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Who's giving the best performance in 'True Blood'? Right now, this woman is.

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While Anna Paquin is larking through the season being a cheerfully aggressive Sookie sex toy, and the superb Irish actress Fiona Shaw is having a ball channeling a possessed palm-reader-turned-witch(es), the True Blood performance that just gets better — deeper, richer, wittier — belongs to Deborah Ann Woll as the ginger-haired, heart-on-her-bloody-sleeve Jessica Hamby.

In what’s shaping up as a surprisingly good True Blood season — surprising because the series is juggling scores of subplots and is eager to go over-the-top at the climax of nearly every scene — Woll is doing the teen vampire proud. In a Twilight world, it’s difficult to play an adolescent vamp for something more than heaving melodrama, but creator Alan Ball (who devised this character independently of Charlaine Harris’ source-novels) and Woll are collaborating to make Jessica a sympathetic character as well as a believably romantic, emotionally fragile, gratifyingly brave girl.

Over the past couple of weeks, Jessica has fallen out of love with Hoyt, in lust with Jason, and joined forces with Bill to forestall the curse of ancient witch Antonia. Where in previous seasons Jessica was frequently presented as a self-centered brat (a role she fulfilled with highly amusing petulance), she, like many an adolescent in formative years, is rising to some big challenges. Granted, not all teens must cope with the urge to fang and suck, to fulfill awakening sexual urges while also knowing she could ruin lives.

For a gal raised in a conservative, abusive Southern household, brought to vampiric glory by Bill Compton, Jessica has shown a striking ability to be open-minded about the mind-blowing netherworlds she’s encountering, and Woll is playing Jessica’s scenes with the various members of Bill’s battalion of vampires skillfully. (I particularly enjoy Jessica’s exchanges with Pam, impeccable little dialogues in which the callow meets the cynical to great comic effect.)

Woll has been convincing as a killer (her season three draining of a trucker remains coldly vivid) while never failing to remind us that Jessica remains, as Hoyt discovered this week, the sort of girl who’d listen to Taylor Swift’s swoony songs of girl-empowerment. It’s this combination of qualities that has made her a worthy ally for Bill as they endured the pain of silver-chaining.

Those tears Jessica cries may be tears of blood, but Deborah Ann Woll never permits us to forget that they’re real tears of anguish nonetheless.

Twitter: @kentucker

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