Monday, June 27, 2011

True Blood 4.01: "She's Not There"

“Apparently I have to go. But understand this. Everyone who claims to love you, your friends, your brother, even Bill Compton, they all gave up on you. I never did.”

So last night the fourth season of “True Blood” premiered on HBO. The fourth book in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse mysteries is my favorite of the bunch, so I’m kind of worried about going into this season with major expectations based on my love for the book. Especially considering the show’s creator, Alan Ball, has never felt the need to be especially faithful to the source material. I’m going to do my best here and try not to be like the “Song of Ice and Fire” fans whose book enthusiasm got on my nerves while watching “Game of Thrones,” but I think it’s going to be difficult. Oh, and George R.R. Martin fans, before you get on my case about that last comment, I just started reading “A Game of Thrones” the other day (I wanted to wait until after the TV season), and so far I think it’s excellent. I just really didn’t want to be spoiled in my TV watching. Anyway, the problems I have with this episode are the problems I’ve had with the show ever since I read the books. Basically that Alan Ball has completely opposite perceptions of Bill and Eric from my own. Bill in the books is nowhere near as noble as TV Bill, and Eric in the books is nowhere as near blatantly evil as TV Eric.

We begin the episode with Claudine, Sookie’s faerie godmother, essentially bringing Sookie to faerie land. It’s a rather idyllic-looking place at first. Sookie sees her friend Barry the Bellboy there, which makes sense, considering they’re both telepaths. An even bigger surprise is that Sookie also sees her grandfather, Earl, played by the always entertaining Gary Cole. The faeries are being really aggressive about encouraging the people gathered to eat light fruits (they look like what they sound like), which makes Sookie very wary. Because she’s not being lulled into complacency by the fruit, she sees a flash of faerieland looking really ugly. That makes her think that the whole thing is a trap, and she warns her grandfather about it. This brings Sookie to the attention of Mab, faerie queen. Map thinks there are too many humans with faerie genes still living on our plane of existence, and she wants to seal off faerieland. She tries to force Sookie to eat a light fruit, but she uses her power to reveal faerieland for the ugly place it actually is. Claudine’s brother Claude helps Sookie and her grandfather escape, but to truly escape that plane of existence, they have to jump off a cliff.

Bill and Eric both of course notice immediately as soon as Sookie is back among us. Sookie and her grandfather have landed in the cemetery where Sookie’s family members are buried, and her grandfather is going to join them soon. He can’t survive on the human plane anymore because he ate a light fruit. Sookie takes him to see her grandmother’s (his wife’s) grave, and he gives Sookie a fancy pocket watch to give to Jason before he dies. Devastated, Sookie makes the long walk up to her house. She sees contractors working on it, and one of the construction workers says she can’t go in. Sookie disregards him and goes inside the house anyway. Everything has been covered up. Jason stops by, presumably at the request of the contractor, to check on the house. He’s a full blown deputy sheriff now, or at least he’s wearing the uniform. He tells Sookie she has been gone for a little over a year, and in that time, he sold her house to a random real estate company. Sookie is furious, but she gives him their grandfather’s pocket watch anyway.

Once it’s dark, Sookie starts having to deal with her parade of suitors again. I do like that this is one aspect of the books that seems to have been captured in the show, because it’s damn funny whenever something bad happens to Sookie and all her boys come running to beg and plead for the chance to help her out. Bill is the first to arrive, and Eric isn’t far behind them. They engage in some silly bickering. A fang measuring contest, I suppose you would call it. Whatever it is, it’s very entertaining. Stephen Moyer and Alex Skarsgard seem to play off each other well in these scenes. I noticed similar comedic chemistry when I watched the last few episodes of season 3 recently, where they’re pretending to fight each other so Russell Eddington won’t suspect they’re plotting against him. Eric makes the very good point that he is the only person in Sookie’s life who didn’t give up on looking for her, and then Bill asks him to leave. For some reason, Eric complies.

Andy, now full Sheriff since Bud quit his job last season, arrives on the scene and throws quite the fit. He’s upset about the resources that were used looking for Sookie and how not solving her disappearance made him look really bad in the law enforcement community. Jason suspects that Andy is using V, and those suspicions are confirmed when Jason finds a vial of the stuff in Andy’s squad car. Later in the episode, Andy tries harassing Lafayette into supplying him with some more V, but Lafayette gave his entire stash to the werepanthers out in Hotshot. Jason has to put a stop to Andy’s verbal abuse of Lafayette. It’s interesting to see Jason actually be a functional human being in this episode. He’s been taking care of the folks in Hotshot since Crystal had to leave, but the werepanthers don’t seem to appreciate it. Near the end of the episode, they lock him in an ice box.

Meanwhile, the rest of the usual Bon Temps cast of characters all have their own drama to deal with that is only mildly interconnected. Jesus takes Lafayette to a cover, where a witch is channeling the spirit of Eddie, the vampire Lafayette used to visit back in season 1. That freaks Lafayette out, and he leaves the meeting. At a later meeting, the same witch asks the coven to say prayers for her recently dead familiar, a bird. The group goes along with it until it turns into a spell to bring the bird back from the dead. Arlene’s still freaking out over her Rene-spawn, who has spontaneously decided to pull the heads off a bunch of his half-sister’s dolls. Tara’s living in New Orleans and shacking up with a fellow MMA fighter. When Lafayette texts her to say Sookie’s back, Tara just tells her new girlfriend that her grandfather died, but she won’t be going home for the funeral. Hoyt and Jessica are trying to get used to living together, which isn’t made any easier by the fact that Summer and Hoyt’s mother (who is now providing a home to Sam’s degenerate younger brother Tommy for some reason) continue to team up to try and get Hoyt to leave Jessica. Tommy, by the way, only suffered a leg injury when Sam shot him, and Sam’s paying for his physical therapy. Sam has also formed an anger management group of sorts with fellow shifters.

The real heart of this episode, though, is Sookie, Bill, and Eric. Bill and Eric are both spending heir days, when not pining over Sookie, trying to help the vampire PR cause post Russell Eddington killing that news anchor on TV. Bill presides at an old-fashioned ribbon cutting ceremony, and Eric does a TV commercial. It’s interesting that even though Eric is older, he’s been more able to adjust to modern times. When he has to step in for Pam, because Pam can’t give heartfelt answers, it’s absolutely hilarious. Sookie, meanwhile, is just trying to get her life back together. She goes to Merlottes, and even though Sam is really upset that she’s been gone for so long, Sam gives Sookie her waitress job back on a part time basis. Sookie also has to meet with Portia, Andy’s sister, about to sale of her home. Portia, an attorney, has been investigating AIK, the company that bought Sookie’s house, but she’s come up empty.

A lot has changed while Sookie has been away, and not just her house being sold. Bill is now sitting regally at his desk and having people call him “your majesty.” That was definitely a huge surprise. Then Eric shows up at Sookie’s house while she’s getting changed. He says he’s the one who now owns that house, and that makes Sookie “his.” Sookie looks furious, and I don’t blame her. Book Eric never would have pulled a stunt like that, although given what’s in the fourth book, I’m predicting Eric gives Sookie the house back to repay a debt by the end of this season. If they don’t, I will seriously consider removing “True Blood” from my television line-up. It’s just evil what’s been done with Eric, usually. Eric was definitely not this malicious at this point in his character arc in the books, and I definitely prefer the really dangerous but gentle around Sookie version from the books.

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