Daniels woke them up just so he could dump Lettie Mae. Way to harsh a buzz, man. But LaFayette now believes that Tara really is trying to communicate with Lettie, and Adina Porter was amazing in those scenes, so it’s all for a good cause. (Bonus: absolutely nobody even mentioned Willa.)

Over on the Sam Merlotte Living Purgatory Hour, Sam continued his miserable existence by being told by his very pregnant girlfriend that she was leaving Bon Temps, and that he’d better come, too. Sam is, you may remember, the MAYOR OF THE TOWN, so there’s a flaw in that plan. Also, he considers Bon Temps his home, and he doesn’t want to leave. Nicole and her unwavering bitchface made it clear that she’s done, period. I might care about this storyline if Nicole had ever made one positive contribution to this program, and if it had anything to do with what else is going on, or if Sam had any nuts left at this point. But his life is truly a steady turd rain, and how do you root for a guy in that situation? Charlie Brown might have kept missing that football, but Sam is basically just kicking at open air, falling down, and getting shot and/or stabbed and emasculated at the same time.

That brings us to the Bill/Pam/Sarah Newlin plot, which finally explained why the Yakuza has been hunting Sarah for episodes. As predicted, the head of the Japanese company that manufactured True Blood wants her dead, on account of her orchestrating the tainting of his company’s No. 1 product, and the related total economic collapse of his company. The ninja gangsters captured Pam and Eric with remarkable ease (bearing in mind that Eric is severely weakened due to the Hep V), and yet somehow let Sarah escape AGAIN despite her being within yards of their goons for the second time in three episodes. After a time-wasting negotiation that basically just served to establish why these people want Sarah dead, Eric and Pam joined forces with their captors.

Sarah, however, had a surprise left for everyone. After breaking into her vampire sister’s home, Sarah explained that she really is a whole new person (vampire sister’s succinct dismissal of Sarah’s “New Me” act was great), and that all of this happened for a reason. Because, you see, she can save her sister. Because Sarah has the cure for Hep V. There was an antidote, and she chugged it before leaving Vampire Death Camp. So she’s now a walking sack of Hep V cure. I’m going to award 10 points to whoever posted on Facebook that that would be the twist, and also predict that in the next two episodes Sarah Newlin will become the world’s largest Capri Sun, as Bill, Eric, and whatever other sick vampires with names drain her dry. Bonus: they won’t even get that burning peroxide aftertaste now that she’s a brunette.

Monday, July 21, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 5: “Lost Cause

Posted By on Mon, Jul 21, 2014 at 8:46 PM

This week, “True Blood” turned into an adult version of “Can’t Hardly Wait” as basically the entire town descended upon Sookie’s Haus of Death for a swingin’ shindig where everyone made Big Life Decisions or slept with someone other than his/her partner. Plus, Eric dressed up like JR Ewing, the Yakuza shot up the George Bush Library, and we got something of a shocker ending.

But first: Sookie was very sad because her super hot boyfriend, Alcide, was murdered, and also because her life is basically a steady stream of torment and horror. Her friends, being the drunk sluts they are, decided that the way to address her totally justified emotional breakdown was to throw a “We Were Dying But Now We’re Fine” party. In Sookie’s house. Without asking her permission. Sookie, your friends are terrible.

The Happy Party took up the bulk of the episode and gave virtually every remaining cast member a nice moment or two. This was an episode very light on action and heavy on talking, but that reminded me that, underneath all of the ridiculous bullshit, “True Blood” is home to some talented character actors. To wit:

*Andy Bellefleur made good on his promise and proposed to Holly in a legitimately sweet scene. When this show began, who would have thought that Sheriff Andy would become its creamy nougat center?

*Arlene has an admirer in the musician vamp who saved her life last episode, but he seems like kind of a gentleman. And he’s already dead, so that should make him a good match for black widow Arlene.

