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Reviewed by Will Harris
t’s a shame when a series falls victim to the rule of diminishing returns, where each season tends to impress a little bit less than the one that preceded it, but that’s the way things have been going with “True Blood.” It’s not that there isn’t a decent amount of interesting and intriguing material, but for whatever reason, Season Three of the HBO show never seemed to take that material as far as they could or should have.
If you had to take “True Blood: The Complete Third Season” and distill its primary storylines into a handful of keywords, they would consist of “werewolves,” “panther people,” “fairies,” and “Russell Edgington, the Vampire King of Mississippi.” Sure, there’s other stuff taking place on the sidelines, including Tara’s struggle with depression and her introduction to the wonderful world of vampire sex, Jessica and Hoyt’s off-again, on-again relationship, and Arlene’s pregnancy with what is presumed to be Rene’s baby. It’s those other four things, though, that really drive the season’s 12 episodes.
The introduction of werewolves should come neither as a surprise nor as something requiring any more suspension of disbelief than is necessary to accept a world filled with vampires. Compared to most versions of lycanthropy seen in popular culture, the transformation of the werewolves on “True Blood” is relatively underwhelming, but the fight sequences tend to be pretty awesome, and the tension between the vampire and werewolf factions follows along the same general lines as we’ve seen in the “Underworld” film franchise, so no surprises there, really.
If there’s a major star to emerge from Season Three, it’s Denis O’Hare, whose performance as Russell Edgington is the sort that keeps an actor on a viewer’s radar for the long haul. Indeed, the single greatest “oh, shit” moment of the season comes courtesy of O’Hare, when Russell appears on live television and murders a talk-show host in cold blood, instantly drawing a line in the sand between humans and vampires. This, however, also leads to what is arguably the most disappointing aspect of the season: the decision to maintain focus on the goings-on in Bon Temps rather than the bigger picture. Given Russell’s actions, you’d surely expect a nationwide manhunt to go down, but beyond a few talking heads on television, we don’t get much of a feel for what kind of impact the murder has on the world at large. This was the perfect opportunity to kick up the scale of “True Blood” to 11 or higher, but it never happened. Major bummer.
The panther people storyline involves Jason’s new shapes-shifter girlfriend, who’s trying to get him to help save her friends and family, but it takes a long time to go not much of anywhere. Admittedly, as the season ends, we’re seeing the most mature version of Jason yet, which has potential, but that won’t really play out ‘til Season Four...if we’re lucky. And as far as the revelation that Sookie is actually a fairy, who knows what to make of that? Again, that’s more of a story for Season Four, it appears.
Perhaps those who’ve been followed Charlaine Harris’s original novels are enjoying “True Blood” more than those who are being introduced to this material for the first time. For our part, though, there would seem to be so much potential with the vampire storylines alone that continuing to add more and more heretofore-mythical beings, as happened every time you turned around during Season Three, merely dilutes the impact of the stuff that brought us to the series in the first place.
Special Features: In addition to a half-dozen audio commentaries which feature contributions from a mix of cast (Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard, Joe Manganiello, Kristen Bauer, Denis O’Hare) and crew (Alan Ball, as well as some of the episodes’ directors), there’s also an “Anatomy of a Scene” featurette which takes a look at the way the season’s initial werewolf attack was constructed, several webisodes, and the collected “Post Mortem” segments, one of which appeared after each episode. Oh, right, and there’s also the video for Snoop Dogg’s “Oh Sookie,” a rap which, as you might well guess, pays tribute to his love of Ms. Paquin’s character.
All things considered, it’s the “Post Mortem” segments which prove to be the most consistently entertaining, some of which offer fuller versions of television shows seen playing in the background in various scenes. Rev. Newland’s call-in show probably gets the biggest laugh, when a caller seems to be supporting the anti-vampire movement, then closes by saying, “White power!” A flustered Newland tries to save the day, however, by saying, “Yes, I’m a big fan of Betty White as well…” Awesome.