Whenever it has an inflexible finish line in sight and must resolve things quickly, True Blood is often at its unhinged best. It's certainly more focused. Otherwise it's too happy to fool around for weeks on end, trying to stretch its story out across twelve hours. If HBO only ordered a half-dozen episodes every season, just imagine how much better and tighter this show would be. "Sunset" was a fairly pleasant viewing experience, even if it still contained some subplots I'm not very interested in—like Alcide (Joseph Manganiello) going home to roost with his white trash dad (Robert Patrick). In particular, I liked the development that blood-soaked Lilith is appearing to various member of the vampire Authority, promising them leadership if they drink the remainder of her sacred blood.
Bill (Stephen Moyer) was convinced he's "the chosen one", but soon discovered others are being promised the same reward. Right now, even that's not enough to shake his faith in the goddess Lilith, but I'm sure the wool's about to be lifted from his eyes. Meanwhile, Nora (Lucy Griffiths) finally came to her senses and found a way to escape Authority HQ with Eric (Alexander Skarsgård), after volunteering to rectify a bad PR issue with the US government—who are none too happy about recent events, and threatening a full-blown war against vampires. There was a fair bit of piece-moving this episode before next week's finale (which will most likely wrap-up halfway through and tease season 6, if history's a good indicator), but I was okay with this.
Sam (Sam Trammell) and Luna (Janina Gavankar) were caught while snooping around the Authority looking for Emma; Andy (Chris Bauer) made peace with Holly's (Lauren Bowles) teenage boys, for those who care about that dangling plot-thread from very early on; and Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) was arrested at Fangtasia after admitting she killed Elijah. They even found time for a great bitch-off between Pam and Chancellor Harris (Carolyn Hennesy), who suddenly came into her own during this episode. To think, the writers have been keeping Harris sat around meeting tables for reaction shots and sardonic quips all season! What a waste.
On reflection, there wasn't really much going on this episode, but perhaps that helped the episode breathe. It just felt like the show was actually moving towards something and was working towards the accomplishment of a plan, and that's a rare thing from a show that often feels improvised. The biggest story probably belonged to Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) being manipulated into turning boyfriend Jason (Ryan Kwanten) into a vampire to keep him safe from harm, leading into the situation with Sookie (Anna Paquin) seeking guidance from the Ke$ha-loving Queen of the Fairies (no, not Elton John) about her family secrets and, eventually, the situation with a thirsty Russell (Denis O'Hare) and Steve (Michael McMillian) on the hunt for mouth-watering fairy blood. I had to laugh at the sheer ludicrousness of the Fairy Queen (a woman in a reedy blue dress who dances as she talks and drops random questions about pop music), particularly when she made her lone stand against Russell and was so easily defeated. It served to underscore just how laughable the Fae are, too.
O'Hare was also on top form; chewing scenes with such jubilant hamminess that he transcends the material. I'll be sad when he dies, for good this time, but we should be grateful True Blood was astute enough to give us his unlikely return (even if he did spend too long stuck indoors, as most characters have been this year). Russell wasn't able to rescue the fifth season from being the worst year of True Blood, but he was again the best thing about a bad time.
The season finale is next Sunday, and there's a surprising amount of claptrap still to resolve. Maybe we'll have a climax that actually requires a full hour being spent on it, or perhaps some storylines will remain in play for season 6. (To do full justice to the brewing vampires vs humans story, it will surely have to.) "Sunset" wasn't a good setup and didn't even feel like a penultimate episode, but it was still a surprisingly enjoyable hour by this show's meagre standards.
written by Angela Robinson / directed by Lesli Linka Glatter / 19 August 2012 / HBO