By Ken Tucker
Updated June 20, 2010 at 12:00 PM EDT

Bill biting the ear off a werewolf — that is a fine way to begin an episode of True Blood, you must admit. Continuing TB‘s new pattern of introducing as many new characters as possible per hour, we quickly got a good long look at Denis O’Hare’s Russell Edgington, the foppish, horse-riding Vampire King of Mississippi, who became angry when Bill told him Cooter had been sucking on him.

“You drank from my guest?” said Russell to Cooter through clenched teeth, in a line that could have come from the mouth of another, much older in entertainment-years vampire, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula.

Then, in quick succession, a series of brief, energetic scenes: Tara trying to OD on any pill she could get her hands on; Eric explaining to Sookie about the ruthlessness and secrecy of werewolves (“Sounds familiar,” Anna Pacquin said with impeccable dryness), and then a priceless scene in which Pam schooled Jessica in some of the ways to drain, control, and dispose of any human a sweet little vampire might have fed upon. Pretty soon, that kid was renting a chainsaw.

That early Eric-Sookie scene was also choice. When Sookie choked up as she begged him to help her find Bill, Eric said, “Please don’t do that. It makes me feel disturbingly… human.” Nice line-reading, Mr. Skarsgard: A blend of the sincere and the poker-faced comic.

And then came the title-card that made my heart plummet: “Augsberg, Germany 1945.” Flashbacks in True Blood have proven to be as slow and tedious as the rest of TB is fast and clever. Previously in the series, Bill’s scenes during the Civil War era were syrupy and melodramatic. Nonetheless, there we were this week, having to witness Eric’s memory of himself and Godric dressed in Nazi uniforms, ready to battle Operation Werewolf, the secret Nazi commando unit in World War II. (You saw that on the History Channel once, didn’t you?)

The hour consisted of a neck-snappingly edited series of subplot visits. Back in the present day, Bill became the reluctant guest of Russell. Russell eventually made his pitch to Bill: He’d make Bill the “sheriff of Mississippi Area Two,” wherever the hell that is. Follow Russell’s logic (and unwitting foolishness) here. In return for sheriff-ship, or whatever the hell you call it, Bill would share information with Russell, who thinks Bill has the ear of the Queen, whom Russell dislikes intensely, and will help Russell to marry the Queen (part of his plan for conquest). Bill isn’t buying any of this, of course.

There was a Jessica-and-Hoyt scene, as she rejects him (still upset and confused about that mouldering corpse in the basement, y’know). There was a lot of Arlene-Terry stuff that has really outlasted its usefulness as comic relief. Sookie and Jason talked for what seemed like the first time in ages, and she told him there are such things as werewolves. When Jason asked if Bigfoot and Santa are also real, it seemed too corny even for him. (On the other hand, Sookie’s imitation of the way Bill says her name in an Elvis-ish growl — “Sooookie!” — was witty.)

No rest for the weary: On to Sam visiting his long-lost family, the Mickens, who were about as realistically portrayed as a Li’l Abner comic strip. They told him, regarding his shape-shifting, that he’s “special.” Cursed, is more how Sam felt. Pretty soon, Sam’s new little brother, Tommy, shifted himself, into a pitbull, and he and a doggy-shifted Sam go romping. It’s all quite jolly, until pitbull-Tommy tries to lure Sam into the path of a truck.

In a key moment meant to jolt Tara into wanting to live, Lafayette brought her to a convalescent home to meet his mother, Ruby, played with wonderful precision by Alfre Woodard.

As I said, this was a crammed hour, setting up many stories we’ll be following throughout the season. We met Franklin, the Brit vamp who helped Tara beat up some bad ol’ boys who insulted Eggs. (We like Franklin, don’t we? Rheumy-eyed, grizzled, yet somehow oozing a certain across-the-pond allure… )

Yet what, after all this and more (Lorena, in riding gear, with a lantern thrown at her, bursting into flames — sounds like a game of “Clue”), did we really care about, in the True Blood universe? For me, it was the scenes between Sookie and Eric, during which his horndog antics turned into something richer: a fierce protectiveness against werewolves who are “organized, well-funded, and fueled by vampire blood,” as Eric explains to Sookie shortly before his, “Invite me in” becomes a lot more than just the usual come-on. It was an urgent command to allow him to protect her in her own house, which was invaded by a werewolf. Eric bared fangs, Sookie shot a gun, and the evening ended. These minutes were the high point of the season so far. Why? Because rather than running through a lot of well-written, well-acted, well-edited expository material, True Blood was back to playing on our hearts and minds and throats.

What did you think of this week’s episode?

Follow @kentucker

Episode Recaps

True Blood

Sookie, Bill, Eric, Lafayette, Sam and the other residents Bon Temps deal with vampires, werewolves, fairies, and shape-shifters—not to mention romance and drama

  • TV Show
  • 7
  • On Hiatus
stream service