True Blood: Death Is Not The End Review

True Blood rebounds this week with a solid episode that builds to a satisfying ending with plenty of vampire action.

True Blood was really good tonight.

There is no qualification for that—it’s just that True Blood was pretty darn good tonight…wasn’t it?

After several weeks seasons of putting qualifiers around any compliments paid to this show, especially after last week’s howlingly disappointing clunker, I just want to savor this nice glass of O-Negative and appreciate that this was a solid episode full of entertainment. Who would have guessed it?

To be sure there were stumbles, and some came early—like the most laid back Armageddon I’ve ever seen in the show’s opener—but as a whole, it was a rousing hour of ratcheting tension building to a solid climactic conclusion, which paid off four weeks of rising action.

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It was an hour of the show’s greatest hits. Like a Beach Boys concert, this is coasting off nostalgia and goodwill for the old days. And grateful we are to see the Magister from season one (the guy who gave us Baby Jessica!), Hoyt, Terry, and especially Ginger. It might not be a new single, but at this point, I’ll take these good vibrations.

The episode begins with the Stackhouse siblings giving their condolences to some old faces. Jackson Herveaux gets the bad news from Sookie while Jason awkwardly tries to grieve over the death of Mrs. Fortenberry with the best friend whose memories he erased. Seeing Hoyt was the nicer of the reprisals. Besides being a character we actually care about (as opposed to the welcomed but wasted Robert Patrick), Hoyt is a nice reminder from back when True Blood was unashamedly good in its own thick, backwoods Southern soap, guts, and gumbo way. Indeed, knowing that Hoyt is even coming back is a nice thing to learn…if a little worrying given how perfect his exit from the show had been.

Then again, how exactly is Hoyt going to get down to Bon Temps from Alaska? Because quite honestly, this is the most inconsistent apocalypse that I have ever seen on a television milieu overstuffed with them. The U.S. government has forsaken everything but the major cities, and vampires are marauding from town to town, wiping out whole populations to the last child…but telephones work, oil rigs are running smoothly, and everyone has easy access to air transportation?

In fact, the only sign it is the apocalypse is that after Sookie finishes having a nice cry with Jackson and then Jason (get it out of your system Sook before you go running back to Bill), she tells her brother that with Andy incapacitated by Holly’s side that Deputy Stackhouse is now in charge of keeping the good people of Bon Temps safe. They’re doomed.

But are those people even that good? At least this week, they appeared somewhat smarter. For once, I could not fault any character too greatly with their choices. Sookie being able to easily convince Andy to let her psychically jog Holly’s memory through telepathy was wise. Seeing Sookie then quickly figure out what we’ve known for weeks—that they’re all trapped in Fangtasia—was refreshing. Even Jason talking some sense into Sam, so that they have vampires as back up before confronting the Hep-V Vombies felt astute, shrewd, and all around satisfying in character moments (even if it is the first time Sam seemed worried about Nicole and his unborn child).

Sadly, the streak has to come to an end when Sookie strolls over to Bill’s house (like clockwork) to discover that Jessica has apparently not had any blood for at least 10 weeks. Jessica being remorseful for a plot thread that happened over a season ago is commendable, and exceedingly rare for True Blood. But a vampire starving herself? Is that a thing this side of Louis de Pointe du Lac? It is also a bit frustrating, because one of my favorite aspects of the series, which has gone bizarrely underdeveloped for the entire series run, is Bill’s mentor relationship with Jess. And here again, it is quickly scuttled despite the tenderness of seeing these characters together for Sookie to give an “I am really upset over Alcide’s death…for realsies” monologue. She then promptly lets Bill feed on her in the next scene with the meek protest that “it’s only lunch.”

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Lafayette is finally the one to break the intervention streak when he knocks some sense into Jess, at James’ behest of course, by dropping some knowledge on her about killing a loved one. She feeds on Lafayette, and all is good.

But what is especially good about tonight is the reintroduction of Eric to the main storyline in Louisiana. Honestly, I didn’t expect him to show up in Bon Temps until after he had procured a last minute deus ex machina salvation from Sarah Newlin in California. But seeing Eric come home to the main storyline is as rewarding as seeing…well, Eric do just about anything devious. And nothing could have been more devious than the amusing flashbacks of how he and Pam came into owning Fangtasia…as well as Ginger’s devotion.

