Eric and Pam take a trip down memory lane while returning to help with the rescue attempt, which ends in another bloodbath.
Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO
True Blood, Anna Paquin, ... | In the season 3 finale, vampire Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) made Bill confess to Sookie — who can't read vampire minds — that he let her…

If you’re a True Blood fan who appreciates the show’s desire to take death seriously in theory, but in actuality long for the days when it was a sudsy summer (guilty) pleasure, you may have found yourself tempted to fast-forward through this hour and stop whenever Eric is onscreen. He and Pam continue to be the one bright spot in an otherwise dark season, but this episode shows signs of life. Losing Alcide gives Sookie the desire to cut through the crap and move things along, such as the rescue of the kidnapped at Fangtasia and Jessica’s eating problem. It’s like how The Good Wife Emmy nominee Christine Baranski explained the effects of that show’s season 5 shocker to EW last week: “Death can have a very purifying effect on people. And you can reconfigure, reevaluate what’s important in your life, and you also think, ‘I’m through with a lot of bulls—. I’m through with having to deal with people I don’t care about.’ You come closer to living in your center.”

Let’s start at the beginning.

The Notifications: The hour opened with Sookie using a payphone to call Alcide’s dad, Jackson, and tell him Alcide was gone, and Jason on his cell, phoning Hoyt to inform him of Maxine’s death. Both things had to be done and were beautifully acted by all involved, but having Jackson plan to come to town when you’ve finally put a nail in the coffin of the underdeveloped werewolf story line is like leaving us with Lettie Mae after Tara was killed—no one needs it. Couldn’t Sookie, feeling guilty after Jackson tells her Alcide “loved the f—” out of her, have told him it wasn’t safe to come to Bon Temps, period?

To his credit, Jason tries to tell Sookie that it’s a bad idea for Hoyt to return now. He’s probably in the safest location—an oil rig in Anchorage, Alaska, where it’s light for 18 hours a day this time of year. But as an original character on the show, he’s welcome. It’ll be interesting to see if Bubba, who won’t remember Jason or Jessica, will be used to pull the two back together (if they learn he’s happy in his new life) or if he’s there to serve another purpose. Predictions?

Eric and Pam’s Trip Down Memory Lane: On their flight to the States, which Eric has diverted to Shreveport so he can see Willa before he dies (RIP, Tara), we finally see the origins of Fangtasia and learn how scream queen Ginger came into the duo’s lives. When Eric and Pam are taken from France in 1986, they’re brought to Shreveport, where the Authority’s Magister—”I’m sorry, did we f— and I blocked it out?” Pam asks him—sentences them to run a small business in a grimy strip mall that smells like “sperm, and piss, and bad hair dye.” Pam’s reaction to realizing that they’re the not-proud owners of a video store is classic: [Gasps] “Oh… my… god,” she says. Eric’s response: “So sorry, Pam.”

We should applaud the folks who decorated that set with VHS tapes and posters. The Magister takes them to the basement, which houses Northern Louisiana’s largest collection of porn—and a tunnel that dates back to the Underground Railroad. (Remember that.) He makes Eric the sheriff of Area 5, and tells him he’ll be paying 80 percent of his profits to the Authority and constantly watched. When the Magister throws the keys at Pam, she just lets them hit her body and fall. No one does an apathetic but disgusted face like Kristin Bauer van Straten.

In 1996, a dark-haired Ginger walks into the video store looking fresh out of Reality Bites or Singles, and asks Pam about good vampire cinema. She’s a college student at Tulane, excited to be taking a course called Monsters in Our Midst, which examines the plight of “the other” in society and how “others” are treated using vampire lore. Ginger is calm and articulate—and claims not to be a vampire groupie since she doesn’t believe vampires really exist. And then in walks Eric. We get our first loud gasp from her, and it’s so amazing that you’re already laughing out loud before you even realize that they have Eric walking in slo-mo looking like Jason Priestley circa Beverly Hills, 90210. The ’90s are not the best decade for Eric if he’s going to wear a black T-shirt under an open cream-colored button down—we need our heavage bare, thank you. The song playing is Garbage’s stalker anthem “#1 Crush,” which is perfect since Ginger immediately forgoes her college education once Eric kisses her hand. Pam confirms she and Eric haven’t been together romantically since they took over the video store, and Ginger asks for an application when she sees that they’re hiring for the day shift.

