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True Blood’s Season-Four Midterm Report Card

This is foreplay for them.

True Blood's fourth season has three more episodes left, which is plenty of time for the epic witches versus vampires versus people versus werewolves maybe versus other people showdown the series seems to have promised. But it's not been all scary Latin spells and sexy amnesia so far; there have also been plenty of missteps, a lot of random and seemingly pointless magic, story lines that went nowhere, and characters spiraling off in their own directions. It's time to take a careful look at how the citizens and species of Bon Temps have fared so far this season, assigning midterm grades, giving praise where it's due, and also noting areas in need of improvement. It's not too late to get straight A's, True Blood.

The Vampires
The big hook for this season is Eric's amnesia, and it's the new gold-standard for True Blood subplots: It contrasts creepy supernaturalism with silliness, ominous overtones with campy sexiness. Not all the other vamps have fared quite so well, though: Pam needs more to do than just have her face rot off, and Nan doesn't get anywhere near enough screen time. Also, we get it, TV show: Vampire flesh sizzles when it comes in contact with silver chains. Basta. At least now that Bill is the Vampire King of Louisiana, most of the political blahblahblah power struggles from previous seasons have vanished.
Needs improvement: It's time to tap back into the vampire civil rights movement. Last week's tolerance rally was a step in the right direction, but there was a time when True Blood toyed with being an allegory. Toy more.
Midterm Grade: B

The Witches
Every time True Blood adds another mythical, mystical force to the series, that entity winds up taking over too much of the show. Last year, too much werewolf/werepanther nonsense. The year before was way too focused on Maryanne. Sam's shape-shifting culture is not particularly gripping. And yet! The witch stuff this season, and Marnie/Antonia in particular, has been fantastic. It's added another kind of spookiness to the series and injected some dramatic tension that's not just "hey, are those two going to have sex?" — which is what True Blood's tension is usually all about.
Needs improvement: Does Antonia's return only affect Bon Temps? If she's so powerful, shouldn't this have global, or at least inter-county ramifications? Also, how dumb are all those other people in the coven?
Midterm Grade: A

The Werewolves
Alcide loves Debbie, even though she's the worst. He's also protective of Sookie, just like every single character on the show. Thus endeth the werewolf stories so far this season.
Needs improvement: The werewolves have not been missed. If they only ever show up to beat the crap out of Tommy, that's fine. Go away, Tommy.
Midterm Grade: Incomplete

The Boning
What a boring season so far for True Blood sex. Sookie and Eric have been going at it plenty, but it's been relatively vanilla, especially given the show's history of blood orgies and S&M. The ground? An imaginary bed? This is the romance we've been waiting for? Bill's "is it even really incest?" story line was gone in a flash, Sam and Luna's tent tryst was tame (again, by True Blood standards), and the fantasy threesome between Sookie, Eric, and Bill was over before it even started.
Needs improvement: Step up your creative sex game, everyone.
Midterm Grade: C+

Sookie
The time jump at the start of the season helped give Ms. Stackhouse a new narrative edge — I've been gone for a year? It only felt like a second! — that the show abandoned way too quickly, and she's still not all that affected by the fact that everyone she knows either wants to kill her or would die to protect her. Her romance with Eric has been sweet and innocent, but the whole sexual appeal of Eric comes from his naughtiness, not his sense of childlike wonder (or his hand-me-down sleeveless hoodie).
Needs improvement: Innocent, virginal Sookie has her time and place, but it's time to unleash the inner badass.
Midterm Grade: B

The Other Characters
Arlene and Terry's story has been both scary and satisfying, with her spooky demon baby and Terry's unending devotion to his family. It got resolved a little neatly with ghost-Mavis being sucked into ghost-heaven, but until that point, little Mikey was the undercover scariest character on the show. Lafayette and Jesus are going strong, which is adorable, but Lafayette's brief ghost possession and Jesus's underexplained goat slaughter flew by without enough development. It's not clear what exactly is at stake for the two of them right now. What do they want? What do they need?

The Jason–Jessica–Hoyt love triangle has been far more intriguing. Jessica and Hoyt, once the picture of borderline statutory bliss, have crumbled under the pressures of domesticity, so as dear as their relationship once seemed, its dissolution has been both gradual and justified. Enter the womanizing Jason Stackhouse. For someone who was recently the victim of serial gang rapes, the new deputy seems to be doing pretty well, and his intense guilt at falling for his best friend's girl has been both endearing and oddly hot.

But not all the secondary characters are as compelling as they should be. Tara has zero consistency, which has been an issue on the show for its entire run. For someone with plenty of solid reasons to stay the hell away from her hometown, she sure came back in a hurry, and is she not a lesbian cage fighter anymore? Why not? She flipped against Antonia in a matter of moments, even though Tara's supposed to be aggressively anti-vamp. Does Tara have any sort of through line? At all?

Finally, poor Sam Merlotte. Does he still know the other characters on this show? His shape-shifting has become boring, and his brother Tommy's "skin-walker" abilities wind up being annoying instead of cool and creepy.
Needs improvement: Either get rid of Tommy for good of have him do something interesting. And Tara needs a coherent narrative, like, four seasons ago.
Midterm Grade: B+

Overall Season grade: B+
True Blood has its groove back in a lot of ways (unless you're looking for blood orgies), but it's time for various story lines to start intersecting more.

Photo: HBO