Well, they could hardly title it "Ring Of Fire", as that brings to mind the act of passing spicy diarrhea. Then again, that would be surprisingly appropriate description for True Blood's recent output. Season 4 started weakly, pulled things back for a decent trio of episodes mid-season, but has now fallen flat on its fanged face. As penultimate episodes go, "Soul Of Fire" was mostly very poor indeed. I'm boring myself by reiterating the same basic points every week, but suffice to say the writers seem to be making this stuff up on the fly, and it's resulted in a show that's ragged, unwieldy and ridiculous.
Were you excited to learn where head witch Marnie (Fiona Shaw) had teleported Sookie (Anna Paquin) and her friends last week? The utterly disappointing answer: indoors, a few yards away form their last position. Why were Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) suddenly willing to trust Marnie that she'd release Sookie if they killed each other? Did anyone have even the slightest pang of fear for Jason's (Ryan Kwanten) life when he suffered third-degree burns, knowing that vampire blood heals all wounds? Why was Marnie suddenly powerful enough to bind Antonia's soul to her own, having been written as a bumbling halfwit until now? Why did Sookie agree to participate in the ritual to defeat her vampire friends outside? Why does her telepathy only work when the story demands it? Why has Pam's (Kristin Bauer) rotten flesh not returned after her temporary cosmetic surgery fix? And did I miss the subtext that werewolf packmaster Marcus has been attracted to Debbie (Britt Morgan) all these weeks?
I'm sure some of the above has an explanation, or stubborn fans can create one that adequately patches a problem, but that's not really the point. The trouble is, I spent most of this episode with a furrowed brow, unconvinced by the direction things were going, and completely disappointed by how the show wasted the "witches versus vampires" idea (a battle of wits that peaked four weeks ago). True Blood's a series of entertaining moments and gruesome fripperies (the best here being Eric plucking a man's heart from his chest and drinking from it like a juice box), but it's just not enough. The stories are so undisciplined and haphazard I can't buy into anything that goes on, because the show's taught me nothing has an effective or consistent arc. There are about two relevant storylines every season that never end well, a half-dozen subplots to disguise the fact there's only really enough pertinent story for five episodes, and sex/nudity bread-crumbed drizzled over everything to give 'shippers something to screengrab.
I raised an eyebrow that Marnie was defeated in this episode, with the help of Jesus' black magic, because I was foolishly intrigued to see what next week's finale could bring without the season's big villain. Unfortunately, it's going to be Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) reprising his effeminate acting style, as Marnie's soul has entered him while he slept. The finale now promises a climactic battle between two gay lovers, one possessed by the spirit of a hippy witch? Lord have mercy on our souls.
Oh, and Sheriff Andy (Chris Bauer) had al fresco sex with a fairy, because the show remembered it actually began this season promising us fairies, and what else is there for Andy to do on the show now? Still, the guy got laid, so maybe he'll snap out of his funk now.
I despair, I really do.
written by Mark Hudis / directed by Michael Lehmann / 4 September 2011 / HBO