Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: True Blood "She's Not There"

Non Spoiler Review:
True Blood begins its fourth season with one of the oddest episodes of the entire series. Sookie's disappearance in last year's finale is the spark that drives everything this week, and the first ten minutes literally change the direction of the whole show. The rest of the hour is spent catching up with every character rather than setting any significant plot in motion aside from some broad hints at what the season might entail. 

I'm still not sure how I feel about She's Not There. It all hinges on how the next weeks unfold whether this makes for a reinvigorated True Blood, or the derailment of the show. Some of the character directions are definitely exciting, and others less so. We've now got fairies and witches to deal with, but sadly, no Alcide yet this week. Other than that, there's very little that can be summed up without dropping the big spoiler, but if nothing else, it will get fans talking.

Spoilers Now!
After vanishing in the cemetery, Sookie emerges into a fairy world where everyone is being given glowing gold apples. Claudine says she's her godmother, and she's been pretty high maintenance (duh). Sookie sees Barry, the bellboy from Dallas, who's pretty excited to be among people who don't think they're freaks. He eagerly bites into the fruit, but Sookie is suspicious about everyone eating them, and holds off on her's. Then she spies her grandfather, Earl. He thinks he just saw her a week before on her birthday. But that was twenty years ago.

That's a lot for him to process. Sookie fills him in on her grandmother and her parents' deaths (which is a lot more to process). Earl thinks he's only been there a few hours. She lets him know telepathically that it's all a trap and they need to leave, but as it turns out, everyone else can hear her too given they're all fairies like her. In comes Queen Mab. She's the one who sent for her and urges her to try the fruit. Sookie throws it on the ground, and the fairy glamor vanishes, revealing it and everyone else to be uglier troll-like creatures.

Mab says they can't stay on the human plane any longer as the vampires nearly hunted them to extinction and now she's led another one to their plane. They've bred with humans and now it's time to harvest their seeds and retreat from the human world forever. Sookie's grabbed, but she uses her light hands and dispels the illusion showing the place to be a grim and barren countryside. She and Earl run off, with everyone in pursuit and throwing magical exploding balls of light (!)

They're intercepted by some rebels (one of whom is the queen's brother) who don't want to shut themselves away from humanity.They can send her back, but Earl has to stay given he ate the apple. They need to jump through a portal before it closes, so Earl takes her and jumps.

They arrive in the cemetery, but Earl doesn't feel well and quickly begins to turn grey. He dies very quickly, but tells her to give Jason his watch to show he never abandoned them.

Distraught, Sookie returns home and finds her house completely repainted and renovated. A workman threatens to call the police, and later Jason shows up (as a police officer). He's dumbfounded at the sight of her as everyone thought she was dead. She's been gone a year.

The house was sold to a real estate company after they all resolved she was gone for good. She can't believe he gave up on her. When she gives him the watch, he believes her story about the fairies. As the sun sets she goes onto the porch to see Bill, who is equally shocked to find her alive (he's been implicated as a possible suspect in her murder). He seems to have guessed she was with Claudine, though. Then Eric shows up and suggests he was the only one who never gave up on her.

Andy drives up and demands to know where she was given all the resources spent on her search. Bill steps in and says she was on vampire business for him. He wants Andy to clear his name as well. In the patrol car, Jason asks Andy if he's using again. Yup. Andy's a V addict.

Next we catch up with Jesus and Lafayette, who are still together. Jesus is bringing him to a coven of witches, which includes Holly from Merlot's. The head of the coven, Marnie, seems to channel Eddie, who was the late vampire who used to supply Lafayette his blood. Lafayette's suitably freaked out and angry with Jesus for trying to set him up.

Terry and Arlene have a son, Mikey, but something's up. She comes home from work to find the baby has pulled the heads off all his sister's dolls.

Nan is trying to win back public support, post-Russell, with public service announcements featuring a non-threatening Eric. Meanwhile, Bill has opened a seniors home in honor of his late wife, and seems to be friends with head of the chamber of commerce, Portia Bellefleur. 

Sookie is reunited with everyone at Merlotte's and is brought up to speed on Tara leaving. Sam's less forgiving for her dropping off the face of the earth on vampire business, but he gives her her job back.

Hoyt's mother walks in with Tommy, who is wearing a leg brace. She's taken him in over the last year as her Hoyt replacement, and he's currently in physiotherapy after Sam shot him. For his part, Sam's in anger management.

