No more cheating, HBO. If you show preview shots of Sookie (Anna Paquin) getting drained dry by Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), it better damn well not be a dream. Otherwise, we may grow jaded and cynical, and call out your sleazy marketing ploy on the internet where literally dozens of readers will be filled with outrage.
That little stunt aside (and yes, it turned out to be a dream), this week’s episode hits its stride in every conceivable way. Bad subplots get a healthy dose of energy, good ones find nifty ways to mix things up, and the contrivances are limited to a few aforementioned dream sequences. Director Daniel Minahan focuses more of soap and less on humor/bloodshed, but still finds some wry moments to tickle us in the midst of it all.
The best arrives with Sam’s (Sam Trammell) thread, which has thus far ranked as the weakest element of the season. Here, things finally get a goose in the ass, as Tommy (Marshall Allman) kills his abusive parents rather than go back to dog fighting as their slave. He tags Sam to help him get rid of the bodies, leading to bonding between the two brothers and a messy problem that will likely return to bite them in the ass.
Jason’s (Ryan Kwanten) thread finally got on track last week as well. Tonight, he takes a breather until the presumed payoff next week: intermingling with Hoyt (Jim Parrack) and Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) as a means of keeping them all occupied until they have screen time to move themselves forward. True Blood always struggles with this kind of organization issue, when excessive plotting renders the proceedings unduly mechanical. Here, at least, Kwanten reminds us of Jason’s goofy charms, as Bon Temps’ resident stud tries to overcome the trauma of being gang raped by a dozen panther women.
The remainder of the episode maintains its decent pace, with further complications to Sookie’s love life. Bill (Stephen Moyer) now realizes that she lied to him, and Minahan does an excellent job of setting up the potential repercussions. It promises a great deal; if it can deliver within a week or two, it should prove to be quite a bombshell. Unfortunately, the show has let us down on that front a number of times. For now, we’re allowed to savor the potential, an enticing prospect thanks to Bill’s current status as a comparative bad ass.
Speaking of which, he’s also brought a fun new wrinkle to the witches vs. vampires thread: already the high point of the season. Marnie (Fiona Shaw) is quite dangerous, though not through any fault of her own. The character’s fear and helplessness stands in sharp contrast to the vengeful spirit acting through her, and with Bill now moving actively against the coven, the balance between her two halves becomes more precarious than ever.
But the episode’s true standout is Pam (Kristen Bauer van Straten), who delivers the first real payoff to Marnie’s curses as her face literally rots off of her skull. The actress takes the camp potential and runs with it, yet neither does she lose sight of the very real rage and humiliation that her new condition entails. The sight of True Blood’s premiere fashion diva skulking around with a black veil on her face is almost as delicious as the big reveal where bits and piece start to fall off of her.
True Blood never fails when it sticks to such material: the show’s bloody meat and potatoes have a way of pulling it through the rough patches. This week features fewer rough patches to forgive, along with some of the better moments produced by this season. Good enough for government work… and more than enough to keep the show in fighting form.