"Thank you, Big John," the widow Bellefleur hugged the Merlotte's short-order cook at her husband's funeral. "That was the shit." And so too, was "Life Matters," a True Blood episode for the ages. This series has always been a study in contrasts, mixing horror, drama, and comedy like a fast food chemist combines sugar, fat, and salt. (The results in both cases can range from wholly satisfying to straight-up disgusting.) But "Life Matters" took its contrasting elements and really tested the limits of what an average True Blood viewer might put up with.
First of all, yes, it definitely gave us the thrilling, intensely satisfying climax to the vampire camp plotline, but it also asked us to patiently observe the understated, plot-free pathos of a small town mourning a third-tier character. Depending on your affection for the Bon Temps microcosm True Blood had gotten away from over the past few seasons, "Life Matters" was bound to be divisive. (If you were among those questioning why Terry's death had gotten so much play this season, there's a chance this episode made you quit this series entirely). But look. I realize there's a fine line between raving about an episode of True Blood and having mental problems, but I don't care: From concept to execution, "Life Matters" was very likely True Blood's finest episode to date.
No matter how you felt about this episode overall, I think we can all agree that Eric's infiltration and takedown of the vampire camp was very A+ True Blood. A whole season's worth of fluorescent-lit bummers paid off when Eric basically became Vampire Superman and offed a couple dozen henchmen before freeing his fellow vampires to take care of the rest. After first turning the outside guards into a yard full of body parts he roamed the interior hallways with both a severed arm for a skeleton key and a sudden urge to rip somebody's dick off. That somebody ended up being the doctor who'd infected Nora with Hep-V. I'm telling you, this episode marched right into Dead Alive territory with that comical geyser of blood from the doctor's crotch area. But despite this and the later revenge-killing of Steve Newlin (R.I.P. Steve Newlin!), Eric's highly satisfying rampage wasn't just a rote exercise in nihilistic vengeance. At almost every turn, he discovered another horror, be it a prisoner in the late stages of Hep-V, a psychiatrist who'd coerced Pam into sex, a near-drained Jason Stackhouse, or painful flashbacks to Nora's infection. Eric's crusade was clearly having a more profound impact on him than we might've expected and it was all prelude to a surprisingly poignant image at episode's end. Pam, pulling herself away from her sun-drunk compatriots, suddenly realizing Eric was leaving. Like, leaving leaving. Guys, I wouldn't say this if Pam hadn't seemed so upset, but when Eric sailed up into that blue sky it felt like nothing less than a hero's farewell. A character who began as a taciturn, self-involved bar owner was now a full-blown vampire superhero with a bigger destiny. I'm not sure what that destiny would be at this point, whether it's as simple as stopping a Hep-V epidemic or maybe something more esoteric, but the feeling remains: Eric's gone. Could you handle a True Blood without Eric? This episode just asked you to envision that possibility.
Speaking of destinies, were you prepared for how small-beans Bill's destiny ended up being? Personally, when I hear a term like "vampire messiah," I assume that person has a bigger purpose than merely saving the lives of a handful of his friends that he probably would've saved anyway. Also, I tend to think that messiahs should get results on their own and not ride the coattails of much more highly motivated, results-oriented Scandinavian hunks, but Lilith works in mysterious ways, I guess! So anyway, yeah: Bill followed Eric to the vampire camp and finished what the rampaging viking had started, particularly when it came to castrated doctors:
Aside from that highly satisfying head-stomping, Bill's primary contribution to the episode's endgame was arriving at the execution chamber minutes before Sarah Newlin could throw open the sunroof. While this season had been slightly vague about the rules of Warlow's sun-proof blood, Bill somehow realized that the single sip he'd taken a few days prior was enough to sun-proof any vampire that sipped his blood. Next thing we knew, Bill was in a full-on Stations of the Cross pose as a gaggle of vampires drank from his wounds. Which, considering how many beloved vampires were in that room, was not something to complain about. Great job, Bill! Unfortunately everyone was a little TOO thirsty and nearly drank him to death, at which point Lilith's trio of bloody sirens attempted to coax Bill into the afterlife, mission accomplished. Fortunately dreamy James continued being an absolute dreamboat and offered up his own artery to save Bill's life. (Sighhhh.) And I don't know about you guys, but the later scenes of the vampire gang frolicking in the sunlight had to be a series highlight for me. Just so joyful and strangely moving. And jarring, too: Some of these characters we had never once seen in natural daylight in all six seasons. Simple pleasures, you know? And by simple pleasures I mean specifically Tara firing a machine gun at boxes of infected Tru Blood:
The last thing worth mentioning about the vampire camp sequence was that final showdown between Sarah Newlin and Jason Stackhouse. Though last week's throwdown suggested Sarah would be a decent addition to the Mortal Kombat franchise, this week saw her behaving more sneakily, like hiding among corpses to elude Eric and making one last attempt at murdering vampires in the name of Jesus. After Eric revived a nearly dead Jason with his own blood (which, if it comes replete with viking sex dreams, will be a gift that keeps on giving), Jason spent the rest of the episode charmingly high out of his mind. So it was Jason, then, who intercepted Sarah during her final mad dash to her SUV outside, and it was Jason who held a gun to her head and threatened to murder her right then and there in the name of God. Now, it didn't really seem like Jason had it in him to do something so terrible, but I can't deny there wasn't a moment there when I really thought he might've done it. Ultimately, Jason Stackhouse did not murder a woman in broad daylight; instead, he had a point to make about people using God as an excuse to do terrible things. It shouldn't take a known dunce who's high out of his mind to make a sophisticated point about religious zealotry, but that's what happened here. True Blood went deep. It was a terrific and scary scene with the added bonus of leaving Sarah alive to possibly return another day. No complaints here!
That religious angle contrasted nicely with the whole of Terry Bellefleur's funeral segment. Whereas Sarah Newlin demonstrated how people misuse religion, Terry's funeral demonstrated how religious tradition can keep people going in times of hardship. Even Arlene, who'd previously shrugged off the trappings of a military funeral, came to find comfort in those traditions. Like I said earlier, if you enjoy the citizens of Bon Temps enough to watch them just sit around and talk about their emotional inner lives, these funeral scenes (and their attendant flashbacks into Terry's earlier life) were downright pleasurable to behold. But even if you grew frustrated with their lack of carnage, you must admit that Lafayette's deep-fry shimmy made it all worth it. Terry's funeral felt bigger than a simple farewell to a lesser character. It felt like the reunion of characters new and old and a celebration of the down-home spirit this show really embodied in its early years. Even if True Blood's current showrunner hadn't promised at Comic-Con to return the series to its more intimate roots, that shift was manifest during Big John's gorgeous a cappella gospel hymn. We haven't known much about Big John as he's chopped vegetables alongside Terry and Lafayette all these years, but now we know his is the voice of a community. Sometimes the background characters are what make a world, and the world of Bon Temps has never felt more vibrant.