In 2006, Ginger is dressed like a goth-meets-American Idiot, now with blond hair and black streaks. She carries what turns out to be Eric’s throne into the DVD store. Pam sees it as just a sh–ty chair: “Ginger, look at yourself and look at me—who has better taste?” But Ginger has vision: Now that vampires are out of the coffin, Eric and Pam can own any business they want. Ginger enthusiastically pitches the idea of Fangtasia, right down to the name. Knowing they do most of their business from the porn section, Ginger suggests stripper poles and an elevated stage where Eric’s throne will sit: “Because sex sells, and Eric Northman is nothing if he is not pure f—ing sex on a throne. You’re starting to see it, right? There is nothing else like it. He sits up there: This thing you can see but cannot have, and so everyone just gets hornier and hornier until they just can’t take it anymore. And they start losing control… of how many drinks they’re ordering. Poor things. Might as well just leave their wallets at the door, because when the sun comes up on Fangtasia, there won’t be anything left in ’em anyhow.”

Pam is impressed and tells her it’s perfect, which is the nicest thing Pam’s ever said to Ginger. That makes it extra sad when Pam glamours Ginger into thinking it was all Pam’s idea, which is what Pam plans on telling Eric. Back on their private plane, Eric smiles hearing the truth and tells Pam she’s such a bitch. “But you still love me?” she asks. “Always,” he says, slowly. Thank god those two are getting great scenes together this season. They can both go from sarcasm to sincere tenderness in a second flat.

That series of flashbacks sets up the tunnel’s use in the rescue attempt, which we all see coming, but it also sets the stage for Ginger’s return in present day. Actress Tara Buck is a series regular for the first time in season 7, which means we’re going to see a fair amount of her. Imagine her comically over-the-top/dramatic reaction when she finds out Eric is dying. Or, will it be shockingly contained and unexpectedly heartbreaking? Either way, since feeding on virus-carrying humans seems to speed up the dying, could Ginger offer to donate blood regularly in bags to Eric to keep him alive longer? And in exchange, will he finally sleep with her (even if it’s literally just sleeping with her, which would be sweet)?

Why hasn’t he taken advantage of her over the years? Is it just that desperation is not attractive to Eric, or something else? (Buck tells EW we’ll get an answer.)

NEXT: Lafayette is kind, and Sam is kinda dumb

Sookie gets s— done: Man, Arlene’s oldest kids, Lisa and Coby, have grown. Sookie simultaneously refuses to lie to them about the danger Arlene is in (smart) and promises them they’ll get their mother back (dumb). She convinces Andy he has to let her help Holly remember what happened to her between the social where she was kidnapped and winding up at the creek where Alcide was killed. For Arlene and Nicole’s sake, Holly takes Sookie’s hands, and it’s brutal: She remembers the H-vamps attacking her in the woods when they need to feed, the dungeon, Kevin’s death. Sookie can’t waste time comforting hysterical Holly afterward, so Andy takes Sookie’s suggestion and holds her.

Sam and Jason head to Rosie’s house to notify her of Kevin’s death, and Jason is forced to pull his gun on Sam when Sam tries to drive to Fangtasia to rescue Nicole instead. It’s always nice to see Jason do something smart, and that was a good call: Sam can’t take on the H-vamps alone; they need to wait for the healthy vampires to help them even out the odds. Ever the good guy, Sam insists Jason be the one to drive back—he can’t be the one driving away from Nicole and his unborn child.

Over at Bill’s, James finally tells Bill that Jessica isn’t eating, but even Bill can’t convince her to feed. Luckily, Sookie arrives in her zero-tolerance-for-bulls— mode and tells Jessica she doesn’t care about her past: Sookie needs her to eat so she’s at full strength to help in the present. Jessica won’t take Sookie’s blood, even though she offers, so Sookie asks James to call Lafayette. In the meantime, Bill tells Sookie that they’ll be outnumbered because not too many healthy vamps will risk their lives to save humans who aren’t theirs, at this point. Why’s Bill doing it then? Because he owes Sookie everything, he says. (Damn it, starting to like Bill again, aren’t you?) The least Sookie can do is give him lunch. She offers him her neck, so he’s at full strength as well.

