23 February 2010

Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer


Spoilers Ahead

At last--I finally have a copy of Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer in my hot little hands! It's taken so long partly because of general busyness, and partly because I was hoping the publisher might send a review copy my way (hey, it's not like I get paid for this). But once it was apparent I'd have to procure my own copy, I got right on it. And here we are.

In case you didn't read my original post on Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer, I'll give you a recap: Devastated after Gepetto is killed by vampires, Pinocchio embarks on a mission of vengeance. He's the ultimate vampire hunter: impermeable to fangs (he is made out of wood, after all) and with a ready supply of stakes, which he gets by lying and then breaking off his elongated nose. If this isn't genius, I don't know what is.

I'd might as well get the criticisms out of the way, especially since they're fairly minor. The book is small, only about 5 1/2" by 8 1/2"--around the size of a smallish trade paperback--whereas the average comic book is closer to 6 1/2" by 10". So what difference does it make? Cramped artwork and less detail than there could or should be. I suspect the choice of size was a matter of finances, but if a future edition is in the works, I highly recommend a larger format. The other problem with the book is the colour--or lack thereof. Again, I suspect it was a money issue, but the stark black and white on every page doesn't really work. I wouldn't go full-colour, though; the judicious use of red and grey would be enough to make all the difference. Again, maybe for a future edition.

That being said, the rest of Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer is high on the scale of awesome. Luckily they start off with a "brisk stroll" through Carlo Collodi's original tale, of which this book is a sequel. I say 'luckily' because, despite believing otherwise, I'd apparently never heard or read the original story, as it is far more twisted and bizarre than I ever realized. I'm going to have to get me a copy of it. Suddenly the idea of introducing vampires and making Pinocchio a hunter seems like a natural extension of the story. Also, their retelling of Collodi's Pinocchio made me laugh out loud--always a good thing (well, almost always).

The beginning of Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer will be familiar to anyone who watched the preview (see my original post). From there it just gets better. Despite the issues with size and colour, the artwork is fantastic. Stark, creepy, whimsical, evocative--particularly the vampires. Pinocchio has a manga-like quality to him, from his hair to his facial expressions. Nice, nice, nice. Even if you're not a vampire fan, if you're into graphic novels or art in general, you should pick up a copy of this book.

The story is good, chock full of conspiracies, prophesies, talking animals, fairies (okay, one fairy), monsters, and humour. The writing is a little odd at times for my taste, though--the dialogue is too modern for what is essentially a Victorian tale, although there is a "wench" thrown in. I think if the writing had kept the tone of the opening segment, it would have been perfect, although the humour would most likely have been lacking. Maybe I'm over-analyzing again. In any case, it didn't make me roll my eyes--and that's definitely always a good thing. Better still, it's set up for possible future books featuring our favourite vampire-killing puppet. Maybe I can get review copies of those ;)

Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer is the well-executed product of a brilliant idea. I already can't remember what Pinocchio did before he hunted vampires. Can't wait to see more...

Fang Files

Appearance: Undead human, with ragged claws and pointed teeth. Black cloaks are favoured attire.

Strengths: Subterfuge, blood lust, magics.

Weaknesses: Stakes (they burst into flames when staked, then turn to dust). Pinocchio (his wooden parts cause them intense burning pain). Sunlight.

Mythology: Vampires are cursed beings; they need blood to remain immortal. One drop of cursed blood will turn a mortal into a vampire.

Text Bites

Vampire: Night has fallen like death upon Nasolungo. No soul stirs these streets save mine...But urgent matters call me into the dark...This eve I hunt. And somewhere in this breathless town...my prey awaits.

Pinocchio: I'm Pinocchio. I kill monsters.

Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer; drawn by Dusty Higgins and written by Van Jensen. From SLG Publishing.

16 February 2010

The Vampire Diaries S1 E14 "Fool Me Once"

Spoilers Ahead

Okay, don't take this as any kind of endorsement, but after watching "Fool Me Once" I had my first Vampire Diaries dream. I'll just say that it involved Damon and, as a pleasant bonus, Spike from Buffy. Hey--I can't help what my subconscious comes up with. No, really.

I have no idea what Elayna was dreaming about when she woke up in a motel (after being kidnapped by Anna in "Children of the Damned"). Maybe she was dreaming about not having to participate in cliché plot devices involving "sleeping" guards and a so-close-yet-so-far escape attempt. Unfortunately, that's exactly what she has to contend with when she does wake up. In this case the apparently unconscious guard is Ben, and he swoops in just in time to keep Elayna from slipping out the door. He then attempts to compel her not to leave and she pretends to go along with it (she's protected by vervain), almost getting away again. Alas, Anna happens to be right there when Elayna opens the door and catches our hapless heroine again. No escape for Elayna. Instead she gets locked in the bathroom, where she finds Bonnie passed out in the tub.

Stefan, meanwhile, is in a panic. Somehow he seems less concerned that Elayna might die than that she might die and come back as a vampire (she still has Damon's blood in her system). Not really sure what his worry is--it can't be that bad to be undead. And to paraphrase Damon, at least he'll see her again. Stefan begs Damon to help him find Elayna, but Damon is more interested in the grimoire than in anything Stefan has to say. Stefan even offers an earnest apology for what he did to Katherine, which Damon calmly accepts before telling Stefan he hopes Elayna dies. Like anyone really buys that. Sounds cool, though.

In need of a witch, Damon stops by Bonnie's grandmother's house looking for Bonnie. Gram knows who he is and isn't exactly impressed. When she proves less than welcoming, Damon taunts her to come outside. Suddenly he's doubled over, clutching at his head. Gram steps onto the porch and lets him know she's not a witch with whom to mess. I've got to say--I think the witches have one up on the vampires in this show. Makes me wonder how Emily ever let herself be burned at the stake.

