Tuesday, 9 July 2013

TRUE BLOOD, 6.4 – 'At Last'

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

written by Alexander Woo | directed by Anthony Hemingway

When a show's been under-performing for as long as True Blood, a certain kind of apathy sets in and you tend to approach each episode with critical knives already sharpened. But the aptly-titled "At Last" has made me start to reconsider this sixth season slightly. I'm not saying I'm completely happy, but most of the storylines are actually quite entertaining and some of the characters are starting to behave more logically than ever before. I still tune-out whenever the werewolves or shape-shifters are thrown a bone by the writers, but everything else about this fourth episode was surprisingly enjoyable.

  • A few people guessed that Ben (Robert Kazinsky) was the mysterious Warlow in disguise last week, and this episode made that reveal work well. We learned that Warlow's actually a Fae-Vampire hybrid older than Fairy King Niall (Rutger Hauer), who's consequently able to walk around in daylight and has both species powers. That makes him quite a considerable threat, and will undoubtedly impact Bill's (Stephen Moyer) storyline about synthesising fairy blood to enable "daywalking" to even the odds of defeating Governor Burrell (Arliss Howard) and his anti-vampire agenda. Warlow's blood will most likely prove easier to synthesize because it's part-vampire, and I'm envisioning a Billith vs Warlow daylight brawl of some description.

  • Sookie (Anna Paquin) has been written very poorly for years now, so I was nicely surprised by how clever and logical she was in this episode. She quickly realised Ben had cured her brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) using his "vampire blood" after noticing a spot of it on the floor, and spent the episode plotting to expose Ben's true identity by lacing a romantic meal with liquid silver. Clever girl. And even after it didn't work, the episode ended with Sookie holding a figurative gun to Warlow's head—thus doing a better job catching him than her more experienced great-grandfather. It's been awhile since Sookie felt like an intelligent heroine, so I appreciated her actions in this hour. Maybe the writers will even remember she can read minds a bit more often.

  • I haven't been a fan of Sheriff Andy (Chris Bauer) raising four fairy girls, because it felt like one of True Blood's typically pointless 'comedy sub-plots', but this episode turned things around for the most part. The girls suddenly became rebellious teenagers, stole their dad's car, and found themselves talked into partying at Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and Bill's mansion—only to have their blood taken for experimentation. Again, this was all pretty logical and a sensible way to bring two storylines together. It ended with Jessica killing the girls to prevent them leaving, which suggests she'll be wanted for multiple murder by Andy once he realises what's happened... and that in itself feels quite brave. Jessica's a popular character, but now she's killed four innocent girls who were literally children a few episodes ago. How can the show come back from that exactly? Maybe they're not dead and can be healed with Bill's blood?

  • Jason teaming up with his grandfather has made for a good double-act, too. I found it genuinely amusing when Jason had a wet dream about shaving with Ben after he was unwittingly cured using vampire blood, and then partnered Niall to go after Warlow. Jason can be a problematic character on the show, but he works well as a sidekick with the right person (i.e. not Sheriff Andy).

  • There was also a really good scene with Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) deciding to turn Willa (Amelia Rose Blaire) into a vampire, which was done in a classic style with them sucking each other's blood in a large freshly-dug pit. Sexy and gruesome in equal measure, it was great to see True Blood doing something like this again. The show's become such a cartoon of violence in recent years, but there's real power in dialling down the nonsense and presenting something with subtlety and a raw conviction. The inevitable dilemma for Willa's father, Governor Burrell, when his kidnapped daughter returned home transformed into the very thing he despises, was also handled very nicely by Arliss Howard. There will be some juicy conflict for Burrell in the weeks to come, no doubt.
  • Elsewhere, I'm not paying too much attention Sam (Sam Trammell), who comes across as an awful human being now he's kissing Emma (Chloe Noelle) days after his girlfriend was killed. Or Alcide (Joe Manganiello) and his tedious wolf-pack shenanigans. They're like a background hum that won't go away. But the rest is ticking along quite well now. Niall has been banished to True Blood's version of the Phantom Zone on that bridge, meaning Sookie's going it alone against Warlow now; lots of vampires are being captured by the SWAT team, including Nora (Lucy Griffiths), Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) and Tara (Rutina Wesley); and we're almost halfway through the season already... so you can sense the writers have jettisoned a lot of superfluous crap they'd have included if this was a normal-length season.

A tentative thumbs-up then. I was hoping Alan Ball's absence would impact the show for the better and lose some of the excessive silliness, and after a few episodes with flashes of improvement "At Last" seemed to draw things together. I'm actually looking forward the next episode, which hasn't been true in a very long time. They're even stopped trying to conjure shocking last-second cliffhangers, if one doesn't naturally present itself. A bit of maturity in the show's twilight years? Fancy that!

7 July 2013 | HBO