Not since last season’s bang-up black-eyed zombie sex-orgy finale have folks gone as gaga as they did in this week’s “9 Crimes” episode, the highlight so far of the new True Blood season. Everybody’s blood is up! And just in time: this show desperately needed some new blood. Enough already with Bill Compton’s Old South, gentlemanly, Twilight-ish yearning for Sookie. Now he’s violently tied down by his controlling vampire ex with the Exorcist-ish revolving head, Lorena, and doing his most brutal deed in 178 years: breaking up with Sookie on the phone. “We fucked like only vampires can,” he coldly tells Sookie, who behaves like somebody named Soakie (which was Robert Mapplethorpe’s nickname for Patti Smith, because he made her cry all the time). She should’ve coldly told him, “Shouldn’t that be ‘fucked AS only vampires can,’ you illiterate Civil War hick bastard?”
I suspect Bill is just being courtly, trying to spare Sookie sorrow until he can quit making it with his maker (who’s cuter than Sookie, by the way – I’ll take Lorena’s slitty-eyed wickedness over Sookie’s gat-toothed blubbering). But he’s more fun punching Lorena in the nose. And Sookie is way more fun with the new magic man in her life, Alcide the werewolf. It’s great to see Sookie get her Goth on to infiltrate the neo-Nazi werewolf bar with him (for his ex Debbie’s engagement party). If you could read her thoughts when she’s gazing at his six pack gut and protuberant pecs, they wouldn’t be clean thoughts.
Loved Sookie’s new look, and loved seeing Alcide’s were-ho ex getting her back branded by were-biker types at the bar. They’re as menacing as George W. Bush the first time he made national news (for defending his Yale frat, which tortured and branded pledges with red-hot hangers in 1967). I’m still not quite sure that it’s quite as scary to see men morph into howling wolves as it is to see them sprout fangs. They just look like mangy dogs. But Nazi dogs – now, that’s scary.
Best of all is the new, improved Eric Northman. As a Norwegian-American, I’m cheered to see the formerly monotonously malevolent Sookie-molester get some romantic gravitas. The most graphically powerful scene of the season is that shot looking up at Sookie’s looming white building with Eric falling down to it like the guy in the Mad Men opener, then hovering politely outside until Sookie invites him in for some hotter-than-Bill undead-on-live action.
But (spoiler alert) it’s just Eric’s naughty dream, alas. Sookie’s face morphs into a vampy tramp dancing for him. He dismisses her in misery; the girl’s visibly offended. Ex-Viking warrior Eric’s vampire origin story is far superior to brooding Bill’s. Now he’s getting some interesting things to do in the present, at last.
When the martinet Magister closes down Eric’s Fangtasia bar for dealing V (vampire blood), Eric has to make a split decision whether to throw Pam under the bus – even though she’s the one who warned him in the nick of time – or come up with a more devious explanation to save his own clammy skin, and Pam’s too. It’s a superb scene, charged with tension.
Tension is the key to True Blood’s success, and to its failure when it’s failing. It’s tricky to avoid predictability with a show so over the top and genre-bound. One way around the problem is to make the characters appear to improvise, as Eric does when the Magister is searing a big gory ditch between Pam’s impressive breasts. Eric doesn’t exactly know what he’s going to do next, and so neither do we. It’s good for drama.
And so is Russell (Denis O’Hare, a genius), the newly ascendant Vampire King of Mississippi. He’s the oldest vampire on the block, so he can do powerful stuff you haven’t seen before, in a serpentine style all his own. And he too (according to an interview with O’Hare) is unaware of what he’s about to do. He’s trying to outwit Evan Rachel Wood’s bad-seed, batshit-crazy Vampire Queen, he’s trying to figure out Sookie, he’s got the werewolves addicted to vampire blood – plus he has lots of other plots spinning in his clever, conniving head.
Russell is more than merely a fit pagan successor to last season’s Maryann the maenad. The guy plays three-dimensional chess, deepening a show that lives on bold intrigue or dies a frying horrible death on camera.
I haven’t even gotten to the other intrigues in “9 Crimes”: the English-vamp Franklin’s abduction of Tara, his wonderful hypnotic dictation of Tara’s phone call to Sookie (so Franklin can find her and lure her in as well), and Sookie’s brother Jason’s blackmail of his pal, the new police chief, for a cop’s badge. I guess it’s possible that True Blood could risk overcomplicating its plot, and get lost like Lost did.
But it’s a long way to go before that happens. For now, True Blood is getting just complicated enough to keep it interesting: More interesting than ever.