Speaking of earnest apologies, Anna and Elayna have a heart to heart. Anna tells Elayna that she doesn't care about Katherine--that the only one interested in seeing her again is Damon. She claims she only wants her mother back. Elayna then apologizes for what Johnathon Gilbert did to Pearl. Anna's about as impressed with Elayna's apology as Damon was with Stefan's. Man, vampires can hold grudges.

After Anna leaves to meet with Stefan, we're treated to our third failed escape attempt. Dousing Ben's arm with liquid, Bonnie uses her powers to set him on fire. She makes it out the door, but--big surprise--Ben puts the flames out quickly and Elayna gets caught. Bonnie comes back inside and locks the door as told. Is anyone else wondering why she decided to set his arm on fire instead of, say, his face? I'm starting to think these girls don't really want to get away. Must be Ben's newbie vamp charms.

Back to Anna, her meeting with Stefan becomes a meeting with Damon when the latter shows up instead of the former. Damon's not interested in working out a deal with Anna--until she suggests she might just kill Elayna. And suddenly Damon cares again (told you no one bought his indifference). Anna smirks that it's just like 1864 all over again, and they agree to meet at the church that night.

Instead of meeting with Anna, it turns out Stefan paid a visit to Gram, who then used a locating spell to find Bonnie and Elayna. He announces his arrival at the motel by kicking in the door in a manly fashion. While Ben cowers from the sun, the girls run outside, and Stefan warns Ben to get out of town by sundown...or else. Then he moseys on down to the saloon for a shot of whiskey and...oops--sorry--got confused for a minute there.

Anyway, after the girls are rescued, Gram says she'll open the tomb so that Damon can get Katherine, but the rest of the vampires are to be killed. She believes all the craziness will end once Damon gets his girlfriend back and the rest of the vamps are gone. Elayna figures out how to get Damon on board, claiming he's not angry--he's just hurt.

Once again, I have to interject. I like Damon as a character (obviously)--he makes a good vampire aka bloodsucking monster. He gets the best lines. He's got pretty, pretty eyes. But this whole thing about excusing his murderous tendencies because he's been hurt...sorry, but I (and I'm sure many of you) have been hurt tremendously by the jerks of the world and never once have I thought "You know what? A little homicide will make me feel loads better." Maybe if Damon had shown some remorse, or made an effort to redeem himself in some way, I could buy this "he's really a good person underneath it all" line of reasoning. But he hasn't--not yet, anyway. So writers--do us all a favour and give us a real reason to believe Damon is an okay guy. It's called character development--look into it.

Okay, now that I got that off my chest, I promise the rest of this post will be rant free. Maybe. Anyway, Elayna finally convinces Damon to trust her and the group by taking off her vervain necklace and inviting him to compel her. Interesting strategy. He refuses, telling her as he replaces the necklace around her neck not to make him regret trusting her.

At the church that night, Bonnie and Gram get with the chanting and the tomb is soon open. Stefan takes off to get the gasoline for the vamp bonfire, while Damon takes Elena into the tomb as protection against being shut in. Anna arrives soon after (leaving Ben and an unconscious Jeremy outside to distract Stefan) and follows Damon inside. Bonnie is upset that Gram let Anna in, but Gram calmly replies that none of the vampires are coming out again. It turns out breaking the seal that let the vampires in doesn't mean the seal that lets them out is also broken. Crafty. And hey--Damon can finally be with Katherine forever. Too bad it doesn't quite work out that way.

Inside the tomb, Damon abandons Elayna in the dark as he desperately seeks out Katherine. Lost and freaked, Elena can't find him or her way out (*cough*useless*cough*). It doesn't take long for Anna to find Elayna and then Pearl, though, and she decided a long time ago that she would bring her mother back with Gilbert blood (someone should have told her Elayna isn't technically a Gilbert).

My regard for Stefan goes way up when, as Ben indulges in some macho chest-pounding, he decides to dispatch the arrogant idiot with a flame thrower. Nice. And efficient! When Stefan returns to the church, Gram warns him that he can't go into the tomb. Then Elayna screams and he runs into the tomb. And my regard returns to its normal level of meh. Stefan finds Elayna and they run back, but like a roach motel--the vampires get in but they can't get out. Bonnie decides she can't leave Stefan trapped inside, so she and Gram set to work to fully break the seal.

Damon, meanwhile, has discovered--and this one surprised even me--that Katherine isn't in the tomb. Infuriated, he screams and throws the bag of plasma he brought for Katherine against the wall. He really loses it, not even hearing Stefan as his brother tries to urge him to get the hell out while the seal is down. As the witches struggle to keep the spell going, and Anna escapes with her mother, Elayna runs back in and this time manages to find Damon instantly. She finally gets through to him, probably in no small part because the dim lighting in the tomb makes her look like a living copy of Katherine's photo. They make it out of the tomb just in time and there's a nice shot of Damon, his face hidden in shadow. It is hard not to feel sorry for him at that moment. I guess that's Elayna's logic as she hugs him and tells him she's sorry. Stefan seems to be thinking something else as he watches them.

Later, as Anna and Pearl return to the motel, they turn on the light and find Damon sitting there looking pissed. He accuses them of knowing all along that Katherine wasn't in the tomb. Anna doesn't deny it, replying that he wouldn't have helped her if he'd known the truth. Damon's hand latches on to a barely revived Pearl's throat, and she chokes out that at the last minute Katherine bribed a guard who was obsessed with her "like everybody else." Anna tells Damon that the last time she saw Katherine was in 1983 in Chicago, and that Katherine knows where Damon is--she just doesn't care. Damon is one broken vamp.

Continuing the pattern of killing off the characters I'm most fond of, Gram lies down and doesn't get up again. Apparently the effort of the spells was too much for her. Bonnie is suitably distressed, as am I. But you know teen shows--can't have too many authority figures getting in the way. Guess it's up to Bonnie now to become uber-witch of the family.

