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Life is Suffering: Beautifully Broken on True Blood

Suffering isn't just the provenance of the living within the world of True Blood. In fact, everyone--whether human, vampire, or shifter--must make their way through the world carrying their own pain and misery in their bones.

That truth--one spoken ages ago by the Buddha himself--is the underlying thread within this week's episode of True Blood ("Beautifully Broken"), written by Raelle Tucker and directed by Scott Winant, in which several characters attempt to come to grips with the sources of their suffering: anguish over a lost loved one, abandonment during childhood, and the haunting of some bitter memories better left buried.

When the Buddha wrote that life was dukkha, he didn't mean "pain" or suffering precisely (though Lafayette quotes him as saying such). Rather, he posited that life was analogous to disquietude--to interruptions--the way a potter's wheel might skip rather than turn smoothly. But the intent is the same. What we're seeing here is life, interrupted: Sookie attempting to track down Bill, Tara coming to grips with the loss of Eggs, Sam confronting his deadbeat parents.

Here, Lafeyette acknowledges the darkness that exists within his family, but it's a darkness that might well exist within them all. They've all been tainted by an association with evil, one that threatens to consume their souls if they let it. But the series instead follows the reverse, the belief that we can each of us cast out the darkness rather than become infected. We can choose the paths we walk, choose to keep our inner demons (figurative or literal) at bay.

So what did I think of this week's installment? the season opener? Sidle up to the bar, pop open a warm Tru Blood, and let's discuss "Beautifully Broken."

While the season opener set up the main thrust of the season and established some tantalizing mysteries, it's this week's episode that really pushed the momentum along, revealing some answers to some dangling riddles (just who was behind Bill's kidnapping?) and setting up some new players in a rather deadly game that's being enacted behind the scenes.

It also introduced several new characters to the mix: Denis O'Hare's regal Russell Edgington, the Vampire King of Mississippi; his royal consort Talbot (Theo Alexander); Lafayette's psychologically disturbed mother Ruby Jean (Alfre Woodard); her nurse Jesus (Kevin Alejandro); and enigmatic vampire Franklin Mott (James Frain), whose interest in Tara likely doesn't bode well for Merlotte's grief-afflicted bartender.

Rather than overwhelm, these new additions add further color and depth to the world of True Blood, pushing the boundaries of the action way beyond Bon Temps (just as Season Two took Sookie to Dallas) to include the kingdom of Mississippi, and the power grab that Russell is looking to enact by joining his royal house with that of Sophie-Anne.

Russell. I'll admit that I'm not only intrigued by the medieval intrigue but also by Russell himself. He's a worldly and gracious host, even when he's keeping his guest--that would be one Bill Compton, of course--at his palatial home by force. He's nothing if polished and courteous. He throws a mean dinner party, complete with four courses of blood (including a sorbet and a carbonated blood scented with citrus), all donated and cruelty-free, of course. He arranges for a "little bell" to be placed outside Bill's bedroom (itself containing a bed once belonging to the notorious Countess of Bathory, who was rumored to have bathed in virgins' blood), a room decorated with a very slick sterling silver door. Escape is not an option for Bill and Russell seems to (A) want him alive (or as alive as a vampire can be) and (B) is willing to do anything--including kidnap Sookie--in order to get Bill to agree to his desires.

Russell is after a marriage with Sophie-Anne and he wants Bill, one of the most talented young vampires in the area, to renounce his queen and pledge fealty to him. He's snatched him from his life and from his love in order to get him to take his place beside his throne. But why does Russell want to marry the insane Queen of Louisiana? That's a bit of a mystery, though it's clear that Russell is thinking several dozen steps ahead. He's looking for a major territory grab, a realigning of power within the US territories, and he's willing to engage in some Machiavellian behavior to achieve his goals.

Elsewhere, someone is snooping through the old Compton place looking for... something. It's later revealed that this someone--with his tell-tale boots--is none other than Franklin Mott, who turns up at Merlotte's and helps Tara engage in some acts of vengeance and near-ritualistic blood-letting. Just what is he looking for among Bill's papers? And just why did Bill have a file on Sookie Stackhouse? Are Bill's kidnapping and this furtive mission related? Hmmm...

The File. Then there's the matter of just what was in that file, secreted in a false bottom in a drawer in Bill's house. Besides for photographs of Sookie (including a production still from Season One), there are newspaper clippings about young Sookie (she won a spelling bee!) and a family tree depicting the Stackhouse clan, with Sookie's name circled. There's a whole lot of information in that dossier, more than the average person would have gathered at a moment's notice. A lot of care and research--not to mention some surveillance--went into assembling that file.

