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True Blood Recap: Spineless

This episode was about as uneven as Talbot's remains — lumped across the carpet like sauce and cheese spilled out from a giant vat of lasagna. The hour was wasted on rehashing conflicts we were already familiar with and unexpected revelations we don’t yet care about, and build-up toward impending showdowns that made things more annoying than tense. Last night chugged along with minor points of interest (Holly’s got an agenda; Hoyt grows a pair) until the last five minutes, which will change human-vampire relations for the foreseeable future. Writer Alexander Woo, who penned the rollicking season opener, definitely has a taste for camp, but that wasn’t the objectionable part. What marred our enjoyment was that the characters seemed robbed of the elements that make them appealing: Jason wasn’t sweet, Franklin wasn’t funny, Pam wasn’t deadpan, Sookie’s back with Bill, and Russell Edgington wasn’t shrewd. Maybe we’re coming down from last week’s high, but it would be easier to get into swing of things if they gave up the goods on Sook.

Back in the Saddle
When last we saw our heroine she was bouncing around on top of her favorite vampire. Now she’s cleaning up in the shower. Bill joins her, biting his finger and then rubbing his all-healing blood in the neck wound where less than a day ago he almost sucked her dry. They start chastising each other right away. “Okay, see, I don't know how you did things in the 1800s, but keeping a file on the woman you love is ... creepy.” Back to his old self, Bill insists he did it all to protect her. But how reformed can he be if he never confesses to being a procurer for the queen? After the freedom that came with seeing these two apart and Sookie’s raw breakup speech, this feels like a step backward.

Hadley confesses that she told Sophie Anne about Sookie’s powers. Yeah, we already knew that. Then Hadley asks Sookie to check if her son Hunter is a telepath, too. We’re not sure what the sudden urgency is. Edgington seems otherwise occupied, besides when did he declare war on all keepers of the light? In any case, yes, Hunter can read minds, so Hadley tries to find a safe place to stash him.

While Bill’s trying to get his sleep on, he’s magically transported to the sun-drenched heaven/limbo world from Sookie’s coma vision. Claudine’s there. Hey, Claudine. In that world, which Bill accessed by drinking so much of Sookie’s blood, he’s immune to sunlight. He tries to bite Claudine, but also convince her that he only wants to protect Sookie. Suddenly, he knows what Sookie is after all! Oh, stop being such a tease.
Booty count: The shower variety.

The Inquisition
Eric returns to Fangtasia to try to find a place to hide out before Russell (who is hanging on the rooftop with Talbot’s remains in a crystal urn/punch bowl/candy dish) can find him. But there are bigger problems, like the American Vampire League’s Nan Flannigan and her silvered-up squadron of Robo-cops who want to know what happened to the Magister.

We’re into the idea of lifting the veil on the vampire political machine, but this was kind of a letdown. Instead of some baroque chamber of power, the Authority headquarters looks like the control room at NASA with a few drones facing a giant TV screen. Where are the outsize personalities masterminding a shadowy organization that can exert control over a race of amoral bloodsucking fiends?

Eric gives Nan Flannigan (who seems about as terrifying as the PTA moms she usually plays) the whole spiel about Edgington. "The Turks told folk tales of shape-shifting jackals at the fall of Constantinople. The Aztecs were decimated by disease from the conquistador’s war dogs. Each time, there's been wolves, fueled by vampire blood." Again, we know this, and in this retelling, it comes across more like the Forrest Gump School of Historical Happenstance. Does the AVL really not know this? Besides keeping Eric in a holding pattern while other plotlines progress, what’s the point of this meh investigation?

Parade of the Colorful Bathrobes
After a night with Jesus, Lala is glowing so fiercely even his certifiable mother can tell something’s changed. “You ain’t got your mask on. I see you. My son is shining through.” When Lafayette tells her it’s because of Jesus, she concedes, “Maybe God loves fags?” It’s a nice nod to the show’s opening credits, and break from her homophobia.
Booty count: All night, apparently.

Bad Cop, Worse Cop
Christ, Jason’s getting as bad as Tara. Every move is the wrong one. Crystal gets increasingly agitated at how dense Jason is about the fact that the folks at Hotshot have some kind of supernatural beastly powers — and that she’s far from ready to give up on her kin. They tie Felton up to a tree and call in an anonymous tip, but it ends up getting Kevin almost killed. At the precinct, Crystal’s cousin sees her and reports back to the family. Things are looking worse and worse for Jason, and there’s too much bickering to enjoy his budding romance with Crystal. Like Sam, in his insistence on being heroic, he turns tone-deaf to Crystal’s needs.

