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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review: True Blood, "You're No Good"

Season 6, Episode 3

Grade: B-

Verdict: Three episodes in and True Blood finally has its least silly episode of the season.  That being said, there are still numerous storylines present in this season that feel superfluous.  Eric's war with the humans continues to be the most intriguing aspect of the story thus far, while Bill continues to be a big question mark in terms of motivations.  Alcide and Sam get some decent enough development, and while the tension in that plot thread is amplified significantly, there is still the dangling question of why any of this is even happening.  Sookie's story feels less cheesy this week, but not any more interesting.  Although, on the whole, this is a much more solid episode for the series, the terribly slow pacing makes for an episode that still falls short.

So, True Blood viewers, how many of you guys actually stuck around for this episode?  If you left on the previous episode, it is doubtful that many would blame you.  Not only was last week's episode incredibly silly, but it was also one of the worst hours of television in recent memory.  Unfortunately, some of us are gluttons for punishment (or at least hits on a website that reviews all things geek), so this reviewer decided to continue giving True Blood chances it probably doesn't deserve.  With this season only containing ten episodes (as opposed to twelve), it makes the mediocre to downright terrible quality of some of the stories, writing, and acting on this show all the more distressing.  On the one hand, if every episode is bad, then this means we will only have to deal with just a few more episodes.  On the other hand, if the show could improve, the lower amount of episodes could be an excellent way for the show to get back on track with a tighter narrative.  Did True Blood make a step back into the light (no pun intended) with this episode?  Keep reading to find out!

On this week's True Blood, Eric decides to take things to a new level in his war against the humans by kidnapping Governor Burrell's daughter Willa.  This is met with much ire from Pam and Tara as they disagree on holding the girl hostage, but are also unwilling to let go of Fangtasia, the last connection they have to their normal lives as vampires.  Things begin to heat up between Sam and Alcide as Nicole and the Vampire Unity Society pry a little too much in to Alcide and his pack's business.  Meanwhile, Jason and Sookie continue to wait for Warlow to arrive, but not before Bill can visit to show off his new powers and demand something from Sookie which could save all vampires.

This was a surprising episode of True Blood in many ways in that it was a surprisingly decent episode.  The silliness which pervaded the first two episodes of this season was, for the most part, missing, and the stories which were heavily featured this week were written in a much stronger fashion.  Once again, however, the most intriguing storyline of the episode involved Eric and his feud of sorts with Governor Burrell.  As mentioned in previous reviews for this series, the human vs vampire element of this season, from the beginning, seemed like it would probably be the most worthwhile story-telling move for this season as it has such deep-rooted ties to this series overall.  Although we do not learn a whole lot about Governor Burrell and what further preparations he is making, there is still some very nice development to this thread.  Like most teenage girls with a father in power, Willa is eager to prove that she does not see things her father's way, bargaining to be kidnapped by Eric in exchange for information when it seems the angry viking was ready to murder her.  Amelia Rose Blaire does a decent enough job playing Willia, but the actress looks much too similar to Eric's vampire sister, who was introduced last season.  This may have been a conscious decision on the side of the producers, but it causes just a little bit of confusion any time Willa is one screen.  In this chapter of Eric vs the humans, we see more of a humorous side to things, but, for the moment, Eric fortunately seems to be one step ahead of anything the Governor may have planned.  While this story arc is one with a lot of potential, it is potential that has barely been tapped just yet.  It would be nice to see Eric recruit more vampires to his side instead of looking for the simplest means of getting the humans to back off.  Willa is a decent enough character, but kidnapping the governor's daughter is not nearly as engaging a plot thread as preparing for all out war.  We get a few teases as to what the humans have prepared in a Steve Newlin subplot this week, but more expansion on Eric's front as Skarsgard is easily the best actor on the show would be much appreciated.

