No TV show says summer to us more than True Blood, its Southern Gothic atmosphere and pulpy pleasures providing the perfect complement to sweaty evenings spent drinking mint juleps at home after another exhausting day in the hot sun. The show alternately drives us crazy and enthralls us, and its final season is as silly as ever. This week: the return of Eric Northman, although perhaps not quite the way we might have expected.
And it all started so well! This episode opened with a sort of soft-focus vignette of Jason fantasizing about Eric, which was pretty ace because a) it featured Eric on screen and b) it featured Eric and Jason making out. Season seven! Episode two! Roll the credits! And then… well, it all went tits up, really.
One of the things True Blood has proven pretty comprehensively over the course of seven seasons is that it’s just not very good at doing real world allusions. Happily, at least, this season doesn’t feature anything that quite rivals the sledgehammer awfulness of last season’s ill-conceived vampires/1940s German Jews allusions (pro tip: if one group is comprised of supernaturally gifted killing machines and the other isn’t, there’s really only so much you can draw in the way of comparisons). Instead, the obvious reference point for this season’s scenario is Hurricane Katrina — in both cases we have a Louisiana setting and an unfolding disaster that ordinary folks are left to face on their own.
True Blood being True Blood, there’s nothing especially subtle about any of this — various townsfolk talk angstily about being left to fend for themselves, and to make the point even clearer, the diary Sookie finds in a town already wiped out by renegade Hep V vampires finishes with the plaintive declaration “How can this be happening, that our government would leave us for dead?,” written just before the evil vampires close in for the kill.
This isn’t to say that the idea is a bad one per se — and the image of the mass grave full of that unfortunate town’s former residents is a generally creepy one. We might care more about Bon Temps’ residents sharing the same fate, though, if the townsfolk we’re supposed to care about weren’t pretty much a rollcall of the show’s most annoying characters. There’s Hoyt’s mendacious self-righteous mother, who should surely have been eviscerated by one of the undead about five seasons ago. There’s Tara’s mother, whose religious fervor has been tiresome since season one, and whose vampire blood fueled search for her daughter’s spirit already looks like it’s going to be this season’s least interesting plotline. (Seriously, the ghastly old woman can’t even leave Tara alone to be dead in peace?)
Combine this with Sam’s unpleasant sore loser mayoral rival and his posse of reprobates, who decide to take matters into their own hands with some good ol’ gun-totin’ American vigilante justice (again, the real world allusions are crushingly obvious) and you might be forgiven for wishing the Hep V vampires really would descend on Bon Temps and have everyone for dinner. Or, at least, you might do if the Hep V vampires weren’t also such a dull bunch — there’s presumably more character development in store for them, but for now they’re one-dimensional cartoon villains. The only remotely interesting character is Bon Temps’ former schoolteacher, who sadly disintegrates into lurid vampire soup before the episode is out — the virus gets the better of her, thus thwarting Arlene and Holly’s attempts to convince her to help them escape.
Which brings us back, neatly enough, to Eric. Alexander Skarsgård’s ever charismatic Viking vampire steals the episode despite appearing in only its first and last scenes — as well as the aforementioned appearance in Jason Stackhouse’s naughty fantasies, he appears IRL at the very end of the episode, when Pam finally manages to track him down. And it becomes clear why he’s been hiding out: he’s got the Hep V virus too! Why? How? Now what? Yes, goddamn it, of course I’m going to watch next week.