*Jessica, finally unburdened by Andy over the whole eating-his-fairy-kids thing, spurned James’s amorous advances. This sent him straight into the welcoming arms of LaFayette, who confirmed the obvious -- that James was involved in a gay relationship around the time he was turned -- and then the LESS obvious -- that LaFayette is a top. Who saw that coming? Of course, Jessica walked in on LaFayette and James jeepin’ (well, SUVin’) and that was embarrassing for everyone, particularly LaFayette’s “I am not a minstrel and I deserve love” speech. We get it, LaLa. Although I did enjoy him calling out Jessica for being a shitty girlfriend, because that was kind of true.

*Jason went to comfort Jess and they, too, ended up boning. That’s fine, and expected, but I was most pleased that the show had someone verbalize how awful Violet is. That character’s continued presence baffles me. She obviously has a plotline now, as she overheard Jess and Jason hooking up, so SOMEONE is going to pay. But up until now she has always seemed like fodder that nobody remembered to kill off.

*Lettie Mae drugged the Reverend so that she could go to the party to get closure on Tara. And she delivered a lovely speech. And everything was going so well, until she lost her shit and attacked Willa with a knife so that she could use her blood to communicate with Tara again. So I guess that situation has yet to play itself out fully.

*Sam and his terrible wife/girlfriend/whatever totally killed the mood when she went off on a tirade about how screwed up the people of Bon Temps are by throwing a party after they were all nearly eaten. Oh, quiet, you. Your boyfriend got ripped apart by werewolves last season and the next episode you were screwing Sam, I believe with a dead woman’s kid in the very next room. Her claim that, “Things like this don’t happen in other towns” was also patently false since A) we saw a different town completely wiped out two episodes ago and B) in the Eric plotline this episode someone notes that half of America is being terrorized by Hep V gangs. So shut it, lady.

*Vampire Bill kept having extremely boring flashbacks to his Civil War days. They seemed barely relevant to the current goings-on in the episode, up until the episode-ending cliffhanger. Bath time with Bill came to a sad ending (we did get a butt flash, though) when Bill noticed the tell-tale Hep V veins sprouting up on his chest. That surprised me. Since they’re killing Eric that way, I didn’t think they’d also off Bill. Even though I don’t like them together, I just assumed Bill and Sookie would be together at the finale.

*Finally, in the Eric plot, he released Willa (at her request), but she had one more chance to play plot contrivance by directing Eric and Pam to Sarah Newlin’s vampire sister who lives in Dallas. You guys, just go with it. Also, Pam was hilarious in those scenes. Vampire Sister, who is ALSO dying of Hep V, pointed Pam and Eric to a swanky Republican fundraiser where the Newlin parents were likely to be, and also probably Sarah. And indeed she was there, telling her mother that the Yakuza were after her, right before the Japanese mafia stormed in and shot up the place. Eric intercepted Sarah, ripped the jaw off of one of the gangsters, and that’s where we left that. I’m not 100 percent sure why the Yakuza is after Sarah. I’m guessing it’s because she helped to orchestrate the Hep V-tainted True Blood scheme, which collapsed what must have been a very lucrative market for the crime lords. I’m also not sure how they missed Sarah last episode, since she was just in the kitchen of the guy they beheaded. You would expect ninjas to be more thorough in their death missions. Especially in this economy...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 4: Death is Not the End

Posted By on Sun, Jul 13, 2014 at 11:43 PM

The first half of Sunday’s episode felt like a LOT of filler. It was all character work that, arguably, needed to happen, but it felt obligatory rather than revelatory. But the second half of the episode really took off, featuring some great moments with Eric, Sookie, LaFayette, Bill, Jessica, and Arlene. And then it all climaxed with a thoroughly entertaining battle that featured so much glorious, blood-spattered death. For all my kvetching about this season, the assault on Fangtasia was one of the most satisfying sequences in “True Blood” history.

The episode opened very slowly, with Sookie and Jason informing the next of kin about the deaths of Alcide and Maxine Foytenberry. That meant brief appearances by Hoyt, all grubby and adorable on his oil rig (and still fully mindwiped), and Robert Patrick and his succulent man breasts. I can’t imagine we’ll see them again before the end of the show, but it continued this season’s apparent mandate of bringing back every character who ever uttered a line of dialogue. I look forward to seeing S2’s manservant Karl bringing in towels when nobody wants them.

