Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Best Season Yet, True Blood Season 3 Owes A Lot To Alias and Angel!

The Good: Engaging plot that moves right along, Wonderful acting, Great (gross) effects, Fine bonus features
The Bad: Very derivative feel to many of the plot elements.
The Basics: True Blood trades in the abundance of sex and nudity for graphic violence and gore when werewolves enter the saga for Season Three.

HBO has a way of pushing the envelope with its television shows that sometimes, I think they forget they are not the only network on the air. I write this having just finished watching the twelve episodes that comprise True Blood The Complete Third Season on Blu-Ray because even as I enjoyed the season, I realized pretty quickly just how familiar I was finding the key moments of the season. Someone on the writing staff at True Blood is a fan of Alias and another is hoping that you won't recall the television series Angel. As a fan of both of those series', I was amused that so much in the plot structure was coming from key episodes of those two series'.

For fans of True Blood who might not have considered this, it behooves you to look at the following:
The fight between Sookie and Debbie mirrors the fight between Sydney Bristow and her best friend in the second season finale,
In the penultimate episode of the season, the conversation between Bill and Sookie is very much like the one Sydney and Vaughn have up to the abrupt end of the conversation,
Arvin Sloane's demise is virtually identical to the one for the Big Bad in this season,
and for Angel fans, a character estranged, a character buried and a character ascending to a godlike state all are going to seem familiar from the third season finale. There are more and more sophisticated arguments to be made here, but they are not possible without spoilers.

For those not quite up to speed, the third season of True Blood is a heavily-serialized HBO television show that follows on the heels of Season One (reviewed here!) and Season Two (reviewed here!) with consequences from actions in those two seasons having profound effects in this season. Waitress Sookie Stackhouse, who has the abilities to read the thoughts of those around her, has taken solace in the company of vampire Bill Compton, whose thoughts she cannot read. In the third season of True Blood, her ties to Bill become strained as he is abducted and Sookie is forced to rely upon the resources of Bill's nemesis, Eric.

The season begins with a shotgun approach, giving each character a little something to do in "Bad Blood." Sookie leaves the bathroom to find Bill missing and she immediately believes that there is a sign of a struggle and is irked when the police will not respond immediately as if it is an abduction. In Bon Temps, Andy Bellefleur corners Jason and tells him that he is taking the credit for killing Eggs, which earns Andy some positive press and nets Jason a guilty conscience. Jessica returns with the trucker she has been feeding on, unsure what to do with him. And Eric and Pam find Fangtasia overrun by the forces of the Magister who are investigating the sale of vampire blood. And as Tara attempts to kill herself, Sam tracks down his biological family.

In "Beautifully Broken," Bill finds himself in the company of the vampire king Russell Edgington, who is using werewolves as his own personal army. Eric begins to help Sookie as Lafayette takes Tara on a tour of his mother's nursing home to give her reasons to live. She finds herself intrigued by the vampire Franklin as Sam meets his brother, mother and father, two of whom are also shifters.

"It Hurts Me Too" finds Eric providing Sookie with a werewolf bodyguard, Alcide, as she heads to Mississippi in search of Bill, against Bill and Eric's own wishes. Bud quits as sheriff as Jason decides to join the police force, causing another headache for Andy. Tara and Franklin hook up and Arlene finds out she is pregnant.

The search for Bill takes a turn for the worse when the Magister threatens Pam to get Eric to move quicker. Alcide introduces Sookie to the dark world of werewolves when his ex- gets initiated into a cult of werewolves who are addicted to v . . . provided by Russell. Finding the place understaffed, Sam hires Jessica and he is annoyed when his family follows him back to Bon Temp.

In "Trouble," Tara finds herself imprisoned by Franklin as Sookie and Alcide realize they are on their own in dealing with the werewolf problem. Lafayette finds some happiness with Jesus, despite redneck homophobes, and Bill's allegiance to Russell begins to pay off. Jason finds himself awkwardly drawn to Crystal, whose interactions with him give him whiplash. And Eric converges with the rest on Russell's Mississippi mansion where he begins to compete with Bill.

