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The Light That Fills the World: Hitting the Ground on True Blood

It's only fitting that a vampire drama would revel in the sticky messiness of death, contemplating both the eternity of the one true death as well as the spaces in between and, for those hovering between life and death, how their limbo-like state impacts those around them.

This week's episode of True Blood ("Hitting the Ground"), written by Brian Buckner and directed by John Dahl, did just that, offering up an installment that looked at the stark reality of human death, sacrifice, and imprisonment, the final theme laced underneath the installment as we see that none of us--human, vampire, or other--is ever truly free.

Except, perhaps, for the King of Mississippi, Russell Edgington, who looks to liberate himself from outdated modes of imprisonment and fealty and take a giant leap forward for the false emancipation of vampire-kind, who have "suffered" too long under the oppressive yoke of the unseen Authority. That vampires have their own social conventions and societal hierarchies is something that Russell wants to fix as he pushes them towards chaos and looks not to rid the world of an authority but to usurp that power for himself.

So what did I think of this week's episode of True Blood? Pop open a Tru Blood, take a dip in the magical pond, take off your dog collar, and let's discuss "Hitting the Ground."

While I overall loved this installment, I did have some problems with the way that Sookie's subconscious journey was handled this week, which I'll address in a bit. However, those criticisms are minor for an installment that pushed the plot forward and saw not one but three deaths in a single outing, including for some characters that have existed in their own way since the very first season. Seeing as this is a series about vampires, it's only natural that the body count would begin to stack up at this point.

But while death came for several characters--Lorena, the magister, and Coot, in fact--it was the handling of Sookie's coma that produced not only some unexpected plot twists but also some real humanity in the way that Jason, Lafayette, Tara, and Alcide came together at Sookie's bedside. While much has been said about the way in which Tara has largely been victimized this season (and last), we're seeing the emergence of a much stronger Tara Thornton over the last two weeks, one who has chosen to live rather than die in silence. Casting off the shackles of her imprisonment, she once again this week proved her pluck and courage, taking down a gun-toting Debbie in order to save the lives of Sookie and Alcide... and she cast out the blood-drenched Bill into the sunlight in order to get Sookie to the hospital when she saw just what he had done to her.

Bill's behavior was that of someone out of control, of an animal with no comprehension of anything other than their unquenchable desire for continued existence. His attack of Sookie was one of self-preservation, draining her nearly to the point of death in order to replenish the blood he had lost. While he may have been able to control his blood-lust in the past, Bill was hanging onto his un-dead life by a thread and greedily took everything Sookie had. (If that's not a metaphor for the way we use one another, I don't know what is.)

Tara's decision to cast him into the sunlight was one borne of love and anger in equal measure. She is so filled with terror that Sookie would die that she enacts what she believes to be vengeance upon Bill, battering him not with a mace but with the sharp rays of the sun. (That Bill doesn't burst into flames is a mystery for another day and likely linked to the fact that he drank far too much of Sookie's light-infused blood.) The victim has turned into the protector, a scared little girl running from her mother has emerged a valiant warrior standing vigil over her friend.

I was glad to see Tara, Lafayette, and Jason reunited at the hospital, a collection of characters that hasn't really been together in any meaningful way since the first season. Their collective spirit acts as a callback to an earlier time on the series and reinforces those relationships as well as the connection each of them shares to Sookie Stackhouse, a family bound not by blood but by a love forged in the heat of suffering and loss.

It's ironic that the decision over what to do with Sookie's life and death comes down to Jason Stackhouse, her next of kin. Earlier in the episode, he ponders life in his boxer shorts while gripping a police baton stolen from the sheriff's office, realizing that he didn't think he was smart enough to be depressed. (Ignorance being bliss, one imagines.) When faced with the decision, Jason wavers, unable to deal with the weightiness of the decision and its consequences. But ultimately Jason is the one who makes that important choice. Faced with letting his sister die or allowing Bill to share his blood with her, Jason chooses life, even if it is one drenched in crimson.