After Sookie basically told Jason to sack up and be a man (Jason has truly become useless on this show, hasn’t he?), she got to work telepathically forcing a still-in-shock Holly to remember her captivity at the hands of the Hep V vamps. Andy Bellefleur was none too pleased with her methods, but it worked: the Keystone Kops of Bon Temps finally knew that the remaining damsels in distress were stuck in the basement of the most obvious hiding place ever, Fangtasia. Holly may now be a mental and emotional wreck, but that’s what she gets for working at Merlotte’s in the first place.

Before we got to the inevitable siege of Fangtasia we got several interesting character moments. In the quickest possible fashion:

-The Jessica situation was finally addressed, as James, Bill, and Sookie held an intervention after discovering that Jess has basically not eaten in months, since she ate those fairy kids. She cannot forgive herself for what she did, nor could she again drink from an innocent person. Sookie gave her one of the most brutal tough-love speeches I’ve ever heard, but it was actually LaFayette who brought Jess around by confessing that he murdered the love of his life, Jesus, and still has not forgiven himself for it. (Throughout it all James looked on like a sad vampiric puppy -- albeit one with great pecs). Another point toward Season 7: LaFayette has been a mess on this show since the season of unfortunate possessions, and I’m so glad that he’s awesome again.

-A good chunk of the episode was devoted to flashbacks showing how Pam and Eric started Fangtasia. While this wasn’t the most interesting use of time, it did give us Pam and Eric through the decades, including Pam in more fabulous 80’s jumpsuits and, amazingly, 90’s Eric in Color Me Badd drag. It also gave us their first meeting with Ginger, a college film student whose style icon was clearly Lisa Loeb. I totally want a spinoff with our favorite vampires appearing in various decades, wearing hilariously bad fashions and rolling their eyes at stupid humans. Make this happen, HBO! I am dying to see Bill Compton as Disco Stu (because you KNOW he was that guy).

-Eric and Pam arrived in Bon Temps intending on picking up Willa, who is justifiably pissed at Eric for being abandoned essentially right after being sired. But, predictably, they got drawn into the big-picture drama and joined the crusade against the Hep V vamps. Prior to that Eric and Sookie had a little chat that reignited the Eric-Sookie relationship I had thought totally extinguished at this point. But never count out the power of a smoldering Eric Northman.

The actual Fangtasia battle scene brought together virtually every major plotline this season. The Hep V vamps had just started draining Arlene dry when the healthy vamps started their rescue attempt. Just as that situation blew up the Roaming Vigilante Idiots showed up in an SUV and started throwing Molotov cocktails. So you had essentially three armies converging on one place, and it was a literal bloodbath, with apparently all the Hep V vamps wiped out and all of the major players in the Vigilante Idiot group killed off (poor Kenya got battering rammed to death!). I will admit to cackling like an idiot at the sprays of blood going off every five seconds, like some kind of Kool-Aid-sponsored water park ride.

And then, something unexpected: genuine emotion. Arlene was in a very bad way after the Hep V vamps had turned her into Louisiana’s largest juicebox. When Sookie found her she was fading fast, and calling it out for Terry Bellefleur. Sookie begged Arlene to hold on, but via her telepathy saw that Arlene was actually seeing and hearing Terry speak to her from the other side. For a few seconds I wondered where this whole thing was going, and I found the whole sequence riveting. It was like Whoopi Goldberg in “Ghost.” I mean that as a compliment. (Autumn Sunrise! You like it?) Eventually some random musician vampire -- a friend of James -- gave Arlene some of his blood, and she opted to stay alive. Terry told her to be happy. Maybe I’m a sap, but I liked that whole scene. It took me back to a place where I still liked Arlene and Terry, before that Ifrit business essentially ruined both characters. (And BTW: Arlene is totally going to start banging that vampire now.)