Oh, and that plasma bag Damon threw against the wall? The splatters make their way to the desiccated vampire underneath, reviving him. He gets up and shuffles to the tomb's entrance, somehow managing to open a gap in the stone wall. This is where I get lost. I was positive Gram said they'd only be able to keep the seal open temporarily. So did I make a mistake or is this a huge hole someone didn't notice? Did the seal come down when Gram died? I couldn't even properly tell if the revived vampire actually made it out of the tomb or was just standing in the doorway. If anyone else has a better grasp of what happened, feel free to let me in on it; otherwise, I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

In the lesser storylines of "Fool Me Once" Jeremy keeps fairly busy, although he doesn't really do much. There's a reminder of the ongoing tension between him and Ty Lockwood. We get a bit of insight into Jeremy's lonely, friendless life, and how much Anna's creepy stalker presence actually means to him. He gets smoochy with Anna, bringing the vampire out of her (ooohh--she likes him). Then he gets knocked out and threatened by Ben. Finally, he pretends he doesn't remember a thing when Elayna asks, but as soon as she leaves he's googling real-life vampires. Way to go, Jeremy--seek out your purpose in this show.

Oh, and Caroline and Matt spend the episode trying to decide if they really want to be in a relationship with each other. Exciting!

So, overall this episode wasn't too bad. Things were taken in an unexpected direction, and Damon now gets a chance to hone his brooding skills (can't leave all the fun for Stefan). It seems as though a decent love triangle is in the works, and who knows--we might even get to see Katherine's return to Mystic Falls. Maybe Caroline and Matt will even live happily ever after. It's a beautiful day in TV land.

Fang Files

Appearance: Human until the vampire emerges, then dark, red-rimmed eyes and dark facial veins. Starved vampires look like dried-out zombies with red eyes.

Strengths: super speed; super strength; the ability to compel/hypnotize humans.

Weaknesses: Vervain. Sunlight. Fire. Magics.

Mythology: Most vampires can't go out during the day, but a few are protected by witchcraft and can tolerate the sun. In order to turn a human into a vampire, the human must first consume vampire blood and then die with the blood in their system (i.e., within a day or two). Vampires need an invitation into a private residence.

Sound Bites

Damon: (to Stefan) I mean this sincerely: I hope Elayna dies.

Elayna: Is there anything to drink here?
Ben: Are you offering?

Damon: (Greeting Stefan, Bonnie, and Gram) Brother. Witches.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 14 "Fool Me Once." Written by Brett Conrad. Directed by Marcos Siega. From The CW.

10 February 2010

The Vampire Diaries S1 E13 "Children of the Damned"

Spoilers Ahead

When it comes to TV and movies (for me, anyway) good costumes and sets can forgive a lot of flaws. Not all, mind you, but they can make the difference between enjoying what's onscreen and hating it with the fiery vengeance of a thousand suns. "Children of the Damned" has some breathtaking costumes (like the one in the photo above)--almost enough to make up for the rest of the episode. Almost. But at least they offer a pleasant, if temporary, distraction.

The episode starts off with a flashback to Katherine (in the first of her many gorgeous outfits) killing a coach driver and his passenger in order to show still-human Damon what being a vampire is all about. In one of the better vampire moments on the show, Damon is initially repulsed by the blood on Katherine's mouth, but then gets over it and kisses her. They clearly have a dark future ahead of them.

Back to the present, Elayna and Stefan wake up together only to be confronted by Damon, eager to get started on finding Emily's grimoire (in Damon's words, "a witch's cookbook"). Threesomes seem to be the new theme of the show as the next flashback (and quite a few after it) give us some insight into Katherine's relationship with the Salvatore brothers. Apparently it's good to share.

The flashbacks also give us insight into the vampires in Mystic Falls; how the town deals with them; the Salvatores' relationships with their father, Guiseppe (James Remar, Dexter, Blade: Trinity); and the present-day consequences of all this. It's definitely a tangled web, and again I have to wonder why the writers (at this point mainly Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson) and developers (see: writers) saw fit to get into so much all in one season. I guess they prefer quantity to quality.

The vampires in TVD are a social lot, it seems. Katherine gets a visit from her friend Pearl (Kelly Hu, Phineas and Ferb), who is nervous about the townspeople's increasing awareness of the monsters among them. She wants to leave town but Katherine isn't quite ready yet--she's got unfinished business with Stefan and Damon (nudge nudge, wink wink). Pearl seems content enough to follow Katherine's lead, although maybe it doesn't hurt that she's got an ardent admirer in Johnathon Gilbert. She also has a daughter named Annabelle tagging along. That's right--Annabelle, aka Anna, aka the vampire stalking Jeremy in order to get her hands on his great-grandfather's (Johnathon Gilbert's) journal. You know, in some shows all this would have been enough for an entire season, never mind half an episode. Just saying...

Speaking of Jeremy, he tells Stefan and Elayna that he lent Johnathon's journal to Alaric Saltzman. Then he agrees to meet Anna at the bar where everyone's always hanging out (with the oh-so-creative moniker of "The Grill"). This is the awkward lead-in to future hamfisted events. I guess now that Jeremy got over being a troubled teen they need to find something for him to do.

I suspect the writers are also trying to justify Elayna's sympathy for Damon, something I mentioned in my last review. Elayna seems to believe that everything Damon has done (murder, attempted murder, shirtless dancing...) has been for love and is, theoretically, okay. Stefan, on the other hand, has a brain and tells her that Damon is just a psychopath who enjoys hurting people. You can decide for yourselves (maybe she's just buying into that old saying that all's fair in love and war. But even war has rules and logic, twisted though it may sometimes be. Maybe we need a Geneva Convention for relationships...)

The next flashback comes via Saltzman as he reads Johnathon's journal. The men of Mystic Falls--including Giuseppe Salvatore--are meeting to discuss the compass, how to round up the vamps, and their plan to use the church. Salvatore promises that the town can count on both his sons (although why he would include Damon in this statement is something of a mystery, as Damon makes it clear both in past and present that he's got daddy issues).

