** (out of four)
An improvement on the messy premiere, for a reason we've come to expect: less focus on the bad storylines the second-tier characters are occupied with, more on the good ones that feel relevant. As someone who enjoyed the vampire politics of True Blood's first few seasons, I'm glad we're back to that particular well. Seeing Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bill (Stephen Moyer) detained in the vampire equivalent of Guantanamo Bay, interrogated by politely threatening Dieter Braun (Hell On Wheels' Christopher Heyerdahl) using intravenous silver, was all rather enjoyable. Those two are fast becoming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with added fangs, while Heyerdahl's positioning as the affordable TV version of Christoph Waltz makes me giggle.
The climactic scene where the two mutinous vampires came face-to-face with the secretive Vampire Authority--a group of Chancellor's that includes Spartacus' Peter Mensah, led by their ancient leader Roman (Chris Meloni)--was also a highlight. Throw in baffling secret history about the "original Bible", detailing how God created "vampyre" in his own image, starting with the famous progenitor Lilith, and the Authority's fundamentalist belief that humans were later created as food, and True Blood was back on ludicrously enjoyable form. There's nothing original about any of this, as it's another variation on the "secret vampire subculture" trope that's a standard of the genre, but I at least hope the details are enjoyable.
Unfortunately, the rest of the episode was filler of varying quality. Tara's (Rutina Wesley) been transformed into Looney Toons' Tasmanian Devil, becoming feral and unwilling to have a conversation. Lord knows why, as I don't recall this being the case with other newborn vampires. Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) were consequently stuck trying to look after Tara the tornado for the whole episode, grappling with mixed feelings about whether or not they should continue to let her exist in this supernatural state. This story's only engaging if you care about Tara and her relationship with her two best friends, but for me it's almost unbearable. And for many others, one would imagine.
But it wasn't as pointless as Sam (Sam Trammell) having to deal with his girlfriend Luna (Janine Gavankar) becoming an unreasonable bitch, because the writers have grown bored again. But even Sam's nonsense with the wolf pack was preferable to Terry (Todd Lowe) having nightmares about a wartime secret he's never told his wife Arlene (Carrie Preston) about, or Jason (Ryan Kwanten) being confronted by an angry teenager for sleeping with his mother. Where did that come from?
Of more interest was national celebrity Reverend Newlin (Michael McMillian) appearing on TV to announce he's a vampire and has changes his mind about vampires being unholy creatures of sin. (As you would.) I find Newlin to be quite an amusing prick, actually. He's True Blood's version of Ned Flanders and that's often fun to watch, although he's another character caught in the midst of a thin, stupid storyline: making a $20,000 indecent proposal for Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) to let him to sleep with her boyfriend Jason. Is that really something the show wants to pursue? Jessica showing her midriff was some compensation, although I'm completely confused about her feelings for Jason. They spent the majority of season 4 chasing each other like horny teenagers, last week she was blasé about Jason in front of her college pals, and this week she's offended that Newlin wants her to play pimp. I know Jessica's been a reckless and unpredictable character (most of the time), but I'm already at a point where I can't invest in Jason/Jessica (Jassica?) as a couple because they're so inconsistent.
A flashback explaining how wise-ass Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) became a vampire was, well, part of this episode. I don't think we really needed to know Pam was a turn-of-the-century prostitute saved from being raped in the street by Eric, and this gave us no deeper insight into Pam's personality, her attitude towards creating other vampires, or as a thematic echo of what Tara's going through now. Like much of True Blood nowadays, it felt included to soak up airtime, and as something to cut to.
But as I said at the start, a fair chunk of "Authority Always Wins" was spent on the more dramatic Eric/Bill situation, and at least having so many weak subplots means none of them last too long. It's just unfortunate how you spend most of True Blood twiddling your thumbs, waiting for the characters/plots you're interested in to hurry back. Still, with the reveal that Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare) is definitely coming back, once he's recovered from his full-body wounds after his concrete burial, I'm hopeful he'll revitalise this season. But as of episode 2, I'm still not certain what the big picture is. My guess is the Authority will need to be stopped by the vampires who've become more sympathetic to humans, such as Eric and Bill, and that the original vampire Lilith's going to make some kind of grandiose return Queen Of The Damned-style.
written by Mark Hudis / directed by Michael Lehmann / 17 June 2012 / HBO