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Wolfsbane: Howling at the Moon on the True Blood Season Premiere

The best laid plans, as they say...

Last night's season premiere of True Blood ("Bad Blood"), written by Brian Buckner and directed by Daniel Minahan, kicked off the third season in style, with a riveting installment that was sexy, sultry, and dangerous all at once and which found several of the characters having to make, uh, alternate arrangements as their strategies didn't exactly pay off the way that they had intended.

That went for Sookie (Anna Paquin), who decided to accept Bill's marriage proposal, only to learn that he'd been kidnapped, to baby vamp Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and conscience-suffering Jason (Ryan Kwanten), as well as conspirators Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) and Sophie-Anne (Evan Rachel Wood).

Taking place just a few seconds after the events of the Season Two finale, "Bad Blood" found the characters reeling from those life-altering collisions of sex and violence. Sookie discovered that Bill had disappeared and was convinced that he had been taken, just as Tara (Rutina Wesley) had to contend with the death of her one true love Eggs, shot down at the hands of Jason at the end of last season.

The season opener then shows how both women attempt to cope with the loss of their lovers, as Tara turns towards the warm embrace of darkness, choosing death over life, while Sookie strives to pursue all possible leads, vowing not to rest until Bill is located again. In life and death, the cycle just keeps on turning.

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

[Note: while I've seen the first three episodes of the season, my comments will be limited just to the season opener. So, no spoilers here!]

Continuing the set-up established at the start of last season, the writers--led by creator/executive producer Alan Ball--have wisely opted to begin this season in the moments following the cliffhanger, immediately pushing the audience into the action. The effect is rather like a fierce undertow, dragging the viewer right into the current, in both senses of the word. Rather than quietly ramp up the action, the viewer is plunged right into it, resulting in a terrifically charged beginning for the season.

Bill. The biggest mystery, of course, is who plucked Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) from the French restaurant where he had, just minutes earlier, proposed to Sookie. Was it Eric and Sophie-Anne? Lorena? Hmmm...

We're given an answer of sorts to that right at the very beginning, in the form of the savage F--- You Crew, who not only have poor Bill at their mercy thanks to a sterling silver chain, but who begin to drain him in the car as they head off to... Well, we're not immediately sure where they're taking Bill.

Defenseless though he might seem, Bill isn't out for the count and he takes the touring gloves cast off by Coot (Grant Bowler) and uses them to remove the silver chain binding him in place (which also acted as a nice callback to the pilot episode as well)... and then attacked his captors, managing to crash the car and escape into the night.

I thought that the sequence where Bill happens upon an old woman with an oxygen tank in the woods was absolutely lyrical and tender. While he's in need of sustenance if he hopes to survive, Bill doesn't kill Olivia but rather feeds off of her and then does something both unexpected and entirely true to his character: he leaves her happier than when he found her. In this case, he glamours her and makes her believe that her estranged son has visited her and given her a wad of cash.

It's an important moment because it underlies just how much of his humanity Bill still has. Most other vampires would have killed Olivia and walked out without a second thought. She invited him, with her crochet-covered oxygen tank, and offered him food, figuratively and literally. But after feeding on her, Bill didn't cast her into death; instead, he granted her a taste of happiness, of life.

He also learned just where he had come to: Mississippi. Which doesn't seem to make Bill too pleased to learn (he's out of Sophie-Anne's jurisdiction) and he's especially made uneasy by the howls in the distance. Bidding farewell to Olivia, he races through the forest before he's surrounded by a pack of snarling wolves.

Those wolves, of course, aren't any ordinary pack animals. They're men in wolf's clothing, werewolves... and they seem to be bound together by another mystery, one unearthed by Sookie and Jessica when they discover the remains of one of their member in the wreckage of Bill's car: Operation Werewolf. Just what does that mean? And why was one of the men branded on his neck? Hmmm...

Sookie. Sookie, of course, is looking at every possible explanation for Bill's disappearance, but she doesn't buy Kenya's suggestion that Bill stormed off after being rejected. She knows in her heart of hearts that Bill has been seized by force and her prime suspects are Eric and Lorena... even if Sheriff Bud Dearborne (William Sanderson) doesn't want to get involved. (Granted, he's right when he says that he has dead human bodies piling up at the morgue and doesn't really have the budget to go after dangerous vampires.)

After all, vampires have their own laws and their own law-enforcement. Despite the fact that she suspects he's possibly behind Bill's kidnapping, Sookie goes to see Eric and Fangtasia--and discovers him in flagrante delicto with new dancer Yvetta. But, given his role as area sheriff, Eric is duty-bound to investigate Bill's disappearance and pledges to Sookie to find him, even if it was human or vampire that took him.

