Monday, July 14, 2014

Sookie Plays Crappy Marriage Counselor In “Death Is Not The End.”

The Good: Good continuity, Character realism, Competent acting
The Bad: Nothing extraordinary in terms of plot development, Somewhat ridiculous writing for Sookie
The Basics: “Death Is Not The End” brings closure to several characters while bringing other loose ends from True Blood to a close in sensible, though not extraordinary, ways.

True Blood used to be a smart television series that did a lot of credit to HBO by taking a pulp book series and making it into a decent and very adult television show with enough social allegory to be smarter than the soap opera it appeared to be on the surface. During its heyday, True Blood’s worst episodes were the ones where nothing exceptional happened; episodes that bridged significant episodes in order to simply rearrange the characters. In the rocky seventh season, the first true glimpse of the prior greatness came in the fourth episode: “Death Is Not The End.” While the episode has a ridiculous trend toward dialogue from Sookie that seems more at home in the daytime television self-help programming than on HBO show, there is a decent return to allegory when Jessica’s grief-based starvation is treated as an eating disorder!

“Death Is Not The End” devotes a great deal of time reacting to the events of “Fire In The Hole” (reviewed here!) and because of the episode’s preoccupation with the climax of that episode, “Death Is Not The End” cannot be reasonably discussed without referencing events from the prior episode. That said, “Death Is The End” is a plot-necessary episode that fills the day after one horrifying attack on the True Blood heroes with characters grappling with the repercussions of their actions and that plays well.

Opening with Sookie calling Jackson to let Alcide’s father know of Alcide’s death, Jason makes a similar call to Hoyt Fortenberry. Jason is shaken because Hoyt still has no memory of him and Sookie is unsettled when Jackson tells her that Alcide was happiest when she was in love with him. As Eric and Pam fly back from Europe to Shreveport, so Eric may see Willa before he dies, they recall how Eric was named Sheriff of the Shreveport vampires and given a small, depressing, video store to run. Back in Bon Temps, Sookie makes a foolish promise to Arlene’s children that she will help find Arlene and to that end, Sookie, Sam, and Jason visit Holly, who has no memory of where she was captured and held. Using her fairy mind-reading abilities, Sookie helps Holly remember that she was being held in the basement of Fangtasia. With Andy refusing to leave Holly, Sam heads off to Fangtasia and Jason pulls a gun on him to get him to turn around.

Jessica refuses to eat, but is coaxed by James and Lafayette to feed. After exploring the origins of Fangtasia, which was ironically created by Ginger after the vampires come out of the coffin in 2006, Eric and Pam arrive at Bill’s house. There, Eric summons the angry Willa. Together, they storm Fangtasia to rescue the three surviving women.

The richness of “Death Is Not The End” comes in the time the episode spends on developing the backstory for Pam and Eric. The continuation of the flashbacks from “Fire In The Hole” allows for the return of actor Zeljko Ivanek as The Magister. The scene with him turning the video store over to Pam and Eric is hilarious and off-putting. The introduction of Ginger to Pam and Eric’s life is similarly treated with a tongue-in-cheek humor that balances well against the darkness and melodrama of most of the rest of “Death Is Not The End.”

The darkness in the episode comes from the current state of Eric, who is dying of from Hep-V, the various characters’ reactions to the deaths that have permeated the prior episodes and James and Bill confronting Jessica about her not feeding. While Jessica not feeding is deeply related to her killing three fairy children in the prior season, she has also avoided feeding to try to keep safe from Hepatitis-V. The conversation that LaFayette has with Jessica is very much akin to the common therapies used to get individuals with body distortion issues to start (or stop) eating again. The allegory of the eating disorder for the vampire is well-presented and actress Deborah Ann Woll and actor Nelsan Ellis play off one another perfectly to sell the scene.

Unfortunately, “Death Is Not The End” has a somewhat ridiculous presentation of its protagonist. Sookie Stackhouse pops up with some of the least-memorable or interesting supplemental characters talking like a daytime talk show host. While she manages to get through the phone call with Jackson without spouting banal clichés, the conversation with Arlene’s children is deeply unsatisfying. Every line she spouts in that scene is a form of melodramatic psychobabble that sounds unlike anything that her character has ever said and it is pretty cringeworthy. Following that ridiculous scene up with a scene where she basically forces Holly to relive her rape (again, allegory, as the vampires tortured and fed off her) before spouting generic platitudes about what women want makes for a roller coaster between the ridiculous and offensive. No matter how wonderful it is for the show to bring its focus back to Sookie Stackhouse, the use of her in this episode is pretty lousy.

On the acting front, Carrie Preston gives a strong performance as Arlene as her character is drained near death. Sure, she mostly has to stay still and react to voices, but Preston makes the moments riveting to watch. The other decent performances come from Alexander Skarsgard and Kristin Bauer van Straten. Finally given the snark fans love about Pam, Kristin Bauer van Straten is able to loosen Pam back up and steal what could seem like dry, expositional flashbacks away from Skarsgard whose purpose in at least one of the flashbacks is simply to stand there looking good.

“Death Is Not The End” might be the only proof so far that True Blood is not dead yet and that the show has a fighting chance to recover from its rocky start to its final season. With the storyline refocusing and giving Eric and Pam a solid mission while the rest of Bon Temps falls back, there is potential going forward that had been mortgaged since late in the prior season.

For other works with Lauren Bowles, please check out my reviews of:
The Starving Games
Hall Pass
Dance Flick
Ghost World

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into True Blood - The Complete Sevent Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the final season of the supernatural show here!


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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