Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Trimming The Branches Of True Blood: “Fire In The Hole” Continues Unremarkably

The Good: Sense of flow, Direction, Moments of character
The Bad: Plot-heavy, Predictable, No stellar performances
The Basics: Loose ends dominate much of “Fire In The Hole,” which has danger and menace but surprisingly small stakes.

I have found that one of the easy litmus tests for how much I love a television show is when I miss and episode and actually feel like I have missed something. In the case of True Blood, the argument might well be that the thrill is gone in that it has taken me almost three days since “Fire In The Hole” aired to get around to viewing and reviewing it. True Blood had a strong start and when it became a phenomenon, it branched out in such a way that it did not take long for the series to lose its charm and spread itself too thin on the elements that once made it great. Truly, by its seventh season, True Blood has become an expensive, high-class, supernatural soap opera . . . where the soap operatic elements bleed through much more than the classy aspects.

With “Fire In The Hole,” True Blood illustrates one of logical techniques to ending a show that has grown too big for itself; it begins to cull. “Fire In The Hole,” despite introducing some new, thoroughly expendable characters, largely serves the purpose of continuing the True Blood narrative by trimming some of the branches which will not bear fruit before the series ends in seven episodes. The result is that “Fire In The Hole” feels somewhat like a transition episode where it reverses its expanding focus and begins to zero back in on Sookie Stackhouse and other key characters from True Blood. Picking up after “I Found You” (reviewed here!), it is impossible not to discuss some aspects of the highly serialized True Blood episode without revealing a few (albeit minor) spoilers from the prior two episodes. Given how Alexander Skarsgard’s name appeared in the credits for the first episode, the final reveal of his character Eric Northman in the final moment of “I Found You” was somewhat anticlimactic. However, “Fire In The Hole” forces viewers to accept the somewhat disappointing premise that the usually smart and efficient Eric Northman was ridiculously sloppy, as the character has become infected with Hep-V.

Opening at a yoga studio in Los Angeles, California, Sarah Newlin returns to the narrative, apparently with a new sense of inner peace. In Europe, Pam confronts Eric and informs him of Tara’s death. Her attempting to motivate the depressed, Hep-V infected vampire starts a series of flashbacks that reveals more of Eric’s backstory. . . and the story of Eric and Sylvie. In France in 1986, Eric and Sylvie carry on when they are interrupted by Pam, Nan Flanagan and The Authority. Flanagan tells Eric about how the world is set to change with the Japanese developing TruBlood, but Eric is disinterested. Back in modern Bon Temps, Alcide tries to find Sookie, who has returned to Bill. Together, while hiding from Alcide, Sookie and Bill hatch a plan to take down the local Hep-V infected vampires.

Sam finds himself on the run as Vince takes the posse from the jail to the streets of Bon Temps. When Adilyn is rescued by Andy and Jessica, she suggests that the mob might be after Sookie and that brings Jason back to the hunt for his sister. After the incident that illustrates how Eric came to work for the Authority initially is revealed, Pam gets Eric in motion by telling him that Sarah Newlin is still alive. After Sarah survives an attack from the Authority, the situation in Bon Temps reaches a peak when Sookie uses herself as bait, drawing out both the Hep-V infected vampires and the angry townspeople. . . with predictably disastrous results.

“I Found You” was probably the episode that got Luke Grimes to reconsider his willingness to continue playing James, as the episode features a subplot with James and LaFayette and the requisite HBO drug use. The sexual tension between Nathan Parsons (the new actor playing James) and Nelsan Ellis’s Lafayette is palpable, though this episode focuses much more on the drug angle. “I Found You” is very much an episode featuring addictions and confronting addicts as another subplot finds Willa exposing Lettie Mae’s vampire blood addiction to Reverend Daniels. Despite Gregg Daniel doing a competent job at portraying the local minister, “I Found You” loses some momentum in his scenes (even the ones with him and Sam) largely because he is still a relatively new character and, frankly, who cares?! Lettie Mae was a character whose purpose largely served to give Tara more complexity than simply being Sookie’s sidekick, so with Tara out of the narrative now, it is hard to care about what happens to Lettie Mae, much less characters peripheral to her story. “Fire In The Hole” seems unwilling to make seriously deep cuts in the sprawling character list by leaving characters like Reverend Daniels and Lettie Mae in the narrative with potentially influential roles.

That said, “Fire In The Hole” takes True Blood in two important directions. In returning Eric to the story – without, oddly enough, directly addressing how the hell he survived the prior season’s finale – there is a sense that the writers are trying to give viewers a sense of overall continuity (those who love Eric Northman’s badass qualities have had a legitimate gripe that he doesn’t seem like the kind who would be working as vampire Sheriff, which is where he began the series – a gripe that is eliminated through the flashbacks in this episode). As important, with Eric and Pam getting a mission, the return of Sarah Newlin is treated as anything but random (most viewers could have called that she would pop back up when Jason spared her life in the prior season) and it gives viewers the sense that Eric could have a heroic end in True Blood.

Equally important is that “Fire In The Hole” features significant scenes between Sookie and Bill, who were at the core of True Blood at the show’s beginning. While the conversation keeps Alcide in the mix, “Fire In The Hole” all but confirms that putting Sookie and Alcide together as a couple was pretty much a stalling tactic to keep Alcide in the “six months later” plotline and the current season of True Blood. As the show moves towards its climax, this is an element that is resolved surprisingly satisfyingly. Amid interminable subplots, conversations about the Sookie/Alcide relationship and its ultimate resolution in the episode feel much more substantive than stretching.

The problem, though, with the big plot event in “Fire In The Hole” is the scale. A conflict with the local gang of Hep-V infected vampires seems like small potatoes when compared to the worldwide effects of the problem. Can Sookie and the residents of Bon Temps survive an attack by the nearest gang of killer vampires? Who cares?! Even if they do, there are about a million more Infected out there that are bound to converge upon the town. “Fire In The Hole” reminds viewers that most of the residents of Bon Temps are just angry, ignorant hicks and while the episode reaches a decent crescendo, it leaves viewers almost with the wish that the Hep-V vampires and mob of townspeople would have just killed each other off and left viewers to watch Sookie and Bill put their lives and the world back in order.

Despite being somewhat predictable and uninspired overall – “stretched thin” is a problem True Blood has with so many characters in so many different places, many of whom are occupying niches that are hard to get excited about – “Fire In The Hole” is arguably the first truly essential episode of the seventh season to watch, even if just to get important plot points for the few lingering characters viewers still care about.

For other works with Joe Manganiello, please check out my reviews of:
What To Expect When You’re Expecting
Spider-Man 3
Spider-Man 2

[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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