So what the hell happened to Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) anyway? The undead sheriff takes the first blow in the presumed battle between the local witches’ coven and the vampires, with Sookie (Anna Paquin) likely suffering the consequences. Of course, we have to wait until next week to find out what happens, illustrating one of True Blood’s more annoying tendencies: setting up a big revelation, making us wait a while and then inevitably wrapping up things in a less than spectacular fashion. Whatever happened to Eric will likely leave him incapacitated for some time, but the specifics don’t leave much hope for a satisfying resolution.
The same thing could be said of this week’s other big revelation: how Bill (Stephen Moyer) became king of Louisiana. The showdown between him and the queen last season resolves itself in a quick flashback here… in which Bill quickly cuts her down with help from a vampire-owned SWAT team. The arbitrary and dismissive way it plays out makes a mockery out of the cliffhanger that started it off, getting it out of the way to make room rather than drawing it out into something more interesting. Thankfully, the episode recovers nicely with additional flashbacks charting Bill’s gradual admission into the American Vampire League. A sequence in punk-80s Great Britain stands as the high point, reminding us of Bill’s essential morality even as we grapple with the shabby way he’s treated Sookie of late. It also further highlights the divisions in the vampire hierarchy, which always makes for intriguing viewing.
True Blood also does well by moving some of its moonier relationships into more interesting territory. Bill and Sookie clearly have serious baggage between them (and frankly Bill is a much cooler character when he’s not sighing over his mortal beloved), but Hoyt (Jim Parrack) and Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) have hit the skids as well. The tensions and squabbles between the two of them feel very much like a normal relationship… spiced up by Jessica’s condition and presenting a whole new plethora of tensions that the show delivers with quiet glee.
As for the new element this season – the witches’ coven – True Blood gives it a freshness by making its members a little unsure of themselves. They’re a far cry from the maenids and mad kings of previous seasons, yet “You Smell Like Dinner” still keeps them as credible threats. Eric arrives to keep them in line, and you can small their palpable fear at his presence. Yet at the end of the day, he’s the one staggering along the highway like a lost infant and they the ones free to plot their next move. The ability to reinvent new dangers in imaginative ways is vital to this series’ survival. The moment it loses its touch with subplots like this, the show is essentially over.
It’s been over for Jason (Ryan Kwanten) for some time, unfortunately. Every single season, he thrashes out superfluous subplots cut off from the remainder of the drama and going nowhere fast. There’s still hope this season with his boss’s V addiction, but tonight furthers his predicament with the inbred panther people… an already dubious notion that takes some truly ridiculous turns here. Kwanten seems like a good egg, but his character basically takes up space that can be better used for more intriguing developments. Sam (Sam Trammell) hasn’t found his footing yet either, though his self-help group of fellow shapeshifters at least carries the kernels of something more interesting.
It’s still early in the season yet and True Blood tends to struggle for traction while getting its ducks in a row. “You Smell Like Dinner” reflects a typically mixed bag, with solid material competing with the dross for our attention, and placeholder plot twists waiting a few more episodes to pay off. The show hasn’t let us down yet, and we don’t expect it will. This week merely holds the line, but still conjures enough to make watching it worthwhile.