Two main things about supernatural soaps: The inherent sexiness of monsters (which, what?) and the breakneck storytelling that tends to follow monsters around. The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, Lost, Revenge (supernatural element being Victoria’s womb): They all live or die by the number of revelations they can throw at us. Which is well and good for the first few seasons, but what happens when this type of show reaches its sixth, seventh, eighth seasons?
Too often they strip-mine their own backstories until there’s nothing left but an impenetrable tangle of retcons and family trees that expand like kudzu. Though True Blood is no stranger to backstory exhaustion — the continuing exploration of the Stackhouse parents means the writers still aren’t finished digging for revelations in that pyrite mine — “F*** the Pain Away” confirmed season six’s more responsible storytelling trend: Meaningful, emotional conversations between classic characters instead of dumb new monsters. I know, right? Sure, there were definitely flashback shenanigans (and at least one new character), but this week’s strongest moments were the ones in which True Blood just slowed down for a second so that the characters could talk. Who needs breakneck storytelling when the characters (and actors) are this good? The werewolves continued to suck, though.
The saga of Warlow and Lilith continues to be this season’s biggest foray into backstory strip-mining. Aside: Did you ever notice on these shows how each successive Big Bad is older and more powerful than the former? Gotta raise them stakes! Can’t wait until the season-seven villain: GOD HIMSELF. Anyway, in this episode there were Warlow flashbacks and, Reader, would you believe these flashbacks involved truly hilarious wigs? Of course you would, because flashback wigs are the law when it comes to supernatural soaps. Way back in 3500 B.C., Warlow was just a simple faerie caveman king who found himself seduced by a starving, nude, pre-bloody-merkin-sporting Lilith. After she turned Warlow into a vampire, he accidentally ate his whole village (except for toddler Niall) and then felt super guilty, so he murdered Lilith in her sleep and declared himself an enemy to all vampires blackout forever. Flash forward to Sookie and Warlow shirtless hugging on her couch, her hadouken fireball or whatever grazing Warlow’s shoulder and causing psychic pain in Bill a few houses down! Because oh yeah, Warlow’s comely maker was now a man with a Foghorn Leghorn accent who wants to synthesize Warlow’s faerie-vampire blood to save all vampires. The fact that Warlow would prefer to see vampires eradicated means that there’s a juicy Maker-Progeny fight brewing! Whoever loses, we win, that sort of thing. But yeah, it needs to be said: Aren’t both Lilith and Warlow one thousand percent more interesting this season than they initially conceived as during season five? Both characters definitely whiff of writers’ room retooling, but a round of Popsicles to those writers. I’m into it.
A big part of redeeming Warlow’s character involved addressing the nagging detail that he’d murdered Sookie’s parents. Admirably, True Blood’s writers stuck with that fact, but added a heaping dose of retconning: Warlow only killed them because they were about to murder Sookie in some kind of honor killing! They just really did not want her to become an immortal vampire-faerie queen (per Niall’s arrangement), so next thing we knew they were spiking her milk with NyQuil and heading to the river. As far as we were concerned, the Stackhouses’ reputations had already been pretty thoroughly tarnished by Jason’s bigoted hallucinations, but it turned out his hallucinations were pretty accurate? The Stackhouses were jerks. And it wasn’t enough that they tried to drown Sookie as a child; Mr. Stackhouse’s ghost then proceeded to take control of Lafayette during an ill-advised séance and attempted to finish what he’d started! Which meant the episode ended with the upsetting image of Lafayette dragging Sookie into a pond to drown her. Brutal. On the bright side, at least Lafayette got to do something interesting this week.
Speaking of interesting: Naked Jason was BACK! Sure, last week’s pull-ups were great, but this week Jason was in full-blown f*ck mode! Sorry to use the F-word, but it was right there in the Peaches-inspired episode title. Specifically the pain being f*cked away was Sarah Newlin’s: After the Governor told her he didn’t want to put a ring on it nor a baby up in it, she retreated to Jason’s house for some extremely thorough hugging. Unfortunately, that’s when Jessica arrived high on faerie blood and drunk on guilt, tearfully asking Jason whether she was evil for having murdered a quartet of newborn faeries. Just as Jason and Jessica’s romantic feelings began to rekindle, Sarah entered, verbally sparred with Jessica, and then had Jessica arrested by the Governor’s goon squad! (Ugh, Sarah Newlin is the worst/best.) The last we saw of Jason he seemed poised to enlist in the Governor’s goon squad, so we might have another Mission: Impossible-style infiltration scene coming up. Fingers-crossed!
Which brings us to the best and most frightening aspect of this episode: the Governor’s underground vampire experimentation “camp.” Jessica was thrown into the same cellblock as Tara who, alongside Eric, had turned herself in in the hopes of freeing Pam. Unfortunately they encountered threats unlike any they’d faced from humans before: Competent security, bizarre experimentation performed on vampires, and torturous exercises (a game of musical chairs involving racquetballs and snipers was particularly unsettling). The most intriguing aspect of this facility was how much sense it made. Humans were finally, finally trying to figure out what made vampires tick. Sure, it all looked very inhumane (“inhumane”) and reeked of academic sadism, but it’s hard to fault these people for wanting to actually figure out these food-chain-superiors. The basic rationale behind this facility (not to mention the Governor’s borderline sympathetic motivations) makes this plotline way, way more believable and disturbing than the Authority ever was.
The camp wasn’t all about pain, however, as Pam had a series of terrific scenes with the camp’s resident psychoanalyst (a reliably creepy Pruitt Taylor Vince), in which she explained vampire psychology, or at least, hers. Again, it’s a downright pleasure when True Blood takes a second to actually dig a little deeper into characters we’ve basically taken for granted. These moments where Pam simply talked about herself were almost as riveting as the time she fired a rocket launcher at a Wiccan bookstore. ALMOST. But still, so good. This episode really heaped on the pathos throughout: Jessica’s fraught conversations with both Jason and Tara; Pam close-examining her feelings toward Eric; and perhaps most shocking of all, Andy and Holly dealing with the aftermath of his daughters’ massacre. Credit where credit’s due, this is Andy Bellefleur’s finest hour. I mean, I can’t believe the genuine sense of relief I felt when one of his daughters survived Jessica’s attack. Or the real emotion when Holly tearfully convinced Andy to not seek revenge. Guys, I don’t know if I’m ready to live in a world where I care about Andy Bellefleur, but here we are.
In other news, Alcide beat up his dad. Nicole woke up next to a rumpled bar owner and then tried to use a payphone. Also, Terry hired Teen Wolf’s Blind Alpha Alpha (don’t ask) to kill him sometime when Arlene isn’t looking. F*cks given: None.
Unlike last week’s weaksauce cliff-hangers, these ones felt real and effective: Lafayette drowning Sookie in a pond; Eric and Pam facing off in front of the Governor. THOSE are cliff-hangers. Add to those Warlow’s backstory, the camp, the character moments, plus Naked Jason, and this show continues its season-long hot streak. And now we’re halfway through! What else is in the teaches of [True Blood]? Huh? What? Right. Uhh.