Tag Archive: Anna Paquin


Margaret

(Quick aside before I actually start the review. The only reason that You Can Count on Me [the last film to get the elusive score of A+ on this blog] jettisoned to the top of my Netflix queue a month or so ago was that I suddenly saw a flare-up of internet news about the latest film from writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, Margaret. Author Bret Easton Ellis said it was his favorite movie of 2011, and reviews had been top-notch across the board [for those rare people who saw the film when it was originally released]. Margaret‘s production process will likely be one of the most legendary in the industry as principal photography ended in 2007, and Lonergan spent the last five years mired in development hell as he fought with the studios about how to edit the film. It was worth the wait because Lonergan now joins Federico Fellini as the only director to have two films get an “A+” on my blog and the only director to have all of his films get this rare score. He is a truly underappreciated master.)

The defining trait of writer/director/playwright Kenneth Lonergan is his gift to ensure that no scene in any of his works plays out the way Hollywood conventions expects it to. When, in You Can Count on Me, Mark Ruffalo’s drunken Terry stumbled into his nephew’s (Kieran Culkin) bedroom and began insulting the boy’s father, no lessons were learned. A family didn’t come closer together. A precocious 11  year old didn’t teach grown-ups about the beauty of life. Instead Kenneth Lonergan delivered family. He delivered it without varnish, embellishment, or bullshit. There was a logic to the actions of Terry and Samantha Prescott, but with such complexity of character and a devotion to the chaos and impertinence of real life, you were never quite sure what they were going to do next. The only thing you knew was that Lonergan was going to provide an insight into the truth of familial relationships with more veracity than any writer before (or since).

You Can Count on Me was one of those rare films that I could describe as being practically perfect. Lonergan’s focus was razor sharp, and the dialogue remains some of the most realistic of any film I’ve ever watched. His follow-up, last year’s Margaret, widens Lonergan’s scope as he tackles the sort of existential and philosophical questions that were previously the domain of Ingmar Bergman (guilt, responsibility, burgeoning sexuality, and mortality). Along with the film’s heavier themes than its predecessor, this cerebral approach could have robbed Lonergan of the quiet beauty that made You Can Count on Me so remarkable. Thanks to a profound refinement of his filmcraft as well as fierce lead performances and his typically prescient evaluation of human relations, Margaret may not hit its marks in every second of the film (as You Can Count on Me did), but it transforms itself into a far more grand and rewarding experience.

Here’s a moment that, handled by any other director, could have been a trite and sentimental trainwreck. A self-involved but highly intelligent seventeen year old girl (Anna Paquin) in NYC is desperately searching for a cowboy hat for a horse riding trip with her distant father on the west coast. When she sees one on a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo), she tries to get his attention even though he’s driving away. As he half-flirts with her through the closed doors, the driver runs a red light and fatally mangles the body of a woman (Juno‘s Allison Janney). Immediately crippled by the guilt of the tragedy she inadvertently caused, the girl (Lisa Cohen) rushes to be by the woman’s side to comfort her as she dies. Far more panicked than the dying woman herself, Lisa finds herself soaked in the blood of the dying woman who confuses her with her daughter before she slides out of her mortal coil.

There are a million ways that scene could have played out that wouldn’t have rang with the same truth as Lonergan’s brutally honest approach. The dying woman could have made some profound speech as she died. The death itself could have been more noble or less messy. Lisa could have been a too effective comforter. The people (not doctors) futilely trying to save the woman’s life could have been to clean cut and efficient. Instead, it was the opposite of all of that. The woman rages against the senselessness of what has just happened to her. Lisa tries to help the woman and keep her calm, but mostly she just pisses her off even more and confuses her. The civilians trying to help try to place a tourniquet but they don’t get it right until it’s too late. Allison Janney’s in the film for all of five minutes but displays an economy of performance that put most of this year’s Oscar nominees to shame.