Which makes me wonder: Could it be that Bill's arrival at the start of Season One and his chance meeting with Sookie wasn't coincidental, after all? Was he working for Sophie-Anne even then? Something tells me that Sookie won't be too keen to learn that he sought her out intentionally. And the fact that the Comptons lived in the area was a convenient smokescreen for Bill to use in order to effect his return to Bon Temps after all of this time. Very curious.

Werewolves. Interesting too that the werewolves glimpsed in the first episode are actually working for Russell and that he seems to employ them for certain missions where he doesn't want to get his hands dirty. That runic symbol that Sookie and Jessica spotted on the corpse of the driver connects not only to Operation Werewolf but also to Eric's past...

It's a past that's of course shared with Godric, one in which the vampiric duo posed as SS officers in order to sniff out a werewolf in a French village during World War II. Eric--despite the anger of Godric--allows the were-woman to drink his blood in order to gain a valuable piece of intelligence from her. That the werewolves' master is, in fact, one of them: a vampire.

Given what we know about the werewolves' allegiance in the present-day, should we assume that they were working for Russell even then? Or do this ancient clan of weres answer to someone else? Someone even higher than the King of Mississippi on the food chain? Hmmm....

Lafayette and Tara. Once again, we're given another layer to fan-favorite Lafayette Reynolds, as we learn a bit more about where he came from and gain yet another cautionary tale for both Lafayette and Tara in the form of Ruby Jean, Lafayette's mentally ill mother. Working two "legal jobs" (and selling V on the side), Lafayette pays for her care at a live-in facility that's not exactly cheap... and then is the unwilling recipient of his mother's verbal abuse. (Telling your son that "God killed him" isn't exactly setting Ruby Jean up to win Mother of the Year, let me tell you.)

Rather than take Tara to the hospital, Lafayette instead opts to show her a vision of her potential future, taking her to see Ruby Jean in an effort to snap her out of her death-wish and get her to see that they need to keep fighting, just as they have their whole lives. Giving up means giving in to the darkness festering in their souls. But Lafayette, if anything, is a fighter, one that was born into the eternal struggle between fear and strength, between good and evil, and between madness and courage.

But Eggs' death has pushed Tara once more on a collision course with darkness. Her suicide attempt at the end of last week's episode wasn't a cry for help; it was a plea to end her suffering forever. While she's given a glimpse at the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in the form of Ruby Jean, she falls victim to her rage and her grief once more, allowing herself to succumb to the bottle and to her fists. Not helping matters is Franklin Mott, who pushes her deeper into her red zone, holding down the racist rednecks so she can wail on them even harder. This, friends, is not good.

Sam. Sam Merlotte, meanwhile, finds the family he had been so desperate to track down in Arkansas, coming face to face with the low-rent Mickenses when he ends up at the receiving end of a shotgun, courtesy of his brother Tommy. But it's his mother Melinda who welcomes him to the family and tearfully admits that she gave him up because she was worried he would be a shifter like her, though she prayed that he would be more like his father, Joe Lee.

But while his birth parents seem to embrace him with open arms (though there's something disconcerting about the look that passes briefly between Melinda and Joe Lee), Tommy's not willing to welcome Sam into his life, even going so far as to nearly get Sam killed when they're on a run together (as dogs, of course). Was it an accident? Or did Tommy engineer the situation in an effort to remove Sam altogether?

Yes, it looks like Sam learned the truest lesson of all: be careful what you wish for. Sometimes, it's better to not unearth long-buried secrets but to let them lay underground. You might not like what you find...

(Aside: I also want to say just how much I absolutely adore the unlikely "friendship" developing between Deborah Ann Woll's Jessica and Kristin Bauer van Straten's Pam. Loved their scene together in the bathroom and Jessica turning to Pam for guidance after her, er, drain-related death.)

Jason. Once again, we're seeing a direction-less Jason Stackhouse, one who even wanders over to Sookie's house to clean up in the middle of the night (and snag some of her fried chicken). But Jason might have found a new vocation when he rides along with Andy Bellefleur as the latter attempts to shut down a meth lab in the nearby neighborhood of Hotshot. Thanks to Jason, a meth cooker is caught (literally slammed to the ground by the former football player) and Jason comes face to face with...? Well, we're still not sure who that mysterious woman is, nor how she's caught up in the drug trade. But it's safe to say that she's clearly intended to be the new love interest for our horndog Jason Stackhouse this season...