When Lafayette arrives, looking fabulous as ever, he knows exactly what to say to Redbone (his new nickname for Jessica). She doesn’t want to feed on innocent people to survive, and Lafayette tells her he’s not innocent. He’s killed the man he loved and done all kinds of things that should make him hate himself to survive. He’s afraid of death, and he thinks Jessica knows being a vampire is better than meeting a true one. “So come on, pretty girl. Show me those baby fangs of yours,” he coos, sitting beside her in the bed she shares with James. As she drinks from Lafayette’s arm and the bullet wound heals, James mouths “thank you.” And you know this experience has brought James and Lafayette even closer.

Meanwhile, Jason and Sam go to inform Rosie about Kevin’s death. It’s great that they want to do that in person, but since she was among the mob that threatened to kill them both the previous night, perhaps a phone call would have been fine. You were probably begging them not to mention that they know where the H-vamps are nesting because Rosie would, of course, tell Vince and the others, but they did. Jason tells her Bill’s getting all the healthy vampires to help go in heavy. So for Vince and the other idiots, it’s two for the price of one. Calling Sam a “freak” and letting him hold her as she cried before turning on him again—she deserves to die in the end.

NEXT: Sookie and Eric shippers rejoice, as do Arlene fans

Eric and Sookie reunite: Bill phones as many uninfected vamps as they know, but only two new faces show up at his house to help: Michael and Keith, the latter being the drummer in James’ band. Jason attempts a pep talk—”This is our Normandy. Who’s with me?”—which is met with silence. (“History’s a bitch,” Jason says after Bill explains about the mass casualties suffered there.) There’s a knock at the door, and it’s Eric and Pam. Bill notices the veins on his heavage right away, but it’s not until after Sookie rushes in for a hug that she sees them. “Need I remind you, we have a Christian to kill,” Pam deadpans impatiently. After Eric mentally summons Willa, who’s paying to drink from a young guy, Bill leads Eric and Sookie into another room where the two can have some privacy.

This scene, even without a kiss, is swoon- and rewind-worthy. You want to hug whoever lit Eric—even with the Hep-V veins, he’s never looked better. He needs to stand near Sookie when he asks what kind of trouble she’s gotten herself into, then back away when she tells him he can’t die on her. The way he looks her up and down before asking how she’s been (s—ty) instantly conveys that he still wants her but also lets us know this moment isn’t about that. He gets smart with her when she tells him that she was with Alcide: how is being with a werewolf getting her life together any better than being with a vampire, he seems to ask. But when she tells him to stop because Alcide died that morning, he does. He seems genuinely sorry that she’s lost someone else she cares about and takes her in his arms for a lengthy, comforting hug. It’s almost a release, that moment when someone you know is strong and capable of handling the weight, is finally there. “Where were you?” she asks, weakly. As he plays with a strand of her hair, he tells her: He’d gone home to Sweden, then unfortunately triggered an avalanche (I knew it!) that took out an entire ski village. He went to South America, then Africa, then to Europe. He says he wanted to see the world one last time. As he wipes a tear from her cheek, he asks her again what kind of trouble she’s in, and this time, in almost a whisper, you know he really wants to hear it so he can help.

A pissed-off Willa interrupts their conversation, and though Eric is happy to see her, she wants him to explain why he left her when she was less than two weeks old. She doesn’t care what Sookie needs first—which Sookie totally gets—but Eric commands her as her maker to let this go for now.

The rescue: Eric tells Bill about the tunnel, and against Pam’s wishes, they’re helping. Sam goes in first, as a rat, to warn the ladies not to scream when the good vampires come through. Arlene’s reaction is brilliant: “I’m sorry, were you just a rat?” “Please don’t turn into a rat… He did. He turned into a rat.” Of course, as Sam returns outside, an H-Vamp comes downstairs to grab the next victim. Eric has difficulty punching down the wall into the tunnel. It’s hard to see him struggle, and Bill finally takes over. When Bill and Pam finally make it to the dungeon, they see that Arlene has been taken upstairs. (Congrats, Jane. Could have sworn it would be you.)