So four episodes in we’ve wrapped up the major threat introduced at the beginning of the season and rearranged the pieces on the chessboard for the final push. I’m not entirely sure what comes next. Obviously Eric’s disease has to be addressed. We have the lingering Sara Newlin plotline. The emerging love triangle between Jessica, James, and LaFayette. Those are all very character-based narratives, and I suspect that is where they’re going to take us: the big mega-arc is mostly done, and now the show is just figuring out where to leave these characters. I find that refreshing. Mind you, it could all go to shit next episode. But the preview has Ginger riding another bucking coffin, so it really can’t be all that bad.

Monday, July 7, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 3: “Fire in the Hole”

Posted By on Mon, Jul 7, 2014 at 12:23 AM

I literally moaned, “NOOOOOOOOOO!” multiple times during Sunday night’s episode. I guess that means the showrunners are doing something right. I am invested, OK?! I thought I was totally ambivalent about this dumb show but there were two moments there that REALLY hurt. It was also an awfully preachy episode. I felt like it should have ended with one of the cast members talking about condom usage and responsible gun ownership, capped with a star wipe. The more you know…

This episode felt way longer than an hour, probably because it was split up over a shit ton of characters. I will try to go over the details as efficiently as possible, but I’m sure I’ll forget stuff. Feel free to bring up anything I missed in the comments.

-Picking up from last episode, Pam and Eric had several emotional scenes that verified what we assumed: Eric has the Hep V and is really pretty cool about dying at this point. He has HAD it. The analogy between Hep V and the recent uptick in AIDS rates was hammered home in some of the most ungainly dialogue yet this season. And we got some flashbacks that were both great -- Eric and Pam looking awesome in 80’s clothes! Eric banging a nubile French lass in the moonlight! NAN FLANAGAN!!! -- but also frustrating in that Eric’s chosen place of death is tied to a character we never even heard about before. I kind of saw where the show was going here, establishing that Eric has a history of periodically making very stupid decisions because he falls hard for certain humans, as he did with Sookie. (I wondered if perhaps Sylvie was part fairy, but that’s strictly me overthinking things.) But regardless, this is not the way Eric Northman should be going out. As a sad, bored vampire willingly dying from a disease while hanging around where some girl he banged in the 80’s used to live. Thankfully Pam prompted him into action by dangling the knowledge that Sara Newlin stills lives, so we won’t spend the next few episodes watching the erstwhile Viking warrior succumb to Hep V while Pam cries bloody tears on a fainting couch. That’s good.

-Speaking of Sara Newlin, she reappeared with a new darker hair color and an interest in Eastern spirituality in what I can only describe as an ill-considered crossover with Mike Myers’ “The Love Guru.” But more Sara Newlin is always a good thing, even if she’s just doing yoga, picking out wine, and exploring tantric sex with Yogi Bear. Plus: corporate ninjas!

-Back in Bon Temps, Sam wasted yet more precious daylight talking about Jesus with the Reverend before Sam and the dishy gay vamp got ambushed by the gun-toting townspeople. Gay vamp was killed off quickly, and then Sam turned into an owl and got shot at a lot. Sam Merlotte is truly Bon Temps’ Rob Ford.

-Jessica and Andy rescued Adilyn and cockblocked Holly’s poor son simultaneously. Efficiency at work! They dropped the kids off at Jason’s house -- a great environment for horny teenagers -- and were joined by Jason and awful, awful Violet to track down the roaming, gun-toting townspeople. I guess. Motivations are becoming quite suspect at this point. I mean, I get that the unruly mob is a source of major danger, but Andy and Sam at least have significant others abducted by ravenous, diseased vamps. So the fact that they’re pressing pause on that to go after a bunch of soccer moms and drunks with guns is somewhat questionable. Anyway, the cops and vamps ran afoul of the mob, Jessica got shot -- not killed, but shot (again it’s pointed out that she is not healing properly) -- and then Violet ripped out Mrs. Fortenberry’s heart. That would be “NOOOOOOOOO!” No. 1. The rest of that mob can eat a bag of Hep V-infected dicks for all I care; Maxine was television gold and we are poorer for having lost her.

