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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
atching a season of “True Blood” over the course of five or so days is exhausting, and there aren’t many TV shows I’d say that about. How can 12 episodes feel like 20, especially when a series moves at a breakneck pace like this one does? I’d watched the first season way back when it premiered, and viewed most of the second season with disinterest. I saw maybe five minutes of Season Three, but figured it might be a good idea to check in on Season Four to see how things are going for what remains HBO’s highest-rated program. Indeed, “True Blood” shows no signs of slowing down, as episode nine of Season Four, “Let’s Get Out of Here,” was allegedly the most watched episode of the show to date, with 5.53 million viewers.
It seems that Season Three ended with Sookie’s (Anna Paquin) fairy godmother taking her to Fairyland, which sounds ridiculous, and yet Season Four opens with a scenario rich in promise. Fairyland appears to be something of a paradise where everyone is happy and beautiful, and yet evil lurks beneath its surface, and the fairies are not what they appear to be. Soon enough, Sookie is transported back to Bon Temps, only to learn that time moves differently in Fairyland (Fairy world? Fairyworld? Whatever…), and a year has passed in the real world even though she’s only been gone for minutes. The whole fairy thing is so quickly dispensed with, I can only surmise the plan is to return to it in a later season, because it sure doesn’t get much play here.
Much has changed in Sookie’s absence. Jason (Ryan Kwanten) has become a police officer, Bill (Stephen Moyer) has become the King of the Vampires in Louisiana, Tara (Rutina Wesley) has become a lesbian, and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) has bought Sookie’s house, knowing for sure that she’d one day return. Meanwhile, a coven of witches – including Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) and his boyfriend Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) – is quietly operating in Bon Temps. Led by Marnie Stonebook (seasonal guest-starring baddie Fiona Shaw), the coven calls upon the soul of a deceased witch named Antonia Gavilán de Logroño (Paola Turbay), who, in the 16th century, was done seriously wrong by vampires, and then burned alive at the stake. Through Marnie, Antonia intends to wreak bloody vengeance against those who did her wrong centuries ago.
Vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, werepanthers, fairies, ghosts and witches; Season Four has every otherworldly buzz worthy creature but zombies, and even they get their due in the season finale (albeit in a joking manner). I do wonder, however, if the witches, as presented here, are not potentially a tad offensive, especially as the word Wiccan is frequently tossed about. “True Blood” is dealing with a real religion here, and I must ask some of my Wiccan friends if they’ve viewed this material, and if so, what they thought. In my experience, most Wiccans are good-natured enough to laugh this sort of stuff off.
Pissing off Wiccans, however, is the least of this show’s offenses. The problem with “True Blood” at this point is that there isn’t any room to breathe. It never stops to smell the roses; to find the poignancy or the truth in all of its nuttiness. Having exhausted the allegorical aspects for homosexuality in previous years, it’s a series spinning its rather loud and bloody wheels at this stage. Fiona Shaw (best know to genre fans as Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia) is as fine an actress as any to have graced this show, but we’re never allowed to get to know Marnie, as she’s possessed by Antonia almost from the word go. How nice it would have been to have devoted the first three or four episodes to finding out what makes this woman tick before she’s turned into the monster of the year. Shaw does the best given what she has to work with, but it’s not enough, and you can see the poor woman smothering onscreen along with the rest of this cast.
Another example: Eric develops amnesia, and completely forgets about the thousand years of his long life, which allows a romance to finally develop between him and Sookie – a romance that has all the depth of a “Twilight” movie. Seriously, folks, this is gag-inducing material. Where’s the gravitas amongst all the fucking and fighting? Surely this cannot be the product of the man who gave us five deftly played seasons of “Six Feet Under?” (Don’t even get me started on the atrocious dialogue that wallpapers these episodes. “I don’t care what happens, as long as I get to kill shit!” is the sort of prose we’re dealing with here.)
Alan Ball is leaving “True Blood” after Season Five, but given that Charlaine Harris has to date written 13 Southern Vampire Mysteries, this concept could conceivably go on for years. I humbly submit a suggestion to HBO: Since each season is based on the next 300-page (give or take a few pages) book in the series, how about condensing these stories down to TV movies or 4-hour miniseries? Because 12 hours is far too much time to devote to each of these tales, and the show’s writers don’t appear to be terribly adept at stretching these books out over the course of an entire season. It’s just one big, long blur of tits, asses and blood, but then again, maybe that’s all anyone’s really looking for with this show.
Special Features: Before moving on to the real bonus goodies, allow me to take HBO to task for what I don’t want to see become a trend of any sort. This Blu-ray set, in addition to presenting Blu-ray and digital copies of the episodes, also offers up a complete set of the season on DVD. If you want to own this series on DVD and not Blu-ray, be sure to buy the actual DVD set, because what’s included here is a rip-off. The whole season is placed on two(!) flipper discs, which are in turn placed in a flimsy paper sleeve. When I pulled out the discs, they were covered in scratches. HBO has also re-released the first three seasons this way. Buyers beware! Even though I’m no big fan of flipper discs, they’d have been borderline acceptable had they been packaged in such a way that they didn’t come out looking like someone had dragged them across pavement.
Moving on to the Blu-rays – which are just peachy, by the way – the set includes six audio commentaries from the cast and crew, the “True Blood” enhanced viewing option for viewers who wish dive even deeper in to these episodes, character bios, vampire histories, character perspectives, and plenty more bits and bobs to interact with. “Inside the Episodes” are quick peeks into each installment featuring the writers and producers. “True Blood: The Final Touches” is a featurette with Alan Ball, and “True Blood Lines” is yet another fully interactive guide and archive. Goodness, it took me a week to watch and glance over this stuff; the true fan will likely get a month’s worth of use out of this set.