You may recall from the review of the first episode of this season that this reviewer complained that Alcide was a character who, while played by a more than capable actor, was beginning to lose his relevancy to the plot at hand.  Last week, Alcide and Sam played minor roles in the episode as a whole, setting up a plot where Alcide has come to claim the young werewolf Emma as her grandmother is a member of his pack.  Frankly, the entire story with Luna, Sam, and Emma which we have seen develop over the past few seasons, has never been one which has kept interest well.  This continues a bit into this season.  It is perfectly understandable why Alcide is motivated to do what he must, but it more just seems to be a rather dull way of having some main characters in conflict.  Sam is a character who has become less interesting and more easy to hate over the past few years, and his constant desire to steal his dead girlfriend's daughter back when her grandmother would likely have custody just makes him look a bit pathetic.  What kind of life can Sam really provide for Emma?  At least with Alcide and company she would be with her own kind as well as her family.  A new wrench is thrown into this plot with the addition of the Vampire Unity Society, which is suddenly interested in werewolves despite vampire being in their group's namesake.  Thus far they have been an annoying set of characters, but their plot did come to a nice level of tension with Alcide's pack.  It is still incredibly goofy when any of the werewolves do their best Christian Bale Batman impression to show they are angry, but at least this scene did an excellent job of showing Alcide's strained control of his own pack.  Alcide may have a plot which relates to the main characters again, but he still ultimately feels like superfluous character.

Where this episode's story still struggles is with, unfortunately, the series' main character.  Sookie's nature as a fairy, when revealed, was not anything that seemed particularly goofy, particularly to those viewers who were steeped in the lore of Charlaine Harris' books.  Since that fairy aspect has been revealed, however, it is as if the writers have not known how to spin that aspect of her life in a clever way.  Once the series began to stray from the source material, that is when the writing staff for True Blood seemed to decide that Sookie being a fairy was a good excuse to bring in some extra silliness.  While this episode does not feel nearly as silly as the previous in terms of its handling of Sookie, there is not much goofy exposition this week, it is still a plot which feels very ho-hum.  Ben Flynn (wonderful name, writers!) is seen once again and we are once again reminded that, hey, this guy will probably be Sookie's rebound from Bill and Eric.  Grandfather Niall, played better by Rutger Hauer this week, flashes around the yard chasing off Warlow from the Stackhouse home in a manner that comes off as more harmless Nightcrawler rip-off than anything which would make a sane person feel safe.  But this is Sookie Stackhouse we are talking about, the girl who is willing to trust just about anyone until they are five seconds away from killing her.  Really, you would think a girl with the ability to read people's minds, would be a little more discerning in the people she trusts in her life.  Sadly this is not the case as the budding romance between Sookie and Ben continues and Niall seems more and more like a stupid character.  True Blood does get some credit in showing that Warlow has already killed all of the other fairies left in Bon Temps, but it makes for a scene that makes Niall look like more of a threat than Warlow.  Truly the only interesting thing that happens to Sookie in this episode is that we get to see her have a fight with Bill, revealing a taste of what Bill's overall plan is, but even that somewhat interesting moment is brought down by a reminder that Bill has dumb super powers now.  Much like Bill and Alcide, Sookie is a character who is beginning to tire and needs something to revitalize her half-dead plot.

It may have surprised you to see that this episode was able to pull off a B-.  The reason for that is very simple: True Blood actually does a few decent things in this episode, toning down much of what made the previous one outright horrendous.  Sure, Sookie and Alcide are still dealing with stories that bore, but Eric's story continues to enthrall, and some of the smaller moments with side characters (see picture above) are done quite nicely.  Andy Bellefleur continues to be one of this show's more fascinating yet under-used characters.  But even the lack of interesting story for Sookie is not the entire reason this episode was marked down.  No, this episode could not receive a higher grade due to the fact that the pacing of this episode was downright awful.  The writing was better to be sure, but Mark Hudis, the writer for this episode, paced things in such a way that it felt much longer than an hour.  While watching, it was easy to assume that thirty minutes or so had passed, only to find out it had really been twenty.  Bad stories are something which can be dealt with to an extent.  This is True Blood, it would not be so without at least one goofy plot.  When the pacing is off, however, that is when an episode can go from being an annoyance to downright grating.  Seven episodes are left, but it still remains difficult to hope things will ever truly be what they were.
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