As Saltzman is reading, he realizes someone else is there. (Why, oh why, do writers think it's plausible to have characters who are knowledgeable about vampires choose to hang out alone at night in public buildings? Oh, wait--I keep forgetting that all horror characters are selectively stupid, although I'm pretty sure writers think it's actually the viewers who have this problem...) Anyway, Saltzman leaves the room to arm himself with a weapon (in this case a stake shooter). As he rounds a corner he fires on the vampire, who turns out to be Stefan although we saw Anna sneaking in as well. Stefan catches the stake and gets tetchy with Saltzman. Then he gets downright inquisitorial. I gotta say--I like Stefan much better when he asserts himself. I like my vampires with teeth.

Saltzman eventually gives in and admits that he's there because of his wife. Apparently she was a parapsychologist who found out about vampire activity in the area. Of course, as they're talking Anna has time to snatch the journal--not that either of them seem particularly concerned. They go on chatting and Saltzman tells Stefan that Damon killed his wife. Well, he's pretty sure Damon killed his wife because when he walked in on them, Damon heard and both he and Mrs. Saltzman then disappeared. Oh, and they never found her body. But she's obviously dead. Uh-huh. Any actors out there care to enlighten me on how you can say lines like these with a straight face?

Damon, meanwhile, is hanging out at Elayna's making dinner for the family. Might I just say: WTF? He flirts with Jenna, plays video games and offers advice to Jeremy, and somehow manages to believe Elayna when she says he can trust Stefan. There's also a "cute" moment when Jenna confides to Elayna about how hot Damon is, making him smile as he overhears--until Elayna replies that he's an ass, turning his smile upside down as he rolls his eyes. Quite the picture of domestic bliss. Apparently Stefan thinks so too when he eventually shows up and switches his doleful glare back and forth between his brother and his girlfriend.

The next flashback has Stefan telling Damon they should talk to Giuseppe about Katherine and how they feel about her, and maybe also point out that vampires really aren't so bad. Sensibly, Damon thinks this is a bad idea and makes Stefan promise not to say anything. So of course Stefan goes to Giuseppe and tells him that he's got a problem with killing the town's vamps. He doesn't mention Katherine, but he does try to convince his dad that not all vampires are evil. Giuseppe won't have it, however, and retorts that anyone who stands with the vamps and brings shame on their families will die along with them. Stefan backs down.

Back to the present, Stefan's got a photocopy of the journal, courtesy of Saltzman. He doesn't mention this to Damon, though, who soon takes off after Jeremy on his way to meet Anna (Jeremy admitted that he told her about the journal). When Damon sees her, he realizes she's Pearl's daughter. And when he tries to choke her into submission, we're reminded once again that Damon is only good in a fight where the odds are seriously stacked in his favour (like against terrified unarmed humans). Since Anna is older than he is, she's just as strong if not stronger. They call a truce, catch up, and quickly part ways after Damon flips through the journal and figures out where the grimoire is. Meanwhile Stefan has also figured it out and he and Elayna have been digging up his father's body in order to get it (he sure knows how to show a girl a good time!)

While all this is going on, Bonnie is out on a date with vampire Ben. She tells him all about how close she and Elayna are--that she would die for Elayna (interesting first-date topic). Then, since he's such a perfect gentleman, she makes the first move and kisses him. As soon as she does, her witchy powers kick in and she realizes what he is. She tries to hide it as she pulls away and claims she has to go to the bathroom. He seems clueless until he suddenly appears behind her in full vamp mode and pulls her into the bathroom. Lesson here: never trust a date who doesn't put the moves on you (at least, not if you're a psychic witch).

Back to Katherine and Stefan, they're getting romantic when she bites him and starts gasping and choking. It turns out Stefan is chock full of vervain. Giuseppe is more astute than his sons give him credit for; when Stefan was going on about how some vampires are good people too, his father figured out what Katherine was and then spiked the brothers' drinks with vervain to be sure. As Stefan panics, Giuseppe gags Katherine with a crazy-looking metal contraption. He tells Stefan that his feelings for Katherine can't possibly be real since she's a demon, and then sends him to get the sheriff. Being the good son, Stefan does as he's told.

After he shows up at Giuseppe's open grave and finds Elayna and Stefan there, Damon gives a self-righteous speech about how he can't trust anyone but himself. He makes a point of telling Elayna that she's particularly a disappointment as she really had him fooled. Anyone else would tell him to get over it, but Elayna actually seems guilt-ridden. When Stefan refuses to hand over the grimoire, Damon grabs Elayna and forces her to drink his blood. Then he threatens to snap her neck so that he and Stefan will have themselves a vampire girlfriend. I was really hoping the show would go with this option but, alas, Stefan hands over the grimoire. Damon has a moment of regret (nicely played by Ian Somerhalder) before he turns his focus onto the book.

Another flashback and we see the mob taking Katherine away while Damon freaks, saying he wants to be killed along with her if he can't save her. Pearl, meanwhile, is getting ready to run when Johnathon Gilbert shows up with the compass. She begs him to spare her, but he shoots her in the back and has her gagged and sent to join Katherine. Anna watches all this from her hiding place with Emily.

I have to mention at this point that I had the startling realization as I watched this episode (with the help of IMDB and my SO) that Emily Bennett is played by Bianca Lawson--aka Kendra the Vampire Slayer (Buffy)! How I missed this for so long, I have no idea. I don't know if it's the lack of heavy Jamaican accent, or just that she's changed so much that I didn't recognize her, but I had to take a minute to acknowledge this oversight.