An appearance from Pam the following night--to deliver the $10,000 that Eric owed Sookie (plus a little bonus)--reveals that vampires can be "called" by their makers... and Sookie realizes that Jessica might have been summoned by Bill if he was in danger. While Jessica has her own issues, she agrees to help her find Bill and together, they make their way to the scene of the car accident, where the duo discover a peculiar branding on the driver's body.

Eric. Eric, meanwhile, is in a bit of a bind. He doesn't quite know what to make of Bill's kidnapping, especially as he had given orders to an operative to seize Mr. Compton... but they were too late as they arrived at the restaurant after Bill had already been taken by someone else. Eric's concerned as Bill knows the truth about the arrangement between Eric and Queen Sophie-Anne about the V-trade in Louisiana and their complicity. If Bill shares that connection with someone, they're both in trouble, especially as the magister (Zeljko Ivanek) is already suspicious that all is not right in this little corner of the kingdom.

Sophie-Anne, however, doesn't care: She wants Eric to continue moving the V as quickly as possible as she needs to generate some quick cash to get the IRS off her back, but she's also willing to do a dash-and-run as well and sell their assets and get the hell out of the area. Something tells me that the magister won't be too thrilled with that...

The Queen sees Bill's disappearance as an opportunity. If he's the only one that knew she was supplying the vampire blood, then he should remain missing at all costs. (Or as she put it, "Let him rot.") After all, it would serve Eric's purposes as well if Bill stayed away, leaving Sookie open for the taking. But he did give his word to the telepathic waitress that he'd find her missing would-be fiance. What is a vampire to do?

(Aside: I have to say that, while I was critical of Wood's performance last year as Sophie-Anne, I found her turn in last night's season premiere to be top-notch. She was every inch the dangerously unpredictable Vampire Queen and I found myself falling in love with the fiery vampire royal, even if she is a few teacups short of a full set.)

Tara. Poor Tara struggled to come to terms with what happened to Eggs, unaware of what really occurred. Eggs wasn't, of course, shot by Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer) in an act of self-defense, but rather by Jason Stackhouse, who misunderstood the scene playing out (in which Eggs confessed to Andy) and shot him in the back of his head. I thought there was something terrible and beautiful about the blood pooling on the sheet placed over Eggs' corpse. For a series that revolves around blood as vital life source, as substance and substance, it was a sad tragedy to see all that Eggs was leaking out of his lifeless body.

It's no surprise that Tara would be so distraught after discovering his body, nor that she would pick a fight with Arlene (Carrie Preston), though I did love Arlene's line about how everyone there had fallen in love with a serial killer at one time or another. (Also, I wasn't surprised at all about the fact that the cinnamon-sniffing Arlene would be pregnant again. I've been waiting for this for a while now.) Retreating with Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) and a bottle of tequila to Sookie's house, Tara is numb and distant... until Sookie comes home and confesses that she unlocked Eggs' memories and made him remember what he had done to the women whose hearts he cut out for Maryann.

Does Tara blame Sookie for Eggs' death? In that moment, perhaps, but she's also a convenient scapegoat right then, a symbol of what went wrong with Eggs. The truth might set you free, but it can also get you killed... and Eggs' self-awareness led directly to his death at the hands of Jason. Is there any hope of reconciliation between Tara and Sookie? Stay tuned.

Sadly, Lafayette can't keep vigil over Tara 24/7 (he's working two legal jobs and selling V), so he has to turn--reluctantly--to Tara's Jesus-praising mother Lettie Mae, the scariest character on True Blood in my estimation. Lettie Mae brings a local preacher over to help Tara and ends up coming on to him... while Tara takes the opportunity to lock herself in the bathroom in an effort to commit suicide.

Lafayette's arrival saves Tara's life but it's clear that she doesn't want to be saved. The darkness within her looks to consume her body and soul; the loss of Eggs--of the chance at happiness--has plunged her into a state of utter despair. And it might take more than Lafayette to save her in the end... Especially as Lafayette has been tasked by Eric and Pam to sell off his entire supply of V that very night.

Jessica. Everyone's favorite baby vamp, meanwhile, had to deal with the consequences of her recent midnight snack. Discovering flowers from Hoyt waiting for her outside the Old Compton Place, Jessica drags the body of the trucker inside the house, but he's quickly dying from blood loss and Jessica doesn't know what to do and, after hiding his body in the secret compartment, she learns that he's quietly died. An effort to turn him is futile. He's already dead and she is stuck with his corpse in her resting place.

I feel for poor Jessica. She wants nothing more than to be with the man she loves but there is no such thing as normalcy for Jessica. She might not have been a willing recruit but she has to live (heh) with the fact that she is not a mortal and therefore is prone to cravings and impulses that Hoyt (Jim Parrack) can only guess at. She has a maker who has abandoned her time and time again, rather than instruct her in the ways of their kind and has attempted to bring her into his "vegetarian" lifestyle.