And the rest of the film spirals off from that tragedy. Wrecked with guilt about her role in what happened, Lisa originally lies to the police to protect the bus driver because she knows he didn’t do it on purpose. Still as her self-loathing and self-flagellation progresses, Lisa’s life implodes as her self-destructive behavior takes it toll on everyone around her, including her actress mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron). Doing drugs, having promiscuous sex, and even beginning a relationship with one of her teachers (Matt Damon), Lisa scourges herself because she can’t face the fact that she was involved in the death of that woman. Even after she tells the police the truth about what happened (and they do nothing because he wasn’t criminally culpable), Lisa and the deceased’s closest friend, Emily (Jeannie Berlin) lead a quest to hold the bus driver and the bus company legally responsible for what occurred (although Lisa’s motives are perhaps less cavalier).

Had Margaret been released in 2007 or 2008 as originally intended (instead of being haunted by a mountain of legal problems and its massive editing fiasco), Anna Paquin would have likely won her second Academy Award. Fierce barely begins to cover it. Much like Natalie Portman in Black Swan, this is the sort of transformative and mature performance from a young actress that shoots them to superstardom. Since Paquin already has an Oscar (as well as a Golden Globe for True Blood), she’s already a celebrated and respected starlet, but nothing in her past could have prepared audiences for this. Paquin may have been 23 while shooting the film, but it may be safe to say that no one has captured the confusion and tragedy of youthful indiscretion this well since James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. If she doesn’t leave you heartbroken, you may not have a  heart to begin with.

You may initially be thrown off by the idiosyncratic vocabulary of Lisa. She can slip in and out of a reasonable discussion of the Earl of Gloucester in King Lear into a volley of “like”s and “totally”s that would make a cast member of 90210. It never seems artificial or forced, just a little weird (though no other characters in the film speak like that). When the big moments arrive though, Paquin taps into something so deep that she nearly overwhelms the film. Whether it’s the nonchalant way she calls up a local boy (Kieran Culkin) to take her virginity or how she explodes on a police officer when he informs her they can’t prosecute the bus driver or breaks down when her dramatics finally isolate her from her one remaining friend, Paquin’s dramatic range is total and whether the scene calls for understated subtlety or explosive emotion, she dominates the film.

If it’s possible, J. Smith-Cameron was even better as Lisa’s beleaguered mother. In the pantheon of realistic and and tormented cinematic mothers, she is only equaled by Thirteen‘s Holly Hunter and Terms of Endearment‘s Shirley MacLaine. Rather than simply acting as an accessory to the emotional turmoil and ethical quandaries facing Lisa, she’s a full-fledged character in her own right. And J. Smith Cameron imbues Joan with all of the bitterness of having a daughter who doesn’t appreciate her, the loneliness of a grown woman in her 50s without love, and the fears of an actress on the cusp of success. Just like Lisa, Joan is an emotionally demanding role and like all great Kenneth Lonergan roles, it slowly reveals itself in front of the audience. No film in recent memory could have a scene where a mother angrily calls her daughter a cunt and you sympathize more with the mother.

You Can Count on Me was a brilliant example of the strengths of raw storytelling and fully realized characters, but the film often felt visually flat. As a playwright, it was understandable that Lonergan focused on the aspects of writing that he knew better than the visual possibilities of cinematic storytelling. Well, the intervening years since You Can Count on Me have obviously been kind to Mr. Lonergan because Margaret is a far more visually lush and ambitious film. Knowing when to let the actions speak more clearly than his dialogue ever could, Margaret incorporates multiple, long moments without any dialogue. Whether it’s Lisa’s guilt-ridden walk home after having her own narcissism thrown in her face or simply letting the camera linger on the subtleties of Joan’s face as she and Ramon take in a night at the opera, Lonergan found a visual muse as powerful as the forces shaping his dialogue.