Anyway, back in the safety of Elayna's house, Stefan tells her that Damon is right to blame him for what happened to Katherine as it really is his fault. Elayna would probably be more interested if she didn't have such an awful headache. Stefan dutifully heads downstairs to find an aspirin (getting a bizarre lecture along the way from Jenna about how she hopes he's not expecting to sleep over--because after everything else that's gone on with Elayna and Jeremy since Jenna's been in charge, that's what she needs to worry about). Instead of an aspirin Stefan finds out that Jeremy invited his friend Anna back to the house. Oops. Stefan runs back upstairs but Elayna's already gone, her bedroom window wide open. Oh noes--Elayna's in danger at the hands of a vampire! Again. Again this episode. Yawn.

So, that's it. More soap opera drama, unlikely circumstances, hack writing, and the usual high standards we've come to expect from The Vampire Diaries. But with pretty clothes. Enjoy!

Fang Files

Appearance: Human until they vamp out, then red-rimmed eyes and dark facial veins.

Strengths: Super speed, stealth, mad cooking skillz, speed reading.

Weaknesses: Sunlight, vervain, stakes.

Mythology: Most vampires can't go out in the sunlight but Emily Bennett's spells have allowed a few to overcome this handicap. Vampires need to be invited into private residences, but are free to go into public buildings. To turn a human: they need to have vampire blood in their system when they are killed; vampire blood clears out of a human's system within a day or two.

Sound Bites

Damon: (to Stefan and Elayna) You know, I really like this whole ménage à threesome team thing. It's got some kink to it.

Katherine: Emily, would you please tell Mr. Salvatore I am stepping out.
Emily: Which one?
Katherine: Both of them.

Stefan: You met Damon?
Alaric Saltzman: Who do you think killed my wife?

Damon: (to Stefan and Elayna at Giuseppe's grave) Well, what do you know. This is an interesting turn of events.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 1 Episode 13 "Children of the Damned." Written by Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson. Directed by Marcos Siega. From The CW.

04 February 2010

True Blood S1 E12 (Season Finale) "You'll Be the Death of Me"

Spoilers Ahead

All too quickly the first season of True Blood reached its finale. I don't know about anyone else but I would have been happy to watch at least another twelve episodes. At least. Because, unlike The Vampire Diaries, everything going on in True Blood (and there is a lot) is actually interesting, enjoyable, and has a point to it. I know--novel concept for a television show (the way the American networks have been running things, I'm actually surprised it didn't get cancelled). So, here's to the end of Season 1, the soon-to-be reviewed episodes of Season 2, and the eventual start of Season 3.

Continuing the trend started in "To Love Is to Bury," this episode doesn't start at exactly the same point the last one left off. This time we come in on Jason in a jail cell as he tells Rene--who we now know is the murderer--where he'd like all his belongings to go. Rene gets Jason's prized truck, and doesn't betray any hint of remorse or guilt at seeing his friend take the fall for him. Instead he makes a comment about the murdered women not being innocent, that as fang bangers they would have ended up dead sooner or later. But Jason is convinced something is wrong with himself.

Rene is showing his true colours in all sorts of little (and big) ways this episode. From the camera focusing on him at significant moments (like when Sookie says she's close to finding out who the real killer is), to the music he's singing along to ("Devil in Disguise"), to Sookie commenting that his thoughts don't have a Cajun accent. And one of the funniest, and most disturbing, scenes all season is when the camera cuts to Arlene's kids watching Maudette's missing sex tape. It turns out to have been stored with Rene's stuff in the garage, along with an instructional cassette on Cajun dialect. Unfortunately this funny moment comes at the expense of plot: why would Rene ever have kept this stuff, let alone in an open box in the garage at home where anyone could get to it? I don't know--maybe in his twisted mind he thought Arlene would be sympathetic, given her general antipathy toward vampires. Or maybe someone just dropped the ball (we'll forgive them...this time...)

After Andy Bellefleur refuses to believe Jason isn't the killer (he never got the fax with Rene/Drew Marshall's name and photo on it, but even if he did he just seems to have an innate hatred for Jason), Sookie has an even harder time dealing with the thoughts of people at the bar. Not only is the general consensus that Jason is the murderer, but most people seem to agree that Sookie and her entire family are a bunch of shameless freaks. Rough day at the office. Against Sam's advice (he can't leave the bar, so can't go with to protect her) she insists she needs to go home. When her car won't start she gladly accepts a ride home with Rene, but not before he "tries" to fix her car--and then disposes of what is apparently the needed part. Now would be a good time to suck it up and use your unappreciated mind-reading ability, Sookie.

Things are going considerably better for Tara--at least on the surface. She wakes up in luxurious surroundings, is waited on by a butler, has the sympathy and support of Maryann, and meets a guitar-playing hottie named Eggs (Mehcad Brooks, The Deep End). Actually his real name is Benedict--get it? If it all seems too good to be true, well, you know how it goes. The butler slyly pockets Tara's phone, there's an unnatural amount food around, Eggs seems a little too convinced of the awesomeness of the so-called social worker, and, oh yeah, Maryann turns out not to be your average human (we see her entire body buzzing and flickering). Later on we also find out that Sam and Maryann know each other--and it is not a happy reunion. For one thing, she's aware he's a shapeshifter and apparently has gone out of her way to find him again. Why Sam doesn't warn Tara about Maryann or just come clean about what he is, though, is a question along the same lines of why Rene didn't get rid of those incriminating tapes. Best not to ask.

Back at Sookie's house, Rene comes in to "watch over her" until Sam can get there. As Sookie busies herself getting iced tea, Rene's thoughts start slipping away from him. Sookie hears him thinking about all the blood that was in her house, and gets an image of him killing her Gran. She tries to hide what she knows but Rene is done pretending. He smirks at her as she aims a rifle at him (he'd already removed the bullets) and drops his accent. Sookie manages to get out of the house, and then the chase is on. Michael Raymond-James, who plays Rene, does a good job of portraying an alternately creepy and enraged psychopath as he chases Sookie. She finally takes advantage of her telepathy and forces him to re-live the murders he committed. It's cool to see Sookie as a powerful character again, rather than one always waiting to be saved. Having her in his head stops Rene long enough for Sookie to hide in an open grave, but he's soon after her again. Annoyingly she falls for his obvious misdirect ("She must have run into the woods--guess I'll follow her there now...") and reveals herself. Of course he's waiting, and a minute later he's choking the life out of her.

