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- TV Series: True Blood
- Episode: Trouble
- Starring: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Sam Trammell, Nelsan Ellis, Chris Bauer, Alexander Skarsgård, Deborah Ann Woll, Carrie Preston and William Sanderson
- Written By: Nancy Oliver
- Directed By: Scott Winant
- Network: HBO
- Series: True Blood
True Blood: Trouble Review
Searching for a Reason to Care
By Rob Vaux
July 19, 2010
“Trouble” serves primarily as a set-up episode, getting some logistics out of the way for a larger and more substantial development later on. True Blood apparently requires a number of players to be over at Russell’s (Denis O’Hare) mansion before the shit goes down: Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Tara (Rutina Wesley) are there already, with Sookie (Anna Paquin) and her werewolf protector (Joe Manganiello) lurking nearby. “Trouble” tosses Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) into the equation as well, stirring the pot to an appropriately intriguing mix before an assumed pay-off next week.
For better or for worse, True Blood has embraced its Gothic soap opera roots this season, and we need to plunge ourselves fully into the world of vampire politics if we want to stick around. The remaining parts of the episode--including Jason’s (Ryan Kwanten) bumbling efforts to become a cop and a very sweet rendezvous between Lafayette ( Nelsan Ellis) and the cute male nurse taking care of his mother--hold their share of charms, but otherwise do little more than remind us that the participants still exist. So too does Sam’s (Sam Trammell) subplot spin its wheels, as he struggles to help out his biological family even as their alcoholic sponging grows into something more malevolent.
On the other hand, Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) remains a palpable bright point in the series, despite her comparatively limited screen time. Now working as a hostess at Merlotte’s, she’s learning all kinds of new vampire tricks. Like a teenager trying out her father’s gun, her antics hold an air of danger, but also exhilaration; it almost makes the episode worth watching in and of itself.
For the most part, however, our attention remains fixed completely on Mississippi, where Russell apparently puts the whammy on both Bill and Eric as part of his grander scheme to take over Louisiana. The thread smacks of pure Anne Rice, complete with immortal power plays, schemes within schemes and bloodsuckers who hate each other’s guts but can do very little about it. Tara adds a touch of Southern Gothic to the mix, enthralled by the very scary Franklin (James Frain) and unable to escape Russell’s mansion, while various fey associates drool and cavort around her.
It’s agreeably steamy, but as with previous episodes, it loses sight of the dark jabs of humor which signify True Blood at its best. In so doing, it slips further towards the Twilight end of things than it should, more concerned with who’s doing what to whom than with the show’s original purpose (looking at how vampires might act as public figures). The secrecy and skullduggery could come from any vampire tale, robbing this one of its real strengths and dropping it back to the pack it once outpaced with ease. “Trouble” compensates with the usual premium cable cocktail of sex and violence (both inferred more than stated here), but the downshift this season is still troublesome.
The saving grace this time comes with Eric, who appears to be a hapless catspaw and yet clearly has a few cards left to play that could turn everything on its ear. Skarsgard’s hypnotic presence holds our unwavering attention, as does the implication that he knows far more than he’s letting on. Director Scott Winant adds a fascinating flashback detailing Eric’s origins, and connecting him to Russell through nebulous yet undeniable means. With him as a centerpiece, the episode endures and even thrives, setting the tone for future developments while still allowing its own components to breathe. Season Three just can’t match Season Two for brilliance and intensity, at least for now. Whether or not it can fully recover has yet to be seen. In the interim, it drops from “genius” to “fairly interesting,” an undeniable disappointment that still justifies our attentions.