Let’s talk about Marnie (Fiona Shaw) for a minute. Like a lot of True Blood’s villains, she’s been the straw that stirs the drink this season. Last night’s biggest revelation focused solely on her, and the episode was all the better for it. Specifically, she and Antonia (Paola Turbay) had a heart to heart, and it turns out Marnie is the one demanding death to all vampires. Their exchange echoes with real character and drama – not just the big revelation about their true relationship – and subsequently powers the escalating conflict between the witches and the bloodsuckers.
That pays dividends on the other side of the battle as well. Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Nan (Jessica Tuck) continue their “mom and dad are fighting” line in the wake of the attack on the tolerance festival. The interplay holds juice because of the underlying fear driving both of them… not only for the witches, but for the consequences of failure. We get a strong sense of the Byzantine politics in the undead world, and the number of factions waiting to pounce if Bill makes a wrong move. True Blood tends to shy away from that aspect of bloodsucking life, which I think is a mistake. Here, it bolsters Bill’s otherwise middling plot thread, while making him look bold and decisive instead of just a wet noodle. (It doesn’t hurt that Jessica returns to his side, ready to spill copious bloodshed just because she’s a vamp and that’s what they do. About time she got comfy with the more monstrous side of her soul.)
As usual, whenever the episode departs from the central conflict, it falls flat on its face. Various flavors of Bellefleur head out to their childhood tree fort to deal with Andy’s (Chris Bauer) V addiction… resolved with some tough talk and a little casual gun play, just like addiction in the real world. It basically serves as a pretense to get these characters out of the way, while “Burning Down the House” consolidates the others in easily manageable groups. Group A consists of the Stackhouses, Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) and Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) making a run at the witches’ coven in an effort to rescue their friends. Group B consists of the assembled werewolves and Sam (Sam Trammell) – once again shunted away from the main story and seemingly occupying his own series. Let’s handle the second one first.
The good news is that Sam presides over the moderately moving passing of Tommy (Marshall Allman): a weak kid dealt a bad hand who at least got to die hearing that someone cared about him. Less moving is the way Sam goes all-out after the werewolf pack responsible, seemingly with Alcide’s (Joe Manganiello) eager help. We get that Alcide is a nice guy, but the fervor with which he turns on his own kind beggars belief, and his loyalty to Sam smacks more of screenwriter convenience than real characterization.
As for Sookie (Anna Paquin) and the gang, their dilemma exists primarily to give the upcoming finale a proper sense of weight. They arrive at the witches’ coven, Jesus talks his way in, everyone else waits outside and… oh wait, the show doesn’t really have anything for them to do, so we’ll just make them all hostages! Deus ex machine strikes again, simplifying the playing field into order to keep the season from getting out of hand. Sookie’s connections to this side of things don’t ring true, and while Lafayette has a little more going for him in that department, they’re strictly going through the motions at this stage.
Fortunately, Shaw keeps things together: holding the episode up through her sheer presence and delivering the sort of dramatic wrinkles that True Blood is supposed to be very good at. Sookie’s mooning about her various beaus has run out of gas and the other subplots have resolved themselves solely for the sake of eliminating clutter (though I’m still betting that Jason turns into a panther before the end of all this). Somebody needs to keep this diminished season rolling towards a conclusion, and with no one else stepping up to the plate, everything hangs on Aunt Petunia. Thank God she seems up to the challenge.