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True Blood Recap: The Bride of Franklinstein

Hallelujah, hookers. The show is back! After the past few muddled episodes, which, at times, traded camp for shock, escalating tension for overwrought chaos, and portraits of despair for caricature, we were starting to wonder if Alan Ball had stopped paying attention. How could the creator of something as finely tuned, but freewheeling as Six Feet Under give the go-ahead on torture porn, throwaway allusions to Christianity and Nazism, and Tara's endless free fall? For all the far-fetched sex and violence, it felt constricted. But last night was a big payoff for the direction this season has been building toward. True Blood circled back to the hapless human drama that anchors the show, flexed its newfound muscles (meta laughs, Sookie's self-awareness, Bill's moral ambiguity), and let newcomers Denis O'Hare (as vampire king Russell Edgington) and James Frain (as freaky Franklin) even further off their leash, which had us grinning at our TV set. Plus: Lafayette gets a gentleman caller and a working theory on the Sookie Files!

Let Me Tell You What I Really Think
Last night's theme seemed to be: call it like you see it. Some of the best character assessments we've heard came from the mouths of the characters themselves — as though the writers couldn’t contain their opinions anymore. Edgington on Franklin: "Franklin, you're a huge freak." Bill on Lorena: "You're not very smart, you played yourself into a corner." Tommy Mickens on Hoyt: "He looks like he got bombed by radiation on his way to middle school. That's a giant sixth grade boy right there." (So true! God, they must’ve been saving that one up for years.) Franklin on Talbot: "Ignore him, he’s the cleaning lady."

Love Is in the Air!
As a little respite from all the neck-twisting hate sex, the hour maxed out on tender-lovin’ romance. Jesús, Lafayette’s mom’s nurse at the loony bin/old-folks home, stops by Merlotte’s to ask Lafayette on a date. Maybe it’s too-good-to-be-true to have a boy wait nine hours at a bar just to woo you with compliments. But we’d totally wait all day for Lafayette, too.

Jason catches a glimpse of Crystal, the crying blonde from the drug bust, and chases her down in a borrowed cop car. True Blood is clearly having fun with Jason’s new career choice. Back at the office, he gets a boredom montage — playing paper-clip limbo and fooling around with the fingerprint ink. Later, his shirtless police chase is scored with music from some sitcom or buddy-cop show we can’t quite place. (Commenters?) Crystal is too skittish to meet him for a drink, but agrees to a moonlit make out, even though she insists she has some dark secret that makes dating impossible. Her love of the outdoors points to something animalistic.

Terry takes the next step and moves in with Arlene, still not hip to the fact the bun in her oven is Renee’s. Sam tries to make sure Terry’s coping with the pressure. “I never been so not worried,” Terry replies. “This is what normal people do, Sam. They fall in love, they make each other laugh, they move in together, they raise kids, they fight over money, they get old and fat together. It's normal and it’s happening to me." The speech broke our heart a little, since, really, it could’ve applied to most of Bon Temps. They’re damaged, desperate for a sense of belonging, and grateful to get even a taste.

Runaway Vampire Bride
Life for Tara these days is really just changing the venue in which she’s bound and gagged. Last night it was Edgington’s dining room, followed by a four-poster bed upstairs. But this was really Franklin’s episode to steal. He plays the psychopathic kidnapper like an unlucky-in-love adolescent. When the king calls him out on his lunacy, he sort of sheepishly grins and covers his face. Tara insists they need to talk and he shoots back, “Don't say that. Women say that, everything goes black and I wake up surrounded by body parts.”

Without a doubt, the best scene of the night was in their bedroom. Franklin dresses Tara up in an FLDS wedding gown, then insists she explain who Lafayette is and why he keeps texting her. She can barely get the words out with his hands throttling her neck, but Franklin snaps back into suitor mode once he needs to figure out what to write back. “How about: 'I’m busy, bitch?' Bitch, bitch, too many bitches. In his other messages he calls you hooker. Hoo-kar, hookah,” he prattles on as Tara lies there tied to the posts. “Hey Tara, watch how fast I type motherfucker,” he says texting one-handed without looking. “It’s cool, right? I’ll delete it so you can watch again,” he adds like a teenager showing off some useless party trick he’s been practicing after school.

Even though Tara’s in a worse bind than we’ve ever seen, she finally gets proactive, stringing Franklin along to make sure she gets out of Edgington’s alive — which makes this story line suddenly watchable. But her façade falters when she hears his proposal: be his for eternity as his vampire bride.