Sookie's not entirely on her own, though. Back at Merlotte's, Sam decides to sniff Rene's work vest. It seems weird until he flashes back to rolling around in Dawn's sheets after she'd been killed. It turns out he'd noted the killer's scent and now realizes the killer is Rene. Meanwhile, Bill wakes up aware that Sookie's in serious trouble. I guess Bill felt bad for leaving Sookie on her own while he went to the Tribunal because he runs (or rather, stumbles) off to save her, even though it's the middle of the day. Rather than bursting into flames, it looks like poor Bill is being roasted alive, his skin turning black and crusty while smoke pours off him. He should've used Spike's trick and brought a blanket along for cover.

Sam, in dog form, reaches Sookie first. He attacks Rene but the human gets the upper hand. Rene then gets distracted when he kicks the dog into unconsciousness and it turns back into Sam. Poor Rene--surrounded by freaks. Bill finally comes within sight of Sookie, but the sun finally overcomes him and he collapses, saying her name. If that's not devotion, I don't know what is. At this point Sookie suddenly comes awake, grabs a nearby shovel, and has at Rene. He fights back viciously and I doubt anyone feels sorry for him as Sookie embeds the shovel into the back of his head. She and Sam then turn their attention to Bill who, despite looking like a giant piece of charcoal, apologizes to Sookie for having failed to save her. She breaks down sobbing, and Sam buries Bill in the open grave.

The next scene cuts to Sookie, bruised, in bed and groggily waking up. Tara, Lafayette, and Sam are there. They're all thrilled she's okay, although they think she's out of it when she says Sam turned into a dog and bit Rene. Sam doesn't tell them otherwise, and Sookie lets him know how great he is and that he should let people see the real him. Tara apparently takes Sookie's words to heart because a few minutes later she tells Sam that he really is a wonderful person who deserves to have everything he wants happen--and so does she. Then she takes off with Maryann, but not before Sam and Maryann have the encounter I mentioned. This would have been a good time for Sam to warn Tara, if for no other reason than to prevent her from sounding like a cheesy motivational speaker as she quotes Maryann every five minutes, which happens by the end of the episode. Further proof that Maryann is not good people.

A weepy Arlene comes by to see Sookie, feeling responsible not only for not realizing who Rene was, but for telling Sookie to stay out of her (and by extension, his) head, thereby preventing Sookie from picking up on his true nature. This is probably the first time I've really liked Arlene, boosted by her asking how Bill is doing. Sookie breaks down as she admits she doesn't think he'll be okay.

Back at the Sheriff's department, Jason has a revelation. Early in the day he was visited by Orry Dawson, a representative of the Fellowship of the Sun church, an anti-vampire church, as the name suggests, although Dawson claims they don't hate vampires--they just really, really like humans. He says that while the church can't technically condone Jason's killing of four human women--even misguided ones--killing vampire Eddie was a service to "his race and Jesus." Besides, they know Jason's intentions were "pure." They've set up a defense fund for Jason, and Dawson leaves him with some reading material. Jason doesn't seem impressed by any of this (mostly just confused), but when Andy angrily arrives to set him free and calls his release a "miracle," Jason looks heavenward and we know that boy is about to get himself into serious trouble. When he goes to see Sookie, he tells her he's been "saved" and that all the bad stuff that happened was for a reason, not that he knows what that reason is. But it's no surprise when, at the end of the episode, we see him at the church, soaking up every word of the obnoxious Rev. Steve Newlin's sermon, and being moved by the spirit. Oh, Jason--first Amy and now this.

The best part of the episode for me comes when everyone has left and Sookie's safe on her own. She hears something outside, and when she opens the door Bill is there, completely healed. After a long moment of shock, she invites him back in. He's ready to give her his blood to heal her wounds, but she claims that after everything that's happened she wants to feel human (an interesting take on humanity, and one I can't disagree with). When Bill tries to apologize for failing her, Sookie stops him because her life is too short. Then they share a lingering kiss. It's no secret that Bill is one of my favourite vampires (second only to that other William, aka Spike) and scenes like this just confirm it. I have to say, though, I'm surprised no one has mentioned Bill yet in my True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse contest. I'm a little disappointed here, people.

Anyway, after their kiss, the screen fades to be replaced with the words "Two Weeks Later." This postscript is when we see Jason at the Fellowship of the Sun service, and discover Tara is a full-out Maryann disciple. There's plenty more going on as well. Andy Bellefleur has become a bitter relapsed drunk. Lafayette has been missing for a couple of weeks (we saw him attacked by something after he left Sookie's place but we didn't get to see what happened). Hoyt asks Sookie if Bill knows any nice vampire girls his age for him to date. Arlene and Terry continue bonding, with Terry becoming a little more openly--if awkwardly--flirtatious. Sam is in a permanently pissed off state, no doubt due to Sookie's renewed relationship with Bill, Tara's infatuation with Maryann (and loss of interest in him), and Maryann's very presence; we see him retrieving bundles of money from Merlotte's safe, although where he got them and what he's going to do with them is anybody's guess. As well, marriage between humans and vampires is legalized for the first time, but only in Vermont--I'm not sure how I feel about this; vampires are not domestic creatures, and one really can't get more domestic than getting married. I think the vampires of True Blood are heading down a path they really shouldn't go down (talk about being de-fanged).

Sookie and Bill have a big night planned, but before Sookie can meet Bill at his place, Jessica shows up, accompanied by Eric and Pam. They've had enough of putting up with her, so Bill's deal with Eric is off--that is, unless Bill wants to give Sookie to Eric. That's not happening, so Bill's back on Maker duty with a bratty neonate teenager. Can't wait to see how Sookie reacts to this.

