23 September 2009

True Blood, S1 E6 "Cold Ground"

Spoilers Ahead

So, episode six ("Cold Ground") might just be my favourite episode of True Blood. At the very least it contains my favourite scene/moment of the show (see picture). For me, it's all about Bill. But first...

"Cold Ground" opens with a blood-spattered reminder of what Sookie walked in on at the end of the last episode. Her reaction to her Gran's murder, understandably, is one of utter shock, eased only slightly by Bill's arrival. As they embrace we see someone skulking through the door. The skulker turns out to be Sam and the confrontation between him and Bill is cut short only by Sookie's intervention.

As the Sheriff, Andy, and the coroner sort through the scene, there's yet more tension between Bill and Sam, with Bill making a pointed comment that "...this isn't the time or the place for you to mark your territory." (Bill has apparently picked up on Sam's--still unconfirmed--secret canine existence.) In turn Sam lets him know that if anything happens to Sookie, he's going to sharpen a stake with Bill's name on it.

Despite everyone urging her to spend the night elsewhere, Sookie insists on staying in her own home (proving that she's either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. Possibly both). She then immediately gets to work cleaning up the pool of blood on the kitchen floor. She doesn't cry or show any outward emotion.

The next day the house is full of people ostensibly there to pay their respects. Their thoughts, however, betray more ghoulish motives (Maxine Fortenberry laments that she didn't get there in time to see the blood, and then wonders if she should have brought a Red Velvet cake instead of a casserole). Appearing perfectly calm and unaffected, Sookie ends up flipping out when Maxine takes a pie out of the fridge that was made by Gran. As people's thoughts--mostly about how crazy she is--threaten to overcome Sookie, Tara grabs her and leads her upstairs for some "girl time," inviting Lafayette as she goes. Sookie admits she's feeling numb and that she just wants all the people to go away; Lafayette offers her a Valium in case she decides she needs it.

Jason, meanwhile, has spent the night with the skank from Merlotte's, throwing his insistently ringing phone out the window as he tries to sleep. He doesn't find out about his Gran until he shows up for work, and then he goes into a rage, arriving at the house and hitting Sookie before blaming her for their grandmother's death and telling her she's the one who should be dead. Tara kicks him out, screaming at him that she doesn't even recognize him anymore. Sookie takes the Valium.

And thus we come to my favourite True Blood scene. After Tara kicks out all the other visitors, including Sam, she and Lafayette clean up while Sookie sleeps. All of a sudden, a gloved figure climbs onto Sookie's bed and starts choking her. She wakes up, struggles, barely manages to say Bill's name. Bill, asleep in the crawl space under his house, wakes up but is helpless to go out while the sun is up. Cut back to Sookie's house as the sun slowly sets. Tara and Lafayette are still working. Tara wonders if she should check on Sookie, and Lafayette responds that "...that child is dead to the world right now." All of a sudden a blur rushes in and up the stairs. The next moment Bill is shaking a very dead looking Sookie and frantically repeating her name. When she wakes up, the look of relief on his face, well, it's a thing of beauty. That is a man in love. He decides he must have had a dream, and tells Sookie to keep resting (although I wonder if Sookie's Valium-slumber might have had her picking up on the killer's thoughts/desires in a particularly vivid way, making Bill believe her fear was real). She wraps his hand around her and falls back asleep, after which Bill spends the rest of the night standing outside her house keeping watch. At one point he's joined by the dog that probably is Sam. They look at each other and then turn back to the house. For a girl who's got a psycho killer after her, it's hard not to feel a little envious of Sookie.

Anyway, after the funeral (during which Sookie accidentally comes across Bill's grave), she sits alone at her kitchen table and starts eating what's left of her Gran's pecan pie. As she eats, she starts crying for the first time. Anna Paquin displays some fine acting here; I can't imagine being able to sob on cue, let alone doing it believably while also eating. The emotion really seems sincere. Nice job. After she's finished she goes upstairs and changes into a white dress bearing no small resemblance to a wedding gown. As soon as the sun sets she runs to Bill's. He's waiting for her and they meet in the yard with a passionate kiss before he picks her up and carries her inside.

