Tuesday, 19 July 2011

TRUE BLOOD, 4.4 – "I'm Alive And On Fire"

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The problem with "I'm Alive And On Fire" is that spread about fifteen minutes of worthwhile development across almost an hour, and we already know that this year's storylines are again of varying quality. It makes for an off kilter viewing experience, as any scene/idea that entertains is usually followed by a dumb clunker that drags things down. I haven't made my peace with this fact, as memories of the comparatively slick and well-plotted first two seasons are still in the back of my mind. Are those days long gone, never to return? Is True Blood repeating the mistakes of Charlaine Harris's books, or are these problems of its own making because it refuses to remove deadweight characters?

This week, gang-raped Jason (Ryan Kwanten) escaped from captivity after persuading an underage girl to free him, doing his best Schwarzenegger impersonation to evade the were-panthers; Bill (Stephen Moyer) met Portia's (Courtney Ford) grandmother and discovered that Portia's his great-great-great-granddaughter after seeing the family tree; Marnie (Fiona Shaw) tried to help Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), Tara (Rutina Wesley) and Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) find a spell to restore Eric's (Alexander Skarsgård) memory, before Pam (Kristin Bauer) punishes them; Sam (Sam Trammell) discovered that girlfriend Luna (Janina Gavankar) has a daughter and a jealous werewolf ex; Tommy (Marshall Allman) returned home to see his mom, only to be recaptured by his evil dad Joe Lee (Cooper Huckabee); Arlene's (Carrie Preston) baby wrote "BABY NOT YOURS" on a wall in red crayon (so the kid's possessed by the spirit of its homicidal Cajun daddy?); and Alcide (Joseph Manganiello) helped Sookie (Anna Paquin) look after Eric, who enjoyed some time in the daylight having fed on the blood of Sookie's fairy godmother.

It's hard to summon much enthusiasm to review this week's episode, which was a fairly weak hour of piece-moving and time-wasting. I'm bitterly disappointed we're returning to the story of Tommy's bumpkin family (written so broadly it's a wonder they don't each have one tooth), who were one of season 3's biggest misfires. I guess that's what happens when writers aren't paying attention to what the fans respond to, as I can't understand why they're raking over old ground.

The idea of Sam's relationship being complicated by his girlfriend's daughter and ex-boyfriend feels extremely tedious, too. Why are we supposed to care about Sam's romance, which appeared out of nowhere three episodes ago? There's been no meet-cute, no courtship, no sense that these people are made for each other. Like so many storylines on True Blood, it's just stuff for the show to do because it has characters who would otherwise be hanging around like spare parts.

Sookie and Eric's situation didn't really develop from last week, but at least Alcide's involvement in the story was more logical (required to help wrangle a drunken Eric), and Sookie was atypically grownup about how she's dealing with events.

The only bright spots were the fact Jason's escaped from the clutches of Crystal (Lindsay Pulsipher) and her crazy family (it's a baby-step in the right direction), the reveal that Bill committed incest and is related to the Bellefleur family was icky and another interesting way to explore the problems facing vampires that live beyond a normal lifespan; Skarsgård's charming performance as amnesiac Eric; and some movement on the mystery of who's possessing Marnie, via a flashback/dream where we saw a young woman being burned at the stake for witchcraft. I assume this woman was killed and now has a score to settle with various people (descendants of those who killed her, or maybe vampires in general). I'm quite enjoying the ease with which blundering Marnie can sometimes turn the tables on characters like Eric and Pam, who are so used to being top dogs.

Overall, "I'm Alive And On Fire" was the worst episode of this season—which shows promise in a few areas, but mostly hasn't learned anything about why season 3 was considered a disappointing, ungainly flop. It's a real pity, because if someone could whip these stories into shape, and remove the excess baggage of redundant characters and pointless subplots, some of this may actually be fun. Instead, it's just irritatingly inconsistent, and that's being kind.


  • I had to laugh at the stupidity of Sookie taking Alcide outside onto her porch, so as not be overheard by Eric indoors, considering the porch clearly made it even easier for Eric to eavesdrop from his cubby hole below!
  • Was there any point to Tara being revealed as a cage-fighter with a lesbian girlfriend in the premiere? Is she going to come out to her friends soon? Is her girlfriend going to turn up?
  • How long until Jason turns into a were-panther? Will he embrace this transformation, perhaps becoming the so-called Ghost Daddy of Crystal's family and leading them to a better life? But isn't it a shame we could be losing another human character? If Jason really does turn, it's like the writers don't believe a character can be interesting unless they're in some way supernatural.
  • Will Luna's werewolf ex-boyfriend be anyone we've met? Or is there yet another new character on the way? Considering the fact her name's clearly an allusion to "lunar", does she have a deeper connection to werewolves than she's been letting on?
  • Have you ever stopped to consider just how many storylines involve characters being captured and escaping? Seriously, think about it. Nearly every single character has been kidnapped and held captive: Lafayette in Eric's dungeon, Bill kidnapped by werewolves, Tara tied to a bed by Franklin, likewise Jason with Crystal's family, etc.) And now we can add Tommy to the list. Is this the show's storytelling default? The loss and restoration of power is likewise a theme that gets recycled all the time.
written by Nancy Oliver / directed by Michael Lehmann / 17 July 2011 / HBO