-Speaking of Hep V, the sick vamps had to go on another hunting expedition and decided to take one of their prisoners along to feed on, like trail mix (that was pretty funny). They selected Holly after one of them interrupted her leading the other prisoners in an incantation. I’m glad the show finally remembered that Holly is a witch. She may not be throwing around massive spells like Doctor Strange, but I’m glad she was trying SOMETHING.

-Our other resident magic user, LaFayette, was on another plane himself -- the pharmaceutical one. LaFayette had himself a little party for one with a bunch of happy pills, and Vampire James came over to look broody and mumble a lot. They talked about how awesome drugs are and LaFayette whipped up a little cocktail, which James then sampled via blood suck. There was a moment where James thought LaFayette had OD’d, but of course Miss LaFayette is harder to kill than that. (Just ask that poor faux voodoo lady who took his place in the back of the car at the end of S1.) The basic gist: LaFayette has decided to embrace the fucked-up present by getting as fucked up as possible, and James is definitely interested in LaFayette but conflicted about Jessica. It’s very latter-season “90210,” but with fangs.

-Willa and the Revered had a nice discussion about salvation and addiction, and nobody cares about those characters.

-That leaves us with That Idiot Sookie, whose plan became clear. She wanted to use her role as Bon Temps’ go-to vampire bait to lure the Hep V vamps into taking her back to their nest, and Vampire Bill could track her back there because she took his blood. It’s not a terrible plot, although it made me wonder: have none of the people in the Fangtasia basement ever taken blood from any of the vamps left on this show? Anyone want to fact check that? Arlene seems specifically questionable to me. Furthermore, given the heavy vampire connection, not one person has thought to maybe check Fangtasia by now? I realize they’re all very busy talking about Jesus, but still.

The Sookie and Bill scenes were, if I’m being honest, some of the best moments we’ve seen from either character this season. That’s damning with faint praise, since I still wanted Sookie to shut up about rollercoasters and for someone in production to recognize what a deeply unflattering angle they were using to shoot Stephen Moyer. But the two characters have chemistry, even if I hate them together at this point. I had a moment where I gritted my teeth because they seemed to be setting up a very easy out that would basically absolve Bill for all the shitty things he’s done to Sookie -- after being totally drained last season he’s a “new vampire.” But they also seemed to close that door, so we’ll see.

-And then: tragedy. The sick vampires did in fact come for Sookie, Vampire Bill was taken out very quickly (great plan, you guys -- the sick vamps would never think to look for a guardian hiding in a tree WHEN SOOKIE WAS TALKING DIRECTLY TO HIM THE WHOLE TIME), and Sam, Jason, Violet, Andy, Jessica, and Alcide all showed up at the same time to rescue her stupid ass. The shootout took out several more of the infected vamps, but then the gun-toting townspeople showed up and THEY started shooting, and THEY KILLED ALCIDE! They shot his beautiful, brick-shithouse body full of holes! NOOOOOOOOOOO! This was so upsetting to me. I mean, Alcide’s character had become largely thankless over the past few seasons, especially since he became Sookie’s doormat boyfriend. But he still existed, and he was still frequently shirtless and occasionally pantless. You deserved better, Alcide! We all deserved better. At least you died the way we would like to remember you: completely naked.

There was a coda, with Sookie refusing to let the vampires present turn Alcide instead of letting him die because, “I’ve been down that road before.” For all my complaining, I think the writers are doing a decent job of showing us that, while still an idiot, Sookie has actually learned some things over the course of this series. (I also thought her speech to Bill about her feelings for Alcide was solid, and something I suspect most people can relate to.)

So thus ends the lives of Alcide and Maxine. Two great characters who shall be missed. The question is, who dies next? I’m more convinced than ever that by the time we get to the series finale there will be like five people left. That’s it. (And watch, two of them will be Violet and Willa.) They really are killing everyone off. We should start a death pool predicting who will die which episode. Put all your bets on Ginger to be the last person standing, screaming her head off as we roll to credits.

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