Yes, the backstory you probably never wanted or cared about has come to pass for the character of Ginger, and it is kind of glorious. Apparently, once a pseudo-intellectual with a taste for the occult and all things vampire, be it Polanski or Cronenberg, she came to the hellish video store that would be Fangtasia while working on a dissertation on vampires, only to have her mind dissected by decades of glamoring and feeding to come. Observing that Ginger was part of the ‘90s Goth fad, and that she once had a brain that was destroyed by hero worship of a couple of vampires who drained the thoughts from her head, is as amusing as the prospect that she thought of the idea for Fangtasia. And that Pam then stole it from her!

The solitary quibble about this subplot that I would be remiss to ignore is that it should have been Eric’s idea to call the bar “Fangtasia.” As Bill pointed out to Sookie in season one, most vampires are very old, and puns were once thought of as the highest form of comedy. I had always imagined Eric chuckling to himself at naming this, but we’ll just have to settle for him chuckling at Pam’s devilishness for stealing one more fleeting bit of Ginger’s mind for her own amusement and gratification.

So too is it gratifying to see Eric back in Bill’s house, right down to immediately firing off, “Pam tells me that you wrote a book in which you claim not to be an asshole anymore.” Even Sookie drops her infatuation with Bill for five minutes to fall into Eric’s arms since he’s “dying.” She even lets him off with only a warning for making fun of dead Alcide. She really loved him, you guys. Really.

I can’t help but also smile at Eric and Sookie sharing a moment. While in the show’s universe, she really does have the stronger connection with Bill, Eric being able to play the ultimate fangirl fantasy in these moments, at least as long as he has all memory faculties firing, is admittedly entertaining. Plus, it’s here that he has the best line of the night: “But unfortunately, I triggered an avalanche that killed an entire ski village. Things got a little hectic after that.”

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I’m sure they did, Eric. And yet, he chose to omit again how he got his case of Hep-V. I am almost certain now that he contracted the disease on purpose. Like father, like son, Eric has had enough of this mortal coil and is ready to follow Godric into the one true sunlight. At least until near the finale when he will likely get a change of heart.

In any event, Sookie, Jason, Sam, Bill, Jessica, Pam, and fodder team up for an old school vampire hunt. The classic kind you’d find in a Bram Stoker book, or at least in more than a few episodes of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. They’re going to take the Vombies at Fangtasia down! And they even have time for witty Eric-Bill banter. If this is a greatest hits show, then this is their “Livin’ On A Prayer” moment.

And they almost were when the vampires took their sweet time at saving Arlene. Despite all having super strength and speed, it takes Bill and Pam a really, really long time to get through the basement and then call on reinforcements to take the fight upstairs. Sam gets a nice moment where his skin-changing abilities are revealed to his former employee, but the much faster vampires can’t walk up the stairs in the two minutes it takes Eric to freestyle his lies to the Vombies? At least, Eric and Sookie do get to play the Vombies for a moment until the showdown begins. Unfortunately, the dumb Bon Temps rednecks also show up, because they knew about the hunt thanks to a courtesy call from Jason (as well as his big mouth about bringing along Bill and company) to Rosie. But that’s okay, unlike Alcide, all the vampire characters on True Blood have plot armor.

After four hours of building to the fact that Arlene, Nicole, and (for a while) Holly needed to be saved, this showdown at Fangtasia feels cathartic and earned. Even the redneck subplot would seem to be winding down since Sam’s political rival, Vince, gets staked himself through the head when he dared to lay a silvered finger on Jess (go Bill!). Also, Rosie got reunited with her dead husband in hilariously dark fashion when Eric stops during all the fight to have a quiet bite for himself.

It was an all around strong ending that even allotted a cameo from Terry when Arlene chose not to go toward the light. It’s no secret that death and “the end,” is anything but that on True Blood with its warm and fuzzy images of Godric. But this moment for the most worked. Howver, if they’re going to hint at a relationship between Arlene and new random vamp-hunk Keith, it should be noted she has copious amounts of Hep-V for the rest of her life.

Thus, the first act of season seven has come to a close, and as muddled as much of it was (especially last week), I kind of liked it. The redneck conflict simmered to a satisfying boil with logical follow-through at the exact same moment as the missing Bon Temps residents. There is still an apocalypse to survive and a community to salvage, but after this week, I at least am hopeful about the future of the show’s final episodes, if not overly optimistic. For certain, Eric and Pam will find Sarah Newlin, promising at least a few great scenes right there—and undoubtedly a magical cure that will save Eric—and Hoyt will also return to Bon Temps, opening old bite wounds between Jessica and Jason. Meanwhile, Sookie can get her whole supposed grieving thing out of the way and move over to the Compton compound any day now.

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The end is nigh, but hopefully it will be as fuzzy as a spectral Terry Bellefleur for True Blood’s true death.

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4 out of 5