The last scene of the finale involves Andy, Sookie, and Tara. As the girls follow a drunken Andy to his car, trying to convince him to give them his keys, he notices the car door is slightly ajar. As he opens it, we can see a limp leg hanging out. And then Sookie and Tara scream.

Nice cliffhanger to tide us over to the second season. There's a lot of potential and promise for season 2, as well as plenty to keep us worried and wondering. You really can't ask for more of a finale.

Fang Files

Appearance: Pale humans with snake-like fangs that descend at will.

Strengths: Super speed. Ability to withstand extreme pain.

Weaknesses: The sun.

Mythology: Vampires need an invitation into a private residence; they're compelled to leave if the invitation is rescinded. Vampires are technically walking corpses, animated only by blood. Vampires sleep during the day. Once a human has drunk vampire blood, the vampire will always have a connection to them and can find them.

Sound Bites

Tara: I didn't just wreck my car. I totalled my whole life. All of it.

Tara: (after meeting Eggs) So, collecting stray black people, that some kind of hobby of hers [Maryann's]?

Bill: (on the verge of death after being unable to save Sookie from Rene) I...am...sorry.

Jason: You know, I was sitting in that jail, and I just kept thinkin' about all the stupid stuff I've done.
Sookie: That must have kept you busy.

Sookie: You're alive?
Bill: Well, technically no.

Eric: (after returning Jessica to Bill) There are favors, and there are favors.
Pam: She is extremely annoying.

True Blood, S1 E12 (season finale) "You'll Be the Death of Me." Written by Charlaine Harris and Raelle Tucker. Directed by Alan Ball. From HBO.

Season One Reviews

Episode 1 "Strange Love"

Episode 2 "First Taste"

Episode 3 "Mine"

Episode 4 "Escape from Dragon House"

Episode 5 "Sparks Fly Out"

Episode 6 "Cold Ground"

Episode 7 "Burning House of Love"

Episode 8 "The Fourth Man in the Fire"

Episode 9 "Plaisir D'Amour"

Episode 10 "I Don't Wanna Know"

Episode 11 "To Love Is to Bury"

02 February 2010

Sookie Stackhouse Contest: All Together Dead

NOTE: Contest is now closed! Thanks for your entries--winners to be announced soon...

It rocks to be Canadian. We have gorgeous landscapes, great health care, fun spelling, and we're the only ones who qualify for this contest! In honour of Penguin's release of new trade paperback editions of the "Sookie Stackhouse" backlist, I have five copies of Charlaine Harris's All Together Dead to give away.

A bit about the book: Louisiana cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse has her hands full dealing with every sort of undead and paranormal creature imaginable. And after being betrayed by her longtime vampire love, Sookie must not only deal with a new man in her life—the shapeshifter Quinn—but also contend with the long-planned vampire summit.

What do you have to do to win one of these coveted copies? Read on...

Contest Rules

1. You must live in Canada.
2. You have to post a comment below telling me who your favourite Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood character is, and why. You'll also need to leave me a way to get in touch with you in case you win (email address or twitter name).

That's it! I'll pick my five favourite responses as the winners and share them (and maybe some of the honourable mentions too) in a future post. And while it isn't necessary, it would be much appreciated if you would tweet this contest or post about it on Facebook. Thanks, and good luck!

01 February 2010

The Vampire Diaries S1 E12 "Unpleasantville"

Spoilers Ahead

Caroline might be one of my least favourite characters ever but she does get a lot of the best lines in The Vampire Diaries (sad, isn't it?) In "Unpleasantville" she actually voices what I was thinking when she asks Elayna if her relationship is now a threesome with the Salvatore brothers. Elayna emphatically says no, but I'm willing to bet I'm not the only one wondering at this point. I know in the books (which I haven't yet read) the character of Elayna is torn between the brothers, but I was under the impression that the show was diverging from the original story. Maybe not so much after all. Of course, why TV Elayna would be attracted to (or even able to tolerate) Damon is the real mystery here. As I mentioned in my last review, Damon (who I actually do like as a character) has done a lot of evil things, and girls--there's a huge difference between a bad boy and an evil one. Elayna apparently hasn't caught on, though.

Moving on to the episode, now that Elayna and Stefan are getting along again (any takers on how long that will last?) they muse over who the vampire in the road (the one Elayna hit with her car) might have been. Stefan also gives her a boatload of vervain--enough for her family, friends, random strangers she happens across... Once again I'm annoyed that in "Bloodlines" Elayna went vervain-less and nothing happened. Wouldn't it have added an intriguing shot of tension to have the previously safe Elayna suddenly under the control of some nefarious fanged baddie? Honestly, I think the whole vervain vampire-protection thing is a big cop out, especially now that everyone's got some. Why give vampires the power to compel humans if they never get to use that ability? The writers should have just kept it limited to Elayna. Which reminds me: why does Elayna skirt around the reason she's giving Caroline a vervain-containing necklace? Caroline was not only dating Damon, but was his regular meal--I think Elayna can be up-front about the vervain. Come to think of it, Caroline might just have moved to second in the annoying character rankings--Elayna's officially slipped into first (helped in no small part by Nina Dobrev's acting skills--or lack thereof).

Anyway, as Elayna and Stefan wonder about the mystery vamp, he shows up at the door in the guise of a pizza delivery guy! That's some clever subterfuge. Of course Jeremy invites him in, in the most hamfisted way imaginable, and mystery vamp henceforth has a standing invite into Elayna's house. Later, in a scene right out of Scream, mystery vamp calls up Sidney--I mean Elayna--to tell her that he knows what she did last summer--I mean, a couple of nights before. Sorry--I'm suddenly awash in confusion over all the Kevin Williamson content. You know writers have run out of ideas when they start ripping off their own work.

