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Dogs at the Feast: Imprisonment and Escape on True Blood

This season of True Blood has continued to kick into overdrive, delivering yet another taut and disturbing installment that not only advanced the overarching plot of the fourth season but also pushed several characters past their breaking point, revealing the skull beneath the skin quite literally in some cases.

Last night's episode ("I Got a Right to Sing the Blues"), written by Alan Ball and directed by Michael Lehmann, should serve as a prime example of the sort of dizzying storytelling that True Blood excels at, juggling multiple subplots and weaving together several story strands as the direction that Season Four is taking becomes all the more clear.

But the main narrative throughline would appear to be the characters' individual quests for their humanity, between the desires of the flesh and the fulfillment of the spirit, the insubstantial, and the ethereal. For the supernatural creatures that populate the shadowy world of True Blood, humanity is a vestment that can be cast off at will but several of them find that they can't quite leave behind--or let go of--their mortal lives. Those preoccupations are the crucible by which they are judged and by which they judge themselves.

Can Eric make good on centuries of blood vengeance? Can he sublimate his desire and need for Sookie Stackhouse to enact a bitter revenge against his mortal family? Can Tara find the strength to choose life over death even at her darkest hour? Can Bill welcome death as a release from eternal torment? Is Lorena so far gone that she's lost any shred of love or decency? If Sookie's not human, than what is she? Is it our actions that make us human or our condition?

It's these questions that are at the heart of this week's episode, which sees Tara hatch a plan to free herself and Sookie from Russell's clutches, Eric makes good on a long-term plan, and Lorena torments both Bill and herself as she prepares to destroy her progeny and one-time lover.

It's also an episode of parallels and inversions. Just as Tara turns the tables on her captor Franklin Mott--biting into his flesh as he did to her and using a mace to smash open his head just as he got inside her mind--Bill attempts to rationalize with Lorena as she cuts him open, prolonging the agony he is experiencing, attempting to punish him with physical violence and send him into the afterlife with her violent impulses racing through him. But Bill's torment isn't what she had intended. He doesn't fight back but in a Christ-like move, turns the other cheek and attempts to reawaken her dormant humanity, telling her that he wished he could have seen her when she was human, when she could still smile and had light in her eyes, rather than nothing but a dark and vacant emptiness that threatens to swallow them both.

Likewise, the beauty of the scene between Lafayette and Jesus in the car as they finally kiss--a gorgeously shot scene that depicts both a sweetness and an innate passion between the two--is inverted later on in the episode. Their brief moment of happiness--one in which we actually see a smiling and beatific Lafayette--is interrupted by violence as the car--itself a gift from Eric Northman--is brutally vandalized by some homophobic rednecks. When Jesus learns of Lafayette's true nature--he's a drug dealer who traffics in vampire blood--the spell is broken and he demands to be taken back to his car. He gets back into the vehicle and the two resume their positions from earlier, but now the glass--like the moment between them--has been shattered.

Is there any hope for these two? One can only hope, particularly as Lafayette is doing what he does to attempt to support his mentally ill mother. One could argue that he doesn't have a choice, that he needs the money and would do anything to get it. But one might also say that there is always a choice: we're more than our parents, more than our race. Jesus, a product of rape, isn't a violent thug but rather a healer. His decision proves that each of the characters can get past the circumstances of their birth or death.

That applies to the imperiled Sookie and Tara as well. Asked by Russell what she is, Sookie replies that she's a waitress. It's clear that's how she still defines herself, telepathy and microwave fingers and all. She knows she is her parents' child but she doesn't know what she is. However, she still views herself as human, despite Russell's claims that she is anything but that. Tara regains the strength that she had lost following Eggs' death and the nihilism she embraced. Her imprisonment at the hands of Franklin reawaken her desire not to die but to live, to continue to fight. For a character who has been victimized for the last two seasons, it's a major turning point as she realizes she needs to do whatever she can, cross whatever moral boundary she needs to, in order to escape her captor and free herself. If Bill won't help her, she's on her own. And she quickly proves--via a gruesome series of scenes in which she rips open Franklin's neck and then his skull--that she's more than capable of looking after herself.

Even after learning that Bill had a secret dossier on her, Sookie still can't let go of the love she had for Bill. Rather than just flee with Tara, she attempts to save her would-be fiance from Lorena, even while knowing that he's been lying to her from the start. He's concealed things from her--the existence of Queen Sophie-Anne (and the fact that her cousin Hadley is in her court) and the fact that he's been investigating her family free--but it doesn't change the fact that Sookie has love in her heart. Unfortunately, she also has blood in her veins, which makes her easy prey for Lorena, who sinks her fangs into Sookie's neck at the very end of the episode, paying good on her promise to rip Sookie open.

