In my advance review, I was extremely upfront about my feelings about the handling of the faerie court and the opening sequence of the first episode of Season Four of True Blood ("She's Not There"), written by Alexander Woo and directed by Michael Lehmann, which depicted just what happened to Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) after she disappeared into the light at the end of last season. What we encounter is a seemingly, well, fairy tale kingdom where human-faerie hybrids snack on light fruits and hang out interminably by a lush fountain courtyard.
Alas, nothing is as it seems and all that glitters is not gold... the tranquility that the tableau presents is once more a false front, a shiny facade concealing the waste and desolation of the faerie realm, which looks rather like the dusty canyons near Calabasas. What follows is a B-movie chase as faeries lob light grenades at Sookie and her granddaddy Earl (Gary Cole), who attempt to flee back to the earthly realm of man once Sookie goes all microwave fingers on Queen Mab.
Yawn. Not how I would have started us back in Season Four. There was something entirely... off about the whole sequence which seemed tonally out of place from True Blood as a whole. Yes, this is a series that is constantly reinventing itself and reimagining its own limits, but I never thought I'd actually find myself watching some weird Syfy Saturday night telepic whilst I was actually watching True Blood. Wisely, this sequence seems to exist to (A) demonstrate that the faeries in question are not actually Disney versions, but the darker versions glimpsed in folklore, and (B) to get Sookie back to Bon Temps as quickly as possible.
It's the second reason that's the most successful, revealing just what happened to Barry the Bellhop from Season Two (he's also part faerie) and what ever happened to Sookie's missing grandfather, who has spent the last twenty years in the faerie realm, unaware that time has been passing. His death is the rare emotional beat in the opening sequence, as he turns to dust on Adele's grave, finally reunited with his lost love. But the return to earth actually has a third and more important purpose: it allows Alan Ball and the True Blood writing staff to achieve something they haven't done in the past. Yes, a time jump.
Throughout the series, each season has started just seconds or minutes after the conclusion of the previous one, but it was absolutely necessary to get us out of the doldrums of last season and advance the plot significantly. Thus, a one-year jump that finds Sookie grappling with the fact that only a few minutes have past for her while over a year has gone by during which everyone else in Bon Temps is existing in a new status quo. While Sookie blinked, everyone else changed, allowing the series to jump ahead to explore the new circumstances that the characters find themselves in. It's a smart way of breaking the series' time-based narrative device, while allowing the audience to share Sookie's perspective, as she's forced to come to grips with the changes in Bon Temps.
So what's going on with everyone? Let's take a look, character by character.
Eric: He's now purchased Sookie's house right out from underneath her, allegedly as proof of his faith that she was still alive and would come back to Bon Temps eventually. While this makes him her landlord of sorts, it also seems to demonstrate that Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) feels he has certain, er, property rights as the owner of Sookie's ancestral home. In other words, "You're mine!"
Bill: William Compton (Stephen Moyer) is now--wait for it!--the Vampire King of Louisiana, and Eric's boss. Looks like he managed to get one over on old Sophie-Anne, though we'll get more on what happened there in the next few weeks. And Bill seems to be operating under the shared notion that the vampires need to reform their image, something that the AVL agrees with. (Hence that hilarious public service message from Kristin Bauer van Straten's Pam about Fangtasia being for everyone.) He's been under suspicion as Sookie's killer, and provides her with an alibi when she returns to town, saying that she was acting on his authority.
Jason: Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is now a deputy sheriff, serving under Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer), who appears to be addicted to vampire blood. And, despite the fact that no one has heard from Crystal in over a year, Jason has continued to care for the poor, in-bred denizens of Hotshot, bringing them food and supplies, and repeatedly fixing their refrigerator... That is, until he's clocked over the head and locked inside said fridge. Oh, Jason...
Lafayette: Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) hasn't gone soft in the last year, though he did find a new coif to go along with his saucy attitude. He and Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) are still going strong in a committed relationship, though Jesus pulls one over on Lafayette and brings him to his Wicca group, where Lafayette is introduced to Marnie (Fiona Shaw). And just like that, their circle is completed as Lafayette's innate abilities seem to super-charge the group. Marnie is able to successfully bring her dead familiar back to life, thanks to Lafayette's presence... and he's scared out of his wits when Marnie channels poor Eddie to deliver a rose to Lafayette. Eeek.
Tara: Tara is now living in New Orleans under a new identity. As Toni, she's a foxy boxer in a lesbian relationship, though she seems to be far more level-headed than angry. (Notice: she keeps the $20 from the drunken would-be john, rather than kicking his ass.) But she's also living a lie, telling her girlfriend all number of falsehoods as she slips deeper and deeper away from her life as Tara. A text from her dad about her dead grandmother? Please. But whether she comes back to Bon Temps now that Sookie's back in the land of the living remains to be seen...
Sam: After shooting his brother (who is now living with Maxine Fortenberry as a Hoyt manque), Sam (Sam Trammel) is trying to deal with his anger management issues, and he's found a collective of other shifters with whom he can open up about his true nature... and go riding in the woods as a horse. (I loved the bait-and-switch here; while it seemed like they were swingers, they're actually secret shifters.)
Jessica and Hoyt: Bon Temps' resident romantic couple is going through some serious problems one year after moving in together. As Hoyt (Jim Parrack) bristles against the fact that Jessica isn't performing any of her duties as his girlfriend (no food in the house, despite the fact that he's feeding her with his own blood), Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) snaps. What follows might just be one the most disgusting scenes ever on True Blood as Jessica cracks some eggs into a pan and slops the uncooked eggs--shells and all--onto a plate as Hoyt tucks in. Their stubbornness and anger, at least, quickly turns to humor, indicating that there's still some hope for these two. Sigh. But that scene at Fangtasia, as Jessica finds herself wanting a taste of someone else, doesn't bode well...
Arlene and Terry: Our Merlotte's mainstays (Carrie Preston and Todd Lowe) have already given birth to their darling little baby boy, thanks to the time jump. But a year hasn't assuaged any of Arlene's fears about her son, the offspring of a sadistic serial killer. And he's already decapitating dolls the second no one's looking. Look for things to get seriously weird there over the next few weeks. Is it fitting that the Arlene/Terry storyline is unfolding at the same time as the witches' one? Hmmm...
All in all, it's good to be back in Bon Temps and as soon as we got away from the faeries and lumieres and canyon runs, I felt a lot better about this episode, though it wasn't the most exciting and gripping season opener. It's no surprise then that HBO made the second episode available a week early over on HBO Go, though I personally would have gone with a two-hour opener if possible, as Episode 402 has a hell of a lot more momentum and a better cliffhanger ending. But that's just me. Still, I'm hoping that the witches come more into prominence than the faeries and that things begin to move together quickly... But not too quickly. (I can also honestly say that Episode 402 is a huge improvement on this week's slightly lackluster season opener. Something to look forward to, at least, if you haven't caught the early showing on HBO Go.)
Still, I'm curious to know what you thought about the season opener? Did the faerie bits make you cringe just as much as they did me? Did you overlook the opening sequence to focus more on the character bits back in Bon Temps? Quality-wise, how would you rate this week's episode? Head to the comments section to discuss.
Next week on True Blood ("You Smell Like Dinner"), Sookie adjusts to Bon Tempsʼ new realities; Bill reveals pieces of his past; Eric crashes a witchesʼ meeting; Jason gets his wounds licked; Andy struggles with his addiction; Sam learns of Lunaʼs special talents; Jessica satisfies her blood cravings; and Arlene witnesses strange behavior from her family.