It was only a matter of time before she slipped, before she gave into the hunger and attacked a human in order to drink from them. That she would agree with her victim when he calls her a "filthy whore" with his last breath is a sad indication of the psychological state right now. She wants desperately to be with Hoyt, to be a normal girl with a normal boyfriend, but she knows that that isn't the truth. She's crossed a line, taken a life, and she's not worthy of Hoyt's love, nor of his purity of spirit.

I worry about what will happen to these two this season...

Sam. Sam's journey of self-discovery, a quest to find his family roots, took him to Arkansas in search of his biological family, the Mickens. But before he reached his destination, Sam (Sam Trammell) had a potent homo-erotic dream about Bill Compton, one that was foisted on him by the fact that he tasted Bill's blood at the end of last season (in order to defeat Maryann). The scene--which took the flirtation nearly to a kiss between the two--served two purposes. One was to show the connection that now exists between the two men, forged in blood, and that it would be only natural that Sam would begin to, uh, have these subconscious feelings towards Bill now that his blood is in his system. (It echoes Sookie's erotic dreams of Eric Northman last season after she tasted his blood.) And also, it was a heightened bait-and-switch that tricked the audience (for a split-second) that Bill had ended up in Arkansas and crossed paths with Sam, given that in both reality and the dream, Bill was shirtless.

It was, however, a dream, one that Sam was all too happy to be awakened from... and he caught his first lead to tracking down the Mickens clan in the form of Tommy (Marshall Allman), who claimed not to be Tommy Mickens. Of course, the mechanic wasn't exactly a very good liar, so Sam followed him home, where he discovered a mailbox full of past-due bills addressed to his biological mother, Melinda Mickens.

Just who are the Mickenses? Will they prove to be the thing that Sam's been looking for? Or the thing he's been running from? Hmmm...

Jason. Jason, meanwhile, is haunted by what he did to Eggs, despite the fact that Andy quickly concocts a hare-brained story that shields him from criminal charges and takes the blame for Eggs' death. But while Jason might not be in any legal trouble, it's clear that he can't get the image of Eggs dying out of his head, seeing that mocking bullet hole everywhere he goes, including on the faces of the two vet students he beds. No, it seems that Jason can't quite turn his conscience off, as much as he and Andy might want him to.

Wolves. We end the episode as we began, with Bill encircled by the deadly werewolves of Operation Werewolf. While he was weakened before (thanks to the silver and blood-letting), he's fed now and is strong. But is he strong enough to take on an entire pack of wolves on his own? We'll have to wait until next week to find out...

All in all, a fantastic season opener that breathlessly set the tone and scale of the third season, delivering a series of staggering plot twists, brutal emotion, and haunting sexuality. If "Bad Blood" is any indication, we're in for a simply amazing Season Three of True Blood and the wait between episodes has not gotten any easier....

What did you think of the episode? Where do you think this season is heading? (Remember: no spoilers!) Head to the comments section to discuss.

Next week on True Blood ("Beautifully Broken"), Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare), the Vampire King of Mississippi, concocts a plan to consolidate his power; Eric remembers his past; Sam tests the strength of his family bonds; Tara finds an ally in shady vampire Franklin Mott (James Frain).

Comments

Ally said…
LOVED. (I know - very insightful commentary)
Sooze said…
Just what I needed to get over my LOST funk.
ewench said…
Frankly after the scene in the basement with Eric and Svetlana I could barely focus on the rest of the story – wow, that made my week lol. Agree that REW did a much better job this episode as Sophie Anne and also agree Tara’s mother is the scariest of the bunch.

I love Pam - love, love love her! Her dry humor, pleasure in busting on Eric and sense of style all rock my world. “Wait, stop, come back” from Willy Wonka cracked me up as did her comment about wearing pink. Jessica is great, I do hope her and sweet Hoyt can have happiness together but as you say, the future seems grim there.

Can’t wait for the new characters Franklin Mott and Russell Edgington – both seem extremely interesting.
Bella Spruce said…
SO happy to have True Blood back and what a great opening episode. The dream sequence with Sam and Bill was absolutely hilarious. I love that this show is not afraid to push boundaries or play with the audience's expectations. Brilliant.
OldDarth said…
Still watching but ambivalent.

Too many characters. Too many storylines.
porkpies said…
Does it make me gay if I got a boner from Sam's dream scene?
shara says said…
Great recap/review! I love the show and thought that it had a great season premiere. It was a bit disjointed at times, what with everyone in different places doing different things, so in a way it felt like it was just checking-in with everyone, but on the other hand it was setting up a lot of interesting and potentially interconnected storylines for the rest of the season. And Sam's story, which was the least connected to any of the main characters at the moment, at least had the awesome dream sequence of him and Bill getting naked together. More of that, please! Sam is my favorite character so I'm hoping that his bio-family storyline goes somewhere interesting :)

Lettie May is, by far, the scariest character on the show. By a long shot. No doubt.

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