28 October 2009

True Blood, S1 E8 "The Fourth Man in the Fire"

Spoilers Ahead

The title of "The Fourth Man in the Fire" was taken from a Johnny Cash song. Nice job--it works perfectly (unlike certain other vampire shows that try to be clever with their episode titles, the operative word here being "try"). I only wish the song was featured more prominently in the episode, rather than seeming like a mere afterthought (listen for it near the end, as Lafayette returns to his car).

There's a lot going on in "The Fourth Man in the Fire"--so much that I couldn't keep up with my notes. I'll do my best to sort through it all, though.

The episode starts off at the burned shell of the house and the four coffins that have been removed from it. When the lid on one of the coffins is opened we see a bubbling pool of blood with flames bursting off the surface every so often. No dust in the True Blood universe--these vamps leave liquid remains. Believing Bill--or what's left of him--is in one of the coffins, Sookie runs off in horror.

At home again, she tries calling Bill and once again gets his voice mail. It turns out Sookie and I have something in common; it seems she also turns to cleaning to take her mind off things, although as she starts scrubbing the floor she can't help flashing back to washing her Gran's blood off the same floor not too long ago. It's been a rough week for Sookie.

Not so much for Tara. Well, not at first. After the exorcism she wakes to find her mother already up. Not only is Lettie Mae in bright spirits, but she's dumping all her remaining alcohol (the demon's gone so she doesn't need it anymore) and has made hoecakes for breakfast (she always knew how but the demon would never let her). Tara's in blissful disbelief. It's fairly short-lived, though. When she goes to Sookie's to tell her what's happened, Sookie is understandably an emotional mess. Tara, on the other hand, is on cloud nine (also understandably); the two states of mind are not exactly compatible. Sookie's anger at Tara for not asking how she's doing degenerates into a screaming argument when Tara goes off on Sookie for letting Bill bite her (Tara is unaware of everything that's transpired since Gran's funeral). After Tara goes home again, her mom and a friend show up in their Sunday best. It turns out Lettie Mae is going to church again and is all up in God's glory. Tara's not impressed, even less so when the women let her know that church would do her some much-needed good. At work later, the best "ten minutes" of her day (sex with Sam) is ruined after they get into yet another argument. By the end of the episode Tara has gone to see Miss Jeanette, the woman who performed the exorcism.

That night Sookie leaves a lit candle in the window for Bill and takes a bouquet of flowers to his grave. As she's leaving the cemetery, an arm reaches up from the ground and grabs her. She struggles to get away while a naked man pulls himself out of the ground. Of course, it's Bill. Shock turns to relief turns to need turns to sex. Savage, urgent sex complete with bodice ripping and biting (not on the neck this time; I guess Sookie's finally clued in that not everyone is cool with it). The scene is a good one, powerful and striking, with a great long shot of the two of them writhing on the ground. I hate criticizing such a brilliant moment in the show, but the question needs to be asked: why is Bill naked? The cemetery isn't far from his house, particularly with his vampire speed. If the sun was coming up and he didn't have time to get home, how did he have time to take his clothes off before burying himself? And if he did have time, why not just go home (the place was safe enough for Sookie to spend the night there)? Plot holes are like loose teeth; once you realize they're there you can't leave them alone, even though you really, really should. Sigh.

But Bill's alive! Yay!

Sookie's particularly thrilled about this turn of events. Bill is alive! And he's great. It turns out he got her messages so he left the other vampires and buried himself to stay safe. Vampires can do that! The fourth body in the coffin was some poor fang-banger (it turns out to be the coroner's assistant). Because some vampires like to keep humans around, you know, for blood... and sex. But Bill is great andeverything'sgreatandshe'ssohappy!!! Sookie's recent tendency to be hyper and a little too free with details seems to be continuing. Is it love, relief, blood loss? No one's saying but I still find it strange (and off-putting).

Speaking of which, I don't like that the three scary vampires were killed off so soon. For one thing, it seemed as though the show was building up to something with them. They were also a good contrast to Bill and provided a nice monster aspect to a show that, in theory anyway, is about monsters. It just seems like the writers decided they didn't want to deal with those characters anymore, so they wrote them out. A little abrupt for my liking.

Anyway, back to Merlotte's: Sam's week hasn't been much better than Sookie's. It's obvious he still cares for her, but she is all about the vampires these days. When he tries to offer her sympathy, and she excitedly tells him that Bill is alive and well, he seems crestfallen. It also doesn't help when he finds her suddenly taking B12 vitamins like a good little fang-banger. He copes by pouring the bar's supply of Tru Blood down the sink. Vampires aren't even the worst of his problems. Andy Bellefleur is not only questioning Sam about why he was running naked through the woods, but is checking up on his story as well, and finding out it's a lie. Sam might just be the number-one suspect in all the recent murders in Bon Temps. And when he tries to take some comfort with Tara ("You and I are the only ones who get it") they end up fighting, with Tara unfairly calling him a racist.