Not since The Tree of Life have I watched an American film so committed to asking serious questions about our place in the world. Where The Tree of Life focused more on existential matters of love, death, and the relationships between fathers and sons, Margaret explores the ethical side of the philosophy coin. As Lisa begins her quest to bring the bus driver and the company to justice, she claims it’s because she wants the people who did wrong in this scenario to take responsibility for what they did, but honestly, she’s just as interested in finding a way to shift blame from herself. Is there even such a thing as justice? What are the motivations that our heroes and heroines have for trying to ruin the life of a man who killed a woman in an accident? In so far as Margaret gives you answers at all, none of them are easy, and they force you to confront some of the uglier sides of human nature.

(side note. I started this review several days ago but haven’t been able to finish it because I’ve been working and it’s freshman move-in weekend at WVU. I’ve been busy helping my sister. Very little time for writing). Although I’m not a fan of phrases like, “people don’t make movies like this anymore,” one could be tempted to use it to describe the works of Kenneth Lonergan. However, that wouldn’t even be appropriate because nobody makes movies like Kenneth Lonergan. The emotional pay-off of his films and the attention to detail and realism in his characters is simply peerless. Perhaps it’s because he has a film production schedule that rivals the deliberateness of Terrence Malick, but if this man were to release films more often (and he has plenty of time to make more films), he could gain a reputation among film connoisseurs as being one of the greatest screen-writers of the last 30 years. Here’s praying that the production issues that plagued Margaret don’t impede Lonergan from blessing audiences with more of his great works in the future.

Final Score: A+

My mind is still a mess right now of different stories and random observations. I’ve watched another episode of the disc of Angel that I’ll be reviewing next and I’ve got not one but two movies left to review. I got my power back in 24 hours so I can’t complain too much about the massive power outages on the East Coast (600,000 West Virginians were without power)), but I’m not going to lie. It’s still putting a cramp in my writing. I’m going to be so happy when I finally get the rest of this out of the way. Sunday brought us back to Bon Temps and while I just read a recap of the episode, the details are still a little fuzzy in my mind. One thought from Sunday evening has managed to stick with me though. This is going to prove to be a very divisive season. Based on my sister’s reaction to the whole Authority story line alone (as well as general buzz across the blogosphere), it is proving to be rather unpopular among the fandom. The introduction of vampiric religion and the Sanguinista fundamentalist cult is causing some vexation. I enjoy it (infinitely more than last season’s witch yawn-inducers), but I can see how the slower pace and universe building is going to be a turn off to people who simply turn into True Blood for the sex and violence.

Sookie didn’t have a lot to do this week (although she potentially added someone else to do at the end of the episode…), but let’s face it, when was the last time Sookie was a worthwhile character. She is overwhelmed with guilt about killing Debbie Pelt and having Tara turned into a vampire. After admitting to Alcide that she killed Debbie, she only wants to continue doing the right thing to get herself out of the hole she’s in. She admits her crime to Jason (and Jessica) but he refuses to turn her in. Sookie and Lafayette finally fight about what they’ve done and he goes all evil witch on her car (unknowingly to normal Lafayette) and she nearly dies when her car careens out of control. Sookie decides to get absolutely wasted at her house to ease the pain of what she believes will be her impending trip to prison when Alcide shows up. He lied to Debbie’s parents and told them that Marcus killed Debbie (and that he killed Marcus for doing it). After the two bond over some booze, they start making out (as Bill and Eric watch). Speaking of the thorns in the Authority’s side, Bill and Eric are finally released from the Authority’s custody (but they still have their iStakes attached) to find the AWOL and dangerous Russell Edginton. Since only two other people knew about Russell’s fate (and Alcide was the one that tipped them off to what happened), they believe that Pam might have been the one to free Russell. Obviously, she would never betray Eric and is deeply hurt that she would accuse him in the first place. By the end of the episode, Eric has released Pam from his command in order to protect her.