Anger management for Sam is a group of two girls and another guy, who Sam commiserates with in a cabin in the woods. But it's apparent that when they're talking about how difficult it is for them to keep control, that something more is going on. They take off their clothes and shape-shift into horses to go run off some stress.

Sookie meet with Portia, who's she's retained to find out who bought the house so she can get it back. It will take some work to find the owners of the company, Portia explains. Sookie reads her mind and hears her thinking about Bill.

In New Orleans, Tara is a wrestler (now known as Toni) and in a lesbian relationship. She gets a text from Lafayette that Sookie is alive, but that doesn't prompt her to want to return to Bon Temps.

Hoyt and Jessica are living together, but her domestic skills are quite lacking, and prompts an argument. She brings up that his mother nearly killed her when she tried to shoot her (and missed). They make up, and head out to Fangtasia for a date night.

Jessica is hit on by another guy at the bar, though Hoyt isn't aware of it. Pam does notice, and chats with her in the bathroom, telling her how unnatural it is for a predator like herself to try to shack up with a human. 

Babysitting Andy isn't the only thing keeping Jason busy. He returns to the were-panther family he's looking after. Crystal is still missing, so he's been seeing to their needs, but when he brings groceries they knock him out and lock him in the deep freezer.

Jesus and Lafayette show up at the coven again, this time for a ritual in honor of Marnie's dead bird. But it's apparent there's something more to it, as she tries to resurrect it from the dead—and it works. The bird briefly flies before falling dead again to everyone's shock. Later, one of the coven members goes to a lush mansion where she finds Bill Compton, whom she addresses as your majesty

Eric shows up when Sookie is in the shower. She no longer owns the house anymore, so her invitation is worthless. He bought it. He always knew she was alive, and if he owned the house, he would own her. Fangs on!

The Verdict:
I'm not sure what to think about that. Battlestar Galactica mastered the whole one year later twist so it's not as novel an idea as it used to be. It was disconcerting catching up to everything, but after thinking it over I'm leaning more in favor of the time jump. The first three seasons have actually taken place over the course of a meagre few months, so a leap ahead really does freshen things up and evolve the characters after three seasons. We also got to avoid having to sit through a lot of boring things—the fallout from Russell, and courtships for Jesus/Lafayette and Hoyt/Jessica, etc.

What absolutely did not work for me was the entire fairy sequence, which reminded me of something from Star Trek: Next Generation—Worf could have walked on screen and not even raised an eyebrow, even before the fireballs started flying. Additionally, the Earl Stackhouse appearance felt a bit tacked on and Gary Cole seemed miscast. It was hard to picture Sookie's grandmother with him (even twenty years younger).

As far as the state of everyone else:

Sookie—A year missing and they manage to pull off an explanation of secret vampire business to brush it off. That's a bit hard to swallow, even for this show. But at least the homestead got a makeover. It's going to be a challenge to ensure she keeps dealing with people as if a few hours have passed.

Bill—Probably my favorite change. I was curious why Eric seemed to obey him and leave, until the end when we get the your majesty. Guess he won the fight with Queen Sophie. But did he replace her or Russell? I wasn't sure if that was Russell's mansion or not.

Eric—He had very little to do, oddly enough. But his threatening episode fade-outs have been done to death.

Jason—Another plus. We avoid all the boring police training and get a full-fledged responsible deputy keeping things together for Andy, as well as looking after his hillbilly brood (ugh) while waiting for Crystal to come back. Please resolve this storyline soon.

Pam—Always a joy, and awesome outfit.

Hoyt—The casual comment about his mother and her gun seemed out of place, almost an afterthought, as if the writers thought better of it over the hiatus. It remains to be seen if this couple can remain interesting.

Tara—Not sure what to think about scrappy Toni and her lesbian lover. They really need to reinvigorate the character to be the likable girl she was in season one.

Lafayette and Jesus—It's nice to see them still together. I'm excited about the magic storyline, so I'm interested to see how it goes.

Terry and Arlene—Filler scene.

Sam—Bizarre. After his dark side was revealed at last season's end, it's difficult to figure out his direction.

Hoyt's mom and Tommy—It actually makes a lot of sense.

Alcide—More Alcide!

My final verdict will rest on how the next episode unfolds and starts to play out the season's storylines. The very nature of the time jump required a lot of scenes to bring things up to speed, which did make for an uneven story. I'm holding out hope the witch angle is better handled than the fairies. So a confusing, but decent beginning to the season.

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