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Posted at 10:05 PM ET, 07/24/2011

‘True Blood’ Season 4 Episode 5 reaction: Too many plots?


‘You...can’t...make me wear a shirt!’ (HBO)
As many critics, including our own Hank Stuever, have noted, if there’s one major flaw to “True Blood,” it’s that it suffers from storyline bloat. Tonight’s episode, “Me and the Devil,” directly advances no fewer than 10 plots, and that still leaves a few unaddressed.

Is that too many stories to follow? Take the poll.

Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but I remember finding seasons one and two compelling mainly for the murder mystery/supernatural suspense aspects of the show. It’s taken a hard turn toward soap opera since then, and that’s understandable given the focus of popular attention on the Sookie/Eric/Bill love triangle.

I just wish that some of the new plots were actually engaging and involved characters I actually care about or feel invested in. Instead, I’m left with the feeling that Alan Ball has a hard time letting any of his actors go, so he just lets them stick around whether he has something interesting to do with them or not.

Let’s break this bad boy down, and I’ll rate each storyline between “I’m into it” to “I could not care less.” Then I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Tommy and Sam: Man do I hate Tommy. I don’t know if we’re supposed to feel sorry for him, or if he’s just supposed to illustrate how things could have ended up for Sam, but there is not a redeeming thing about that guy. Tommy, in the midst of being choked by his stepdad, plays dead, then returns the favor, strangling him and accidentally killing his mother for good measure.

Keep in mind – he’s a shapeshifter who can turn into virtually any animal. He can do it under extreme duress, as we see later in this same episode. There were about 5,000,000 other ways he could have gotten out of this without killing them, but of course he didn’t take any of them. Because he’s an idiot.

He brings the bodies to Sam, who helps him dump the bodies in the swamp, and we learn that gators love marshmallows. Sam tries to comfort Tommy by telling him that he killed some people once too. I’m sure this revelation will never come back to bite him. (In a show about vampires, Sam is still the biggest sucker.)

Rating: I could not care less, and I want Tommy to die as soon possible.

Sookie and Eric: Eric has a bad dream (why is he sleeping during the middle of the night anyway? He should have bought a Wii for Sookie’s house.) He wakes up in Sookie’s room, gives her the old puppy-dog eyes and she tells him he’s not such a bad guy and lets him sleep in her bed until sunrise.

As the sun goes down the next day, Eric surprises a visiting Tara, who reminds Sookie of every bad thing Eric has done to them. Eric is upset to find out he wasn’t always a gentle giant and tries to leave, Sookie calls him back and they start to make out.

Rating: I kind of care, in that I like the chemistry between the characters. The process of getting them together has been rough though, and some of the dialog they give poor Alexander Skarsgard – “There’s a light in you, it’s beautiful, I couldn’t bear it if I snuffed it out” is high school goth poetry-level bad.

Tara: Tara’s girlfriend in New Orleans finds out Tara has been lying about who she is and where she’s from.

Rating: Don’t care. Not because I don’t like Tara, but because it seems like the show runners insist on her being self-destructive, so I’ve pretty much checked out on her.

King Bill: I didn’t particularly like Bill in the first few seasons. He was such a broody sap in how he pined for Sookie, only occasionally showing any charm or spark in his interactions with other characters.


Bill, in magnificent bastard mode. (HBO)
This Bill though – King of Louisiana, estranged from Sookie, wearing really nice suits – this guy I like. He’s scheming, charismatic, sarcastic. There’s no need for a “best line of the week” poll for this episode, because “Oh, good. The world needs more beekeepers” would win in a landslide.

Rating: Totally in on this. Bill has a “this guy could do anything and it wouldn’t surprise me” energy that keeps his scenes engaging.

Jesus and Lafayette: They head to Mexico (which is doable in a day, if you’re as naive about the geography of the Southeast as I am and need to check.) The plan is to enlist help from Jesus’s grandfather, a powerful brujo.

Rating: I’m willing to follow along, in that both characters are likable, Lafayette is self-aware enough to point out how dumb their plan is in many ways, and the writers have done a good job of setting up Abuelo Brujo as a scary dude.

Alcide: It’s hard to feel too concerned for Alcide when the guy threatening him is roughly the size of Joe Manganiello’s left leg.

Rating: I like Alcide so we’ll see where this goes, but they could have made the packmaster a bit more threatening.

Arlene and Terry: They decide to have an exorcism after seeing the writing on the wall, and then just as they relax and think all is well, we see a matchbook burst into flames. (It’s not the Lil’ Devil or Rene’s ghost, is it? We’re going to find out the baby doll is the actual evil force, right?)

Rating: Very little interest. Arlene and Terry are great as comic relief, but I don’t believe anyone watched the first three seasons and thought “you know what this show needs? More Arlene and Terry.” Anyone except Alan Ball, apparently.

Hoyt and Jessica: Jessica is giving Hoyt the cold shoulder because she feels guilty. The statistical likelihood of these two working out even if she wasn’t a vampire is infinitesimal. Poor Hoyt.

Rating: See above, only substitute “Hoyt and Jessica” for “Arlene and Terry.”

Jason and the werepanthers: Only slightly advanced this episode, but as noted in last week’s recap, it’s been nice to see Jason grow and develop as a character.

Rating: Worth it, especially for Jason’s theory that “maybe god’s punishing me for having too much sex.”

Marnie/Antonia: Sookie, in Nancy Drew mode, visits Marnie, and runs out when she hears a warning from her dead Gran. Marnie gets captured by Bill’s men, and while she’s chanting for aid from the spirits, she’s possessed and flashes back to the Inquisition, where we see that the priests in charge of the witches were actually vampires. Later, Bill questions her, and even while being glamored by him, she says she doesn’t know how to restore Pam or Eric.

Bill’s sheriffs also get a history lesson from one of their ranks, a vampire named Louis, who says that during an the Inquisition, a powerful sorceress named Antonia used necromancy to compel vampires who had infiltrated the Church as priests an nuns (including his maker) to come out of hiding during the day, killing them all.

Rating: Along with, and intertwined with, Bill, it’s been the other bright spot for me this season. They’ve done a good job of revealing enough about Marnie and the witch that’s possessing her to make her a credible threat to the vampires, but to leave enough mystery to keep me coming back.

By Paul Williams  |  10:05 PM ET, 07/24/2011

 
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