TV Review: True Blood: Season 5 (***)

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Get ready for another “fangtastic” (couldn’t resist) summer, because HBO’s True Blood is back and biting hard! There was not a moment of pause in the Season 5 premiere episode, “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” with each scene only given a window of five minutes or less before the rapid edits ensued. The editing was a bit much this episode, and while it does appropriately mirror the show’s heightened state of frenzy, I always prefer my favorite guilty pleasure show to sink in a little bit before going on the attack. True Blood‘s notoriety for juggling so many different subplots at once can be somewhat problematic when each of the different stories don’t quite intrigue or engage. Despite what many fans said, I thought last season was a remarkable improvement over Season 3’s silly/bordering-on-repulsive handling of many of our favorite characters. In Season Four, I loved what the writers were able to do with Eric — the brief amnesia spell humanized his malevolent soul — and his budding relationship with Sookie. Their intimate culmination was a high point in the series we won’t soon forget, and I absolutely thought Fiona Shaw successfully mustered through a demanding physical role, playing the Big Bad of the season, Marni the Witch. With both of these plot points no longer relevant now that Season Five has arrived, I was hoping for a new and intriguing storyline to emerge, with new characters to follow that could be as interesting and crazily delicious as former standouts from the past. Unfortunately, only one new character has my attention, but with the news that Christopher Meloni is coming aboard in next week’s episode, I can only hope that the remainder of Season 5 will be far more satisfying than the slightly underwhelming, if still entertaining, premiere episode.

The episode begins right where last season’s finale ended: Vampires Bill and Eric have just killed former speaker of “The American Vampire League,” Nan Flanagan, after she attempts to involve them in a coup against “The Authority” (the governing body of all vampires). Although the pair have no active plans to overthrow the Vampire regime, the two are still wanted for the illegal crimes they committed last season. Bill, newly crowned King of Louisiana, was tasked with executing Eric in order to ensure that there was no remaining threat of Necromancy control (Eric was possessed by Marni’s necromancy powers last season), but Bill showed mercy and decided to give Eric another chance to…not meet the sun (we can’t say dead, since they’re vampires). The premiere episode largely focuses on their immediate capture, then escape, courtesy of Eric’s “sister,” who only share a sibling bond due to being “made” by the same vampire. They embrace as all Vampire siblings do — trade spit with one another via a messy tongue coiling kiss. These are the moments I begin to roll my eyes at the show, especially since Eric’s “sister” happens to be a stereotypical brunette politician with a fake-sounding British accent. You want sex and more nude shots of Eric and his latest muse? You got it! Just don’t expect a great deal of depth to this sub-plot, unless of course you count the thickness of blood that is splattered across the entire set by the end of the episode. Blood times are good times on True Blood. I suggest you get used to scenes containing frequent blood geysers.

I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be rooting for Alcide over Lafayette. What a difference a few seasons make.

Anna Paquin’s Sookie Stackhouse is stuck at home the entire episode alongside a moping, verging-on-suicidal Lafayette. Their entire narrative — at least at the start of the season — focuses on the aftermath of Tara getting shot at the end of last year’s finale. Half of her head has been blown off thanks to Debbie, the girlfriend of Alcide the Werewolf, who meant to shoot Sookie in an act of jealousy until Tara caught the shotgun shells instead. Look, if it were up to me, I’d finally put the most miserable and angry woman on television out of her misery for good, but the writers have far meaner tricks up their sleeves for Tara: turning her into a vampire, AKA the one supernatural creature that Tara hates more than  her constant bouts of anger. At least this is what we think is going to happen. I wasn’t a fan of the coercion scene where Sookie and Lafayette beg Pam to turn Tara into a vampire so she won’t fully be dead. Frankly, I don’t buy Pam’s willingness. She hated Tara last season for her involvement in Marni’s witch cult, so why would Pam suddenly do Tara a favor just because Sookie promises to patch things up between her and Eric? It felt like too easy a clinch just to keep the ball rolling and raise our hopes for Tara’s survival. Well, at least she grumbled when wearing an ugly Walmart sweater, so bonus points to Pam for taking one for the team in that regard. Lafayette had some darker moments this episode, but I still wish the writers would flesh out Lafayette’s character a bit more like they so masterfully did in the days of Seasons 1 and 2. There is some noticeable improvement, but they need to push further. The sporadic moments of seeing Lafayette break down and cry make me pity him more than draw out my sympathies.

