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True Blood Sucker Punch: Episode 11

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Welcome to Sucker Punch, the only blog post that ranks the gaudiest moments on this week's episode of True Blood.

(Warning: Spoilers Ahead)

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Okay, look... I know it's hard to be a television writer. You've got character development and plot continuity and about six million other things to think about, and you're usually juggling multiple episodes at once. From that perspective, it's a miracle that any episode of any series is ever any good, which is why I can forgive my favorite shows when they have a bad episode or two.

And I'll definitely have to forgive True Blood for this week's installment, "Frenzy." It's pretty much a disaster.

But let's start with the high points -- except for the Sucker Punch of the Week, of course, which will give us a happy ending. (Ew. Not that kind of happy ending.)

Trapped beneath the flaming rubble of this hour, there are a few lovely exchanges between characters. Lafayette and Sookie's scene on the porch, for instance, lets them connect in a believable, low-key way about their mutual ties to Erik, and the episode gives Nelsan Ellis several other meaty moments. Swinging between sauciness, terror, bravery, and loyalty, he delivers a captivating performance.

But you know who's really captivating in this episode? Tara. In one of my favorite scenes of the whole season, she callously manipulates her mother into letting her out of her handcuffs so she can try to save Eggs from Maryann. She can't blame her cruelty on the buggy black eyes---she's choosing to prod her mother's guilt by saying she'll forgive the old lady for her alcoholism and bad parenting. And then once she's broken her mother's spirit, Tara races into a trap for a man she's known for about two weeks. Hardly worth the suffering, you know?

The whole affair just makes Tara seem small and petty and messed up. But good for Alan Ball for writing such a complex scene. It reminds us that in the present day, Tara's not her mother's victim anymore, and while she's certainly earned some empathy for her crappy childhood, she also has allowed herself to become the kind of adult who makes selfish choices. That creates dense and thoughtful drama.

One more thing: I love that Tara's exorcism is what called Maryann to Bon Temps. It means the Maryann storyline is rooted in the ongoing arc of the show and isn't just an arbitrary "complication" that was grafted on for kicks.

However, this revelation is also where the trouble begins.

Maryann's explanation for why she was summoned -- because Tara and Miss Jeanette unleashed some kind of energy, even though Miss Jeanette wasn't actually a healer -- is vague and unsatisfying. Like, if Maryann believes she has to find a vessel for divine power in order to summon Bacchus, and she's been hunting this vessel for millennia, then how could a phony backwoods priestess get her attention? And if this phony priestess really can release that much energy, then why aren't there church revivals and pagan rituals and, I don't know, intense school plays dredging up the same kind of power? What's mythic and what isn't? And why doesn't Maryann seem to know the difference?

Alan Ball's script does nothing to answer those questions.

And it gets worse. You know the whole thing about Maryann needing to summon Bacchus? I don't really understand it, because that information is part of two confusing speeches that Sophie-Anne (Evan Rachel Wood), the vampire queen, delivers to Bill.

Those speeches are confusing partly because of how they're written, and partly because they are so awkwardly inserted into the story. Sophie-Anne has no dramatic reason to give Bill so much expositional information. She can't gain or lose anything by telling him what she knows, yet she tells him anyway, simply because Ball needs someone to tell the audience what's going on. And when explanatory speeches aren't connected to actions -- when they float randomly out of someone's mouth -- they become much harder to listen to and comprehend.

Which leads me to my larger point about Sophie-Anne: Why is she in this episode? She says several times that she doesn't really care about Bon Temps or Maryann or Sookie or any of it. She just wants to read vintage copies of Vogue and play the original edition of Yahtzee.

In other words, since she has no connection to the high-stakes story we've been following all season, she grinds it to a halt.

And God love Evan Rachel Wood for having to play this role. Since Sophie-Anne has no interest in what's happening around her, Wood has very few acting choices available to her: As written, her scenes only let her play "bored" or "tired" or "sassy." It must be tough to make something interesting out of such superficial writing.

Also, while they're shoving in confusing exposition about Maryann -- she's immortal! she's not immortal! she has to sleep with Bacchus! Bachhus isn't real! -- the Sophie-Anne scenes also drop random bombs about Sookie's cousin being in the Queen's court and Bill apparently knowing about it. What? Huh? Before we toss out new loose ends, can we tie up the twenty or thirty that are already littering the floor?

Sigh. I'm exhausted by this episode. But at least I can savor the great moments mentioned above, plus Sucker Punch candidates like Lafayette tempting Arlene and Terry with a trail of pills, Maryann deflecting a bullet into Carl's head, and a giant egg showing up in Gran's bed.

And then there's the gruesome, awesome sight of Jane Bodehouse chopping off her own finger as an appetizer for the coming god. Talk about finger food! Ha! That little snack reeks of tasteless fun, which is why it's our Sucker Punch of the Week.

But I'm hoping the season-ending Sucker Punch (airing September 13) will be connected to the narrative, you know?

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