After the creepy call, mystery vamp proceeds to stalk Elayna, even attacking her in her living room (luckily Stefan showed up at just the right moment to thwart him). Stefan and (inexplicably) Damon then decide to set a trap to get the vamp that very night, because they obviously can't let it go when this guy has an invitation into Elayna's house. What's their big plan? Accompanying Elayna to the 1950s-theme dance at school and using her as bait to draw the stalker out. Sure, why not?

If there was any doubt the boys would get their man, push all such thoughts aside. Of course they do, grilling and torturing him before Stefan finishes him off with a broom handle (I was kind of hoping Elayna would do the job with a pencil, but sadly that wasn't the case). Before his anticlimactic death, mystery vamp (whose name turns out to be Noah) lets slip that he knew Katherine (hence the appeal of going after Elayna) and then scoffs that Stefan and Damon don't even remember him (what--it's only been 120 years). I mention this because I have a feeling it's going to come up again in future.

As usual, lots of other things were going on besides the main event. Jonathon Gilbert's journal has practically become a character unto itself. After writing a paper based on it, Jeremy loans the journal to Alaric Saltzman, who claims a Civil War-era account is like porn for history teachers (in one fell swoop elevating the reputations of history teachers everywhere). Meanwhile, Damon's also looking for the journal because it supposedly contains the location of Emily's grimoire--which he needs to reverse her spell trapping Katherine and the other vampires (it turns out the vampire-hunting Founding Families weren't above burning witches and taking their belongings). Oh, and it turns out Jeremy's new friend Anna is yet another vampire, and she wants the journal too. Her and her buddies (including the recently deceased Noah and her boyfriend Ben) really want to free Katherine and the others, but for some reason aren't too fond of Damon.

Ben, meanwhile, is a recent graduate of Mystic Falls High School, former football star, bartender at the local bar, and part of the ranks of the undead. While his girl Anna tries to get the journal from Jeremy, Ben is busy wooing witch Bonnie (who I guess has her powers back, although it was never resolved). Bonnie is already falling for him, so I suppose we'll find out soon enough how she fits into the scheme.

Alaric Saltzman's real interest in the journal wasn't mentioned, but it probably has something to do with his need for revenge against Damon. Speaking of which, he tries getting info from Damon at the dance, although he manages to set off Damon's spidey sense pretty quickly. After catching him leaving the scene of the staking, Damon compels and questions him. Saltzman's responses are what you'd expect from the average clueless human, but of course that's because he's got a handful of that pesky vervain. You'd think vampires would learn to check for that stuff instead of just assuming humans are under their spell.

Much later when Saltzman escorts Jenna home, he happens to mention that his dead wife (whom he married young) was from the area. He also mentions that her name was Isabel--the very same name as the teenager who *gasp* gave birth to baby Elayna and abandoned her with the Gilberts! Jenna perks up when she hears this because apparently there's only one Isabel in the entire state of Virginia and she clearly must be Elayna's birth mother. So does that make Saltzman Elayna's dad? It also brings up the question: If Isabel Saltzman was Elayna's birth mother, is that somehow related to why Damon killed her?

You getting all this?

Oh, and apparently no one in town knew that Elayna was adopted because Elayna's dad, a doctor, doctored up the paperwork so it seemed like he and his wife were her birth parents. Somehow no one in this small town noticed that the doctor's wife had a baby out of nowhere. If they say so.

Caroline and Matt also hook up, proving that if you're lonely enough anyone can seem appealing. By the way, is it just me or is Caroline unduly snobby for someone whose mom is a lowly civil servant (lowly in the sense that they don't exactly make the big bucks)? She spends most of her onscreen time in "Unpleasantville" looking down on the people pathetic enough to have to work in the service industry, including her new boyfriend Matt, who's taken a busboy job alongside vampire Ben at the bar. Wow--this show is, like, bringing up class issues and everything. It's so deep.

Once Elayna is safe again (for the moment), Stefan focuses on setting up Damon, promising to help his brother free Katherine (and kill the other 26 vampires) when he has no intention of letting Katherine go. Damon believes him, which isn't surprising given his habit of taking everything at face value (because untrustworthy people always trust everyone else). Stefan lets Elayna in on the plan, and she admits she's bonded with Damon even though she doesn't trust him. Anyone else secretly hoping the vamps all get out and unleash a bloodbath on Mystic Falls? Just me, then, huh?

When The Vampire Diaries started I was worried that it didn't know whether it was a teen show or a vampire/horror show. Well, I finally figured out what it really is: a soap opera, with all the requisite melodrama and absolutely no substance. I'm just looking forward to the long-lost twin storyline...uh, wait a minute...okay, then the possession subplot--no, wait. Kidnapping of the heroine? Secret baby? Plots and conspiracies? Okay, I guess the show's already covered all the soap opera basics. From now on I won't even worry about the loose ends and lack of logic--in the end, it'll all probably turn out to have been Caroline's dream. Hey, at least it's giving the people who watch something to talk about--and then promptly forget.

Fang Files

Appearance: Human until they vamp out--then red-rimmed eyes and dark facial veins. Dead vampires turn grey and extra veiny.

Strengths: The ability to compel (hypnotize/control) humans. Super strength and speed.

Weaknesses: The ability to compel (hypnotize/control) humans--except when said humans have vervain on or in them. Stakes, wood.

Mythology: Vervain needs to be on or in a human in order to be effective. Vampires can't sense one another. A vampire needs an invitation to enter a private residence, but once invited they're always invited.

Sound Bites

Bonnie: (to Damon) You know I can start fires with my mind. Fires kill vampires, right? [They tend to kill humans too, but never mind...]

Caroline: (By way of apology to Matt) I'm a terrible, awful person, but I'm working on it.

The Vampire Diaries, Season1 Episode 12 "Unpleasantville." Written by Barbie Kligman and Brian Young. Directed by Liz Friedlander. From The CW.