Sleepover at the King’s
Bill, Lorena, and the king walk into the plantation house after the feeding party with blood-stained mouths — like red wine teeth, only different. Edgington insists both his visitors — Franklin with the file and Eric in search of Bill — stay over for a slumber party.

Franklin won last night’s one-liner contest, but we think Edgington’s the smartest addition to this season. He contributes an extra couple of layers to every scene he’s in, both because of his manifold hidden agendas, but also because he’s such a fully realized, mercurial villain, stopping his machinations to flirt with Talbot or crack a joke. It keeps things lively.

After playing him for a fool for a bit, the king sides with Eric against the Magister, which may mean there’s a way to save Pam. Edgington also confronts Bill about the file. He wants to know why certain names on the Stackhouse family tree were circled and what Sophie Anne has to do with this. “I think you've been playing track-the-telepath. You are trying to discover the origins and the meaning of your human’s curious condition, because somehow, somewhere there’s a payoff.” But Bill insists he’s way off base.

Viking Quest
Can we just say: Eric in a sea-glass blue cashmere sweater trumps Alcide in nothing at all. During a tour of Talbot’s vampire collectibles, Eric sees a Viking crown (one of hundreds in the king’s treasure chest). It triggers a flashback to his pre-vampire days as a lusty, irresponsible Nordic prince who wants to spend all his time “between a woman’s legs.” While he’s getting busy with the redheaded goat-herder, a couple of werewolves break in and kill his parents and baby sister. As his father utters his dying word — “vengeance” — a cloaked figure in the doorway orders the wolves to bring him the Viking crown, and then glides off into the snowy night. The hooded fellow is obviously Edgington. It will be interesting to watch Eric, who is rarely emotionally invested enough to shake up the status quo, respond to being a houseguest of the man who murdered his family.
Body count: Eric’s human family.

Your Packmaster Can't Help You Now
Through the magic of no explanation, Sookie and Alcide make it out of Lou Pine’s alive. She wants to talk and find out more about this Russell Edgington character, but Alcide insists on consulting with his packmaster first. The old man turns out to be too scared to be of any help. Debbie stops Alcide’s in this week’s groupie couture (a strategically shredded black T-shirt and pink silk patterned boxers). Sookie’s doing the best she can, managing a werewolf who can’t think for himself. But she’s starting to look like an easy mark trapped up there in Alcide’s surprisingly posh condo.

Mickens’ Family Secrets
We all know what’s going on here, but True Blood isn’t ready to spell it out just yet. Sam senses the tension between his father and brother and tries to stay out of it at first, insisting the Mickens work it out among themselves. But when Joe Lee drunkenly barges in, insisting that he owns Tommy head to tail, Sam fights back and kicks him out of the house. Usually True Blood’s most violent and traumatic moments are tinged with the supernatural, like Lafayette’s weeks of torture at Fangtasia. This is just human, sick, and sad.
Body count: We wouldn't mind seeing Joe Lee's name in this column.

Bill Compton Switches Sides, Again
We got the sense that Bill wasn’t telling the king the truth about his dossier on Sookie and so did the king. Once Bill realizes his détente is in jeopardy, he has to rethink his stay-put-and-pretend-to-be-evil strategy. Cooter breaks into his room to gloat about Sookie sleeping with Alcide. It takes Bill about two seconds to go into a mad rage, making kindling of his fancy bed frame and melting the bodyguard’s face against the silver doors.

Bill rushes over to Alcide’s to warn Sookie that the king is after her. Sookie is overjoyed to see him until she realizes that Bill only showed up to make sure she’s safe, not start the rest of their lives together. Cooter and Edgington show up with murderous intentions. Just as it looks like Sookie will, once again, have to rely on some dude’s superpowers to save her, the stress helps her channel some of her own. She zaps Cooter in the face with white lighting just like she did with Maryann last season. The episode ends with the king yelling “fantastic” and maniacally laughing now that he, too, sees something intriguing about the barmaid from Bon Temps.

More Recaps:
The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy said the best parts were the ones that veered from Charlaine Harris’ books. “It’s as if the writers regain their creative mojo when allowed to dream up their own twisted tales.”
The L.A. TimesShow Tracker thought the episode had “some of the best stuff True Blood’s ever done.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker thought the show “dared to go even more over-the-top than usual this week, with amusing, clever, ultimately exhilarating results.”

Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO