In the second-season premiere of True Blood, we pick up right where we left off, in the parking lot of Merlotte's where there's a dead body with painted toenails in Andy's car. We find out who it is, and what that discovery means for Lafayette's future on the show. Bill and Sookie squabble like old marrieds, except now they can also squabble with their surrogate teen daughter, Jessica. We learn how Sam and Maryann know each other, and why the heck Jason is joining an anti-vampire church.
How you livin', fangbangers? This is Mickey O'Connor (blood type: O+). We heard your fervent cries for more Blood (sickos, all of you), so I'm going to be recapping each and every episode of Alan Ball's phantasma-gory, Southern-fried extravaganza for you this summer.
Full disclosure up front: I am not a Goth, nor have I ever been (save a few Cure albums from the '80s). I am also not what you'd call a fan of the vampire genre. I thought Buffy was aight, but Sarah Michelle Gellar's acting makes my teeth itch, so I was not a regular viewer. Ditto Blade, Moonlight, Angel, Underworld, and the novels of Anne Rice, Stephenie Meyer and Charlaine Harris -- on which this show is based. So I apologize in advance if I miss some of the vamp fundamentals along the way. Please feel free to school me in the comments section.
On the other hand, I'm a huge Alan Ball fan, and of his genius screenplay for American Beauty and the brutal, rough-edged nihilism of Six Feet Under. I'm already seeing how Ball is weaving his favorite themes — self-destruction as redemption, family as a necessary evil, coming out of the closet — into True Blood, and so far I really like the hot, sweaty mess he has created down on the sticky bayous of Bon Temps. Are you ready for seconds? Then let's sharpen our incisors and dig in!
BACK ON THE BAYOU
"Please tell me it's not Lafayette," Tara says, as Andy, Sookie, Sam and Tara lean over the painted toenails hanging out of Andy's car, and it's clear that no time at all has elapsed since the cliff-hanger scene in the finale. But it's not Lafayette (phew!); it's obviously a woman, and someone has gone to the trouble of removing her heart. Ick. But who is it? Yikes! It's Miss Jeannette, the defrauded exorcist, and her facial rictus is harrowing, implying that she was still alive during the extraction. (Cue another scream from Tara.)
Can we just pause to give it up again for these incredible opening credits? Now with more subliminal sex scenes!
In the immediate aftermath of the discovery of Miss Jeannette's body, Tara tells the cops that she doesn't know her. Sookie, who's in shock and thus can't suppress her psychic abilities, hears Tara's thoughts and realizes she knows the victim, and prompts her to 'fess up.
Sheriff Bud tells Andy to go home, since he's overworked and drunk. "I... am not... overworked," Andy protests. Heh.
The cops bring Tara in for questioning about the murder of Miss Jeannette (aka Nancy LeGuare). Andy thinks Tara is somehow involved, and plays bad cop on her. It's a hilarious freak-out, and much props go to Chris Bauer for finding just the right combination of Southern stereotypes from In the Heat of the Night, Cops and Sling Blade for his vision of Andy Bellefleur. At any rate, Bud has had enough of Andy's badge-flashing bravado, and dismisses him from the case, seeing as he's both a material witness and a potential suspect.
"Mm-mm-mm," says lady-cop Kenya (Tanya Wright), shaking her head in disgust as Andy leaves, hangdog in full effect. This made me realize that the old adage is true: There are no small roles, only small actors.
Tara's mom barges in, and her first concern is, disturbingly, for Miss Jeannette and not Tara. But she has her reasons. Once she finds out that her exorcism may have been a fraud, she asks desperately, "I'm all right now, ain't I?"
Outside the station, Tara tries to make amends with her mom, but to no avail. Why is she so mean to her? It makes me crazy. Just in time, Maryann arrives and gives Tara the big hug she clearly needs. Maryann introduces herself to Tara's mom, and says with a sly grin: "I've heard all about you. What a unique pleasure this is. I always wondered what it would be like to gaze in the eyes of someone so devoid of human compassion that she'd abandon her own child when she needed you most." Burn! She goes on to say that, for someone like Ms. Thornton, there's always someone to blame or credit, "whether it's Jesus or gin." Hey, leave gin out of it!
Back at Maryann's Home for Wayward Cajun Youth, Tara and Eggs are marveling at their hostess' endless supply of tropical fruits and pot. Maryann joins them by the pool and describes the images in a nearby mural. (Pay attention.) It's the god Pan and his human lover. "Who is she?" Tara asks. "She could be any of us, couldn't she?" Maryann replies. Yes, she could!