As for everyone else, things are hit or miss in the eventful department. Pam saves Tara from her suicide attempt via tanning bed by using her maker “command” powers and later forces her to feed from a “willing” human (she could have been glamored). That’s basically it. Andy wants to continue the investigation into Debbie Pelt’s disappearance (even though her parents have dropped it and left town) but Jessica glamors him into believing that the investigation is finally over. Andy and Jason are invited to a fairy brothel (no I’m not making that shit up) by the local judge whose son Andy helped get out of a ticket. When they arrive, Jason discovers that vampires killed his parents (and that Hadley, his cousin, is staying there to protect herself and her child from the vampires). When he tries to get more information about what happened, he and Andy get kicked out of the brothel (after Andy has already cheated on Holly with the fairy he had sex with last season) and are being zapped by the fairies when the episode ends. Terry and Patrick are investigating their former comrade from Iraq when we get flashbacks to what actually happened. Apparently, in a drug-fueled haze, Terry’s squad massacred a family of Iraqis (although there’s an implication that the hostiles they were fighting were hallucinations and it’s possibly supernatural related). Finally, Sam gets a visit at the bar from some shifter friends that he agrees to run around with but by the time he gets home, someone has shot them in the head.

I’ll try to keep this short since I still have my two other movie reviews to do. I thought that the way that Roman (Christopher Meloni) killed the child vampire for being the mole inside the Authority to the Sanguinista movement was pretty great and deliciously violent. I knew he was the mole early on because I knew that killing a kid would make for the highest possible shock value on the show, and True Blood definitely delivered. However, I’m still convinced that they are adherents to the vampire religion as well in some form or another. There’s just too much religious-esque ritual to their actions for them not to be associated with the cult of Lilith. I also still think that Salome has something to do with the Sanguinistas as well and that Nora is still protecting her (and it’s the only reason Nora hasn’t been staked yet). I’m excited to see that Alcide and Sookie may be finally hooking up. I think Alcide is a great character (even if he hasn’t had a lot to work with this season), and the whole vampire romance storyline with her and Bill is dried up. Joe Manganiello and Anna Paquin have some serious sexual chemistry (which is really awkward since she’s married in real life to Stephen Moyer) so that could be fun. I almost feel bad for Stephen Moyer. For the last two seasons, his wife has been shipped with every man on the show but him. Also with Stephen Moyer, I wish Bill had more to do this season. He’s always been one of the better characters on the program and I don’t feel like he’s developed any with this Authority stuff (even though I really like how that storyline has deepened the series’ mythology).

After the campish absurdity of last season, True Blood needed to take an opportunity to slow things down and try and work its way back to its roots (without unnecessarily retreading over old stories). So far, I think the show’s succeeded. It’s dark, comic, sexy, and violent as hell. It’s not art house television but it’s never made any pretensions of being that. Not all of the stories are working. I’m done caring about Terry’s Iraq issues, and I still think that fairies were the moment when True Blood jumped the shark. However, the Authority has breathed new life into the program (so to speak) and the shockwaves that Sam and Alcide made in the were and shifter community still have the potential to resonate. However, we’re nearing the halfway mark of the season. That means that it’s time for True Blood to take the brakes off and finally add some momentum to the season’s events. The show has managed to reinvest me in these characters. Now, it’s time to find something for them to really do.

Final Score: B

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

True Blood is chugging right along (although at a slower pace than usual but that’s okay because the stories are more interesting so far than last year) and all I can think about this season is what a misstep last season was. I went on a big rant about all of last season’s flaws in my review for last week’s season premiere, so I’ll spare you anymore ravings in that direction except for this. Simply put, True Blood abandoned its campy, fun side in an attempt to be more serious and more traditionally “dark” (as opposed to darkly comic). I think after two episodes this season, we’re seeing a slow return to the more fun side of the series and perhaps the departure of Alan Ball won’t negatively affect the series nearly as much as I thought. I’m pretty sure he left the show before this season began. Some people are frustrated with the show moving at a slower pace but I actually like it. I feel like stories are actually being given a chance to develop, but they aren’t quite moving at the tepid pace of the second season of The Walking Dead (I’m looking at you “lost Sophia” story line). It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make so far as long as the pay-off down the road is good. Also, this week saw the first appearance of Christopher Meloni in the cast and as a long time fan of Oz, I’m excited to see what he brings to the table.

