Note: The following review contains spoilers for all aired episodes of True Blood, including the most recent, “Spellbound.”
It seems that a great deal of people seem to have been extremely pleased with last night’s episode of True Blood, and I completely agree that there is some great material here. The episode-ending battle is as tense as anything the show has ever done, largely because Antonia has such a great deal of power, and there is fear in the unknown of just how much she is capable of. Jessica and Hoyt’s breakup is also handled with the sort of humanity and heartbreak that is a primary characteristic of Alan Ball’s best work. It isn’t quite as painful to watch as some of the material he gave Nate Fisher and Brenda Chenowith in Six Feet Under but it certainly approaches it in terms of emotional turmoil. The episode also brings us the continued misadventures of Tommy the skinwalker–this time as Momma Fortenberry herself, paying off that natural gas rights thread from earlier in the season–the aftermath of last week’s cliffhanger, Lafayette being possessed by the female ghost who has been haunting Mikey (and some back story on said ghost), more of Fiona Shaw’s freaking brilliant acting, as well as some striking imagery in the form of Sookie’s erotic V hallucinations.
But at the same time, too much of the episode was taken up with things that weren’t actually happening, in the form of various characters’ dreams and fantasies. The dichotomy between what Jessica imagines would happen upon breaking the truth to Hoyt–complete with Hoyt threatening to end it all, if he couldn’t have Jessica in his life, and culminating in her bashing in his face and running out to her new paramour, Jason, her face still splattered with the blood of her former love–and what actually happens–Hoyt saying a number of hurtful things to Jessica in the face of his broken heart and casting her out of their home, and then Jason rejecting her as well–is both perceptive and true, yet at the same time, a lot of screen time is being taken up by something that ultimately doesn’t tell us much more about who Jessica is as a character as this point in her life that we didn’t know from her dialogue with Bill in the previous episode. And for people who aren’t interested in hearing Sookie and Eric whisper sweet nothings to one another, their snowy dreamscape, as pretty as it is, is rather dull to watch and, again, unfolds far too slowly.
With that said, one of the things I’ve always admired about True Blood is that it is willing to encourage its audience to constantly revaluate its position on various characters and their actions. For example, for the past few weeks, I have been quite taken with the Sookie/Eric plotline, and I still quite like them as a couple, and yet this episode inspired me to begin questioning their current state. Because, as the snowy dream indicates, as does Sookie and Eric’s blissed-out dialogue, this current Eric is a fantasy of the perfect lover, not a real, flesh-and-blood person and, much as Sookie tells Eric later in the episode, nothing lasts forever. They cannot perpetually remain floating on a cloud and giddy. The fact that this Eric suggests that they run away together, rather than facing Antonia, seems to be one of the things that definitively indicates to Sookie that things will have to change, because as wonderful as it may feel to be in love and as kind as Eric has been lately, it and he can also be selfish, indulging in passion to the detriment of honor. The past episode was about indulging in the fantasy of Sookie and Eric. This episode forces it down to earth, while also reminding us that the day where Eric will be restored to his former self and their current love challenged forever is on the horizon. In the meantime, however, Ball gleefully tortures our lovers a bit more, shooting a bullet into Sookie’s gut and turning Eric into Antonia’s new lapdog.
Something else this episode made me take notice of is that this entire current disaster can be indirectly traced back to Bill’s rivalry with Eric. As frightful as Antonia is, she only took over Marnie, because Eric attacked her, and Eric only attacked her, because Bill sent him there to check up on the witch. Had Bill left well enough alone on both fronts (spying on Marnie and knowingly placing Eric in danger, without proper warning), Antonia likely wouldn’t have risen again in the first place. She is back to take revenge on the vampires, but it is the vampires’ fault that she is back at all. It is particularly interesting to watch how she manipulates Tara and her other supplicants, and quite shocking to see how unfazed Tara ultimately is by Antonia’s revelation that she plans on killing all vampires, and willing to accept that it is the right course of action (there is something very sad about seeing best friends Sookie and Tara facing against each other on the battle field). As I said in the previous review, it certainly makes sense, given Tara’s history with vampires, yet she also isn’t thinking clearly. She is being swept up in Antonia’s pain and by Antonia’s rhetoric. Tara, who has railed against racists in the past, is falling for a different but no less insidious form of racism herself.
But as Bill reminds Tara, not all vampires are mindless killers and rapists. That moment where Tara, in her rage-fueled tunnel vision, initially can’t seem to comprehend (or refuses to) why Bill would save her, and he tells her that she knows why is classic Alan Ball–tight, economical character writing that packs a great deal of complex, emotional meaning into a few simple words. And while I have to admit that I have been on the side of Sookie and Eric’s relationship for the majority of the season, the fact that Bill remains loyal to Sookie’s best friend, even though she’s fighting on an opposite side to his (and particularly after his callous treatment of her last season), is quite moving.
Before I wrap this up, though, I want to give a special mention to Deborah Ann Woll, who always brings Jessica to life so vividly with all of her frustration and awkwardness and longing but who is particularly heartbreaking here. As impressed as I was that Jason manages to ignore Little Jason and not hurt his best friend by sleeping with the love of his life (I found it equally sweet that Jason is also a bit angry at Jessica for dumping Hoyt and hurting him herself, as well), it is truly hard to see Jessica be spurned by both men in her life and feel like she has nowhere to turn and no one who understands her. In a series filled with vampires, werewolves, witches, and ghosts, True Blood can often be achingly human.