Maryann leaves the young lovers to lounge, and just when it seems they might enjoy some poolside petting, Carl, the butler, interrupts to bring them some towels. With that, the lovers' spell is broken, and Tara leaves to get ready for work. Inside, Maryann slaps Carl: "Nobody needed towels," she snaps. What a mean Cupid she is! It's clear that Maryann wants very much for Tara and Eggs to make a love connection, but why?
I wish I knew what Ryan Kwanten was like when he isn't acting because I suspect it will confirm that he is a fantastic actor. First up, the dude's Australian! I know, right? Secondly, it takes a smart actor to play dumb convincingly. (Just ask "actor" Mark Wahlberg.)
Hey guys, guess what? Jason can read! He's doing a little shirtless bedtime perusing of Children of the Light by the Rev. Theodore Newlin, the assassinated founder of the anti-vampire church called The Fellowship of the Sun. A few passages resonate with Jason, and he mourns the loss of his beloved hippie-chick Amy, whose anti-vampire activities, according to Newlin, make her "a child of God."
It's easy to watch True Blood and think that it takes place in some alternate reality, which is why I really like those moments that place all this vampire mishegas within a recognizable present-day reality. You see, the Rev. Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian), Theodore's son and the heir to the Fellowship legacy, and Nan Flanagan (Judging Amy's Jessica Tuck), a representative of the American Vampire League, are debating on a cable news program. Their exchange is snappy, and the accusations fly. Vampires killed the senior Rev. Newlin; Fellowship followers killed the vampires in the Louisiana fire. Also: I love that Nan Flanagan, rather than looking like some slutty, fanged she-beast, is attractive, conservatively attired and intellectually precise.
"You could be governor of Texas if you play your cards right," Sarah Newlin (Anna Camp) says cheerily to her husband after his television appearance. Heh. Sarah is an awesomely constructed, candy-colored preacher's wife who comes to the fore in later episodes, so I'll hold off on my take on her for now. Jason's jailhouse savior Orry Dawson is there to introduce Jason to the Newlins. Dawson says he thinks Jason has potential, and should attend the church's Light of Day Institute, a leadership conference in Texas. One catch: It costs $1,200 plus class fees, which Jason doesn't have. Sarah advises him to pray on it. "God will give you a sign," she advises, with just a touch too much sexy in her voice, no? Just wait, you guys!
Well, God gives Jason a sign when his pervy great-uncle Bartlett dies (more on that later) and leaves $10,000 to Sookie. Obviously, she doesn't want his money, so she gives it to Jason. "Have a good time at church camp!" Sookie chirps, after Jason lies about exactly what kind of church camp it is. If only she knew...
After Sam's perplexing meeting with Maryann in the season finale, this week we get their backstory, in the form of a woozy, hazy flashback. A 17-year-old Sam uses his shape-shifting ability (he's a beagle here) to break into Maryann's house, sample her ever-present banquet -- literally and figuratively -- and steal stuff from her, including a large amount of cash that just happened to be lying around in her unmentionables drawer.
They also totally do it, during which Maryann does her impression of the San Andreas Fault, which justifiably spooks little Sammy. "Baby boy, you're not the only one who's special in this world," she says, which prompts my own personal flashback, but let's not get into that right now.
Please take note of Maryann's awesomely crazy disco-diva hair and eye shadow that appears to have been applied with a trowel in these scenes. It's period detail at its most subtle.
In the present, Maryann stops by Merlotte's and Sam attempts to return the pilfered cash to her. "Money... oh, you sweet thing, it's not your money I want," she purrs. "How in the world did you get the impression that this was about you?" They emerge from Sam's office together just in time to catch Eggs and Tara sucking face over the bar. Maryann looks pleased; Sam, standing in for the audience, looks confused.
AT THE BAR
While we're at Merlotte's, let's cover a few small details. Arlene brings in Daphne (The Bold and the Beautiful's Ashley Jones) to apply to be the new waitress. Sam and Daphne make sexy-eyes at each other during the interview. That is all... for now.
As Andy stumbles around half in the bag questioning the patrons about the Miss Jeannette case, Arlene overhears a few of them talking trash about Rene, including the interesting theory that the vampires dug him up to convert him. (Nah, I doubt it, though Michael Raymond-James would make a great bloodsucker.) Terry, seeing Arlene's distress, comes to her rescue, paying their bills and throwing them out. Arlene is clearly moved by the big lug's gesture, and collapses into his arms. Aw. As Arlene weeps into Terry's barrel chest, he leans over and sniffs her hair. Ew. Also: Heh. I love that goofy bastard!