That scene with Sam and Tara is actually nicely juxtaposed against one with Sookie and Bill. As the latter couple are lying in bed, Sookie asks Bill if sex doesn't get predictable after a hundred years of it. Bills claims that Sookie is entirely different, that nothing is predictable with her (another reference to her being "more" than human). She then asks him to let her know if she does anything wrong. He very sweetly responds that who is he to say something is wrong that comes naturally to her. He also adds that even if he could, he wouldn't change a thing. Cut to Tara and Sam. They're having a similar conversation, only Sam is dumb enough to tell Tara that she does have one little quirk she could maybe work on (sometimes she grunts). Cue the argument.

Speaking of couples, Jason and Amy spend the episode getting to know each other better (maybe a little too well). She is rapidly proving herself to be an annoying character I want gone. Everything out of her mouth grates, whether she's making pseudo-intellectual pronouncements or getting all dreamy over V. At one point, after she and Jason spent the night having communal V orgasms with all of creation (but no sex), she tells him (without a trace of irony) that they should "hold off on the screwing; I'm a respectable girl." So she spends the night half-naked, getting high with some guy she only just met, but she draws the line at intercourse? Right. She's got an "interesting" sense of morality, which we see more of later on. For someone who drones on about how all life is connected and significant and blah blah blah, she apparently has no compunction about kidnapping Eddie (played by Stephen Root), a harmless vampire; torturing him with a sheet of silver chain mail over his face; and bullying Jason into being an accomplice just so she can have herself a convenient supply of V. I knew when she went to Merlotte's and started being so damn nice to everyone (waiting on tables without being asked because she saw that Sookie and Arlene were swamped, then handing over all the tips) she would turn out to be evil. And poor Jason's too smitten (not to mention dimwitted, and hooked on V) to do more than go along for the ride. Looks like the Rattrays have been replaced.

Sookie and Bill also spend some time babysitting Arlene's kids (she's not too happy about Bill being there, but Sookie and Rene convince her it's fine). Bill is particularly good with the kids, even donning some "bloody" fangs (made out of pizza) to entertain them. I have to say, I'm not a fan of Bill making nice with the villagers. There's definitely something plastic about it whenever he does, although it occurred to me that he has to hide his real self the same way Sookie does when they're around the general public. It's interesting too that while Sookie becomes more open about her telepathy--as well as being bolder about standing up for herself and her relationship--Bill doesn't get that option. Anti-vampire sentiment runs deep in Bon Temps (after all, the last time vampires acted like themselves in public, the public decided to have a little vamp barbecue).

Then again, Bill can't really act like himself around other vampires, either. The scary ones mocked his attempts at "mainstreaming," and Eric uses whatever he knows about Bill--in this case, Sookie's abilities--against him. Eric's waiting for Bill when he gets home (by the way, I've never seen a bathroom get so much onscreen time before, although it is a fantastic bathroom). He asks Bill if he really thought he could keep Sookie to himself. It turns out that not only is Eric exceedingly old, but he's also the Sheriff of the area, giving him control over all the vampires in his jurisdiction--including Bill. Since it would be stupid to anger the Sheriff by refusing him any reasonable request, Bill agrees to have Sookie help Eric with a problem he and his partners (Pam and Long Shadow) are having at Fangtasia. Of course, knowing all this doesn't make Sookie feel any better about it, nor does being told that Eric doesn't even need to ask her directly because she is Bill's and Bill already gave his permission. Despite her assertion to the contrary, apparently she can be checked out like a library book. She ultimately acquiesces, although it's clear the bargain she makes with Eric--that she'll help him "anytime" he wants as long as he turns the guilty party over to the police--will come back to bite her. Possibly literally.

As Sookie reads the thoughts of Fangtasia's human employees to try to determine who's been embezzling $60,000 from the club, the crackling blank mind of one employee points to her having been glamoured, making it apparent that the embezzler is one of the vampires. No sooner does Sookie say this than Long Shadow leaps from behind the bar, grabs her, and bares his fangs. Oops.

It'll be interesting to see how all this gets resolved, given that there are only four episodes left this season (damn you, HBO). Can't wait to find out...

Fang Files

Strengths: Glamouring (although it's not infallible). Lack of a need to breathe.

Weaknesses: Sunlight, fire.

Mythology and Vampire Culture: When vampires die they turn into a pool of blood. They can safely--if not comfortably--sleep underground. They don't consume anything but blood. Vampire society has a hierarchy; Sheriffs are figures of respect and power--you don't want to upset them. Human law does not acknowledge a vampire's right to marry.

Sound Bites

Sookie: (To Tara) Do you have any idea what I've been through today? A friend would ask!

Amy: (after seeing the stuffed animal heads at Merlotte's) Everyone has to eat, right? We're all links on the universal food chain. See, squirrel eats nuts, snake eats the squirrel, gator eats the snake. And we can eat pretty much anything we want. It's the circle of life.
Jason: Jesus Christ, I want to lick your mind.

Arlene: (re: Amy) Sam! Think we might have found a replacement for Dawn.
Sookie: (to Jason) Looks like you did too.

Eddie: (to Lafayette) I always look forward to Monday nights. First Heroes, then you.

Eric: (to Sookie, after she pretends she can't help him) Don't be coy. It's humbling enough to turn to a human for assistance. We know what you can do.


True Blood, Season 1 Episode 8 "The Fourth Man in the Fire." Written by Alexander Woo and Charlaine Harris. Directed by Michael Lehmann. From HBO.

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