"I Got A Right To Sing The Blues" has Eric betraying everyone to get into Russell's good graces. The result is that Sookie and Tara are held prisoner while Russell tries to determine just what Sookie is and Franklin torments Tara. Bill is tortured by his maker, Lorena, and Russell's werewolves. As Jessica acclimates to Merlotte's and Arlene, Sam learns how Tommy got all of his scars. Lafayette and Jesus hit a snag, in the form of redneck werewolves revealing to Jesus that Lafayette is a dealer.

The inevitable escape from Russell's happens in "Hitting The Ground" wherein Sookie is drained to lethally-low levels by Bill to save his life. Russell makes his move with the Magister and Sophie-Anne to consolidate his power over Louisiana and Pam is finally set free. Jason tries to get closer to Crystal, but finds her family situation weird and unsettling. Sam rescues Tommy as Sookie comes a step closer to learning her true nature.

Sookie is freaked out by Bill and rejects him, opening "Night On The Sun," but their estrangement does not last terribly long as Bill helps train Jessica and the two come to her aid when werewolves attack. Jason takes in the erratic Crystal as Tara struggles to get over what Franklin did to her and Lafayette and Jesus reconnect.

In "Everything Is Broken," Eric deals with the American Vampire League after his turning on Russell and gets an unexpected reaction from the Authority that Russell is intent to overthrow. When Franklin returns, Tara is rescued by a familiar face and Jessica and Hoyt begin to reconnect. While Arlene worries about the nature of her fetus, Bill learns what Sookie is.

Of course, Sookie is not told what she is until "I Smell A Rat," wherein Eric makes peace with the world after Russell is branded a terrorist. Tara takes solace with Jason right up until the moment he comes clean to her about his part in Eggs' death. Jesus and Lafayette get closer through V and Arlene comes clean with Terry about whose baby she is carrying. And Hoyt and Jessica find their way back to one another as Russell truly goes off the deep end.

In "Fresh Blood," Arlene takes the Wiccan new waitress up on her offer to help use magic to terminate her pregnancy while Sam Merlotte goes off the deep end. Tara, having learned the truth about Eggs' death, takes solace with her kindred spirit and Bill and Sookie try to get away from Eric. But Eric and Russell have entered their end game, which is concluded in "Evil Is Going On."

True Blood is essentially a soap opera where the supernatural is real and as such, the characters develop in long arcs where plot contrivances keep the viewer coming back for the next installment. This is a heavily serialized season of television and I found it very easy to get through the entire thing in one long viewing day. Moreover, the show is that engaging that one will want to get into and through the story because it is remarkably well paced. This is exciting television.

It is also very graphic television. While season two used orgies and moments of passion to push the envelope for graphic sex and nudity, season three of True Blood has some nudity but goes for the R-rated television more with violence and gore than with naked or copulating people. The result is a season that is not at all for the squeamish and has enough moments that are unsettling to make it worth mentioning.

What holds the show together is a level of acting that is superb. Led by Anna Paquin, the True Blood cast makes the most outlandish events and creatures seem entirely plausible. Paquin has a sprightly quality to her that works in her favor and as she and now-husband Stephen Moyer spend most of the season apart, the moments they do connect they use an onscreen passion that makes the characters believable. The show's creators seem to have connected with what makes Alexander Skarsgard's Eric work because he gets more airtime this season and he becomes very easy to watch and enjoy the presence of. As well, yet another stereotypically hot guy is added to the mix with Joe Manganiello's Alcide. He has the task of fitting into a cast that is already pretty seasoned and he makes it seem effortless.

The one who continues to shine and grow onscreen, though, is Deborah Ann Woll, who plays Jessica. Woll does not have the extensive resume of many of the performers on True Blood, but she has arguably the most interesting supporting part and in this season as Jessica grows, Woll makes her into the most likable of the conflicted characters on the show.

On DVD and Blu-Ray, the third season of True Blood comes with a few commentary tracks, as well as "previously on" and "next on" reviews and teasers. There is an annoyingly uninformative message from Alan Ball, the show's creator, after the finale, which only vaguely teases the fourth season. There are a few other minor featurettes and a music video, as well.

In the end, the third season of True Blood is interesting, engaging and adult, but getting the most out of it is very much dependent upon seeing the prior two seasons.

For other works with vampires and the supernatural, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse


For other television reviews, please click here to visit my index page!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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