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'True Blood': Who's the best character this season? My choice is...

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No new True Blood this week. Instead, a marathon of the new season’s first three episodes, a chance to get caught up and oriented in the show’s new landscape. The series has been packed-to-bursting with new characters: werewolf Alcide (Joe Manganiello); vampire Franklin Mott (James Frain); Sam’s birth-family the Mickens; vampire king of Mississippi Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare); plus increased screen-time for Kristin Bauer van Straten’s hilariously sour Pam.

I’m highly partial to Franklin; his stubbly, grizzled demeanor and seen-it-all tone of voice is a witty contrast to so much of the high-voltage melodrama that True Blood orchestrates so well.

But if I had to pick one character, and one performance, that’s making a subtle, solid impact this season, I’d have to go with one of the series’ core group: Nelsan Ellis’s Lafayette Reynolds.

Think about it. Lafayette has single-handedly grounded the Tara subplot, in which the extravagantly emotional girl has been driven to hysteria and a suicide attempt after the death of her lover Eggs. Lafayette is dealing with one of the best under-the-radar subplots of his own — his high-pressure job selling V for Eric and the Queen. And it is through Lafayette that we were introduced to one of the season’s best new characters: his mother, played so well by Alfre Woodard.

With the usually-sensible Sookie running around like a Southern-fried chicken with her head cut off searching for Bill, and the usually-commanding Bill forced to play distracting mind-games with Russell, Lafayette has emerged as Bon Temps’ voice of reason. “Life ain’t about not having problems,” he told Tara recently. “It’s about being able to deal with the ones you got.” But, being Lafayette, being reasonable doesn’t mean being dull: He’s kept up a steady stream of sarcasm, put-downs, and good advice, even as he struggles with his own V-dealer predicament.

To my mind, Ellis is giving a sly, commanding performance, all the more impressive for the way he cannot diverge drastically from Lafayette’s queeny showiness. In a recent interview with writer David Hiltbrand in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ellis said that, after three seasons, he has a firm handle on the character. Joking that he wears more make-up than any woman on the show, he said that in transforming himself into Lafayette, “Once they get me in the fake eyelashes and the eye make-up, I listen to some Rihanna and I’m there.”

I’m looking forward to a new True Blood episode next week. But in the meantime, I’ll savor the way Lafayette is sashaying through this season, taking control and being tested.

Who’s your favorite Blood character this season?

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