I don’t know many fans of “True Blood” who thought that the third season was a rousing success. In fact, many fans agree that the third season started strong, and then went off the rails almost completely by the end of the season. It certainly left a number of fans wondering if Alan Ball had lost control of another series, much as he did with “Six Feet Under”. Some former fans have given up on the show entirely. So it’s not overstating the case to say that the fourth season premiere had to hit it out of the park.
The episode starts off rough, to say the least. While I certainly appreciate the fact that the writers immediately correct their mistake with the faeries in the third season, by making it clear that the ethereal presentation of the faeries is nothing more than illusion, I can’t help but think that the whole adventure in Faerieland looked like something out of a Syfy Saturday flick. Let me put it this way: faeries battle each other by tossing blue balls of energy that explode into fountains of purple light and glitter. I’m not kidding.
Sookie’s short tenure in the land of the Fae is designed to serve a purpose, however. Since time works differently in Faerie, Sookie is basically gone for more than a year. This allows the writers to bypass and shorten some of the questionable plot and character arcs they set up at the end of the third season, leave various cliffhangers in mystery, and generally commit a soft reboot. It also resolves the problem of having all these events take place in a matter of weeks; the first three seasons were basically the month from hell. (This is something to consider when evaluating some of the character choices in this episode, actually.)
Because this has not been done in the past, it seems out of place. But it’s probably for the best. Relationships take important leaps as a result. Lafayette and Jesus are a tighter couple, which gives more context to the Wiccan subplot (a plot thread with details which will likely anger many actual Wiccans). Jessica and Hoyt find themselves dealing with the inevitable issues of a vampire/human long-term arrangement. Arlene’s baby has been born, and she and Terry are bickering over her lingering issues over the child’s parentage.
Some of the changes are a bit of a stretch. Here’s the most obvious: Jason turning into an actual police officer, and more than that, one of the more stable members of the community. (If I lived there, I’d be terrified. Then again, that’s probably the status quo when living in Bon Temps!) If Jason is still dumb enough to fall for the trap at the end of the episode, it’s hard to think that he got his act together, even if Sookie’s disappearance might have prompted him to grow up a bit.
Tara is a bit of a tougher sell. I don’t doubt that Tara, after that aforementioned month of pure hell, would flee Bon Temps and try to find herself. I don’t even doubt that she would do everything possible to gain physical strength and confidence, in the hopes of preventing victimization again. I like all that.
On the other hand, I question her foray into lesbian goodness during the same period of time, because I wonder if it presents an unfortunate message. I know, it shouldn’t matter, but it did occur to me that if one can see her other life measures as a response to her ordeals, her shift in sexual orientation could be seen in the same light. As if to say the only reason that Tara would be homosexually inclined is if she had been raped and otherwise robbed of her agency countless times.
My big problem with “True Blood” has been its inability to pick a consistent tone. I enjoy dark comedy as much as anyone, but shows like “Supernatural” and “The Vampire Dairies” do it better than “True Blood” at this point. “True Blood” descends into self-mockery and ridiculousness just a bit too much for my liking. Sookie and the rest lampshade so often that it’s become a convenient way for the writers to cut corners and get crazy without doing the work to make it fit the universe. As I said, this reminds me all too much of the meandering nonsense of the latter half of “Six Feet Under”.
That’s not to say that there weren’t good things. A lot of fans complain that Sookie is less than sympathetic (and blame that on Anna Paquin for some reason), and that comes out big time in this episode. Sookie all but ignores the facts in favor of petulant anger over the changes in her world, which is a direct result of her characteristic stubborn streak.
I also liked the fact that the vampire community is still dealing with the fallout from Russell Edgington’s public de-spining of a newscaster. It makes even more sense when it is revealed that both Bill and Eric have gained power and status in the intervening year: Bill as the new King of Louisiana, and Eric in more subtle fashion. I’m far more interested to see how all of that pans out, which has always been the case with “True Blood”.
The witch subplot was less successful. I thought the in-joke of having Marnie own a bird named Miranda was cute, but the rest of it was a bit of a bore. I don’t remember enough about Eddie for me to care overly much about that element. If it wasn’t for the fact that Bill had seeded the group with a ridiculously cute redhead for some arcane purpose, I wouldn’t care at all.
Since this episode was something of a re-introduction, much of the time was spent setting up the updated status quo for future exploration. In the end, that means that this episode had to convince us to care about the status quo enough to keep watching. I think it was only moderately successful. The third season uncovered a ton of structural problems within the series, perhaps related to the difficulty of translating the novels to the screen. But given how successfully HBO managed to pull off the adaptation of “Game of Thrones”, “True Blood” looks like even more of a mess in comparison.
Final Rating: 6/10