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True Blood Recap: The Town That Feared Sundown

Depending on your mental problems, everyone has a different flavor of horror. Is home invasion your horror of choice? What about boogeymen? Psycho-ex stalkers? Abominations of science? Demonic possession? Whatever you choose says a lot about your subconscious fears. Personally, I love broad daylight, nobody-is-safe horror. The kind where even if you're doing everything right, certain death looms around every corner. Think Dawn of the Dead or The Mist or Final Destination, or even the psychological daylight of Scream 2's cold open, when Jada Pinkett is murdered in plain sight of a crowded movie theater but nobody helps her. True Blood has embraced nearly every subgenre of horror over the years, but typically it reserves its scares for nighttime, when the monsters come out to, uh, mash. "I Found You" was different, though, since it was the rare True Blood episode that took place entirely in the daylight. And wow:

NIGHTMARES.

The impending (and repeated) threat of Hep-V vampires has united this show into a cohesive whole like never before. Yes, characters have splintered off into subplots, but in these first two episodes you never once forget the sense of dread looming over Bon Temps. When Sookie, Alcide, Sam, Jason, and Andy trace the Hep-V vampires' trail of corpses to a neighboring town only to find it utterly deserted, its buildings graffitied with pleas for mercy, and then eventually come upon a mass grave, it's one of the darkest journeys True Blood has taken us on. We're no longer in the safe confines of cartoonish camp with ridiculous faerie night clubs or backyard orgies, we're in a next-level existential nightmare. And that was before Sookie discovered the diary of a dead girl whose life almost exactly mirrored her own. This season True Blood's trying on some sophisticated psychological concepts and it's frankly never looked better.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. No discussion of "I Found You" should begin anywhere other than with THAT COLD OPEN. Decades from now we'll all ask each other, "Where were you when you first saw that True Blood cold open — you know the one." Because YES. Last season fans complained that after Jason fed on Eric we weren't shown the sexual fantasy that typically follows. Well here it was and it was worth the wait. From the dreamlike camerawork of the opening shot it was telegraphed pretty quickly that this was a fantasy sequence, and the casual way Eric was reintroduced to the show felt intentionally hollow in a way the later, real one wouldn't. So when Jason Stackhouse inexplicably arrived in Eric's European hotel room to spit some melodramatic Tennessee Williams dialogue at him for having abandoned him, we all knew where this was headed. And yeah: Clearly Ryan Kwanten and Alexander Skårsgard were up to a challenge a certain other True Blood actor was not. What more can we say about this instant-classic, series highlight of a scene without sounding like total creeps? It should have gone one for another hour or so? Still, the punchline of Jason waking up from his wet dream sitting in a church pew was almost worth the interruption. ALMOST.

In other news, it should come as no surprise that the human contingency of Bon Temps is not super thrilled with Andy Bellefleur's protection. While the episode had a regrettable lack of scope when it came to letting us know just how widespread this Hep-V invasion was (the government's eerie silence on the matter was something I really wanted to know more about), I liked that for at least a few hours the Bon Temps residents banded together to pick up the pieces following the previous night's massacre. But yeah, when the supposed vigilante jerks suggested they all arm up, I think we were supposed to disapprove, but sorry, their strategy made tons of sense. (Even better: Alcide's suggestion that he and Sookie straight-up leave town.) Considering that everybody agreed the infected vampires would be back in a few hours, the citizens were doing surprisingly little to fortify themselves against the next attack. That's why the stand-off between the vigilante mob and Kenya, the town's only remaining sheriff and guardian of the town's weapon cache, felt so loaded (pun never intended). We even got a rare taste of the South's uneasy race relations when a citizen suggested that Kenya was a second-tier sheriff because she was a woman of color. For the most part True Blood is an alternate universe cartoon, but when actual, real issues come to the fore it can have a bracing impact. This mob subplot is even stronger for how reasonable it all is. Personally I'd probably be right alongside them (if not necessarily doing shooting practice inside the precinct).

Because "I Found You" was a mostly daylight-set episode, a surprising number of vampire characters were barely ever seen. We didn't see Jessica until the end, when she awoke from her slumber sensing that Adilyn was in danger (she'd been taken captive by the mob) and we didn't see James at all. Even Bill only showed up in the episode's final moments when Sookie sought him out for help of some kind. But we did get to see a bit of how the Hep-V vampires operate, as the Fangtasia contingency bickered over who'd be dragging human victims up from the basement every 15 minutes. What's scary about these villains is that they're all dying, so their particular brand of terror seems especially pointless and random (like death itself!). But when Arlene and Holly recognized one of them as their children's teacher, and then appealed to her humanity to help them out, it made for a scene with the kind of emotional depth we had no right to expect from these third-tier characters. But it was all for nasty nought as the teacher ended up dissolving into goo while feeding from Arlene's femoral artery. Isn't that life, though? Sometimes even when you do everything right you'll still find yourself sitting in a pile of steaming black slime.

After one of the hollowest promises in True Blood history, Tara reappeared in this episode because no duh. But again, like Andy Bellefleur before her, Lettie Mae has transformed from one of the show's most annoying characters to one of its most compelling. After her amazing verbal throwdown with Lafayette (who was NOT interested in getting back into witchcraft, not even for Tara), Lettie Mae realized that if she drank V she could commune with her dead daughter. So after intentionally and gruesomely burning her hand in a hot skittle, Lettie Mae convinced Willa to heal her with V, which caused Lettie Mae to hallucinate seeing Tara hanging from a cross and wrapped in an albino python. It was a chic and stylish look for Tara, but when she began yammering in tongues it became clear that her resurrection would probably be more complicated than Lettie Mae thought. Guys, I have honestly no idea where this plotline is going, and I mean that as a compliment.

And then we came to that final reveal: Pam walking into a French villa and finding Eric, surrounded by hookers, and oh yeah, DYING of Hep-V. We knew his return was inevitable, but not like this. Not like this. While it seemed like the Hep-V plotline would eventually just end along with all those who were infected, the fact that Eric has it now means our heroes really WILL have to deal with the disease head on. Either that, or this is simply how Eric will go out. But man, I really hope not. Eric deserves way better than dissolving into a pile of black ooze. Even that fiery mountaintop fakeout was a more epic death than Hep-V would be. So yeah: Stakes! This season's got 'em.

For being yet another setup episode, this was another compelling and satisfying hour of a thoroughly rejuvenated saga. From its abject horrors to its quiet interludes (Sookie's musings on the cruelty of life), this feels like an almost entirely different show than, say, season five. But again, it feels like less a betrayal of a mission statement than an earned, final salvo. Yeah, "I Found You" was another good one. Now let's go watch that cold open again bye.

Photo: HBO