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Mark Blankenship

Mark Blankenship

Posted: September 1, 2010 11:03 AM

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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Compared to Russell's de-spining of a television news anchor, every other moment in this season of True Blood may seem tame by comparison. Perhaps they know that -- or perhaps they know that we need to take a breath before the blow-out of the season finale -- because writer Nancy Oliver and director Daniel Minahan make "Fresh Blood" a relatively quiet episode. Instead of focusing on the gory or the baroque, they deliver scenes that thrive on what isn't said, or what's said in a quiet voice.

Take the lovely scene where Bill and Sookie drive back from Fangtasia, after Sookie gets sprung from the wheel of misfortune. They play a game of imagining what their "normal" relationship would be like, and their dreams are heartbreakingly simple. Bill wants to be a third-grade teacher who loves his job, and he wants to go fishing with Jason. Sookie wants a big flower garden, a real-estate license, and an occasional double date with Terry and Arlene.

That's just so... sweet. And sad. Because even though they allow themselves a moment of fantasy, Bill and Sookie clearly know that they will never have these things: Not just because they're together, but because Bill is a vampire and Sookie is half-fairy. The paradox is that they are human enough to appreciate what they're missing by not being fully human. Hearing them voice that -- and watching Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin convey that -- drives home another rich emotion that runs through this series: Ache.

It's also interesting, isn't it, that at its core, the series glorifies being human? It's full of vampires and werewolves and panthers (oh my!), but when they're pushed, all of the supernatural characters just want to be people.

Allow me to take that idea a little further: Many of us -- including me -- have wondered if this show is getting too supernatural, what with every character turning up as some kind of magical creature. But what if by having fewer humans, the series is emphasizing how valuable being human actually is? What's if it's reminding us to appreciate who we are?

Or what if "human" stands in for "mainstream" or "normal," and all of these supernatural creatures are symbols of the many, many people who are forced to feel like outsiders because of what they are? As in, I'm gay or I'm black or I'm disabled or I'm a woman, so I can only have bittersweet dreams about "belonging" the way that the straight people or the white people or the able-bodied people or the men do? What if the small number of humans on True Blood suggest the small number of people on earth who are on the "inside" of the culture?

(I know I'm not the first person to notice that particular metaphor, but it's really striking me right now.)

Of course, none of the human characters are all that happy, so perhaps True Blood is also saying that this dream of being "normal" is just a big illusion. Everybody looks at somebody else and sees what they wish they could be. That's why the human quarterback takes V, just so he can pretend to be a great athlete.

Whoa... look at that! I actually made myself care about the storyline with the high school quarterback! But only a little. Because really, I don't give a good damn about him, or whether or not he breaks Jason's passing record. That subplot feels silly compared to everything else that's going on. I mean, Jason's got a meth-cooking pantherlady in his house, a half-fairy sister on the lam, and a lifelong friend who just found out that he shot her boyfriend. Let the jock have his fun, dude, and focus on the big picture.

But let's get back to the quietly powerful moments. There's Crystal's revelation, for instance, that she's being forced to marry her half-brother so he can breed more werepanthers. That little bomb gets dropped and ignored, right? But that makes it even more unsettling.

Meanwhile, I'm moved by Tara's confrontation with Andy Bellfleur: Thanks to the great acting and writing, we can see the oceans of grief pouring from both characters, and we can see see Tara realize that she has to stop being angry and just accept that Eggs is gone. [Sniffle!]

I wish I were as moved by Tara and Sam bringing the sexy back, or by Sam's whole spiral into drunken fury. Yes, I dig the Sam-n-Tara conversation about not being nice, but it clarifies how inauthentic Sam feels in every other scene. Neither Sam Trammell's acting nor the choppy direction make his tantrums feel the least bit threatening, which only leaves me to notice that his rage is mostly an engine to move the plot along: Sam gets angry, which gives Tommy an excuse to do something crazy and Arlene and Holly a reason to run and and start their Goddess Circle. Those are important developments, but I wish they felt more organic.

But all is forgiven, since Arlene's almost-miscarriage gives her her best-ever scenes on this show. Carrie Preston really nails the mixture of vulnerability, joy, and yes, ache that Arlene feels when she loses, then doesn't lose Rene's child. (And did anyone else notice how beautiful she looks in her dream sequence?)

This leaves us with the most powerful moment of the episode, but before I get to that, I want to shout out a few choice jokes and trashy asides: When Pam calls Estonian Yvette a dumb immigrant, and Yvette responds that in Tallinn, she's a cardiovascular surgeon... well, that cracks me up. Way to tweak a cultural stereotype! And when Hoyt's Crazy Mama (or Maxine) returns from the shadows like a distaff Don Corleone, revealing her plan to make her son marry Summer at all costs... I practically whoop for joy. Get it, Trash!

But as has become the custom, this pales next to Russell. This week, he's at the center of a breathtaking series of scenes in which Eric and Bill plot to lure him into the daylight by making him feast on Sookie's blood. Russell wisely insists that Eric go into the daylight first. That leads to Pam's palpable agony over the prospect of losing Eric to the sun and Sookie's bewildered rage that the man she was just daydreaming with in the car is now apparently sacrificing her to Russell. We know it's all just a ruse, but they don't... and the tension really satisfies.

And then there's the trip into the sun: Eric knows he won't be vulnerable for long, which creates even more tension as he waits for Russell to join him, even as his face starts to burn. And when Russell finally does arrive... and Eric handcuffs himself to his nemesis... damn! Will they both die? Will they both survive? I can't wait to find out!

But for me, the real triumph in these scenes is the way Eric and Russell respond to being in the sun. Russell especially, thanks to Denis O'Hare's remarkable performance, displays such joy at just being in the light that I almost can't take it. That a creature so vile can suddenly seem so innocent... it's a reminder that once, he was indeed a human, a person, an insider, and now, he's an outsider full of ache, ache, ache. This reaction is complicated, of course, because I know that if he stays in the daylight, he'll just use that new freedom to start killing people during their lunch breaks. But that's what makes hims such a great character. He is terrible and wonderful at the same time.

And besides, his predicament perfectly embodies the insider/outsider theme. You get a taste of normalcy -- you step into the sun -- but you have to do terrible things to get it, and it will probably end up killing you. Is this the price for wanting to be "normal," for wanting to be on the inside? Does the cure for ache bring more ache? Or is there maybe, just maybe, some other way out? Any scene that makes me think about these things -- that makes me feel them -- is a Sucker Punch.

 

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