While the usual problems linger, "If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin'?" was a slightly more engaging episode for two reasons: (1) it focused on the best characters/stories, and (2) there was some actual characterization here. Indeed, some scenes were notable not for nudity and gore, but for allowing the characters to have conversations with a modicum of reality to them. This is Alan Ball's first script of the fourth season, so I hope this means he's aware too many of True Blood's characters have slipped into self-parody, and is now trying to restore them...
Benefiting most was Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and Hoyt's (Jim Parrack) domestic discord, which was threatening to become a really irritating storyline but gained some subtlety and interest in this episode. I liked the scene with Jessica going to her "maker" Bill (Stephen Moyer) to seek his advice, rather like a teenager asking her dad for help, as it showed Jessica's maturity since her wild child days, and was a nice reminder those characters are practically family. Shame it kind of fizzled out.
Jessica's return home, coming clean to a devastated Hoyt that she fed from another man, was also really nicely handled by the actors. I didn't think about the fact Hoyt would be revolted because another man's blood is now flowing through his girlfriend's body. And I particularly enjoyed seeing Jessica resort to "glamouring" Hoyt when their discussion turned into a full-blown argument, as a vampire's ability to erase someone's memories is easily abused in situations like this. Will Jessica start to rely on her power more often, keeping poor Hoyt oblivious to the fact their relationship is on the rocks?
The best storyline belonged to Sookie (Anna Paquin), who discovered Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) walking topless along the roadside and soon realized he has amnesia. In many ways this story is one for the Eric fans, as it's turned his character into a much more sweet and innocent version of the domineering Eric we know and love. In some ways he's become Sookie's own Jessica; a child that needs protecting, who suddenly can't control the urges he has as a vampire. There's plenty of humour in seeing Sookie and Eric rediscover each other, with Sookie using his state of mind to her advantage (like pretending she owns her house and he still needs permission to enter), and Skarsgård's never anything less than compelling on-screen. I'm sure Skarsgård's fanbase are squeeing in delight at this turn of events, as it effectively turns the all-powerful Eric into a naughty puppy with ticklish feet.
It also made some sense that Sookie would go to see brooding werewolf Alcide (Joseph Manganiello), asking him to protect Eric while she's at work all day, as she can't turn to ex-boyfriend Bill for help anymore. And I'm relieved Alcide's girlfriend Debbie Pelt (Brit Morgan) has managed to clean herself up in the year that's passed since season 3. As an admirer of Morgan's happy-go-lucky comic performance in The Middleman awhile ago, I was disappointed by her seedy role as troublemaking junkie Debbie in season 3 (although it proved she has range), so this seems like a more appealing use of her. If, of course, Debbie's going to figure into season 4 any further, and won’t remain a total Stepford Wife. How long until she's waiting tables at Merlotte's?
I've heard a few disgruntled complaints, but I think making Bill the Vampire King of Louisiana has been a masterstroke this season. It's revived his character almost completely by severing his tie with Sookie (for awhile at least), and it's a fun way to see more of the vampire subculture we'd usually have to rely on Eric for. Here we see Bill sentencing a lowly vampire to the True Death for getting himself caught on camera feeding off a human, which was a nice reminder of the problems vampires have in a digital age where their activities can be recorded and uploaded to the internet in an instant.
I'm not sure where the story with ambitious lawyer Portia Bellefleur (Courtney Ford) is going, as she made a play for Bill's affections in this episode over dinner. Bill seems to be even more attractive to human women now he's vampire royalty, but what's Portia's angle? Is she really just interesting in a professional and sexual alliance, as she claims, or is she going to twist Bill around her little finger in some way? There's something not right about her.
"I will personally eat, fuck and kill all three of you."
It unexpected how quickly Sookie and Pam (Kristin Bauer) worked out Eric's been put under a witch's spell, as I was assuming it would take awhile for that to be revealed to the characters on the show. It seems that Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) and Tara (Rutina Wesley) have been cast as the bumbling idiots in over their heads with the coven, now forced by the fuming Pam to find head witch Marnie (Fiona Shaw) and get the hex reversed in 24-hours. Marnie meanwhile was performing a blood ritual and we assumedly had our first glimpse at the entity that's been possessing her in a mirror—a rather innocent-looking young woman.
"I'm gonna be mama to all your baby cubs. Of which there will be many."
Elsewhere, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is being transformed into a were-panther by crazy Crystal (Lindsay Pulsipher), which is still a weird storyline—although at least there was a brilliantly creepy scene where Jason woke up, after being drugged with Viagra, to find Crystal writhing on his crotch, their bedroom antics watched by a gathering of kids at the door. Effort was also made to give the were-panthers a mythology, during a campfire story about the "Ghost Daddy", but it all came across as tedious nonsense. The were-panthers are simply lazy and boring alternatives to werewolves and shape-shifter that should never have been introduced into this overstuffed show.
Finally, Sheriff Andy's (Chris Bauer) still addicted to vampire blood and has started flying off the handle because of his addiction, and Jessica gave Arlene's (Carrie Preston) baby a sinister doll that keeps appearing in her house. That sounds like a great way to assuage Arlene's fear her son's inherited evil genes, right? For his birthday, I think Jessica has her eye on a DVD of The Exorcist, or maybe one of those tribal shrunken heads to dangle in his crib. What is going on with this story exactly? Laughable.
"You just killed my fairy godmother!"
Overall, "If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin'?" is evidence that True Blood has long run out of themes (like how we're all slaves to our nature), but when the best characters get the most screentime it can still be a fun adult fantasy soap. It helped that this episode contained the most humanity I've seen on the show for a long time, which papered over the simplistic allegories (Nazi Germany was invoked when discussing Eric's condemnation of the Wiccan religion). Plus, it's hard to dislike an hour of television that ends with a vampire savagely killing someone's fairy godmother, draining her into a batlike husk that then explodes. Am I right?
- In one scene, Sookie could be seen reading a Charlaine Harris novel in her kitchen. Harris being the author of the novels this TV series is based on. I assume it was one of the author's Harper Connelly Mysteries books, seeing as The Southern Vampire Mysteries can't possibly exist in this universe. I wonder if HBO are adapting Harper Connelly in True Blood's universe...
- Now that Eric's drained Sookie's fairy godmother dry, will he be walking around in the sunlight for awhile now? It seems that Eric's becoming ideal boyfriend material for someone like Sookie, who enjoys fixing broken vampires. Will they become a couple? If so, will this last when Eric gets his memories back?
- Lara Pulver was really wasted on this show, wasn't she. A pity, as she was great fun in Robin Hood a few years ago. Still, at least they finally confirmed her character was responsible for helping Sookie escape the rednecks in True Blood's pilot. That's a T that's needed crossing for years now.
- How much do you think a certain video streaming website paid to have its logo prominently displayed over one scene? A lot, I reckon.
- In seeing Joseph Manganiello again, I was reminded that he came close to being cast as Superman in Zack Snyder's upcoming movie. Give the guy a shave and he's physically perfect for that role, if you ask me. But continuing to work on True Blood may have been awkward, seeing as co-star Courtney Ford is married to ousted Superman Returns star Brandon Routh...
- The scatterbrained Eric accidentally calling Sookie "Snookie" was a reference to the popular US reality show Jersey Shore, which stars a young woman called Snookie.