‘True Blood’ Open Thread: Rotten Apples And Barbie Dolls

This post contains spoilers through the first episode of the fourth season of True Blood, which along with Breaking Bad, Burn Notice, and Louie are the shows I’ll be recapping this summer. If you want to spoil beyond the events of this episode with reference to references to Charlaine Harris’s novels, go ahead, but flag your comments as such.

I read Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire novels before I ever watched True Blood, so I should be clear I’ll inevitably see True Blood in relation to its source material. In general, I enjoy what Alan Ball’s done to diverge from the texts, though I have some objections to the ways in which Sookie’s become a simpler character, less a self-educated person trying to make up for the disadvantages life has bestowed on her, and more a slightly irritating ingenue, and I have real concerns about the transformation of the faerie storyline from something subtle that makes Sookie’s life up until this point make more sense into something cartoony and goofy-lookin’.

All of those disclaimers aside, it looks like this season of True Blood’s going to be all about the cognitive dissonance of good and evil when they wear bodies we don’t expect. We learn that early, when apples in the land of Faerie fade from gold to rot. And that uncertainty is everywhere in this episode as Sookie returns home from what she thought was 15 minutes in Faerie that turned out to be 13 months in Bon Temps. And they were 13 consequential months, or so it seems. Andy Bellefleur’s a V junkie, snapping at Sookie, “If it weren’t for you, this year’s Louisiana Safe Streets plaque would be on my wall, and not fucking Webster Parish. You owe me a plaque!” while Sookie’s irresponsible brother Jason is suddenly a civil liberties-defending cop who prevents Andy from harassing Lafayette and makes deliveries to Hotshot, to his sorrow. Arlene’s convinced that her baby by serial killer Rene is the spawn of the devil. “Decapitating barbie dolls! What kind of baby does that?” she wails to Terry. “Boys,” he tells her with unusual sangfroid. Eric and Bill are trying to make up for the damage done to vampire reputations last season. Eric’s cutting ads saying, “I’m Eric Northman. I’m a taxpaying American and small business owner in the great state of Louisiana. I also happen to be a vampire…Who would you rather trust? A vampire, or a politician.” And Bill, joking, “As an oldest member of this community, I would have been eligible to take up residence here 110 years ago,” is opening up a senior center in Bon Temps. Jessica’s striving for monogamy with Hoyt, only to have Pam notice she’s on the brink of failing, noting drily, “The way you’re eyefucking fangbangers from across the room is especially romantic.” And Tara, in giving up her real name and her past, seems to have found happiness, venting her rage as a cage fighter, while protecting her lover from getting into fights with a drunk who harasses them on the street.

The episode gets more interesting as we figure out which of these new guises are sustainable. Bill, it seems, defeated Sophie-Anne in their throwdown over Sookie’s independence at the end of last season — though it’s not clear that he’s gone entirely public as the new leader. Eric, who early in the episode told Sookie, “Everyone who claims to love you: your friends, your brother, even Bill Compton, they all gave up on you. I never did,” turns out to have maintained his belief for less than tender reasons. In Sookie’s absence, he’s bought her house so he can have control over her. This strikes me as an unfortunate development. Deciding whether she was interested in Eric as he is would tell us more about Sookie and her limits — if he’s going to force her to become his lover, that just reaffirms things we already know about the depths of his ruthlessness, though perhaps it reveals a bit more about the extent of his desire. And when Lafayette calls Tara back to Bon Temps, it seems Tara may find, just as Buffy did in “Anne,” that shedding her old name and old demons is not as easy as it seems. I’d love to see Tara happy, but it seems her unhappiness is a dramatic necessity. And more importantly, perhaps it’s her true state.

I remain uncertain about whether this season’s going to be any good. But as we keep going down further into the depths of these characters, maybe this will be the season where we find out who they really are — and how far it’s possible to bend nature to will.