Friday, September 14, 2012

The Fundamentalists Come Out Of The Woodwork For True Blood - Season Five!

The Good: Decent use of details, Interesting character development, Good plot progression, Good guest acting.
The Bad: Going off in a LOT of directions, Slow beginning
The Basics: True Blood Season Five gets off to a rocky start, but recovers well once it finds its purpose.

True Blood is one of the only real cult television shows on television now and it seems like HBO relies upon that quite a bit in order to keep the series going. While viewers wait for the inevitable Fairy War that was set up a few seasons ago, the show is working to find its footing. Nowhere is that more clear than at the outset of True Blood The Complete Fifth Season. Of course the writers and producers know where they are going with the season, but at the beginning of the season, it is unclear that they actually know how they want to get there.

As a result, True Blood Season Five starts out belaboring to tie up loose ends and lay the framework for the much better latter half of the season. True Blood Season Five starts as a real mess, though it is all about the extremists. The “mess” is perfectly personified in a speech by Roman Zimojic (played by one of my favorites, Christopher Meloni, who pops up for the first half of the season) where he both appears to be advocating for and denouncing the fundamentalists. I am politically astute, but his speech – which he opens with a prayer to Lilith – before denouncing fundamentalists is just sloppy and it creates a mixed message for the season.

What makes the fifth season of True Blood at all worth watching is that it does end up going somewhere and the essential struggle between religious fundamentalists (the vampires) and the reactionary racists (humans) is relevant and well-executed. Moreover, in its fifth season, True Blood effectively evolves from a soap opera melodrama focusing on Sookie Stackhouse into an ensemble piece that puts the supernatural worlds and the human one at odds. It’s a pretty large ensemble that the show has to service at this point, but by the end of the season, True Blood finally makes it work.

The main plotline for the fifth season focuses on Eric Northman and Bill Compton infiltrating the Authority. Following the murder of Nan Flanagan and Bill and Eric covering up that important death, the pair is brought before the Authority. There, they meet with Roman Zimojic, who seems to want to purge the Authority of religious extremists, while still drinking the blood of Lilith and quoting from her book. In a gambit to save their own lives, Bill admits that Russell Edgington is still alive and now on the loose again. Charged by the Authority with finding him, Bill and Eric use Sookie to smoke him out.

When they do, the Authority experiences a schism at the top when Russell abruptly converts to the cause of Lilith and the Authority turns in a new (old) direction. While Eric resists the influence of the religious zealots (one of whom is his sister in Godrick), Bill openly adapts to it, coming up with the strategy that will put an end to the mainstreamers: burning down the Tru Blood factories and thus forcing the vampires to feed on humans once again. In turning vampires against humans, Russell Edgington – who is using the now-vampire ex-Reverend Steve Newlin as his spokesman – prompts an all-out conflict between the two races, with the converted Bill and resisting Eric left on the inside.

Sookie, in the meantime, takes a backseat for most of the season. When Jason learns that their parents were killed by a vampire, Sookie finds herself on a quest to reconcile her fey powers with the new truth in her life. She is, surprisingly, a comparatively minor character for the season.

Far more important to the season are Tara and Pam. Tara, who was last seen with her head almost blown off, is saved by a very reluctant Pam, who vamps her at Sookie and LaFayette’s request. Tara slowly adapts to being the thing she always loathed while alive and Pam, who is her reluctant Maker, begins to find that they have more in common than she ever thought. In a clever twist, after getting extensive backstory on Pam early in the season, in the latter episodes of the season, she discovers she has something to learn from Tara (who she has long reviled). As Tara prompts Pam to resist the Authority, the show becomes exceptionally interesting.

On the werewolf front, Alcide Herveaux makes a move to become packmaster of the Shreveport pack, but discovers their leader is addicted to “v” and welcomes the return of Russell Edgington. His story intersects once more with Sam’s as Sam and Luna struggle to regain Luna’s daughter from the pack and then Steve Newlin following her turning to a wolf. The struggle of the pack feels more like a tacked on subplot for most of the season.

Also problematic in that it seems to largely just keep the characters in the mix is the drawn out plot involving Terry. We finally get an extensive backstory for Terry and learn about a supernatural event that occurred during his tour of duty in Iraq. Cursed by a woman he was ordered to kill, Terry and his comrades are hunted by a fire demon. In a similar way, it takes a few episodes for Lafayette to extricate himself from the evil spirit that surrounded Jesus.

On the character front, there is surprisingly little. Eric does not evolve; he remains his steadfast self as those around him are radically altered by circumstance. Bill, on the other hand, is lost for most of the season and his quasi-villainous role makes him far less interesting than he had been in prior seasons. Tara, Pam, and even Hoyt (who moves from pining for Jessica to falling in with the redneck supernatural killers) have more distinct and interesting character arcs in the fifth season than Bill.

On the acting front, guest actors like Christopher Meloni and Tina Majorino add distinctive performances to make (comparatively) minor characters interesting. The main cast is honed at this point and know their characters exceptionally well and play them with a precision that one might expect from a cast doing what they have for five seasons. The only real surprise is how Deborah Ann Woll blows away the key scene between Jessica, Hoyt and Jason. Her performance in the tenth episode of the season is the stuff awards are made for!

Ultimately, though, True Blood Season Five is reliant upon the prior season to make viewers care about any of the characters or their plights. The villains are more relatable once they are revealed, but the plotlines (which dominate the show over the characters or the performances) are strung much thinner and are far less original than when the show began. Even fans have to labor through an awkward start to get to the point where they will care to continue with this season.

For other works in the True Blood franchise, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
True Blood - Season 1
True Blood All Together Now
True Blood - Season 2
True Blood - Season 3
True Blood - Season 4


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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