Holly, Holly Everywhere, and What Are We Supposed to Think?
Merlotte’s newest staffer is suddenly ubiquitous. Tara finally tells Sam what happened with Franklin and he suggests seeing a shrink. Then someone in Bon Temps does the unthinkable: pulls out a laptop to look something up (a True Blood first?). Tara’s Googling leads her to a support group (Victims of Sociopathic Vampires Anonymous?). Holly’s there and a little too happy to see her. She starts things off, "Fifteen years ago, I was locked in a room and raped by my co-worker for five and a half hours. And every day I face not only my memory of that, but that part of me who wants to feel sorry for herself and expects the worst out of people."

Here’s where things get a little complicated. Obviously Tara has been traumatized (tied up, kidnapped, forced to have sex with her insane captor to get out alive, forced to bludgeon said captor in the face with a medieval mace, etc.), and True Blood does veer into heavy emotional territory. But Tara was also engaged in a farcical con with a crazeball vampire. Playing on the audience’ s real-life associations with rape feels, if not unseemly, than perhaps unearned. Plus the whole five-and-a-half-hours detail is such a clear gun in the first act. For a moment, we wondered if that “co-worker” was a familiar face, like Renee.

Later, Holly squeezes a confession out of Arlene too. She doesn’t really want to have a dead serial killer’s baby. Holly suggests going to a clinic, but Arlene gets all Juno on her. Not to worry, Holly knows “other ways to resolve this.” There is something Maryann-ish about Holly’s willingness to insert herself into the lives of others under the guise of self-empowerment.

Showdown at the Merlotte’s Corral
Biscuits alone won’t win you a man. Jessica tries her best to keep her fangs in check when Hoyt walks in with a girl who will no doubt grow up to be just like his mama. But he’s only doing it to distract himself from missing Jessica. “God help me, but I fucking hate her. Everything is dolls and show tunes and cleaning stuff.”

Tommy’s clearly resentful that Sam sent his good-for-nothing parents packing. He tests his brother by cavorting with a topless, high blonde (one of three gratuitous racks on display this episode) from Merlotte’s. Sam looks her over and it’s clear what he’s thinking: Wait, could have I been doing the same thing all these years? He tries the cool-parent approach, but Tommy tells him he’s too easily walked over.

It primes Sam to go berserk on Crystal’s dad when he gets to the bar and calls Sam a pussy. Jesus and Lafayette drive her dad to the hospital and Crystal ends up shoving off Jason — who daftly orchestrated a raid on Hotshot — and jumping in the car to the ER.

Just as the truck drives away, Franklin comes out of nowhere (face fully regenerated) to terrorize Tara again. She tells him off and refuses to play the victim, but Franklin’s too maudlin and bloodthirsty, which sucks the fun out of their banter. Jason finally sees the chance to be a hero that he’s been mucking up. He points his gun at Franklin and the wooden bullet works. We were a bit premature saying this last week, but Franklin deserves to go out on a more sublime one-liner.

The Revolution Will Be Televised
Nan Flannigan returns to Fangtasia with a decree from the Authority, which basically says: This never happened. “Missing royals, a dead Magister — it's a political tar baby; no one wants to touch.” Eric can have his revenge, in fact the Authority and the AVL want to get rid of the problem, but as for resources, he’s on his own. Cut to Nan in the back of a limo on her way to Oregon. All that politicking about the Great Revelation (that vamps can live off synthetic True Blood) naturally proves to be hypocritical as she eyes her naked plaything’s femoral artery.

On the limo wall, the nightly news announcer is recounting the latest on the Vampire Rights Amendment. That is until Edgington speeds up behind him and pulls out the anchor’s spine — on national television. Nan looks up from her dinner as Edgington goes on a gonzo tirade. “Global warming, perpetual war, toxic waste, child labor, torture, genocide: That's a small price to pay for your SUVs and your flat-screens, your blood diamonds, your designer jeans, your absurd garish McMansions, futile symbols of permanence to quell your quivering spineless souls,” he intones, chucking the spine behind him.

Denis O’Hare as Russell pulls out another great performance, but we just don’t believe the source of his ire. Talbot probably had a war chest of bloody blood diamonds and the king had his own torture room in the slave’s quarters. The king despises humans because he thinks they’re an inferior race that should be subjugated, not because they’re morally bunk. It felt less like a calculated act of revenge than the ramblings of a crazy old kook. But good luck ratifying the Vampire Rights Amendment after this line: “Why would we seek equal rights? You are not our equals. We will eat you, after we eat your children.”
Body count: It’s all fun and games until someone loses a spine.

Photo: HBO