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Monday, July 22, 2013

Review: True Blood, "Don't You Feel Me?"

Season 6, Episode 6

Grade: C+

Verdict: After a steady few episodes, True Blood takes a bit of a nose dive in quality.  Sookie's story arc is still pretty interesting, but it is not given much focus this week, or at least not enough to be engaging.  This is an episode which drags a bit in its first three quarters, presenting development after development in the story that either feels boring or downright stupid.  The train to Silly Town is boarded once again in several places this week as the episode has a lot of groaning, eye roll moments.  In its final minutes, however, True Blood quickly dispatches with two characters without warning, allowing for the episode to become a bit more intriguing.  Sadly, this slight improvement does not take away the apathy of the majority of the episode.

Perhaps I spoke too soon last week when I said that it appeared True Blood could be on an upswing, with noticeable work to make the show the more interesting drama it was in its opening seasons.  At San Diego Comic Con this week, much of the cast of the series was on hand to discuss the rest of Season 6, saying that they were going to be making a concerted effort to get back to basics.  Hopefully this week's episode is not an example of that effort as it is easily the show's worst episode in a while.  Although, as can be seen by the above grade, perhaps things aren't as bad as they could have been.  So where did this episode go to slip from the steady upward climb it had been making for the past two weeks?  Read on to find out!

Sookie and Ben's stories, after receiving much of the focus for the past two episodes, is given less of an integral role this week, with Sookie taking Ben to another plane of existence to avoid him being summoned by Bill.  Jason joins up with Sarah Newlin's anti-vampire group in an attempt to rescue Jessica.  Eric finds out just what lengths Governor Burrell will go to to avenge his daughter's transformation into a vampire.  Meanwhile, Arlene attempts to cure a suicidal Terry, while Bill makes a rash decision that could change how everything turns out completely.

It may have been from the sheer amount of solid episodes which we got over the past two weeks causing expectations to run just a little high, but this week's True Blood was quite the disappointment.  That being said, that does not mean the episode did not have its better moments.  Sookie's story line continues to intrigue, with it being the main reason the previous episodes have retained any level of engagement.  While her story is given a bit of a backseat this week, the moments which include Sookie and Ben are the most enthralling.  It has been interesting to watch Sookie grow throughout this season as an independent character willing to make her own decisions no matter what anyone, living or dead, has to say about them.  Her sudden relationship with Ben feels a bit too easy here, but perhaps that twinge of danger could add an extra level of tension to this story.  Arlene is a character who has been ignored a bit this season, but, considering she can sometimes be a bit grating when taken in large doses, that may have been for the best.  As we see here, Arlene desperately wants Terry to return to a more normal state, even willing to sacrifice her dislike of vampires to cure him.  In the scenes that follow, a shocking moment occurs and we get a fantastic scene as a result.  Carrie Preston does a beautiful job of navigating this scene in a way that is heartbreaking, but also touches on just how familiar this character feels to people you may know.  That scene is easily the brightest spot of this episode.

So where does this episode earn its C grade?  The answer to that would be in just about everything else that occurred this week.  Sam and Alcide's story has been completely useless throughout this season.  While it is a story which is, mostly, roughly ended in this episode, there are still some moments of tension to carry Sam through the remaining episodes.  Joe Manganiello's angry voice is so ridiculously silly, however, that it is hard to take any of his threats seriously.  Silliness is a pervading element of this episode, with many things feeling downright stupid.  For starters, we are treated to an opening fight scene in this episode between Pam and Eric.  The two are ordered to fight by Governor Burrell, and both immediately take to the air in a wire scene that looks so fake one wonders if these creators even saw The Matrix.  Although Eric's story improves slightly in the episode, everything involving this vampire prison has gone from interesting to downright boring in a matter of episodes.  This is most likely because it feels so similar to what happened with the Authority last season, but with humans pulling the strings this time.  In other words, it is all a re-hash.  Not every television series is going to have stuff which works 100% of the time, but you know your show is in danger when 70% of your stories are not working the way that they should.  Hopefully True Blood does some trimming for its next season as many of these characters feel superfluous when they are serving no point to the overall story.  Speaking of which, come on True Blood writers, stop making Lafayette such a minor character this season when Nelsan Ellis is easily your strongest actor.

One thing I will give this week's episode, however: it surprised me.  Yes, for the first time in years, True Blood actually did something which was shocking.  These surprising turn of events included not one, but two major deaths within ten minutes of each other.  The first death was shocking simply because it occurred (although I know many people do not care about spoilers for this series, I will still avoid them here just in case), but it was a nice way of wrapping up a storyline for a character who felt like the writers had run out of things to do for them.  With the second death this week, True Blood was able to fully confirm who the primary antagonist of this season is going to be, meaning things will probably not end well for that person by season's end.  This second death occurs in a pretty gruesome manner that is done with, thankfully, practical effects, and it looks quite nice considering the aforementioned wire fighting scene.  What really makes this second death exciting is the multitude of possibilities it opens the story up to.  For the first time, it appears this show could go in a direction that is potentially exhilarating   Even if it does not, which is entirely possible, this episode deserves a bit of credit for getting this reviewer to gasp.

In many ways, it is a good thing that this episode of True Blood feels like a bit of a step down.  We were being spoiled too much by these surprisingly decent episodes, and we needed something to temper our excitement.  This season is still showing numerous signs of improvement, but this episode proves it is a long road ahead before this series can reach the level it used to be at.  By taking the time to cut out the boring stories, focus on the characters which are interesting, and beefing up the stories which are already engaging, then maybe, just maybe True Blood could be good again.  Don't hold your breath, though.
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