MEET THE BICKERSONS
Over at Chez Dracula, Bill is teaching Jessica how to recycle. Recycle! Stephen Moyer and Deborah Ann Woll play these father-daughter-like scenes really well, as we already knew that Bill was a Confederate stick-in-the-mud, so giving him an out-of-control teenager foil is genius.
With Sookie on her way over, having no knowledge of Jessica's existence, Bill orders the slut-in-training to clean up her act, since she looks like a slattern, or lady of the evening. "Awesome!" Jessica replies, instantly becoming my new favorite character.
Sookie arrives, and as if on cue, Jessica emerges from the bathroom, wearing only a towel. "Bill, I love your shower," she says. Bill is all: Honey, this isn't what it looks like. She's actually just my young vampire ward, who I had to convert as reparations for having killed a vampire to save you. We totally didn't do it. "Ew, old!" Jessica adds.
This should explain things, but since Bill and Sookie's default behavior is straight out of an episode of The Honeymooners, she argues that Bill has lied to her. "Is she always like this?" Jessica asks, and the audience rolls their eyes, sighs and replies, "Yes, Jessica, she is. Cute skirt, by the way." (We're totally BFFs now, guys!)
Sookie has to clean out her grandmother's room, which is sad, and she cuts her finger on a cardboard box, just as Mr. Lancaster, her grandmother's attorney, arrives with the news of Uncle Bartlett's death. Sookie half-heartedly accepts the envelope with the $11,000 check, bleeding on it symbolically.
Jessica hates TruBlood, which is a problem, Bill exposits, since at her age and with her impulses, she could be very dangerous. "Eric let me feed on a guy with tattoos and nipple piercings," she whines. "I'm not Eric," Bill barks. "You are so not Eric," Jessica whines, pushing an empty bottle into — gasp! — the wrong recycling bin.
Sookie arrives and plays nice-nice with Jessica, asking her for a night alone with Bill; they'll have a girls' night tomorrow. In my head, I started singing, "And that's the way... they became... the Stackhouse-Compton-Hamby Bunch." (And Ann B. Davis as Alice!)
Once Jessica is tucked into her coffin, Sookie confronts Bill about his role in Uncle Bartlett's death. He cops to killing him because he hurt her. Sookie is upset, as she thinks it means that Bill doesn't value human life. Bill says a bunch of nice things to butter her up — I love you; you're my miracle, blah blah. It works, and Sookie cries tears of joy.
Now. Some actors are great at crying (see: Dana Delany on Desperate Housewives for a master class). Anna Paquin's technique is slightly more juvenile, in that her face crumples in a way that reminds us that she's that moon-faced 11-year-old who won an Oscar for The Piano. Which is an unfortunate association, since next we see a fairly graphic (hello, Stephen Moyer's butt!) sex scene of their tender, sweet, bloody makeup sex.
I have to admit that when I first saw Lafayette chained up in a dungeon, I didn't even recognize him. Maybe it's the facial hair or the lack of appropriately sassy accessories (the man can rock a head scarf), but for about three minutes, I was like: Who is this guy? Figuring out that it was Lafayette alleviated some, but not all of my confusion about this scene. Who are these people? Where the heck are they? And what is the function of the giant wheel they're turning?
It starts becoming clearer when one of the rednecks who burned down the vampire house is led in, and chained to the wheel. The guy is kind of a wreck — and, incongruously, a chatterbox. He starts confessing all his sins and otherwise just blathering on, including the amusing detail — in an attempt to show Lafayette that he accepts his homosexuality -- that, when he was 15 at safety-patrol camp, he let his bunkmate blow him.
Then all is crystal clear when Eric (Alexander Skarsgård), hilariously all foiled up like he's in the middle of getting his hair dyed (he is 1,000 years old, after all, he must be graying a bit at the temples by now), enters the dungeon, and we realize that Lafayette & Co. are being held captive in the basement of Fangtasia.
The dumb redneck tries to subdue Eric with a silver chain he was wearing, which does not go over well. Eric lifts the man and chomps into the femoral artery (do not do a Google image search for that term) in his leg and basically begins to tear him apart with his teeth — yummy! At this point, I gingerly put the chicken wing I was gnawing on back on the plate and commenced dry-heaving. Welcome back, True Blood!
Kudos to Gary Calamar (who?), the show's music supervisor, and his team, who obviously have a well-developed sense of humor. Over the episode's closing credits, Randy Travis trills sweetly: "What can wash away my sins?/Nothing but the blood of Jesus." Nice. Or the blood of a chatty redneck! No?
So what did you think, folks? Were enough of your questions answered? Were the questions raised intriguing enough to keep you watching? Is it just me or has the show gotten both racier and gorier? Is this a bad thing?
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