True Blood: Fire In The Hole Review

In the newest episode of True Blood, a shock occurs late, but it still felt like a foregone conclusion....

Early in tonight’s episode of True Blood, Mayor Sam Merlotte discusses with Reverend Daniels the triviality and meaninglessness of death. It seems the mayor cannot rationalize how pointless it can all seem. That makes two of us, Mr. Mayor. Especially after tonight’s episode.

Yes, tonight True Blood attempted to ask some big George R.R. Martin level questions about the suffering on this mortal coil, all the while preparing for some shocking deaths in its own dwindling final season cast. But True Blood ain’t Game of Thrones, and the lifeless body of a silver bullet riddled Alcide Herveaux does not fill us with horror or awe: merely confusion as to the decision by the great writing gods of Bon Temps. And the biggest irony is that this death serves the greatest narrative function of all!

…But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. To understand why Alcide had to go the way of Larry Talbot, we must first look at what executive producer and writer Brian Buckner deduced was the needed set-up.

First and foremost came our first Eric heavy episode in season seven. It’s thus unfortunate that so much of it was spent living in the past. Not Eric’s True Blood past, mind you, but the past of an (apparently) traumatic event in Eric’s thousand year existence that we are only hearing about this week: the death of Sylvie.

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On its own, the reveal that there was once a woman that Eric Northman loved almost as much as Sookie Stackhouse until she was killed by the Authority and its Japanese corporate arm is perfectly fine. And the subplot’s ability to offer Eric’s happiest fans a second consecutive week of quality bait will undoubtedly be appreciated in certain circles—this time it’s Eric taking French Sylvie into the moonlight as if she were Willa 2.0. It also allowed any passing True Blood fan a smile when we were reintroduced to Nan Flanagan’s delicious condescension.

However, this is the final season, and a truncated one at that, and a fan really has to wonder what point this served other than the above mentioned fan service of watching another young thing falling into Eric’s throes.

Sure, he is placed in a difficult “Sophie’s Choice” scenario, which proves that Sylvie was no Pam or even Sookie, but in the present Eric is dying and there are only seven more episodes* of True Blood left, period. I’d much rather know how Eric got the disease or see Eric confront his own already heavily developed despair over the death of his “family” in Godric and Nora. Obviously, this is meant to show that Eric is following in the footsteps of his beloved maker into a growing sense of existential boredom and regret with this plain of existence. But the death of Nora already established that well enough without the need of wasting time on a distraction with almost no weight to audiences gearing up for a series finale. It doesn’t serve the larger narrative or the character and thus feels superfluous to the fact that Eric is on death’s door, or that he apparently is going to murder Sarah Newlin….

Which means at least one more terrific scene in the near future, because Sarah Newlin is amazing and easily the best villain this show has ever had this side of Russell Edgington. Hopefully, her death will be equally glorious.

But as for the deaths tonight? There was too much padding around both. Still, the first, and definitely more satisfying of the two, felt like a reward when Maxine Fortenberry, aka Hoyt’s Mama, bit the big one. I am not a writer who generally toasts the murder of great comic relief characters, but this lady has been asking for it for several seasons. Lovable Hoyt might be gone, but Mrs. Fortenberry, perfectly played by Dale Raoul, has been as annoying as ever. And to the show’s credit, it raised the stock of Violet who had just finished underlining why audiences have never warmed to the character as she attempted (and failed) to emasculate Jason Stackhouse. Like so many things, it is obvious that the writers are positioning Jason to end up with Jessica, but in the present, it still meant when Hoyt’s mama attempted to send Jessica to the true death after the red neck community already committed murder on Sam’s fabulously vampiric Red Shirt™ that she instead had her heart ripped from her body while still beating. Nice.

Indeed, the show made a point to display what happens when the NRA community gets their “end times” scenario, which involves a lot of kicking and screaming while the “bad guys” drag them back to Fangtasia for dinner. Unfortunately, we don’t spend enough time with this makeshift militia either. They might dethrone Sam Merlotte and act all sorts of scarily stupid, but the show is doing that in its own right when it spends ever so much time on another forced subplot with James and Lafayette.

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Let’s get this out of the way: recasting James has not mattered all that much, and I say this as someone who likes Jessica and Lafayette a lot. I am well aware that the original actor, Luke Grimes, left the series because he had a degree of discomfort with macking on another actor, but that is not the biggest problem, nor is the fact that Nathan Parsons looks different. The issue with introducing James last season was that in a bloated season like those 10 episodes, we didn’t really have enough time to get to know James or care about his role other than he was really nice to Jess. Likewise, we don’t really care that he is drifting to Lafayette now, because he and Jessica have had about 15 minutes together onscreen when both actors’ roles are combined. So, spending time in the final season with a character that doesn’t matter bouncing from one favorite to another does little for the show, except clear the deck for what will undoubtedly be True Blood’s endgame with Jessica and Jason. And this takes us to the main story of tonight: Sookie, Bill, and the wolf they led to the slaughter as if he were a lamb.

Tonight was not really about Alcide’s death. It was about facilitating the reunion of Bill and Sookie. And while I actually have spoken at length as to why I am supportive (if not enthusiastic) about this bookend to the series, the way that we are getting there feels as concrete-solid as Sarah Newlin’s newfound spiritual beliefs. Or, it seems that they could have gotten there without allowing Sookie two very easy outs tonight.

The first came when Sookie and Bill were driving close to Fangtasia again while their new plan was forming to save the missing Bon Temps residents. In the episode, Sookie asked the fair question about how come Bill can no longer sense her. The ex reveals that the Bill Compton whose blood she drank is no more. “So you’re saying…that you’re not the same vampire who did all those horrible things to me?” Bill, always the Southern gentleman, denies it and promises he still feels guilty about the crimes he committed at Sookie’s expense. Sookie insists that this gives her satisfaction. But she insists on a lot of things.

For instance, she also insists that she loves Alcide—but she must confess to her ex that she doesn’t love him as much as she knows that his furry self loves her. Nor can she apparently feel trusting enough of Alcide to tell him her plan to save citizens by using herself as a vampire bait (cool, season one callback!). Nor does she love him enough to bring him back after the rednecks blow his brains out. “I’ve been down that road before.” Yes, she has. And unlike Tara, Alcide doesn’t merit even a moment’s hesitation about saving.

So dies Alcide, whose epitaph should read, “She’s Just Not That Into You.” She freely uses the “l” word, but this faerie doth protest too much.

The end of one of Sookie’s suitors at least reminds us that this is the final season, and they are playing for keeps. Nonetheless, it also feels dramatically forced to help facilitate an outcome that is a foregone conclusion. The shame of this is that with a little more ambition, and possibly fearlessness of turning Sookie into less of a Mary Sue, the potential is already there.

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The best scenes of the night—save for a very nice and surprisingly tender monologue by Reverend Daniels to Willa—involved Sookie and Bill simply playing off the obvious chemistry present between Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer. In moments like Sookie chastising Bill that she has a boyfriend (with her mouth on his gaping wrist) or when Bill makes fun of her impatience, “Fire in the Hole” works. Much like season one, these two are fun to watch together. Even Bill’s flashback to his family in the Civil War reminds viewers of that early season one pathos the character had when he was simply Vampire Bill, Bon Temps’ lost son.

There was probably a way to bring these two closer without killing Alcide, or to at least make his death feel important for any reason other than it removes a major barrier between the vampire and the bait.

Alcide loved Sookie, but True Blood loves “Suuukk-ahyy.” So, his death wasn’t meaningless. It just felt that way.

*Thank you to the correction caught by Guest about how many episodes are left in the season.

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2.5 out of 5