Mania TV Review: True Blood (

By:Rob Vaux
Review Date: Sunday, July 17, 2011

True Blood picked up its game this week, investing bad subplots with a modicum of interest and ensuring that the good ones kept rolling right along. The show’s nominal ADD attention span continued, but no one should be surprised that they keep jumping back and forth between key characters at this point. At least we’re jumping to something interesting most of the time.
The biggest uptick in quality comes with Jason (Ryan Kwanten), who finally escapes from his captors and fights off his pursuers en route to safety. Or so he thinks. As the show’s superfluous appendix, he rarely generates much interest, so whenever he does anything that merits our attention, it stands out. “I’m Alive and on Fire” pulls a similar feat with both Sam (Sam Trammell) and his brother Tommy (Marshall Allman), thanks to some twists in the romantic life of the former and a return of the latter’s horrible parents. All three of these characters were just taking up space in the first chunk of the season. This week, they finally get into the game. It’s up to future episodes to make good on their progress… something that True Blood hasn’t always been able to do in the past.
His sister Sookie (Anna Paquin) is engaged in the usual game of Which Beau Shall I Choose, but with Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) still freaking out in her basement and Bill (Stephen Moyer) playing an entirely different game these days, it maintains a higher-than-average level of interest. Bill, in particular, has been loads of fun to watch the season. Burdened with the crown of Louisiana, he’s proven a grade-A sneaky bastard: colored by good motivations, perhaps, but making compromise after compromise to see his goals through. Moyer’s smoldering chemistry with Paquin becomes positively electric now their characters no longer trust each other, and the interplay between them on the porch of her house – in which he’s searching for Eric and she’s attempting to keep him hidden – stands as a high point of the season.
As fascinating as they can be, however, they’re only the sideshow for the main event: vamps vs. witches, which kicks things up an additional notch this week. Regulars like Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) and Tara (Rutina Wesley) act mainly as supercargo – giving them something to justify their appearance this season – but the real juice lies with Aunt Petunia. Fiona Shaw’s coven leader is apparently channeling the spirit of a young Spanish woman burned at the stake; she has it in for vampires and cheerfully uses the witches’ power to take out some of her frustrations. Her fear and confusion reach a fever pitch here, helped out by another good performance from Shaw.
Bill is right: the coven constitutes a real threat to the local vampires (though admittedly most of the bloodsuckers have it coming). Yet it possesses no malicious intentions – the witches merely act as conduits for vengeful spirits – and the vamps’ reaction to their presence brings out the persecution complex in all of them. Both sides are scared and defensive, leading them to rash actions that only further justify their fears. “I’m Alive and on Fire” succeeds in upping the ante on that equation with perhaps the best episode finale since Russell Edgington yanked out that newscaster’s spine.
We watch True Blood for moments like that: moments that horrify you, intrigue you and make you laugh all at the same time. When the characters justify their appearance and keep the storytelling from going completely off the deep end, it really becomes something special. The fourth season has cast about for that tone more often than it should, raising the inevitable question of whether the show has peaked. It may have – we’ve never regained the intoxicating thrill of season two – but this week announces loudly and clearly that it’s still a long way from being finished. Keep bobbing and weaving guys: the effort is worth it.  

Mania Grade: B+
TV Series: True Blood
Episode: I'm Alive and on Fire
Starring: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard, Sam Trammell, Rutina Wesley and Nelsan Ellis
Written by: Nancy Oliver
Directed by: Michael Lehmann
Network: HBO