As for the comatose Sookie, she takes an introspective journey into the deep recesses of her mind, connecting to a distant memory that has long been buried in the folds of her brain. Her hospital room opens outwards via a rose petal-laden path to a place where glitter-clad men and women frolic, swim, and dance in a dew drop-bright landscape. The entire effect is a little too on the nose, a young girl's vision of what faerie land would be, rather than a sophisticated take on the interplay of light and dark that exists within these creatures of nature. Which is why I am hoping that it is just that: the young Sookie's vague memory of this place, of when she first tasted the waters of the light, and met Claudine, rather than the place itself.

Sookie's true nature has long been cloaked in mystery; she's a telepath, can exhibit microwave fingers, and has no blood type (which might be why Bill and Lorena find her to be so delicious). Unlike her brother, she's not really human. She's never been sick, has never been inside a hospital (not even at birth, when she was delivered by their father on the dining room table), and has no knowledge of what she might be. (While Sookie is unaware, others are only too familiar with her true nature: her cousin Hadley, who previously told Sophie-Anne just what she was, whispers the truth to Eric when faced with death.)

The answer seems clear enough: she's a faerie, with a connection to this in-between place, a waiting room between the "real" world and the world that Claudine and the others inhabit. Is it a memory, a shadow, or a place that you can access in your dreams? That we'll have to discover in time. But we do learn that Sookie is very much not human, is connected to that light source in the pond (far deeper and wider than it appears), and is warned by Claudine not to let Bill "steal her light."

Interestingly, once Claudine and the others retreat to the safety of their world, Sookie is left in the darkness of the Bon Temps cemetery, a fitting reminder not just of her limbo-like state between life and death but also her connection to Death itself: to the embrace of Bill Compton, the graves of those she has lost, and the way that her own mortal life has been clouded by darkness. It's only fitting that once she regains consciousness (thanks to Bill's vampire blood), the first thing she does is scream.

The quintet gathered at the hospital is beautifully echoed in the assemblage at Fangtasia as Eric, Sophie-Anne, and Russell intrude on the magister's torture of poor Pam (who is about to have her eyelids pierced with sterling silver Tiffany's earrings) and flip the table on the tableau, trading a prone Pam for a manacled magister, who is forced to perform a wedding ceremony for Russell and Sophie-Anne while witnesses Eric and Pam watch. It's another gathering of five but for a very different purpose here, one that creates an unholy union while also seeing the magister cast off the final vestiges of his mortal coil, sending him screaming into the one true death at the point of his own stake.

Just how far Russell is willing to take his plan will play out in the coming weeks but it's Eric's duplicity that remains the most intriguing. Just what will he sacrifice in order to gain revenge? How many cages will he construct in order to fulfill the blood rites of vengeance? Will the very cost of such a mission eradicate what little humanity he has left in him? Curious.

I'm hoping that this isn't the last we see of Claudine and that we learn just what Hadley told Eric at Sophie-Anne's palace, while I'm also sad that this is the end (at least in the present day) of Bill's maker Lorena, who proved to be quite the adversary for Bill and Sookie in equal measure. That Lorena's final act should be to explode into viscous goo over her progeny is only fitting. Even in the true death, her actions, her victims, her blood cast a pall over Bill.

What did you think of this week's episode of True Blood? Did you like the way that the proto-faerie land was handled in Sookie's subconscious? Were there cheers when Alcide shot Coot and then locked up Debbie Pelt? Did you love that Sam rescued Tommy and told off his insane biological parents? (And wonder just when Melinda would try to sink her talons back in her younger son?) Head to the comments section to discuss, debate, and analyze.

Next week on True Blood ("Night on the Sun"), shaken and disillusioned, Sookie rethinks her relationship with Bill; Sophie-Anne takes up a new residence as Russell plots his next move; Jessica and Bill reconcile; Jason throws down the gauntlet in hopes of saving Crystal; Lafayette gets a surprise visit from his mom, Ruby Jean; Sam tries to keep Tommy in check; Merlotte╩╝s gets a new waitress; Eric proves the depth of his allegiance to Russell; Sookie finds herself in a vulnerable position when Alcide needs to deal with a family emergency.


Claude said…
Great review of the episode! I enjoyed the epsiode a lot.

Not sad to see Lorena go, she was too one-dimensional to be interesting this long. I was sad to see Cooter die. Mostly because I like the actor (from Lost). And his death was a bit unceremonious, though his glowing eyes before the final shot was cool.

I didn't have a problem with Sookie's dream world. I mean, how else do you depict faerie land?

