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Monday, June 17, 2013

Review: True Blood, "Who Are You, Really?"

Season 6, Episode 1

Grade: C+

Verdict: After a terrible end to the previous season, True Blood tries to right a few wrongs in this episode.  Unfortunately, after the last minute twist at the end of Season 5, the show has retroactively made anything having to do with the main plot of Bill, Sookie, and Eric utterly uninteresting.  Some small plot lines are begun for this season that should at least provide a little entertainment, but will ultimately be downplayed as they are not connected to the over-arching story.  Alcide's continued involvement on this show remains questionable as his story is so disconnected from any of the other characters.  Throughout the episode, any time the show would try to do something somewhat interesting, it ultimately went back on its step forward with two steps back to silly town.  Better than the latter half of the previous season, but a mediocre start to this one.

Oh, True Blood, what happened to you?  Six years ago you were one of the best new shows on television.  Not only were you an excellent source of gratuitous violence and nudity, but you also had a well adapted story with some very likable characters.  Sometime around your fourth season, however, you started to waver a bit.  It was tough to enjoy you as much back then, but we wanted to remain loyal to you because we knew you could be better.  But then you just had to go and mess everything up.  Season Five was easily one of the worst seasons of television that year and easily the most terrible thing you had done yet.  You focused too much on the religious angle and not enough on what was actually interesting.  And that ending with Bill becoming vampire God or whatever?  Stupid.  So now you're back for yet another season, this time without longtime show runner Alan Ball, and it's time to see if you've learned anything from the sins of last season....

Now that Bill has been resurrected as a god-like being, Sookie and Eric are forced to join with the others as they make their escape from The Authority's headquarters.  While they might be able to get away, everyone is aware that Bill has changed and nothing will be the same.  Matters are made worse when Louisiana governor Truman Burrell decides to take a firm stand against vampires, banning any businesses owned by vampires.  Meanwhile, Alcide realizes that becoming pack master comes with some benefits he never considered and Andy Bellefleur deals with the struggles of parenting.

Let's just go ahead and deal with the elephant in the room when it comes to this season: the changes made to Bill Compton.  At the end of Season Five, we were left with a resurrected Bill in the image of vampire god Lilith (fans dubbed the new Bill "Billith").  This new creature seemed much more like a feral vampire than the Southern gentleman with questionable morals we had gotten to know for the previous seasons.  With that in mind, the beginning of Season Six could have gone in infinite directions with this new plot twist.  Initially, it seemed like things were going to go in the more expected and boring direction: having Bill become an outright monstrous animal.  Fortunately, this development only lasts for the opening scene of the episode and we see Bill seemingly back to his normal self later on.  Here is what is so frustrating about this episode in terms of Bill's development: we still have no idea what has happened to him.  Sure, True Blood is always known for having quite a bit of mystery dangling in front of viewers for sometime seasons at a time.  While, for now, viewers can satisfy themselves knowing that Bill is at least partially embodied with the spirit of Lilith as all indicators from last year seem to show, but there is not really anything within this episode to affirm or correct those feelings.  Bill himself even says that he feels like he is back to normal.  A few changes are made to Bill's vampire abilities which make for some interesting moments in the episode.  In a pivotal scene, Sookie attempts to stake Bill, only to find out that such methods of murdering vamps will not work on him anymore.  This, along with a more pronounced ability for Bill to summon Jessica make for enough changes to show that something is definitely different about Bill while also making him more of a threat down the road.  But then this episode just had to go and do something incredibly stupid to make up for all the interesting: Bill apparently also has telekinesis.  Giving Bill this ability will undoubtedly be used for something later on in the season, but it made for a very silly end to a decent scene between Bill and Jessica.  Hopefully more answers are on the way regarding Bill's condition as the answers may be just as dumbfounding as the questions.

