Aug 16, 2011

TRUE BLOOD, 4.8 - "Spellbound"

My star-ratings for True Blood tend to reflect how much of each episode focused on storylines I care about or enjoy having wash over me. Unfortunately, after last week's high-point, I thought "Spellbound" allowed too many of this season's tedious subplots to spoil the brewing war between vampires and witches...

After teasing us with the almost-certain death of Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) last week, who was bewitched into walking out into daylight, that didn't come to pass—thanks to Jason (Ryan Kwanten) rugby tackling her indoors just as Marnie's spell ended. Jason's act of heroism only strengthened Jessica's infatuation with him, eventually leading to her breaking up with poor Hoyt (Jim Parrack). Actually, there were two breakup scenes, with one involving Jessica aberrantly killing Hoyt by smashing his face in—revealed to be a dream sequence. (True Blood does this a lot, but I stupidly fell for it yet again.)

Elsewhere, Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) continued to bring erotic fan-fiction to life, having sex in fantasy dreamscapes as their love deepened; Sam (Sam Trammell) tried to repair his relationship with Luna (Janina Gavankar) after their misunderstanding, only to meet her werewolf ex Marcus (Dan Buran), Alcide's (Joseph Manganiello) new packmaster; Tommy (Marshall Allman) used his "skin-walking" ability to pose as Maxine Fortenberry in an effort to get his hands on the money her land's worth; Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) had a dream that explained the mystery of the ghost haunting Arlene's baby (the apparition lost her own child many years ago), before the dead girl possessed him; and Bill (Stephen Moyer) reached out to Antonia/Marnie, promising a truce between vampires and witches, only for their midnight rendezvous at a cemetery to end in a fracas with Sookie injured and Eric under Marnie's control.

I'm still struggling to find Sam, Lafayette and Alcide's storylines in any way interesting this year. I have a vague hope they exist because they'll factor into the finale, but they're most likely just ways to give those characters something to do. Alcide's been especially wasted this season, but to be honest I don't even understand the character's existence on the show, so he feels like a stupid way to add some beefcake to the show. Lafayette has also been poorly treated. He rushed off with boyfriend Jesus to find a way to protect themselves against vampires now that Marnie has provoked them, but has since returned to Bon Temps and just resumed work at Merlotte's? What's going on? And now Lafayette's been roped into the daft ghost/baby storyline, making it feel like everything this season has just been a long-winded way to explain that Lafayette is a spiritual medium. It feels incredibly disordered and, frankly, the idea of a ghost with maternal feelings for a baby because she lost her own before she died (or was likely murdered) isn't very interesting.

Sam's storyline also feels like a desperate way to connect his storyline to Alcide's, possibly because they're individually poor subplots so may feel stronger if there's an overlap. I don't know, it's just another case of True Blood filling much of its screentime with wasteful scenes and weak ideas.

As has been the case for many weeks now, season 4's greatest strength has been giving vampires an interesting menace to contend with in Antonia's spirit. The show is often about the loss and gain of power, and this has been a really entertaining way to see a few all-powerful vampires characters suddenly lower on the pecking order. It's also given Bill some of the best material he's ever had, ironically be ditching the Sookie/Bill relationship that was the show's primary focus until this season. He's really stepped forward as a leader and, thanks to showing the depth of his attachment to Jessica and maturity over Sookie's relationship with Eric, has really matured in my eyes.

Overall, maybe True Blood's impervious to criticism. There are bad storylines, flawed storylines, and good storylines. Each episode offers its audience a different combination of those, and if the brilliant storylines are emphasized more one week you'll have a fun time. And if they're not, you'll be left gnashing your teeth at the idiocy of the writers and how stupidly they're handling the ever-expanding cast. "Spellbound" was great fun when the witches were the subject of conversation, because there's a feeling of tension to this burgeoning war. It was also entertaining whenever the always sympathetic and beguiling Jessica's around, despite the fact her boyfriend Hoyt's become a whiny pain this year, but otherwise this episode was forgettable piece-moving.


  • Has it been explained why Arlene thinks it's okay to give her one-year-old son that spooky, filthy doll to play with in his cot? Yeuch. Think of the germs. Give it a wash, at least. Terrible parenting.

  • Shall we call Marnie "Marntonia" when she's possessed? It may be easier when explaining things, going forward.

  • I admit it took me a few seconds to twig that Maxine was actually a shape-shifted Tommy, and it's certainly amusing that Tommy makes no attempt to act like the people he's impersonating.

  • Does the young black ghost mother have a name?

  • Anyone else think the show's gearing up for Hoyt to die, so Jessica can get with Jason in season 5? If so, he'll probably go down in a blaze of glory rescuing Jessica and proving his love, making her feel very guilty for having an affair.

  • No movement on Jason being a were-panther or "Ghost Daddy" to the Hot Shot degenerates. Has that storyline died? If so, good riddance, but it's perhaps even more unforgivable if there was never any reason for it to exist! Did the writers just need to keep Jason out of the way, chained to a bed, for four episodes?

  • In a similar vein, there's been nothing about the Fae since the premiere! Are they being kept on the sidelines until season 5? It felt like they'd have a big role to play this year, but they've been forgotten about. In some ways that's very wise because the show is already very crowded, but a premiere should set the stage for what the season's going to cover, so dropping the Fae like a sack of potatoes isn't very clever.

  • Random query: can't shape-shifters just turn into the biggest and baddest wolf imaginable? I'm unsure why werewolf Marcus gets in Sam's face, but was so keen to ensure his kind keep away from vampires. If you ask me, werewolves should fear shape-shifters equally as much. They can turn into anything!

written by Alan Ball / directed by Daniel Minahan / 14 August 2011 / HBO

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