You know what’s the key to enjoying True Blood these days? Tempered expectations. It means coming to terms with the fact that “guilty pleasure television” always means you’re going to feel a little guilty about watching it (the sad fact is that there’s people out there who thinks this program still has any intention of being legitimate, significant television). Although this season has managed to be less on the side of poorly written fan faction (what with the show’s never ending preoccupation with who’s fucking who), it’s not exactly high brow. It doesn’t even have the allegorical or character driven strength of other popcorn programs like Angel or Doctor Who. The show used to have something so unique that it made it stand out from the rest of the crowd. It began more as a pitch-black comedy with a healthy dose of fantasy and romance. That got lost somewhere over the years. It still has some unique appeal that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s the something that brings me back against my better judgment (and keeps me writing about the show). Part of its the cast. I’ve become so invested in the residents of Bon Temps over the year that barring a complete implosion of quality (which nearly happened last season), I have to see the show through to the end. Also, I hate to admit that for someone who goes long stretches without a girlfriend (I’ve been single for two months now and was single three years preceding my last relationship), the pure, undeniable sexiness of the program keeps me coming back. I hate that about myself.

Continuing my pattern established with the season’s first two reviews, paragraph one is Sookie, Bill, and Eric. Paragraph two is everyone else. Sookie and Lafayette continue their search for Tara. However, she’s ran off to Sam at Merlotte’s after she nearly fed on a strange woman on the streets (she stopped herself at the last second). Sam has to lock Tara up in the freezer for the day and it doesn’t take long for psychic Sookie to figure out where Tara is. Sookie’s life continues to be complicated when Andy Bellefleur asks her about the disappearance of Debbie Pelt (though he doesn’t particularly suspect Sookie) and Alcide comes sniffing around as well. When Tara wakes up at night (and reveals to the chatty Arlene that she’s a vampire), Sookie’s life gets even worse when Tara reveals to Alcide that Sookie is hiding something and Sookie has to admit to a distraught Alcide that she killed his ex-fiancee. In Bill and Eric-ville, they’ve been commissioned by the Authority to kill the not-dead Russell Edginton. However, they’ve also been equipped with chest harnesses known as iStakes which will kill them the second they try to flee or pull a fast one on the Authority. They are both seduced by the gorgeous Salome (who apparently played a part in the beheading of John the Baptist which means she’s even older than Eric). She was trying to determine for one last time where their loyalties live and whether they’re Sanguinistas (vampire fundamentalists intent on destroying the mainstreaming movement and subjugating humanity under the boot heel of vampires). They seemed to be clear although Eric’s sister, Nora, admits to being a Sanguinista although its unclear whether that’s true or she was giving  in to torture.

As for everyone else, Pam gets the award (again) for most interesting story of the week. After she and Sookie get into a fight at Fangtasia (and Sookie goes full on fairy light beam power on her), Pam has the chance to reminisce more on her initial meetings with Eric (when she was a 19th century madam at a bordello) as well as the first time Eric met Bill (because Bill and Lorena were the vampires draining her prostitutes). She wants Eric to turn her into a vampire because she doesn’t want to face the miserable life that all madams of that age faced when they got old. Eric doesn’t want to do that to her (this seems like a surprisingly kind and sensitive Eric compared to how he turned out before becoming an amnesiac) but when she slits her wrists and gives him the option to either turn her or watch her die, she has no choice. Tara’s story was also interesting and it was cool to see her being able to resist the temptations that none of the other vampires we’ve seen in the show could turn down. Also, the fact that she seemed to be about to commit suicide with a tanning bed at the end of the episode (with Pam realizing what’s happening) made for another interesting turn. I don’t know how things are going to go with Aclide, who was confronted by Debbie’s parents about her disappearance. He hasn’t been as interesting as past seasons (although to be fair, he hasn’t had much to do). Lafayette finally had a plot development that was about him and not his friendship with Sookie. Towards the end of the episode, he was re-possessed by the evil witch spirit and he poured bleach in the gumbo (and realized at the last second what he’d done and stopped himself). The Terry/Arlene story also didn’t really move forward much other than Terry and Arlene having a fight after Arlene pushed him to solve this mystery in the first place. The other big story was Jason meeting the teacher he may or may not have lost his virginity to in high school (I thought that was the implication) and realizing with the help of Jessica (who encountered a fairy) that he was using sex to fill the hole in his life and he wants to get his shit together.

My sister is decidedly against this whole “Sanguinista” storyline but I kind of like it. One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about True Blood is the way that it uses vampirism as a reflection of modern religious attitudes (particularly against homosexuals although the vampires as gays metaphor is sort of a broken Aesop since the vampires on this show are kind of inherently a little evil), and the whole Sanguinista movement seems like another fun way to poke fun at the religious right (now that the Fellowship of the Sun is apparently disbanded and Steve Newlin has become the new Nan Flanagan). Obviously, the Authority has its own serious, serious flaws so it’s once again kind of a broken Aesop, and I actually suspect that they have their own dastardly ulterior motives about humans. They’re just better at hiding it all so far. It’s the way that they use words like “apostate” and the highly ritualized nature of their actions that makes me suspicious. The stuff with Pam having flashbacks to her time with Eric before she turned (and I’m presuming now we’ll see what it was like when she first turned) has been the best thing the show’s done since Season 3. It’s very, very interesting and Pam is one of the better characters on the show. I’ve completely written Sookie off as the worst main character on TV right now. The only woman who’s become more boring and useless than Sookie is Betty Draper (and I don’t hate Sookie. I fucking loathe Betty). Jessica hasn’t had anything interesting to do yet this season either (although the arrival of fairies may change all of this) and her stories with Jason haven’t really connected with me like they did last season.

I’m about to eat lunch (my sleep schedule is a little off. I know this) so I’ll draw my ramblings about True Blood to a close. For what the series tries to be, which is a fantasy-driven romance (with elements of dark comedy and light political allegory), the season has been a success so far. It’s not great, but I’ve enjoyed it, and unlike previous seasons, there isn’t a single storyline that I actively despise and certain people are stealing the show (Steve Newlin has become a surprisingly hilarious/great character as has Christopher Meloni’s Roman). I’m ready to see more Russell. The show is taking its sweet time bringing him back into the fold. Hopefully, that means the pay off his reappearance will be worth the wait. Next week, we’ll be a quarter of the way through the season, and hopefully by the end of that episode, we’ll have a better idea about where the season is heading and since we’ve reached the fifth season of the program (HBO dramas traditionally rarely last more than six or seven seasons), maybe we’ll get hints of what the end game of this program is starting to look like. Dexter has already ran for far too long. I’d hate to see True Blood suffer the same problem.

Final Score: B

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