Since his arrival on the show in Season Three, Alcide has quickly risen to a fan favorite on True Blood.  This should not be a surprising fact as Alcide was one of the better characters in Charlaine Harris' book series (Hey, True Blood writers, remember that?  Your show's based on books!).  As with almost every single male role in this series, though, Alcide was downgraded slightly from interesting character to eye candy for the show's largely female fan base.  For the most part, however, the writers have done a decent job of making Alcide about as interesting as his literary counterpart, and he is certainly ably played by Joe Manganiello...when he's not growling like a dog; those moments almost always come off as more funny than intimidating.  With this episode, however, we are forced to ask a somewhat depressing question: why are we still following Alcide's exploits?  It is not that his story is particularly uninteresting.  In fact, what is going on with Alcide in any given episode is almost always more interesting than the main storyline.  The reason we are forced to ask this question during the episode is that Alcide's story now seems uniquely isolated from anything going on with any of the other characters.  Russell Edgington's part in Alcide's pack in Season Five at least made for a hairline connection.  With Russell's death, however, there is really nothing connecting Alcide to the story at hand.  There is also the sad fact that Alcide gets almost nothing to do in this episode aside from a threesome that feels oddly more misogynistic than erotic.  Hopefully, as the season continues, there will be a role for Alcide in the larger story at hand as anything involving the character is starting to become some fat that the writers may want to trim if they have nothing more to say.

Once True Blood's main story began to seriously decline in quality, there was an odd reversal in that the stories of the more side characters became abundantly more interesting.  Sam is perhaps the only character whose story became less engaging as the series has gone on and this episode is no different as Lafayette has the only good scene with Sam in it.  Cousins Terry and Andy Bellefleur have easily had the funniest, but also the most intriguing of storylines lately. Terry in particular has become a fantastic character that the writers have been able to develop beautifully without it feeling like too much (the same cannot be said for many of the other characters on this show).  Andy's story gets a little bit more development in this episode and things only continue to get strange for Bon Temps' sheriff.  In one of the more odd plot points of the previous season, Andy is now blessed with four babies who are half fairy.  Although their lineage is not really touched on much in this episode, that does not mean there are not some very strange things continuing to take place.  What was really one of the shining moments of this episode, however, was a heart to heart between Arlene and Andy, making for one of the best written scenes of the entire episode.  Though he is not really a side character, Jason is given very much so a side story in this episode, but it also may be the most important.  At first, Jason came off as particularly babyish and goofy in this episode to the point that it was hard to remember why he was even a likable character to begin with.  When he is given a ride back to town by guest star Rutger Hauer, however, is when things become a tad more engaging.  Hauer's character is not given a name in this episode, but it would appear he is the vampire Warlow that Jason is looking for.  If so, it can be hoped that his character will continue to be as interesting as he is here.  Pam and Tara get a little bit of focus in this episode, but it is truly nothing of note as both characters have become annoying shadows of their former selves.

Considering this is the first episode of a new season, it seems only natural that a few seeds would be planted for what the on-going story arc of this season will be.  So far, however, those seeds are sprouting into one confusing tree.  With True Blood adding and keeping so many characters over the past six years, it has begun to juggle so many stories that it is virtually impossible to tell which one is really the main lifeline for the entire season.  In this episode alone it would be a challenge for someone to decide who the villain of this season is going to be as three possibilities are presented.  Bill is certainly an option considering the new found abilities and the way this episode ends.  Really, a season with Bill as the primary antagonist could prove to be interesting, but it seems doubtful that it will happen at this point.  There is certainly the element of Warlow finally showing up, but, unless he has plans for anyone aside from Jason and Sookie, then it will be a hard sell for him to truly become our villain.  What is perhaps the most intriguing new plotline brought up in this episode involves the Louisiana state government.  Governor Burrell states in a scene that he is not some "big bad," but the fact that he uses the phrase at all seems to indicate that he may not be a character to just toss aside and forget about.  The continued tensions between humans, vampires, and whatever other creatures may exist in this world is something that has truly been building since the first season.  As it seems like those many plots will finally be coming to some sort of fruition, it almost makes one wonder if this could be the final season of True Blood where everything is decided between humanity and the supernatural world.  If that is the case, it could make for a story that is so much more interesting than anything done in the previous season.  As this is True Blood, though, expect the show to screw up this moment of intrigue with something incredibly idiotic.

On the whole, this episode was most definitely better than anything from the latter half of Season Five.  There are no truly cringe-worthy moments, but there are a few places that get dangerously close.  Most of True Blood's problems seems to stem from the show containing far too many characters and the writers not knowing what to do with 75% of them.  Perhaps it was a bad idea for the show to step away from its somewhat strict adherence to the novels as that is when the show was truly in its prime.  Instead, this show has sadly abandoned the interesting stories and likable characters for largely disagreeable ones and tons of odd sexual situations.  While this episode tries to do a lot that's right, it still does so much that is silly and it is sad to see this once great show flounder so much.  Hopefully this will be the season where True Blood finally returns to its former glory, but, if this episode is any indication, it may be best if we just abandon hope altogether.
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