As for Eric, he's putting aside everything--his fealty to Sophie-Anne, his love for Sookie--in pursuit of Russell Edgington, the vampire who orchestrated the massacre of his human family. Even with Pam's life on the line, Eric is willing to take his long con as far as he can, threatening to rip off Sophie-Anne's head and kick it in the pool if that's what his new master wants.

And then there's Jessica, who's trying to walk a fine line between giving into her primal urges and attempting to go vegetarian. After glamoring every customer and ordering them to stiff Arlene, she softens towards her co-worker after learning that she's pregnant... and she feeds on the shrilly irritating Peach after getting her to give all of her cash to Arlene. It's a nice payoff after Jessica accidentally bares her fangs when she sees Arlene cut her finger. But Jessica's playing a dangerous game. Sam won't be too happy to learn that she's feeding on his customers in the ladies' room and she's going to find that her tricks will catch up with her eventually... if Russell doesn't first. After all, she's still a baby vamp with no supervision and no guidance and her isolation pits her in a very dangerous position.

What else did I love about this remarkable episode? Seeing Jason Stackhouse fail to win the love of a pretty girl. In this case, it's the very much engaged Crystal Norris, who tries to warn Jason that it's too dangerous to be together. He'd also be advised to pay attention to when a would-be conquest sniffs the air and then says that they have to leave. Crystal is, after all, definitely not what she appears to be and her sweet facade conceals all manner of secrets, it would seem. Jason then takes out his frustrations on the Bon Temps High School QB 1, roughing him up after catching him in flagrante delicto in the parking lot.

And then there's the Mickens subplot as we learn that Melinda used to use her shifting abilities to win dogfights in order to keep the family financially viable until she hurt her back. Now she and Joe Lee have forced Tommy into this line of work, putting him in illegal dogfights and rigging the system for cash. Tommy's trapped, though: he can't walk away from his family but he's putting his life at risk in order to support them. It's going to end badly and painfully. But not if Sam Merlotte can get to Tommy before he goes back into the ring. If he doesn't, it's more than likely that he'll walk away with a lot more than some scars this time.

What did you think of this week's episode? Just what will happen to Sookie? Can Alcide help Tara and everyone escape from Russell's mansion before night falls? How far is Eric willing to take his revenge quest against Russell? And will we see Russell make a play for control of the vampire power structure? Find out on Sunday.

Next week on True Blood ("Hitting the Ground"), imperiled by Lorena, Sookie goes to extremes in her attempt to save Bill (Stephen Moyer) – with unforeseen consequences; Sam infiltrates a dogfighting ring to extricate Tommy from his parentsʼ greedy influence; Jason heads to jail to uncover the truth about Crystal; Summer makes a home-cooked play for Hoytʼs affections; Debbie vows revenge on Alcide; Eric uses Hadley as bait to get information from Sophie-Anne; Russell turns his back on the Authority, and on the Magister.


Bella Spruce said…
The scene with Tara ripping out Franklin's flesh with her teeth was pretty nasty (even for True Blood) but I'm happy to see Tara fighting back and I like that she is the one trying to save Sookie, not Eric or Bill for once.
rockauteur said…
I'm presuming Franking is still alive... right? Or undead, but you know what I mean... Tara should have staked him!
Alexandra said…
Trully Extraordinary episode... how the hell can I wait until next sunday???!!!!
Anonymous said…
Things I wonder:

Does Tara really not know how to kill a vampire or did Franklin's blood make her turn his head into such a mess?

Why would an old and powerful vampire like Russell pick Mississippi to live?

When Eric obtains vengeance, will he then be ok with being a king, or is there something that makes him really not want that much power?

Did Bill ask Lorena to kill him quickly knowing that she would never listen to him in order to buy himself more time?

How can Jesus not find Lafayette lovely and compelling regardless of his occupation?

Where did Joe Lee find those incredibly disgusting underpants?

Was Eric just making conversation or was it important for him to know that Talbot was 700 years old?

Thanks for letting me wonder "aloud"!
ewench said…
Wow TrueBlood just keeps delivering jawdropping action - I *love* this season so much, I can hardly wait for each episode! I am so happy that the focus is mostly on the storylines about the vampires and werewolves too.

Even though this season seems to much (wonderfully) scarier, it's great they keep the humor going as well - so sooo funny how Talbot was upset with the King for messing up the house.

Bella Spruce, I totally agree, Tara biting Franklin was soooooo gross! And yes glad to see her taking some control.

That was episode 7...? It's all going by way too fast!

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