There are two main stories this week and then the various smaller stories so let’s start with Sookie work our way to Bill and Eric and then see where everybody else fit into the week’s festivities. After waking up as a vampire, Tara is not taking it very well. That makes sense since she pretty much hates vampires and they’ve caused her nothing but misery for the last several years. She nearly kills Sookie before Pam orders her not to bite Lafayette or Sook. Pam leaves (to manage things at Fangtasia as well as to give us some flashbacks but more on that later) and Sookie and Lafayette are left caring for a newborn vampire who despises her own existence. Tara completely wrecks Sookie’s house, and it takes Lafayette cutting open his arm for Tara to feed as a trap for Sookie to wrap her in silver for them to get Tara in Eric’s cupboard before sunrise. Lafayette nearly stakes Tara in her sleep because he realizes what he did was a mistake. Sookie convinces him not to and that Tara will eventually adjust. However, when Tara wakes the next evening, she tells Lafayette and Sookie that she’ll never forgive them and runs away. In Bill and Eric town, they’ve been captured by the Authority. After enduring torture-fueled interrogations where they want to know what they’re protecting (I’m assuming this is all about Sookie and her fairy powers/blood), we meet Roman (Christopher Meloni), the head of the Authority. Apparently, there’s a fundamentalist vampire cult intent on subjugating humanity for vampires and destroying the mainstreaming agenda. They think Bill and Eric are part of this cult. Just as Roman is about to stake the pair, Eric and Bill pull out their trump card which is that Russell Edginton is alive and they’ll pay off their debt to the authority by killing him once and for all.

As to the other people in town, things took a slight backseat (except for Alcide/Sam/Luna). Jessica is confronted by Steve Newlin who is now becoming a prominent spokesman for the vampire community as someone who has changed his opinion after being a rabid anti-vampire fundamentalist. He wants to buy Jason Stackhouse from her. She teases him but then fights him and kicks him out of the house for making such an offensive offer for someone she still cares about (even if their relationship is pretty much done). Jason is really beginning to feel guilty about all of the women he’s slept with and kicked to the curb over the years especially after a teenage son comes to the police station to pick a fight with him when Jason’s rakish ways caused his family to get divorced. Alcide refuses his place as the new packmaster of the werewolf pack even though he killed Marcus which by werewolf tradition makes him the new packmaster. He wants no part of it though and doesn’t even rise to the bait of one of the other werewolves calling him a coward and insulting him. Sam is allowed to leave when it’s discovered that he didn’t kill Marcus although after Marcus’ mother (Dale Dickey) visits Luna to see Emma, her granddaughter, Sam and Luna have a fight over what would be best for Emma in the off-chance she becomes a werewolf instead of a shifter. By the episodes end, we see Emma in her room and she’s transformed into the most adorable wolf ever. Terry is having more flashbacks and sleepwalking problems than usual and so Arlene gives in (after Terry freaks out on her at Merlotte’s) and recruits Patrick for help. It turns out that Terry knows that the guy Patrick was asking about last week is still alive and where he is so they decide to visit him.