As the H-vamps viciously feed on Arlene, Pam warns Bill not to risk everything and be a solo hero because it’s never gonna happen with Sookie. Pam leads Arlene and Nicole out, and as Bill waits for the cavalry, there’s a knock at the door. Sookie has enlisted Eric to help her stall. He pretends he’s an H-vamp looking for shelter. He’s brought his own human and says he’s willing to share. Though it’s totally different, you can’t help but think back to Eric pretending to be human trying to get Sookie away from the Fellowship of the Sun in season 2.

When the scariest-looking vamp—the one who killed Tara—tells Sookie to open her legs so he can drink from her “nasty place,” Eric tells him to show her the respect she deserves. The good vampires are in position and the battle is about to start, but that’s when Vince’s vigilantes show up with homemade fire bombs and throw them into Fangtasia. The good vamps have to retreat through the tunnel and the H-vamps run out the front. A few are killed by vigilante bullets, but most of them survive long enough to have a slo-mo fight with Bill’s Army in the parking lot.

Inside, Arlene is barely hanging on, talking about seeing Terry, when Sookie says Arlene needs a healthy vampire to give her blood. Bill rushes in to save Eric from an H-vamp trying to stake him from behind (“See, not an a–hole anymore,” Bill quips). Pam puts out the fire with an extinguisher—she wouldn’t leave Eric, and she wouldn’t let Fangtasia burn. She goes off to set a vigilante talking about more fire on fire, and before Bill can feed Arlene, Jessica summons him because Vince is about to shoot her. Bill stakes him in the head. YES.

For anyone who was upset about the unceremonious way Tara and Alcide were taken out, Arlene’s almost-death scene has to be satisfying. Sookie sends Eric outside to get a healthy vampire, and even though he’s too weak to speed out (which means it’ll be tough to protect himself), the man goes. Sookie cradles Arlene, whose tears are pooling in her eyes, and tries to tell her that the real Terry wouldn’t be calling her on—he’d want her to stay and raise her kids. The makeup department did a beautiful job drowning the life out of Carrie Preston’s face. Sookie holds Arlene’s hand and sees that Terry really is there. Jason shoots and kills a lurking H-vamp, and drummer Keith is ready to feed Arlene his blood. Terry bends down and asks Arlene about the kids. He tells her to stay with them, and she wants to. The best moment: He tells her to be happy. Arlene comes to, and Sookie introduces her to Keith. Oh, Arlene, you are going to have some nice dreams, my friend. Be happy, indeed.

Outside, the good vamps stand triumphant. But where is Eric? If they killed Alexander Skarsgard, let alone off-screen, fans would revolt. Pam finds him feeding on presumably dead Rosie in the vigilante van. The man has to eat. And you know, that’s too good a death for her.

As Sookie and Arlene hold each other in Fantangsia and say, “I love you,” Eric walks back in. Tall now, he has strength. He and Sookie look at each other and she tries to smile, thanking him for helping. But he has tears in his eyes. Without words, he’s saying goodbye in case he never sees her again. He nods and turns to leave.

It’s crazy how just last week, the thought of the series returning to a much-desired Bill-Sookie-Eric triangle was unfathomable. And in the span of one hour, it’s made conceivable. It’s the power of a look, a line delivery, an embrace—and what it can convey when you have seasons of history behind it.

The question now is, will more H-vamps descend on Bon Temps, or do we get a reprieve from the immediate threat so we can focus on Eric and Pam tracking Sarah Newlin and everyone searching for a cure for Hep-V so Eric doesn’t die? If my theory about Arlene already being a carrier pans out, could Keith have contracted the virus when she drank his blood, or would he only get it if he drinks from her? Time will tell.

Episode Recaps

True Blood, Anna Paquin, ... | In the season 3 finale, vampire Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) made Bill confess to Sookie — who can't read vampire minds — that he let her…
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

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