22 April 2010

True Blood S2 E4 "Shake and Fingerpop"

Spoilers Ahead

If True Blood is a show about anything, it's about saints and sinners, good and evil, darkness and light--and the way they're tangled together, usually in the same person. It's about corruption of the soul and clarity of the flesh. And with Alan Ball at the writer's helm in "Shake and Fingerpop," this episode has a bit of all of that.

It starts with a nighttime shot of the sign at the Light of Day Institute. A figure walks in shadow as wind chimes ring eerily. The figure is Jason returning home from his dinner with the Newlins (last episode). As he enters the dorm, moonlight reveals the bloodied forms of his fellow Light of Dayers. They're dead. All of them. Before Jason can react he's pushed down by the vampire responsible, a hooded man who tauntingly threatens to kill him. Jason is nearly as angry as he is terrified. And then the room fills with laughter and the lights come up. The "vampire" is Luke, the "blood" is ketchup, and everyone thinks they've just pulled the awesomest prank ever! Jason's not quite as impressed. He knocks Luke down with a punch and tells the others off for making light of something that isn't funny. He also snaps that there's a war going on, before quoting Reverend Steve's "you're either with us or against us" mantra. It looks like Jason's finally given himself over to the "Light."

I found it interesting that he, Luke and another guy had a debate (the next morning) over who the first vampire was, citing various biblical figures (Jesus, Eve, and Cain respectively). Every vampire fan has probably had this conversation at one point or another, so it's nice to see it echoed on a TV show. The fact that it's not quite up to intellectual snuff just makes it that much more entertaining. Unfortunately, the scene is cut short as Jason is called away. Waiting for him out front is Steve... holding a gun... in a 4 x 4. Against my better judgment, Jason gets into the vehicle and then goes target shooting with the good Reverend (the targets are wooden vampire cutouts, of course). The creepiness of Steve becomes more apparent with each episode, this time as he's waxing rhapsodic about staking vampires and watching "God's power obliterate evil right in front of you." He also dreamily adds "one day soon," making us wonder what he's got in the works.

Sarah's creepy in her own Stepford wife-like way. From bringing the boys beers while she cooks, to getting a little too cozy with Jason as she ties a rib bib on for him, to echoing her husband's statements with enthusiastic "amens" and praising of God's Light. She's cute but I get the distinct feeling something's not quite right with that girl. Jason's too busy to notice, though, as he gets lost fantasizing about her. Watching her grill meat, she's suddenly dancing, bending over, sucking sauce off her finger, blowing kisses, and--best of all--licking a long-neck beer bottle. Funny enough, he doesn't abruptly snap out of it as usually happens in absurd fantasy sequences. I almost have to wonder if Sarah actually was doing all that. With her, you could believe it.

Both Steve and Sarah suddenly put on their serious faces and I'm positive they're about to break into an Amway pitch. Instead Steve tells Jason that they and God need him to be part of the church's "elite spiritual army"--a Soldier of the Sun. It's not every day a guy is told that God needs him. On top of the world when he gets back to the dorm and tells everyone else he's moving out, Luke--sour as usual--quickly informs Jason that 14 other guys were chosen to be soldiers, including himself (not to mention four girls). Jason still can't be brought down. Not until they realize he's the only one who's going to be moving into the Newlins' house instead of the special soldiers' dorm. Suddenly Luke's in an infinitely better mood, claiming that the only reason Jason is being shown such favour is because the preacher's wife wants a little on the side. Jason tells Luke off, but he clearly isn't entirely confident that Luke isn't right. That night when Sarah comes to check on him (in her nightie) Jason asks why he's the only one staying at the house. Sarah claims there wasn't enough room in the soldiers' dorm, but she also thinks that Jason is the best of all of them. Then she tells him to let her know if he needs anything. Anything at all. I don't know whether to feel sad or scared for Jason.

Meanwhile, back in Bon Temps...

It's Tara's 26th birthday and it's turning out to be crap. On the heels of the party/orgy at Maryann's house, Tara decides to move in with Sookie--just in time for Sookie to leave town. But before she leaves, Sookie lets slip that Lafayette is back, which Tara didn't know. Nearly hysterical with concern for her cousin, Tara heads right over to his place. Her suggestion that they hang out for the rest of the day is harshly rebuffed (Lafayette claims he's been through too much lately to be able to help her with her issues). Back at Sookie's alone, Tara's crying when she hears an odd noise. Investigating, she's startled by a shout of 'Surprise!' It turns out Maryann, Eggs, and Karl had been planning Tara's birthday party for days, and since Tara had moved out, they brought the party to her. (I love the cake, by the way, even if it is more wedding cake than birthday. So pretty). Tara admits to Eggs that she always cries on her birthday because they're always so crappy, and Eggs promises this is the year that it changes.