I’m really excited to see where this whole Tara storyline goes. While Bill suffers through some angst about his being a vampire and we saw some flashbacks where it was miserable for him, we haven’t really had a character yet who exists to show how terrible it would be to become a vampire if you absolutely loathed vampires. Jessica took to vampirism pretty enthusiastically and Steve Newlin seems to be adjusting pretty normally as well. Tara on the other hand hasn’t had a single good experience with vampires and is now one of their numbers. Perhaps, for the first time in the series, she will finally have something interesting to do. We shall see. Sookie hasn’t really had much to do this season but let’s face it. She hasn’t been a compelling character since Season 1. Ever since then, she has done more reacting to the world around her than any actual constructive activity. She’s a pretty flat character and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. She’s meant to the be the audience avatar though so it’s understandable if not actually forgivable. Lafayette has historically been my favorite character on the show and I’m afraid that this season is going to see a return to the broken, shell Lafayette of Season 2 because of his losing his boyfriend and his cousin becoming a vampire. He operates at his best as the morally ambiguous joie de vivre of the series. I also want to know where this whole story with Alcide is going. He’s become an interesting character in his own right and if he does end up being the new packmaster, it should layer some new complexities on his persona other than just being the sensitive giant.

I have to review the Thomas Pynchon novel V. today (and I’m heading to Morgantown to play Dungeons and Dragons with my cousin shortly) so I’m going to have to bring this all to an early close. Here are some last thoughts. Sam hasn’t had a lot to do yet this season. He’s the second best character behind Lafayette (and in the last two seasons, he’s probably been the best character), and I’d like to continue see his character develop and grow. Similarly, Jessica hasn’t had a whole lot to do so far either besides party away. I’d like some more from her that is something beyond just relationship angst. This show puts far too high a premium on the concept of “shipping” and it needs new ideas. It’s too early to tell where the Terry Bellefleur storyline is going but I’m intrigued. All in all, we’re two episodes into the season and while I’m not blown away by any means (Game of Thrones this is not), I’ve enjoyed it so far and that’s a lot more than I could say about last season. Of course, last season actually started with my expectations being high because of the well-implemented time-shift. So, perhaps True Blood could be setting me up for disappointment again.

Final Score: B

Well, after some pondering, I have decided to actually attempt to review this season of True Blood. Much like the second season of The Walking Dead, the fourth season of True Blood was a bit of a disaster (though it had none of the glorious highs of season 2 of TWD to make up for its low moments). The main villain, Marnie (The Butcher Boy‘s Fiona Shaw), was the worst in series history and the show abandoned much of the humor and fun that had made True Blood such a guilty pleasure delight the previous three seasons and instead decided to focus on a love triangle that while interesting the source material books, threatened to derail the entire program into a more generic and bland soap opera. Similarly, the show accumulated show many competing storylines that it became impossible for the show to devote any real time to any of them, and at the end of the day, none of them were particularly interesting except for those involving Sam and Jessica. I was ready to give up on the series until the finale which seemingly (though apparently not god damnit) killed off my least favorite character (Rutina Wesley’s Tara) and resurrected my favorite character, Russell Edginton. It’s to be seen if the latter is true but sadly the former isn’t though the season premiere of True Blood managed to be enjoyable nonetheless as the show managed to recapture a little bit of the humor I love so much.

I had honestly forgotten nearly everything that happened last season (mostly as an attempt to repress the memories of how awful the show had become) except for Debbie Pelt shooting Tara in the head and Lafayette murdering Jesus when he was possessed by Marnie. So, I had forgotten many of the cliffhangers of the season including Sam being surrounded by a pack of werewolves (after killing their old packmaster with Alcide in order to protect Luna and her daughter), a vampiric Steve Noonan showing up at Jason Stackhouse’s home, as well as Terry Bellefleur’s old army buddy showing up in Bon Temps and stirring up shit. I also forgot that Eric and Bill had killed Nan Flanagan and would now be wanted by the Authority. That’s how bad last season was. I literally did my damnedest to forget it had happened. Still, tonight tried its hardest to make these stories compelling and it mostly succeeded. Immediately after killing Nan Flanagan, Eric and Bill are captured by the Authority. Though they manage to escape the Authority’s clutches with the help of Eric’s “sister” (who was also made by Godric. He calls her sister but they fuck. It’s weird and apparently True Blood is embracing the Game of Thrones incest thing), they are captured shortly thereafter as they’re trying to flee the country under assumed aliases (and all of the vampires around them are given explosive renditions of the true death). In Sookie-ville (traditionally the least exciting place in True Blood), she and Lafayette enlist the help of Pam to turn Tara into a vampire rather than let her die (despite Tara’s complete hatred of vampires). Pam agrees to “make” Tara in return for Sookie patching up her relations with Eric as well as another, unnamed favor in the future. Sookie lies to Alcide about killing Debbie (well, she’s stopped by Lafayette before she can admit to it), and the episode ends with Tara being resurrected as a vampire.

