Oh True Blood! I just can’t stay mad at you… especially when you deliver a penultimate episode that redeems a whole lot of the season’s dead weight. I’m sure they’ve got something to top it all for the finale next week, but after “Soul of Fire,” that almost doesn’t matter. We have everything we need right here.
Case in point: Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), who suddenly discovered that he’s a medium this season and basically limped along with the notion with little purpose or direction. He helped the ghost of a bereaved mother find peace, tooled around with Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) in Mexico and basically wasted precious time that could be spent on more developed character arcs. But behold! Apparently, that was all prep work for one truly awesome moment: the one that closes out tonight’s episode and leaves us salivating for the finale. In a single fell stroke, it resurrects Lafayette as a character and helps us better understand what all that futzing around was about earlier in the season.
It helps, of course, to have Fiona Shaw’s Marnie involved. Shaw has held the show together through sheer force of will thus far, and her presence here keeps the central plot thread on track. The vampires attack her shop – with hostages inside and an impenetrable barrier outside – and her gleeful confidence lends a delicious urgency to what could have been another bit of potboiling. Certainly, the basics don’t contribute much, as Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) offer to kill themselves to keep Sookie (Anna Paquin) safe, Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) makes moony eyes at Jason (Ryan Kwanten) and oh my God this is boring me to… hang on, here comes Marnie to kick it all up a notch!
With her in the lead, the big showdown never becomes a drag: keeping its contrivances in check and even managing to surprise us a bit as well. Alejandro kicks in substantial supporting aid as well, with Jesus delivering the sneak attack that resolves the conflict in an interesting manner and paying a heavy price for it. The actor doesn’t overplay the cost to his character’s soul and infuses what could have been a ridiculous climax with something genuinely meaningful.
Luckily, the bulk of the episode focuses solely on the big showdown… leaving comparatively little time for anything to go wrong with other subplots. The Sam (Sam Trammell)/Alcide (Joe Manganiello) thread tidies itself up without a lot of fuss: competent, dull and serving as yet more space filler instead of anything genuinely dramatic. At least it carries some basic entertainment value… unlike the incident with Andy (Chris Bauer) in the forest, which constitutes the single biggest head-scratcher of the entire season. Ostensibly, it keeps the whole faerie notion alive, and the notion of a midnight seduction in the deep woods is in keeping with the Fae’s modus operandi. But Andy? Seriously, Andy?! Whatever they have in mind for it, it can’t be good. And I don’t mean that in a “grim times for Bon Temps” kind of way; I mean it in a “this has the potential to send the whole series careening off the rails and into a schoolbus full of orphaned children” kind of way.
At least they pull away from it quickly enough, which is a blessed relief. The remainder of the episode represents a significant return to form – a reminder of True Blood at its best – as well as a terrific set-up for the season finale. Ninth inning save? “Soul of Fire” comes damn close… and for those of us who suffered through the largely sub-par run this summer, that constitutes a most welcome relief.