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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: True Blood, "F*** the Pain Away"

Season 6, Episode 5

Grade: B

Verdict: After the previous episode provided an interesting enough twist to Sookie's storyline to make the show engaging again, this episode continues to expand on some of the more fascinating aspects of that development.  This episode provides some interesting examinations on two different themes, as well as giving a lot of emotional depth to some characters who sorely needed it.  Where the episode really falters, however, is in its continued coverage of stories which are, frankly, boring and feel superfluous to everything else going on this season.  True Blood could possibly be on the upswing as we reach the mid-way point of the season, but it is going to have to do a lot of work to gain back the trust of its viewers.

You may or may not have noticed that there was not a True Blood review last week.  It would be very convenient to blame something like a faulty Internet connection or the episode being so terrible there was no way to coherently express an opinion on it.  Unfortunately, the lack of review was more a result of laziness and not seeing last week's episode until a few hours before this week's.  Apologies on that end, but expect the True Blood reviews to (hopefully) be back on track starting now.  To briefly sum up some thoughts on last week's episode, it was downright shocking at how solid the previous week's episode really was.  For all of the crap this reviewer had been giving Sookie's storyline thus far this season, the writers really  surprised and took the story to a totally new and unexpected place, doing so in a way which did not feel nearly as silly as it could have.  Had there been a review of last week's episode, it would have easily gotten a B+ (the highest grade this season).  So now we move into this week's episode.  Will True Blood continue to improve, or will it return to its bad habits?

After discovering Ben's true identity as Warlow, this week's True Blood sees Sookie willing to take care of the vampire who has hunted her until Warlow reveals something which causes Sookie to question everything she knows about her past.  Andy Bellefluer deals with the loss of all but one of his daughters at the hands of Jessica.  Meanwhile, Eric, Pam, Tara, and Jessica each find out what Governor Burrell's vampire holding facility really involves.

Much like last week's episode, the highlight of this week's True Blood is the continuation of Sookie's story arc.  As is often the case with cliff hangers on this show, Sookie's threatening of Warlow, which we were treated to at the tail end of the previous week, was dealt with rather abruptly.  Ben/Warlow being a fairy and vampire mix makes for an interesting villain idea, but this episode begins to ask questions about whether Warlow is really the villain here.  Certainly, it would seem that Bill and Governor Burrell are being set up as the primary antagonists for this season, but hints as to the connection between Warlow and Bill may imply a messy fate for both by season's end.  The little bit of back story we get for Warlow this week is decent, but feels a bit redundant as everything brought up in those scenes was already discussed somewhat last week and this week.  Where this episode is really at its strongest is in Sookie's questioning of her past and the use of Lafayette to get some answers.  This development makes for something which was sorely needed in this season: more of Nelsan Ellis' Lafayette.  Lafayette, thus far this season, has been a character who has had hardly anything to do, serving more of a supporting role in Sam's story.  Although Lafayette's role is still supportive here, it is much more expansive, and it only helps to deepen the revelations which have been made about Sookie.  Anna Paquin totally sells this episode, giving one of her best performances this season if not in two years.  Seeing Sookie finally stand up for herself, take charge, and be pro-active about the negativity in her life is something which should not have taken six seasons to reach.  If only the rest of the stories in this episode were as strong as this one.

As you may have surmised from the rather abrasive title for this episode, pain and sex are two integral themes to this week's episode.  In an experiment in review writing, this reviewer would like to try and examine how True Blood worked thematically this week in addition to the stories, writing, and acting.  Sex is an aspect of the True Blood formula which has been present since day one, but has been a bit down played thus far this season.  Any doubts that the show had forgotten its more softcore porn past are thrown out the window as we are treated to enough sex scenes to make one embarrassed to be watching with a parent.  Although the sex on True Blood has typically been nothing more than a way to give the viewers an enticing visual, there seems to be a bit more subtlety to the way sex is used here.  Jason comes home to find former flame Sarah Newlin, who believes God wants her to have sex with Jason.  The sex scene that follows is funny, but is also a nice way of showing Jason's continued issues with his sexuality and his self esteem, which were thrown into question last week.  In Jason's case, the title of this episode is his method of overcoming the current struggle in his life, making one stop to consider if perhaps the more carnal acts which are present in this series are really a coping mechanism for the terrible things which happen otherwise.  Pain is also a theme of its own in this episode, and it is dealt with exceedingly well as we see Andy Bellefluer deal with having to save the last of his daughters.  Andy has never been a character without a short fuse, and it is great to see him struggle with whether revenge on Jessica and Bill is the best decision, it makes for the most moving scene of the episode.  Giving Andy Bellefluer children may have been the most random, yet most beneficial character development this series has done.  It will be interesting to see if True Blood continues to address these themes in a more philosophical manner, or if this was simply a fluke that seemed convenient.

Where this episode, and this series as a whole, continues to falter is in its persistent focus on boring story arcs.  Sam is given a few scenes here which are, thankfully, brief, but are altogether forgettable.  The story which has been given to Sam this season is one which has failed to do anything other than draw apathy, making any further expansion of this episode feel like a huge waste of time.  Terry Bellefluer is a character who is usually quite nice, but even he suffers the fate of the boring story arc with this episode.  Much like with Lafayette's expanded role this week, it seems the writers also waited until halfway through the season to give Terry and Arlene anything to do, and it is a development which feels just as detached as the characters have become.  With each week, Bill's overall plan has become a bit more obvious, but it has thus far not become nearly as interesting as the writers must want it to be.  As mentioned earlier, it has become increasingly obvious that Bill will probably not survive this season, and if that means the excising of a story which feels utterly boring, then perhaps it is for the best.  Though the continued plot involving Governor Burrell's war on vampires is one which remains somewhat interesting, the developments made on that end this week can also be grouped with the apathy which guides much of the stories on this series.  Pam's development this week being an emotional exception, something which was desperately lacking for some time.  This show needs to quit wasting so much time and put its focus back on what matters and what is relevant and do so in a way which is engaging.

A sense of uneasiness is something which has been a pervading force since this season of True Blood began.  At first, it was due to the fact that the fifth season was so terrible, and that the first few episodes of this season promised to be no different.  Then, the uneasiness transitioned from negativity on the show to what the show was actually starting to do well, evolving into an on-going guessing game of just when this show would fall flat on its face once again.  With this week's episode we have reached the halfway point of the season, and it has been an interesting half thus far in many ways.  Whether the series can gain back its status as a good show still remains to be seen as, clearly, there are a lot of things this show is still struggling with.  As of writing this review, True Blood has been renewed for a seventh season, so one can only hope that improvements continue to be made as we finish this year and move on to the next.  Below is a report card for this season so far, where you can decide for yourself whether or not you should give this show a second (or third) chance.

True Blood Season Six Mid-Season Report Card
  • Episode 1: "Who Are You, Really?" - C+
  • Episode 2: "The Sun" - D
  • Episode 3: "You're No Good" - B-
  • Episode 4: "At Last" - B+
  • Episode 5: "F*** the Pain Away" - B
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