Sunday, June 23, 2013

So Many Characters In Transition, None Make It To “The Sun.”

The Good: Character development, Acting is fine, New characters are laying the framework for a larger conflict, Metaphor
The Bad: Erratic special effects, The episode glosses over several characters/introduces elements that are needlessly complicated.
The Basics: In the second episode of True Blood’s sixth season, “The Sun” illustrates the weaknesses of having a massive cast and several characters who may have already effectively jumped the shark.

The problem with heavily-serialized television shows is that sometimes, the big picture can outweigh the individual components. In simpler terms, sometimes a season of good or great television needs an episode or two to rearrange the pieces (characters and settings) so the larger arc of the season makes sense. In soap operas, this is usually done on the fly and it is one of the prime reasons continuity usually sucks. With more considerately-created works, like True Blood, the readjustments have to happen in a way that will maintain the fan base (instead of pissing them off) and with respect to what has come before (and what is intended to come after). “The Sun” is one of those episodes where both very little happens and a lot occurs. Either way, in the long run, most of the characters remain pretty firmly rooted where they were at the beginning of the episode at the end (in the case of Pam and Tara, that is a literal thing as neither leaves the bar and LaFayette does not even leave Sam’s house).

Actually, more than any other issue, the reversals and sense of building in “The Sun” makes the episode feel like a stronger component than it is a standalone episode. The cast of True Blood is growing and in order to service all the various characters, some are being pushed in directions that it is hard to care about. Holly, for example, does not even appear in “The Son,” nor does new castmember Robert Patrick. While Arlene and Terry have a scene that might be smart in the long run (the appearance of Patrick’s wife clears up a dangling issue given that he was a family man, but because she came looking for Patrick – as opposed to Terry or Arlene seeking her out to tell her Patrick ran off – insinuates that she will be back and that is a potential plotline that seems like nothing but a waste of time), it sets up a potential plotline that might keep Arlene and Terry in the show for the season, but not in an at all compelling way. “The Sun” is not bad, but it feels like what it is: an adjustment episode, a course correction. Because True Blood is so heavily serialized, it is worth noting that it is impossible to discuss “The Sun” without mentioning some of the aspects of how “Who Are You, Really?” (reviewed here!) was resolved. So, consider yourself warned!

After a mysterious stranger materializes on a bridge, Jason rescues his car with the help of the man who claimed to be Warlow. That man now claims to be Jason and Sookie’s fairy grandfather and he reveals that he was just testing Jason and Jason failed that test. Despite that, Jason brings the stranger back to Sookie’s house. Meanwhile, in Fangtasia, Tara lays wounded from a bullet that prevents her from using her vampire healing powers. When the bullet is carved out of her, Eric realizes it is silver with a UV light source, which makes it extra dangerous. When Eric flies out to find out the plans of Governor Burrell, Nora begins to study the vampire bible for anything the Authority might have missed before.

As Sookie learns of her super powers from her fairy grandfather, Bill remains in a coma (though he exsanguinates a woman Jessica hires to come feed him). In his out-of-it state, Bill meets with Lilith in a sunny field and is told that he has a destiny. Elsewhere, Andy Bellefleur tries to unload the quadruplets on their fairy mother (but cannot get access to the fairy realm) and Sam is approached by a young activist, Nicole Wright. Wright wants Sam to out himself as a shifter to begin a broader civil rights movement for other supernatural beings. But after Sam rejects her appeal, she and her friends witness (and photograph) Alcide, Martha and Danielle coming to take Emma away.

What works best in “The Sun” is the metaphorical level of True Blood. True Blood has often had a metaphorical level where vampires act as an analogy for homosexuals and the vampire rights struggle mirrors concepts fought for in the lesbian, gay, and bisexual struggle for equal rights. In “The Sun,” the antithesis of that is shown as violence against vampires (who are declared to have no rights and not be people) occurs and reminds the engaged viewer that there are real horrors occurring in our world against people still oppressed. True Blood deserves credit for keeping the issue in the attention of its viewers.

That said, “The Sun” introduces a few new characters and what True Blood needs is pretty much anything but more characters; it has so many now, it doesn’t know how to use them all effectively as it is. Sookie spends the first part of the episode rescuing an apparent fairy she finds wounded by the side of the road. She develops an instant crush on him. When Eric infiltrates the Governor’s mansion, Burrell’s daughter Willa is introduced. Willa is a great example of piss poor casting as True Blood once again casts a stickfigure Hollywood-beautiful chick for the role of the Governor of Louisiana’s daughter. This is problematic in that actress Amelia Rose Blaire (Willa) has many of the same physical traits as Lucy Griffiths (Nora).

But, in realigning the characters for the coming struggle – which is teased very vividly as Bill discovers he has a new power – “The Sun” manages to push Sookie, Bill and (to a lesser extent) Jason in somewhat new directions. While Eric and Sam are used essentially the same way they have been for quite some time (Eric is prepared to go on the offensive to save vampires and discovers that there are exceptionally real consequences for him killing the General in the prior season and Sam remains protective about his identity and Luna), Sookie begins her Jedi training, er, fairy training at the hands of the man who has all of the answers for her. Bill has a similar experience as he spends most of “The Sun” in another realm getting lectures from god’s handmaiden.

Perhaps the most interesting character conversion, though, comes from Jessica. Jessica’s character finally comes full circle in “The Sun” as she returns to her initial characterization. After years of exploring what it means to be a vampire, Jessica finds herself having a crisis of faith and she recalls her roots. To wit, she begins to pray. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs about faith, there is something moving about the scene where Jessica, confused and lost between human religion, vampire beliefs, her very human heart, and her powerful vampire biology, breaks down and prays. It is Deborah Ann Woll as Jessica who has the powerhouse scene in “The Sun.” She takes what could be a mundane scene of a character coming through her personal crisis of faith and makes it a powerful moment of television.

Sadly, Woll’s other big reaction moment in the episode more closely mirrors the audience’s reaction than the character’s; in his unconscious state, Bill utilizes telekinetic powers to drag a woman back to him and when he exsanguinates her through her mouth, the CG blood is pretty terrible looking. Fortunately, the other special effects in the episode, most notably Sookie’s new supernova ability look much, much better.

For casual viewers of True Blood, “The Sun” is hardly an essential episode. The only real new information presented that could come up without being repeated in future episodes that viewers would not immediately understand are the new human-made weapons (offensive and defensive). But anti-glamour contact lenses and UV-emitting silver bullets are hardly enough to justify rewatching the otherwise mediocre “The Sun.”

[For a much better value, check out True Blood Season 6 on Blu-Ray and DVD. The penultimate season is reviewed here! Check it out!]

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
True Blood - Season 5
True Blood Premiere Edition trading cards


For other television episode and movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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