The romance of Sookie and Bill's sex scene is juxtaposed with two other similar, although far-less loving, scenes. In one Tara and Sam are having a good time when Tara suddenly announces she has to leave. She tosses him his clothes and ends up running home and reconciling with her mother, leaving Sam more than a little confused. The other scene is between Jason and the skank; as she straddles him (facing away) and tells him she loves him, he starts breaking down (Ryan Kwanten shows off some fine acting skills of his own here). Meanwhile Sookie and Bill share a particularly sweet moment when his fangs involuntarily unsheathe. He tries to hide them but Sookie kisses him, showing him there's nothing to be ashamed of. This rivals the scene in "What's My Line Pt 1" when Angel vamps out and tries to hide his face from Buffy; her response that she didn't even notice has to be one of the most truly romantic moments in any show, ever.

The episode ends with Sookie urging Bill to "do it" and arching her neck toward him. Of course he takes her up on the offer (although, to his credit, he does hesitate), and we're treated to an interesting (and unusual) camera shot of his mouth against her neck as blood begins to flow and he laps at it.

Okay, so a few thoughts about "Cold Ground"...

I'm not sure how I feel about Bill biting Sookie. It seems a little soon in their relationship to break out the kink (but maybe that's just me). Then again, in Sookie's fantasy back in episode 3 "Mine," she specifically asked him not to bite her. Maybe she's changed her mind, but "Cold Ground" is chronologically only about three days after "Mine," so that seems like a rather sudden change of heart. Maybe it's just her way of dealing with all the recent deaths. Or maybe I'm just overanalyzing it.

Back to the beginning of the episode, Sookie's cat licking her Gran's blood off the floor took me right out of the story (not good). I know I'm being picky but I've never met a cat that would do that (maybe a starving feral cat, but certainly not a pet). Yes, it added a delightful creepy element to the scene, but for me it just didn't work. It didn't help that the blood spots stayed exactly the same as the cat licked them. I suppose they couldn't get the cat to lick at corn syrup (or whatever fake blood is made of these days), so they painted them on or used some other special effect and then put something tastier on the floor for kitty. I just think the episode could have done without this scene.

On the plus side, the fangs have definitely improved since episode one. We got a nice look at them when Bill bared them at Sam--much more realistic than previously. They're no longer stark white and it seems the makeup/effects department has added some natural-looking curve to them while still leaving them reminiscent of snake fangs. I like.

We find out the coroner's young assistant is a fang banger. As they're taking Gran's body out of the house he's desperately hoping Sookie doesn't recognize him from Fangtasia. No doubt we'll find out soon why this is relevant.

Along the same lines: the awkward mention of Sookie's cousin Hadley. Apparently she can't be invited to the funeral because no one's heard from her in over a year, ever since she ran away from rehab. (I think it's a safe bet that vampires are somehow involved.) I thought this was clumsily executed, but maybe that's only because I've seen it a million times before and it's just so obvious that what is portrayed as a minor aside is going to be important at some future time. I guess I should give the writers props for at least planning ahead.

But the foreshadowing continues with the introduction of Uncle Bartlett. The sudden arrival of the man at the funeral gets an immediate reaction from Sookie, who almost crushes Tara's hand. She tries to tell him he's unwelcome but it seems Jason invited him and he feels he has a right to be there. Sookie and Jason later argue about this with Sookie claiming Jason doesn't know what he's talking about. I'm guessing secret childhood trauma at Uncle Bartlett's hands, but we'll have to see.

But we're still not quite done. At Sookie's house Lafayette tells Tara she's going to be sorry she ate any of the "bad juju" food that people brought over after Gran's death. So, there's apparently a lot we'll need to watch out for, although I think that's enough with the "upcoming features" for now. "Cold Ground" spends more time setting up future storylines than I would like, especially since this should come naturally as the story arc unfolds. You don't need obvious asides, ominous statements, and awkward character introductions to get the point across.

