Show of hands: who thinks Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) is really dead?
The answer to that question is frankly irrelevant. Yes, Jessica is a very cool character and killing her off would be a tragedy. On the other hand, it also cements the witches’ status as a real threat, since Marnie (Fiona Shaw) is renting out her body to the queen mother of angry ghosts. There are ups and downs to both outcomes. Unfortunately, by playing the cliffhanger card so many times – and copping out more often than not – True Blood drains any sense of tension in the outcome. We’re left wondering whether Jessica is alive or dead, and presumably on the edge of our seat until we learn her fate next week. Except we’ve been screwed over so many times with “it was only a dream” or “she’s rescued at the last minute” or “we just put this twist in as a complete time waster and will resolve it just as quickly” that the suspense here becomes utterly manufactured. Maybe Jess will die, maybe not (and I’m betting the mortgage on the latter), but the show’s Perils of Pauline shenanigans have absolutely removed the suspense of the equation.
That’s a pity, because a lot of the episode – particularly the witches’ coven exercising their nuclear option – does quite well. The spirit inhabiting Marnie has the power of compel vampires to walk outside during the day, and she wastes no time in testing it out. Bill (Stephen Moyer) has prepared some extremely painful countermeasures, but the high cost can be felt throughout the bloodsucking community. It finally kicks the burgeoning supernatural battle into high gear, delivering the excitement and energy that the show promised at the beginning of the season, but thus far failed to deliver. All the backstory for the previous few episodes pays off, and Shaw adroitly shifts form hapless hippie to revenge-crazed Spaniard with just the right amount of knowing winks.
“Cold Grey Light of Dawn” also marks another great outing for Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten), with the flesh still rotting off of her bones and her anger still aimed squarely in the wrong direction. She brings Tara (Rutina Wesley) more deeply into the central plot for the first time, and van Straten’s signature (ahem) vamping remains as deliciously soapy as ever.
Together, the two subplots keep the episode more or less on course: dished about with sufficient aplomb to keep us watching past the slow parts. Unfortunately, those parts remain intact as well, hampered by the usual problem of too many characters and not enough to do with them. The werewolf pack joins together and Alcide (Joe Manganiello) still has feelings for Sookie and… zzzzzzzzz. Meanwhile, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) can’t capitalize on the momentum he created last week (he’s still not a werepanther), Sam (Sam Trammell) and Tommy (Marshall Allman) are all but sidelined, and the question of Arlene’s (Carrie Preston) baby continues to scramble for traction. We’re not even going to get into poor Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis): abruptly returned from his pointless sojourn in Mexico without so much as a “by your leave” and left to provide some threadbare connection to the mysterious woman hovering around the demon baby.
That’s become par for the course for this season: a few good things mixed in with an uncomfortable amount of bad. Fortunately, those few good things are really good, banishing the flaws and keeping things more or less on track for further developments down the road. It’s about the best we can hope for this year; that, and idly speculating on Jessica’s fate after she opens those doors to greet the dawn. It’s likely a foregone conclusion… and even if it isn’t, you only need to look at the show’s best elements to understand that this isn’t one of them.
(PS: My apologies for the delay this week. We’ll have an early review next week to make up for it!)