On a side note, Tara is a fantastic dancer. If Rutina Wesley hasn't had some kind of training, I'd be surprised.

Okay, so we learn a bit more about Maryann this episode. If she's not Greek, she's certainly got a fixation on ancient Greece. When Tara tells her she's moving out, the background music is Middle Eastern but sounds remarkably similar to the Greek songs I've been tortured grown up with (don't tell my family). At the party her attire screams ancient goddess or priestess (you can see a bit of it in the photo above). As usual, Maryann's guests start getting a little wilder than decent society prefers. This time Maryann wanders off to a secluded spot where she starts getting chanty (the words didn't sound Greek, but either the accent is way off and threw me; or it was Old Greek, which is a lot different than the modern version; or it's something else entirely). The chanting leads to the usual orgiastic revelry (and this time Tara and Eggs join in, albeit privately, having sex for the first time in a nicely lit scene), but when she starts buzzing and flickering the partygoers suddenly take it a step further. They gorge themselves on food, even rubbing it onto their bodies. One woman rolls on the ground eating dirt. Fights start breaking out. And when we see Maryann again her hands have changed into the bull-person's (aka Minotaur's) hands.

Right, so bull-person and Maryann are the same being. Clearly she's not just a simple shapeshifter. But what the hell is she (a sorceress? I have a vague recollection of Circe from Greek mythology, who turned men into pigs--and Maryann does keep the company of a massive porcine...) Also, why does she want people to go out of their minds with food and drink and sex? What does she get out of it. Strange things are afoot in Bon Temps.

Sam still hasn't left town, although he keeps saying he will. During Sookie's last shift, she has a minor confrontation with him when she finds out he was planning on leaving without even saying goodbye. Interestingly he tells her almost the same thing Lafayette told Tara, although in Sam's case it seems a touch more selfish. Sookie responds that it's stupid to throw away years of friendship. That seems to get through to him a little.

Since everyone in town is at Maryann's party, Sam closes Merlotte's early. He has no intention of going anywhere near there but Lettie Mae suddenly shows up, asking about Tara and giving Sam a present to give to her. Resigned, he heads over, arriving to the sound of the titular song of the episode (performed by Junior Walker). At the party he tells Maryann that she can go ahead and turn him (into a dog) because in doing so she'll only reveal herself. Maryann is nonplussed, even when he says he won't stand by if she hurts the people he cares about. Her response it to taunt him over being left by both Tara and Sookie before saying he really isn't an alpha. Ouch. (Maryann also throws away Lettie Mae's gift when no one is looking.) But Sam is soon distracted by Daphne. They get to know each other, then a little better. As things start getting romantic Sam pulls back and admits to Daphne that he has something he has to tell her first. But wait--she already knows! Surprise!

Lafayette's probably the only person in town not at the party. Instead he's wrapped in his afghan at home, watching an old movie (speaking of the Greek theme, it looks a lot like 1963's Jason and the Argonauts). Lo and behold, Eric appears at the window. Lafayette's not about to invite him in, but as Eric points out he really doesn't have a choice. He can already smell the infection in Lafayette's leg, and unless he gets some healing vampire blood in him, he's a goner. Lafayette first demands to know why Eric wants to keep track of him (Eric replies that anything Sookie cares about, he finds... curious) but soon realizes he really doesn't have a choice. Drinking until Eric pushes him away, Lafayette's suddenly feeling a whole lot better. Manically dancing and humping everything in sight, he provides quite the contrast to Eric's utter stoicism.

Bill and Sookie are also kept busy this episode. As Bill shouts and threatens, Hoyt scrambles to get out of the house. He swears he wouldn't have hurt Jessica, but Bill informs him it's not Jessica he's protecting. Jessica looks crestfallen but when Hoyt tells her he doesn't believe a word of it, her face lights up. The actress is doing a great job portraying Jessica as part innocent, sheltered girl and part psychopathic monster. And I love the budding relationship between her and Hoyt (glad his character is getting a little more attention too).

After Jessica disappears upstairs, Sookie convinces a reluctant Bill that they should bring Jessica along with them to Dallas, claiming it'll be good for him (she doesn't mention that it'll also probably be better for Bon Temps if they don't leave a loose cannon vampire unattended). We're treated to a little more insight into Bill here, his hatred of vampires, his regrets at what he's done and suffered since being turned. Until this point it didn't seem as though he was that badly off, despite his avoidance of other vampires. See--even the undead have emotional issues (I wonder if there's big business in vampire therapy/counselling now that they've come out of the coffin).

