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Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: True Blood, "In the Evening"

Season 6, Episode 7

Grade: C-

Verdict: Once again we have another episode of True Blood ripe with apathy.  Not even the actors seem to care any more as the writers continue to force viewers to witness a litany of stories which do not matter, deciding to ignore more interesting plot threads.  Sam's story is completely useless and one that should have been forgotten a long time ago, no matter how many forced stakes are thrown in.  Sookie and Lafayette are the most interesting characters, as is the story of the reaction to Terry's death, but all of that is given too short of screen time.  Instead we are treated to more insight into this vampire concentration camp and some very horrible acting (a rare occurrence) from Alexander Skarsgard.  It is starting to become a miracle that this season is two episodes shorter.

Last week, True Blood took a bit of a dive in quality after a few episodes which were, surprisingly, mostly decent.  No matter how much good this show does, it always seems to make the mistake of giving too much attention to stories which, ultimately, do not matter to the overall end game of the story.  Perhaps it is because they feel fans would like to see more of their favorite characters, or it could be because they want these actors to get work, but whatever the reason is, it has become a chore to watch most sections of a True Blood episode these days due to so much superfluity.  Although, as we have learned this season, each week could be a surprise.  Unfortunately for us, this week's surprise is that things are not improving much at all.

This week's True Blood takes a closer look at the inner-workings of the vampire prison, with Jason seeking to get Jessica out, but both Jessica and Sarah Newlin have a few surprises for him.  After his escape with Nora, Eric turns to the only person he feels can save his sister: Bill.  Meanwhile, the non-vampire residents of Bon Temps react to the sudden death of Terry Bellefleur, and Sookie and Lafayette discover something shocking about Terry's final days.

With these reviews of some of True Blood's more disappointing episodes, it's probably best to take a look at some of the brighter aspects first, this way we can know at least the episode got something right before we dive into the (potentially many) things it got wrong.  Once again Sookie remains the more interesting character of this episode, although her story is put on hold this week in order for her to be a more minor role in the reaction to Terry's death.  We get to see Sookie and Lafayette join together again, and this can only mean good things as Nelsan Ellis still completely owns this role in a way that is just as exciting as the first season (not something any other actor on this show can say).  The dangling thread of Terry's safety deposit box is dealt with here as Sookie and Lafayette go to investigate.  It always seems that, when someone dies on a series, they always leave behind a mysterious box of some sort that must be investigated.  Fortunately, the episode does not belabor this point too much, revealing that, inside, is a life insurance policy which Terry took out days before he was murdered.  Although Sookie and Lafayette are more cursory characters for this plot and this episode, it is still so much fun to see them together and reacting to these situations that their scenes cannot help but steal the thunder of the episode.  Although it may be a fleeting wish, it would be amazing if the writers could have these two characters interact in a more pivotal plot next season, it would truly improve the quality of the acting and the story.

Continuing a bit from last week, this week's episode features death as a somewhat prominent theme.  In a show about vampires and the supernatural, death is an expected part of the equation, and not something True Blood has shied away from in the least.  Often on the show, however, death is dealt with in a way which is quick and messy, but not something which is lingered on for an extended period of time.  It is interesting, then, that this episode decided to take such a closer look at death and the way we react to and await the deaths of someone close to us.  Where this episode investigates this theme at its strongest is in the reactions of Arlene and the Bellefleur family to the death of Terry.  Although Alan Ball is no longer associated with this series, it is hard to not think of Six Feet Under in these scenes as, except for some mind reading and an appearance from Bill, they largely feature the human characters of the show.  But the time is not solely spent on grieving and dealing with how to break the news to Arlene's kids, although these are great character moments for these actors, this episode also shows the more harmful acts people are perceptible to when depressed.  Arlene spends much of the second half of the episode drunk, and while it makes for some funnier moments of the episode, it is also a nice exploration of the way some of us react to bad news when we don't know really how to process it.  These scenes are all written and acted exceedingly well but only take up a small fraction of the story, making way for where this episode really stumbles.

It is in this episode's look at how we await the death of a loved one where True Blood really drops the ball this week.  Throughout this episode we see Eric struggling with the impending loss of his sister Nora to "Hepatitis V" (stupid, stupid name), even becoming willing to sacrifice his stance against Bill to save her.  In theory, this is not a terrible exercise in story-telling.  With so many of this show's deaths being quick, it could have been a nice exploration into how torturous a slow death can be for those closest to the person.  Unfortunately, the writers do not explore this idea very well at all.  Instead we are treated to some scenes which are badly written, badly acted, and have some of the worst fake crying from Alexander Skarsgard that has been done on a television series this decade.  Back in season two we got to see Skarsgard's Eric grieve over the loss of his maker Godric.  It was a touching scene as it did not involve any more overt emotion than Eric's bloody tears fallling down his face as this person that meant so much to him met the sun.  This was one of the best moments of the series and Skarsgard acted through it beautifully.  Now, flash forward four years later and you would hardly recognize the actor on the screen before you as that same one which witnessed Godric's death in a tragically somber manner.  Frankly, Skarsgard should be ashamed of this performance in this episode as it is a display of over-acting so horrible that one almost wonders if a high school theater class could have acted the scene in question better.  In some ways it is sad to see such great potential wasted with such horrific performances, but such unfortunate cases have become par for the course with True Blood.

While it would be redundant to examine those moments here, Alexander Skarsgard's terrible acting is not the only bad technique on display this week.  There are moments in this episode where one wonders if True Blood would rather be a soap opera as that is exactly the level of performance we get from both Skarsgard and Deborah Ann Woll's Jessica this week.  Such atrocities really bring down the rest of the episode.  The more bright side moments mentioned earlier are incredibly fleeting, with the rest of the hour being filled with either the aforementioned bad acting or just complete apathy from the actors, writers, and viewers for what is happening to any of these characters.  Unless something drastic happens to Sookie or Lafayette by season's end, it is hard to say anyone will care if any of the supernatural characters on this series meet a gruesome end.
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