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Reviewed by Will Harris
f the “Twilight” saga has done nothing else, it’s at least served to boldly underline the fact that women love vampires, but when you combine vampires with premium cable, you get to take the existing erotic charge of those bloodsuckers and up it a notch or three. During the first season of HBO’s “True Blood,” based on the Sookie Stackhouse book series by Charlaine Harris, offered some of the best cliffhangers this side of “Lost,” but there was an undeniable tendency for the show to require viewers to be 100% invested, lest they start laughing at some of the ridiculousness unfolding onscreen. With Season Two, the problem isn’t entirely remedied, but at least this time there are a lot more intentional laughs to be had, along with some legitimately creepy sights to behold.
Telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and her vampire boyfriend, Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), get to both play and work together when Eric the vampire sheriff (Alexander Skarsgard) sends them on a trip to Dallas to help find Eric’s maker, the mysterious Godric. This leaves Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) on her own, resulting in a relationship with Hoyt Fortenberry that proves unexpectedly successful – for awhile, anyway. Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) originally plans to skip town himself, but he changes his mind when he thinks that he’s found himself the perfect woman in fellow shapeshifter Daphne Landry (Ashley Jones). He hasn’t, of course, but we probably shouldn’t say any more about that.
One of the greatest strengths of the first half of Season Two becomes one of its most profound weaknesses by the end of this 12 episode run: the character of Maryann Forrester, played by Michelle Forbes. When we first meet Maryann, she’s stark naked and standing in the middle of the road – which, you have to admit, isn’t the worst way you could meet a beautiful woman. Tara (Rutina Wesley) might disagree with that, however, since Maryann’s unexpected appearance caused her to swerve off the road, crash her car, and be arrested for driving under the influence. Ah, but it was all part of Maryann’s plan: she pays Tara’s bail, invites her into her home, and promptly steps in to replace the mother figure that Tara so sorely needs.
The mystery surrounding the considerable influence that Maryann’s presence seems to have on the townsfolk of Bon Temps is intriguing, and the levels of debauchery into which they begin to sink are disconcerting yet still thoroughly enthralling… at first. As the season went on, however, it began to grow a little tiresome. There’s no question that Maryann was a great villain when she arrived, but it soon reached a point where it felt like she was only sticking around to keep other storylines moving along. Given that this point occurred well before the season finale, it got to be a bit of a drag.
More successful in Season Two, thankfully, was Jason’s (Ryan Kwanten) storyline, which found him following his search for his life’s purpose and ending up within the Fellowship of the Sun, a hate group masquerading as a church with an ultimate goal of ridding the world of vampires. Jason quickly finds himself in the good graces of Reverend Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian) and his wife Sarah (Anna Camp), but his relationship with Mrs. Newlin takes a decidedly adult turn, leading to understandable tension with the Rev. Eventually, he realizes that something’s rotten in the Fellowship and makes his way back to Bon Temps, whereupon he discovers the strangeness that Maryann’s been causing.
This brings us to one of the strongest supporting players of the season: Chris Bauer, who plays Detective Andy Bellefleur. Andy’s a bit of a drinker, but in fairness, he has a lot of reasons to drink in Season Two, starting with the dead body that turns up in his car in the season premiere. Before long, he’s been suspended, has his badge and gun taken, and finds that no one believes any of his admittedly crazy-sounding theories about what’s going on in town. When Jason comes back into town, though, Andy teams up with him to battle forces with Maryann, and damned if it doesn’t make for some of the season’s strongest and funniest moments.
Season Two of “True Blood” is more successful than not, and it’s arguable that, as a whole, it’s better than its predecessor. The set-up of the love triangle between Sookie, Bill, and Eric leads to one of the most erotically charged scenes in the entire series (which is really saying something), the story of Godric proves surprisingly poignant, and Evan Rachel Wood couldn’t possibly be more sexy as Sophie-Ann, the vampire queen of Louisiana. Unfortunately, the season finale feels so anticlimactic that it taints your appreciation of the 11 episodes which precede it to a certain degree, in that you find yourself thinking back and wondering what could’ve been done differently to make the conclusion feel more effective. Perhaps watching it immediately prior to the Season Three premiere will change your perception, since the second half of the finale exists almost entirely to set up the next season, but it doesn’t change the effect it has as a self-contained entity.
Special Features: As with the Season One set, HBO has provided fans with a nice amount of bonus material. First and foremost are the audio commentaries, which – over the course of the various episodes – offer insights from Paquin, Moyer, Skarsgard, Wesley, Kwanten, Trammell, Forbes, creator Alan Ball, and several writers and directors. Also included are a series of “Reflections of Light,” which are basically mini-sermons from Steve and Sarah Newlin on the gospel of the Fellowship of the Sun, but arguably the most enjoyable feature is “The Vampire Report: Special Edition,” a tabloid-news program about various vampire goings-on around the world. There are enough ideas about the way vampires have found their way into Hollywood, sports, and the government to make you want to see a full-fledged anthology series about the other things going out outside of Bon Temps in the world of “True Blood.”