Loved Sam's storyline. Rescuing Tommy from bad parents, like an abused dog from bad owners, is just great storytelling.

Can't wait to see what Tara does next this season. I bet dealing with Franklin was her last time being the victim. I feel sorry for anyone that tries to get in her way.
As always, excellent take, Jace. This crazy show requires some thinking and repeated viewing. The last show I had to read about the next morning like this was Lost. They're nowhere in the same league, but both shows juggle multiple storylines better than any others. I love how messy and complicated these shows are. I mean that literally for True Blood.

I'm really disappointed in Alcide. He's been flawed, for sure, but he basically shot Coot in cold blood. The rival ware was just entering the room, right? Of course maybe Alicde knew that he would be a huge danger if he licked up all of that maybe Alcide was better at seeing what was coming that I was. I liked the time he spend with Tara. They met just minutes before...and I imagine neither one of them really knows what's going on. Tara needed a will to live, and she seems to have that again.

Layfatte once again provided the emotional heart and stability everyone needs. I was hoping he'd go to the hospital when Jason got that call. And where was that hospital? Were they close to Bon Temps when that happened? I guess it took Bill a while to drain her.
sunny said…
Great review, but wait! whut??

"what little humanity he has left in him"

Did you miss the tenderness Eric displayed toward his child, Pam? Bill can't even acknowlege that he is part of Jessica's family, as he told her in s2: She HAS no family.

Bill is the "Big Bad" and Eric 'will rise up'.
JanieJones said…
Excellent review, Jace.

I felt that the fairy scene was a bit much but TB has proven that it wants to hit you on the nose sometimes. I was happy to see Claudine but I thought there could have been a more subtle approach, imho.

Did you notice that Tara barely had time to register the fact that she had not really killed Franklin? I like the strong, no nonsense Tara. I hope she sticks around.

I, too, liked the reunited scene of some of the main character's at the hospital. The only one missing was Sam.

Denis O'Hare is doing a fabulous job in his role. The way he used the magister to marry he and QSA and then chopped off his head was brilliant. Who is the authority? The AVL?

Lorena's death? Inevitable. Coot and magister? Deserved as well.

I think Eric showed some glimpses of humanity when in the presence of Pam. He loves his child.
A more complex issue is his desire for vengeance, his interest in Sookie, etc.

Bill-where will he go from here? He has hidden information from Sookie, saved her from Lorena, drained to her almost death, saves her again by hooking up an IV with his blood. He loves Sookie but he is damaged, unable to keep himself in check whether making a bad decision (attempting to kill Russell) or not taking of his child, Jessica (just examples). Claudine gave Sook a warning.
Will she heed?

The show demonstrates varying levels of humanity whether it be Tara trying to save her best friend, Bill attempting to give himself a semblance of a real life, Eric who tries to hide any real feeling, Alcide (broken-hearted) but taking out a few of the pack, the list goes on.
Bella Spruce said…
I also thought that the faerie world was a little cheesy and could have been more interesting than rose petals and glitter. Otherwise, I loved the episode and agree that it was great seeing the Scooby Gang back together again, even if it was over Sookie's hospital bed.

Lorena's death was necessary but I'm still sad to see her go. I loved the postmortem tribute they did to Lorena and Bill's, um, tempestuous relationship over the years. Hilarious!!!
Ridolph said…
I already miss Lorena. Her evil was as delicious as Sookie's blood.
JackiWhitford said…
Great recap. Very insightful. I have read the books and watched the show from the beginning, and love both. I love what the direction the author takes, and Alan Ball's visual interpretation.

I have the same minor quibble - the way the fairy land was depicted, but other than that, I loved the show.

Cooter was put down like the rapid dog/wolf he is. The Magister got the same punishment he dished out for centuries. Poor Lorena, that psycho vampire died loving Bill but never accepting that he never loved her.

What is Bill's real agenda in the True Blood universe? I think there are some things we still do not know.

I believe Eric is going to have to make some hard choices regarding his life long vow to his father.

I hope Russell and Talbot are around for another season. Dennis O'Hare is mesmerizing and menacing chewing up the scenery as King of Mississippi. As much as I love Michelle Forbes, I think O'Hare is a more delicious villain.

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