When Sookie, Bill and Jessica arrive in Dallas (via Anubis airlines) just after sunset, the vampires are in fibreglass travelling coffins and Sookie gets off the plane on her own. She's buzzed on mini bottles of alcohol so she doesn't catch on immediately that the limo driver waiting for them is on the twitchy side. Just as she finally notices his thoughts he grabs her and tries to force her into the car. This leads to a fantastic moment when Bill bursts out of the coffin and gets his hand around the guy's throat, seemingly simultaneously. The tension is broken by Jessica, who can't figure out how her coffin unlatches, knocking it over as she tries to get out. It's funny, but I'm not sure I really wanted it right at that moment. I guess it helps illustrate what Bill has to endure with his progeny.

After glamouring the limo driver (and generously teaching Jessica how to do it, although he soon regrets it), Bill finds out that the man was hired by the Fellowship of the Sun to kidnap the human (he doesn't know Sookie's name or even that she would be a woman) travelling with the Compton party and take her to the church. How did they know and what did they want with Sookie (other than keeping her from finding Godric)? Also, you'd think the church would cover their tracks better knowing, as they do, that vampires can glamour humans and glean whatever information they want. Seriously--do you have to tell the mercenary who's really hiring them? I don't know if that's a plot hole or if it's deliberately there to show how stupid the Fellowship of the Sun is (then again Steve and Sarah don't seem like the brightest of bulbs). The limo driver is then glamoured into believing the Compton party never arrived in Dallas.

After calling Eric and finding out that he suspected all along that the church was involved (now he knows for sure), Bill is pissed that Eric didn't at least give him a heads-up. Eric reminds him that they're not equals, and if Bill has a problem with that he should take it up with the Magister or the Queen (this is the first overt mention of the Queen, although "she" was mentioned by Bill in season one). Finally able to get some quality alone time in their hotel room (at the Hotel Carmilla), Bill and Sookie are frustrated at being interrupted by the sudden arrival of Eric. Bill leaves the room to talk to Eric in the hotel lobby, questioning why Eric--who doesn't seem to care about anyone other than himself--is so concerned about Godric. Eric doesn't answer, but he does say that Godric is the most powerful vampire in the New World--so if he can get abducted, then none of them are safe. On top of which, the Texas vampires aren't the most level headed; if they don't get their Sheriff back soon, they'll start openly attacking humans. Things are not looking good.

Meanwhile, Sookie is alone in the room channel surfing (looking intrigued even as she says "ew" at the pay-per-view vampire porn). Suddenly room service arrives with a straight male (blood type B+) for Jessica, who's in the adjacent suite. Conflicted about what to do, the bellhop assures her the man is 21 and knows what he's gotten himself into. The only thing is, Sookie didn't say anything out loud. She and the bellhop have a telepathic conversation until they both realize that they can hear each other. Sookie's excited but the bellhop just turns and runs. The last shot is of Sookie chasing after him. So whatever Sookie is, she's not unique. I'm intrigued.

This is the part of a show that piques my interest even as it makes me anxious for my beloved characters. Things are turning into a proper mess--for saints and sinners alike. How is everything going to work out (is it going to work out?) And who'll end up treading the path of good and who'll be lost in the murky depths? Can't wait to find out.

Fang Files

Appearance: Pale humans with long, snake-like fangs that descend at will (with a soft "shik" sound).

Strengths: Super strength, speed, power to glamour humans.

Weaknesses: Silver bullets (incapacitate vampires so they can be staked). Wooden bullets (shot directly into the heart they have the same effect as a stake). Sunlight.

Mythology: Once a human has consumed a vampire's blood, the vampire can then permanently sense and track the human. Vampire blood (V) is a powerful healer, drug, and aphrodisiac for humans. When vampires are killed, they essentially fall apart, as Jason puts it--"like a water balloon." A vampire can't enter a private residence without the permission of someone who lives there.

Sound Bites

Bill: [to Hoyt] Are you going to leave my house or am I going to have to throw you out? Through a window. That's closed!
Sookie: Bill, that is just rude.

Sookie: I think, deep down, you don't like vampires even though you are one.
Bill: So?
Sookie: Well, hating yourself is a bad thing.
Bill: I am a vampire; I am supposed to be tormented.

Luke: One thing you can count on--God will make sure evil gets punished.
Jason: Yeah? Then explain Europe to me.

Eric: I hope you'll enjoy your blood substitute, which is costing me $45.
Bill: Oh, I have no intention of drinking it; I just want you to pay for it.

True Blood
, Season 2 Episode 4 "Shake and Fingerpop." Written by Alan Ball. Directed by Michael Lehmann. From HBO.

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