Speaking of Lafayette, he might just win the award for best dressed. First there's his leather utilikilt (wardrobe people: please to be putting him in that again soon!) Then during the funeral he's wearing a particularly fetching suit. Everyone else's clothes are okay, but Lafayette stands out. Actually Sookie's wardrobe also stands out, not because it's anything special, but because she seems to wear an inordinate amount of white. I'm positive this is no coincidence and that it is related to her status as being "more" than human. Would it be going too far to suggest angelic or some other type of celestial being (all the white definitely hints at it)? I'm damn curious about this one.

Jason, on the other hand, is exhibiting some all-too human behaviour as the V gets a stronger hold on him. He spends the episode looking mussed, sweaty, and sick. His perception of his surroundings has gone from glowing and sparkly to harsh and strobe-lighty. At one point it seems he's going to do the sensible thing and give up the V, throwing his last bit of it (blotted on a piece of paper towel) out the window of his truck. But then he regrets it and starts frantically looking for it on the ground outside, only to realize with dismay that it's gone. This doesn't bode well for Jason, particularly as vampires don't look too kindly on humans who use their blood for recreational purposes.

This show utilizes some interesting camera angles. In episode one, part of the opening scene was reflected in a car mirror. I already mentioned the "vampire mouth" angle at the end of "Cold Ground." There was also a fun shot of a casserole's POV at Sookie's house (although in retrospect, fun might not have been the right way to go in that particular scene). I'm usually not nitpicky about minor continuity errors but the casserole POV results in one worth mentioning. As Maxine carries the dish into the kitchen we clearly see her set it down on the table. But as the camera alternates between looking at Maxine and looking at Sookie, we're still getting the casserole's POV (in Maxine's hands) when we look at Sookie. When we look at Maxine, however, the casserole is gone. This scene was clearly shot multiple times. I guess they couldn't decide whether to use that particular angle (next time they should just make a decision and stick with it).

They did a nice job in "Cold Ground" of showing how overwhelming Sookie's telepathy is for her. She can barely get a moment of quiet after her Gran's death. First there's the Sheriff, Andy, and the coroner's thoughts about stab wounds and serial killers and how crazy those Stackhouse kids are. The Sheriff offers his condolences while thinking it should have been Sookie who was killed, what with her screwing a vampire and all. His sentiments are echoed repeatedly throughout the visitation at the house and later at the funeral, along with yet more thoughts questioning Sookie's sanity and even the sincerity of her feelings for her grandmother. Evidently she can't block them out, either due to the trauma she's suffered or simply because there's too many of them. The thoughts rise to an overwhelming crescendo that ends with Sookie shouting at the outwardly silent funeral crowd to "shut the fuck up." She can't even get any peace with the people who know about her gift. When Sam tries to apologize for his behaviour during their date, she asks him to wait until another time. But his apology continues in his thoughts, and she has to tell him again to back off. The only person she finds any peace with is Bill, whose thoughts she can't read. It's no surprise she instantly felt drawn to him.

As with every episode of True Blood, there's tons going on, with promises of more to come. I just hope all the plot threads don't overwhelm the show the way too many thoughts overwhelm Sookie. I also hope things work out for her and Bill; there's got to be one happy relationship somewhere in TV land. Then again, if it was happy it wouldn't be about vampires, would it?

Fang Files

Physical Appearance: Prominent fangs, slightly curved; reminiscent of a snake's fangs. They descend at a vampire's discretion (and occasionally against their will).

Strengths: Super hearing, heightened senses, super speed.

Weaknesses: Sunlight/can't go out during the day.

Sound Bites

Tara (to Sookie): Stop worrying about being so damn appropriate. This is not an appropriate event.

Tara: You think they're [vampires] capable of loving a person?
Lafayette: Who knows what they're capable of.

Jason: Sookie, please--we're all we've got.
Sookie: We've got nothing.

True Blood, Season 1 Episode 6 "Cold Ground." Written by Raelle Tucker and Charlaine Harris. Directed by Nick Gomez. From HBO.

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