Lorena. In an episode that was already filled with surprises, none managed to shock more than the appearance of Bill's maker Lorena at Russell's home... and Bill's reaction to her grand entrance as he takes the opportunity to pick up a lantern and throw it at Lorena, setting her on fire. Just... wow. I did not see that coming, nor did I expect that Bill would be able to turn the tables on his maker quite so easily. Talk about a burn...

Sookie and Eric. I loved the scenes between Sookie and Terry Bellefleur this week, as Terry chased after Sookie into the woods and then later gave her his gun, stashed in an old can in the kitchen of Merlotte's. When he asks her if she knows how to use it, her retort is pitch-perfect: "I'm not that blonde."

Likewise, Anna Paquin's Sookie gets to crack an actual joke this week, poking fun at the way that Stephen Moyer's Bill says her name (which I tend to transcribe as something like "Suggie"), in her touching scene with Jason. (And I loved the werewolf/Bigfoot/Santa dialogue from Jason, to boot.)

We got some major sparks from Eric and Sookie this week as he visits her at home to admit that he lied to her about not recognizing the Operation Werewolf rune, and we get a very sexually charged scene between the two of them out on the porch as Eric demands that Sookie invite him inside... either to protect her or sexually ravage her. (Or both.) While she finally relents when he bares his fangs, it's not Eric who actually takes down the werewolf lurking in the shadows of her home: rather, it's Sookie who fires that gun.

Despite her penchant for landing in trouble, Sookie is far more than a damsel in distress as this final scene proves. While she's got multiple suitors clamoring for the right to protect her, Sookie's taking matters into her own hands. In the dangerous environs of Bon Temps, that's a very good thing indeed.

All in all, "Beautifully Broken" was a stellar installment that picked up the baton from the season opener and gleefully ran with it. When True Blood clicks, it's an emotionally-laden rollercoaster ride in the dark heart of mankind and the opening episodes of this season point towards a sterling season that's likely to delight and torment in equal measure. I don't know about you, but I'm already hungry for next week's episode...

Next week on True Blood ("It Hurts Me Too"), Sookie heads to Jackson in the company of a werewolf; Jason is distracted from his police exams; Arlene copes with unexpected news; Franklin charms Tara; Eric gives Lafayette a gift; Bill is haunted by his past.

Comments

OST said…
This season is going to be so good! It seems like it just keeps getting better!
JanieJones said…
I liked AP's impression of Moyer, "Sookeh." I got a good laugh.

While I welcome the additions to TB (as the list seems to grow in the opening credits), I do have a concern about too many story lines.
The story did pick up a more frenetic pace this week.
I had quite a few laughs with Denis O'Hare riding up on a white horse, the blood courses, the room-too much in a good way.

I also have a mild crush on James Frain so it was nice to see him.

I read some comments on another blog that Paquin has been relegated to a supporting role on her own show. I've thought that since the beginning of S2, it's more of an ensemble.
Seriously, how many story lines are going?
Jason & Andy, Sam's journey, Baby Jess intertwined with Hoyt and Pam, Pam & Eric, Eric & Queen, Sookie facing yet another set of challenges, Eric's involvement with the selling of V, Laf with the V, his mom, taking care of Tara, Jesus, the weres (Nazi included), Tara & Mott, Arlene & Terry, Bill-Russell-Queen-Sook-weres,I'm losing track. All that said, the show does a decent job of intertwining. It's campy and sexy.

Why did Bill have a dossier on Sook? I've read the books but I hope there is more of spin than it's original reason (re: books).

Raelle Tucker wrote this ep. I've noticed she does a good job whenever she is writing for the series.
Anonymous said…
There are way too many characters on this show. I can't keep up or stay interested in all of the different threads.
ted23 said…
@anonymous: Go watch CSI instead then. Idiot.
Bella Spruce said…
Sookie and Bill are the least interesting characters to me so I don't mind them sharing their screen time with fantastic new characters like Russell and Talbot. (Russell's dinner party was brilliant!)

I don't really understand how people can be confused by True Blood. Yes, there are a lot of characters but the writers do an excellent job of balancing all of them and the stories, while fun and smart, are not exactly out of a Dostoevsky novel.

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