This was the one season premiere episode where Anna Paquin didn’t have a lot to do, but her scene with Alcide showcased why Paquin is heralded as such an amazing actress. Her ability to deliver the darkest of reveals about herself while still being cute and lovable is a testament to Paquin’s balancing act when portraying Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie, on paper, isn’t particularly likeable nor makes the best of decisions, but somehow Paquin is able to make us completely sympathetic toward her flaws. Speaking of Alcide, his character has really grown on me over the course of two seasons. I didn’t find him to be anything more than a tough bouncer, who happens to be a Werewolf, when we first met him in Season Three, but in Season Four he showed an innate ability to care and protect those he loved. I admired his loyalty to Sookie, even when her heart was clearly with both Eric and Bill, but Alcide won me over completely after he killed one of his own species to avenge the brutal murder of Sam Merlotte’s shifter brother, Tommy. Alcide puts justice and what is right before any kind of werewolf pact, and for that he remains one of the most noble characters in True Blood’s roster of morally flawed personalities. In Season 5, Alcide continues his streak of nobility by alerting Sookie of Russell Edgington’s (primary villain of Season 3) return. Turns out somebody dug Russell out from underneath the concrete he was buried under, and now he’ll be the main focus point of Season 3. Fans of the show have always loved Russell more than I care to, but even I will be delighted to see him return in all his perversely evil ways if it means a more enticing season awaits.

It’s very odd that the most interest sub-plots came from True Blood’s least captivating characters. Terry Bellefleur’s former war buddy from the Iraq War comes to visit, and from what I gather Terry is harboring a pretty damning secret that we aren’t privy to yet. I don’t trust his Iraq war buddy one bit, as he seems to be causing more trouble than comforting his fellow army compatriot, but at the very least, the Bellefleurs and their sub-plot have suddenly become more interesting than they ever were. Another character who lost his charm a few seasons back is starting to show signs of a comeback — Sam Merlotte. He plays his martyr card by giving himself up the werewolf pack who believes Sam killed their leader, Marcus, instead of the true murderer, Alcide. Sam gets tortured this episode by the werewolf pack, and in these segments we are are introduced to Marcus’ mother — who I can bet money on will be the new leader of the pack, and co-villain of the season — Martha Bozeman. Bozeman is both fragile and deadly, and she seems on the brink of a mental breakdown now that her son has been murdered. I pray that Alcide is far enough away from Bon Temps once Martha turns her vengeance on him. She seems like an especially dangerous she-wolf.

Even with that ugly turquoise hair streak, Deborah Ann Woll continues to be the show's best scene-stealer.

Jason Stackhouse, portrayed by the always amazing and incredibly underrated Ryan Kwanten, finds himself in a very awkward predicament at the beginning of this season. Turns out Reverend Steve Newland, former leader of the vampire-hating cult known as The Fellowship of the Sun, is now a vampire himself and he has something he’s itching to tell Stackhouse. Without letting the cat out of the bag, suffice it to say that the scene plays out hilariously, but surprisingly goes nowhere I imagined it going when I saw Steve’s return at the end of last season. Hopefully with Steve returning, it means Steve’s ex-wife Sarah Newland is not far behind. I always thought Sarah and Jason had great chemistry and were a good match for each other. I’m curious to see if she’ll return.

Finally, Deborah Ann Woll’s Jessica Hamby, my current favorite character in True Blood — aside from Alcide and Sookie — continues to steal every scene she is in despite the fact that her storyline for the season has yet to be revealed. I love Jessica’s new-found desire to party with girls in her age-group. The college party that Jessica throws in this episode is a ton of fun, made even better by a well-shot scene of Jessica, Jason, and her college friends playing some ‘Guitar Hero.’ In this moment, Jessica and Jason — who agreed to a “friends with benefits” relationship last season — reveal their underlining love for one another. When the pair split off from each other with different partners by night’s end, you could see the disappointment and sadness in both their faces. For Jessica, her vampire instincts prevent her from being sexually exclusive, and Jason himself has a hard time committing to a monogamous relationship. This pair is sadly doomed not to be together, but hopefully Jessica can move on from Jason and Hoyt, who’s become a real annoyance of a character, and find another love interest that will suit her needs better.

In all, the premiere of True Blood’s 5th season is mostly silly fun, but am I asking too much if I request a toning down of the absurdity? Last season was all about higher levels of character development, and I’m worried we’re going in a backward trend to that horrific season finale episode from Season Three. Maybe it’s just Russell Edgington’s return that has everyone acting so looney and unlike themselves, but I do hope things improve. What salvaged this premiere was the final scene of the episode, which made me jump from my seat on the couch and shake all over. True Blood, I’m happy to know you can still scare me from time to time! It’s quite a scene, so make sure to brace yourselves. We seem to have a lot of intriguing plots coming up, most notably the introduction of “The Authority,” leading me to believe that this year will be more politically skewed than previous ones. If it’s all in good fun, and the characters are handled properly by the writing staff, we may have another strong season on our hands. I’m just very concerned that True Blood is encroaching on another Season Three misfire, the one year that nearly turned me off of True Blood for good. Alan Ball, say it ain’t so!