Okay True Blood, you are officially forbidden from ever playing the “it was all a dream” card again. You’ve played it so many times that you’ve worn the finish off the back and we can tell when you’re holding it in your hand. Which is every freaking week.
Oh and by the way, we knew that Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) wasn’t dead. If she was, you would have killed her last week and left us in shock, rather than play it out until tonight. Turns out, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) rescues her before the sunburn gets too bad, thus ensuring that her burgeoning love triangle will continue for a while longer. Poor Jessica. Coming to grips with her vampire nature apparently means breaking up with Hoyt (Jim Parrack) and trying to hook up with Jason… both of which end in disaster. Her thread remains a palpable high point of the season thus far: emotionally genuine while still acknowledging the unpleasant possibilities of what a vampire-human relationship might entail. She’s begun to realize that she can’t live as a normal human no matter how badly she may want to. True Blood has developed that realization beautifully, and it keeps the episode centered while other subplots fumble for traction.
As for said subplots… yeah, it wasn’t pretty. Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) consummate their relationship in inimitable vampire fashion, resulting in a lot of surreal images and copious nudity that seems to exist for its own sake. The art director must have had a blast and one dreamlike sequence involving a feather bed and falling snow looks gorgeous. But it holds no emotional resonance and – the actors’ hot bods notwithstanding – fails to generate any compelling reason to watch.
It gets worse when they pledge themselves to Bill (Stephen Moyer), essentially burying the hatchet and putting the Sookie Love Triangle on the back burner. Bill immediately becomes far less interesting as a result, forcing us to fall back on the burgeoning showdown with the witches in order to keep the King of Louisiana from devolving into a complete test pattern.
Speaking of the witches, the first big fight with them turns out to be a long drive for a short day at the beach. The first half sets things up well, as Antonia (Fiona Shaw) finishes her daywalking spell and then laments at its comparative lack of effectiveness. It contains the right mixture or menace and wry humor: the sort that True Blood absolutely excels at in its best moments. From there, however, the show doesn’t have the first idea where to proceed. A midnight showdown between the two sides in the graveyard promises a great deal, but ends up looking like a Ren Faire LARP gone horribly awry. The stiff choreography creates a number of serious logic holes, which the show attempts to redress with yet another round of “stunning” cliffhangers. But they’ve burned that bridge pretty thoroughly by now, and despite a lovely build-up during the season’s early episodes, this supposedly big pay-off falls flatter than a pancake here.
Most of the rest of the episode does the same, from Tommy’s (Marshall Allman) shapeshifting mishigoths to Andy’s (Chris Bauer) continuing problems with the V. Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) spins his wheels as well: possessed by the ghost hovering over the Fowler baby and basically here just to remind us that this subplot still exists. Besides the Jessica thread, the only thing keeping us interested are the werewolves, who wisely wish to stay out of the conflict, but still have a few chips in the game. Alcide (Joe Manganiello) reveals his true feelings for Sookie and that notion continues to go nowhere, but his pack leader pops in on Sam (Sam Trammell), providing both the biggest surprise of the evening and a reason to give a shit about Bon Temps favorite shapeshifter.
But despite that, the episode’s mixed bag of elements proves far too uneven for comfort. Too little happens under the auspices of much greater things, and the show’s over-reliance on gimmickry has really begun to hobble it in recent weeks. They need to do better with what they have – and they still have a lot in their corner. This week, unfortunately, we just don’t see enough of it.