True Blood’s central problem is an inability to keep a handle on its large cast of characters. Many figures who began as central components to the show have long since run out of gas. Yet True Blood insists on keeping them around, even as more interesting new characters vie for attention onscreen. The dead weight often compromises otherwise reliable episodes… such as this week, when the cool stuff struggles for traction amid plot threads slowly going nowhere.
At the top of the list? Jason (Ryan Kwanten) and his gaggle of surrogate were-panthers. They’ve tied him to the bed and want to make him one of them, but the supposed horror of his dilemma falls flat on its face, while the sexual tension between he and his lover/captor Crystal (LindsayPulsipher) fails to ignite. Do we honestly care if he dies or not? Will he be any more interesting if he can sprout black fur and drink milk from a saucer? Jason became a superfluous element on the show somewhere in season two, and his predicament here more or less raises the flag of surrender on finding anything legitimately interesting in his character.
Sam (Sam Trammell) and his brother Tommy (Marshall Allman) are slowly going nowhere too. After squandering the terrific cliffhanger last year – in which Sam may or may not have shot Tommy dead – the writers have resorted to a shockingly clichéd twist in an effort to jump-start their arc. Tommy attempts to swindle Old Lady Fortenberry (Dale Raoul) out of the gas rights on her land, while Sam wants to stop him. The desperation of such a ploy is compounded by the fact that they intend to keep it going in future episodes… presumably in anticipation of the great climax where Tommy ties her to the railroad tracks.
These hollow points stand in contrast to the episode’s better elements, which (not surprisingly) involve comparatively newer characters. Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) has reverted to a child-like state following his run-in with the local witches. He seeks protection with Sookie (Anna Paquin) while the vamps and Wiccans battle it out. Not only does it provide a delicious new wrinkle to Eric’s character (as the former bad-ass skulks shamefully in the corners like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar), but it highlights how this season’s supernatural showdown differs from those of previous seasons. Aunt Petunia’s still rocking the house as well, and the burgeoning showdown between her and Pam (Kristin Bauer) promises to be one of the high points to the season.
So too does the slowly toppling romance between Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and Hoyt (Jim Parrack) justify tuning in all on its own. Having cheated (sort of) with her true love, Jessica sets out to make things right… then steps onto an extremely slippery slope in hopes of finding a shortcut. The underlying tragedy of their romance – with high hopes curdling into compromise and betrayal – finds new ways to explore the basic “it sucks to be a vampire” equation. Jessica means well, but she’s still very young in both human and vampiric terms, and her mistakes may cost her her soul before too long.
Between those two elements and Bill’s (Stephen Moyer) ongoing evolution into a smooth power monger, the latest episode manages to cross the finish line. But the seams are showing again, mostly from plot threads that don’t really need to be there and can’t hold up their end. We can take the good with the bad for now, but it remains a glaring Achilles’ heel for the series… one that may doom it if they don’t find a way to improve.