Maybe part of the reason why this episode was able to succeed was that it didn’t try to tell a million stories at once. There were only a handful of other stories and they were mostly compelling (Andy Bellefleur and Holly’s budding romance being the less interesting exception). Steve Noon showed up at Jason’s house and confessed his love to Jason cause apparently he was a closeted homosexual when he was a person. He professes his love for Jason but when Jason rejects him, it takes Jessica’s intervention to save him but those two don’t wind up a couple again. In a moment of surprising maturity from Jason, he actually turns down guaranteed sex with a young co-ed because he knows it wouldn’t mean anything. Sam agrees to be taken in by Alcide’s old pack in order to take the blame for killing the packmaster. He’s nearly killed by the new pack before Alcide shows up to take responsibility for what happened (Sam was covering for him as payment for helping Sam out in protecting Sam’s brother). By pack laws, Alcide killing the old packmaster means he’s the de facto new packmaster, but there’s obviously some dissension in the ranks, most clearly from Marcus’ mother (Winter’s Bone‘s Dale Dickey). Terry Bellefleur’s friend from Iraq brings news that the houses of several people in his platoon from Iraq have caught on fire and there’s some vague illusions to some dangerous incident from Iraq that Terry doesn’t want to talk about (and would explain his PTSD). We finally see a violent side of the otherwise loveable Terry which means whatever he’s blocking about Iraq must be pretty awful.

Like I said last paragraph, part of how this episode succeeded was that it scaled back the storytelling to a more manageable level. There were around ten independent storylines last season, and honestly, only two of them were compelling because none of them had a chance to develop and mature into something. Let’s not even start about how all of these poorly written romantic subplots threatened to derail all of the great characters on the show like Eric and Bill (and even Lafayette seemed depressingly domesticized). Several of the characters who were forming all of their own different stories last time around seem to be hanging out together (i.e. Bill and Eric, or Sookie, Lafayette, Tara, and Pam). True Blood just became far too unfocused last time around, and if this episode is a sign that the show is narrowing its focus again, that’s for the best. True Blood has always been a show I’ve wanted to love, and in seasons 2 and 3, I honestly did. However, it doesn’t know when to draw things back, and these seasons have really upped the ridiculous quality (I’d still like to pretend Sookie isn’t a fucking fairy). I’d like to see the show return to its roots a little bit. Another thing this episode did well was allow for some great, little humorous moments. They mostly involved Pam, and if her joke about wearing a Wal-Mart shirt and being a team player wasn’t one of her comedic highlights of the whole series, I don’t know what is.

I want to write a little bit more about this episode but I’m still buzzed as hell on allergy medicine like I’ve been all day. It’s a miracle that I’ve been able to get any writing done today. Plus, it’s nearly 2:30 in the morning and I want to do a little bit of reading and go to bed. I’m almost finished with Thomas Pynchon’s V., and I’d kind of like to finish it tonight. I don’t know if that will actually happen, but I’m going to try. So, despite my better judgment, I’m going to give True Blood another try and see how this whole season works out. I actually up to like the 7th book in the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery novels, so I think I know about some of the potential storylines, but honestly, True Blood has parted so significantly with the books that I wouldn’t be shocked if zero things from the books ever happened again. Also, I read those like three or four years ago so my memory is spotty at best. I just have two requests for this season. Plenty of Sam and Jessica (and maybe Alcide). They’re the best characters on the show and the only ones who have remained consistently compelling.

Final Score: B