TV Review: TRUE BLOOD 5.1 “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

Mike kicks off the fifth season of TRUE BLOOD. Join him!

Welcome back to the hot, sticky, blood-soaked devil’s playground of Bon Temps, Louisiana, ya'll. Can you taste the bacon grease?

It’s been a whole year since we last visited this swampy southern ghetto, where Sookie Stackhouse and her entourage of bloodsuckers, shapeshifters, werewolves and other supernatural beasties love to wreak havoc. And after the hot, tedious mess that was Season 4, I’m genuinely surprised that you decided to join us for another summer of True Blood. Surprised, but deeply delighted, of course.  So now that we’re all here, let’s talk about this wacky Season 5 premiere.

Judging by this fast-paced opening hour, it seems True Blood is blatantly ignoring all the stuff that didn’t work last season – namely the dull witch business – and resurrecting the stuff that did work in previous seasons – namely Russell Edgington and Rev. Steve Newlin acting like depraved lunatics. Sounds like a fine plan -- so long as the show uses these old assets to deliver all new cheap thrills.

Season 5 kicked off with a quick replay of last season’s bloody cliffhanger conclusion – Tara was lying lifeless on the floor, next to chunks of her brain, and Sookie was kneeling near the shotgun she used to murder Debbie. And yes, it was murder not self-defense, as Sookie told Lafayette she chose to shoot Debbie point-blank in the face.

Bill and Eric were busy 409-ing Nan Flanagan’s entrails off the palace walls as The Authority, a feared vampire secret society, were closing in with plans to punish them for acting out of line and keeping Sookie’s fairy blood all to themselves. (Yes, everybody still wants a taste of Sookie’s fairy blood.)

Pam popped into the Stackhouse, er, house, looking for Eric. As usual, Pam delivered the best lines of the episode. “Color me impressed, you guys know how to party,” she cracked after surveying the pair of dead bodies in Sookie’s kitchen. Dumbstruck by grief, guilt and desperation, Lafayette and Sookie convinced Pam to try turning Tara into a vampire, even though Tara hates vampires.

And we caught up with Jason, who got good and glamoured by the newly vamped Rev. Steve. The Rev later revealed that he was always in love with Jason, and repressing his deep, not-so-hetero feelings for the Stackhouse Stallion was stressful enough to make him “act all murderous and whatnot” a few seasons ago. Pam may have delivered the best one-liners of the night, but Rev. Steve was the night’s funniest character. He’s a walking joke and a smiling sight gag with a pastel sweater tied around his shoulders and a too neat Romney ‘do framing a goofy, non-threatening face. There’s something a little too on-the-nose and self-satisfying about Steve, the show’s token corrupt right wing evangelical Christian leader, coming out of the closet as an angry, hunk-obsessed gay vampire. But Michael McMillian is hilarious and peculiar in the role. He makes it work. I liked what he did with Rev. Steve in Season 2, and I already like what he’s doing here. Turning the sunny Rev. into a vampire was a good move.

I’m not sure the same can be said about Tara, but I’m reserving judgment on Vampire Tara until we actually get to see how she’ll interact with the other characters. All we saw here was an angry beast shoot up from the dirt and attack Sookie. It makes sense that Tara would be upset about her soulless state, and it also makes sense that she would focus all of that rage on Sookie. After all, as Tara has said before, supernatural strangeness seems to follow Sookie at every turn, and Tara always seems to get bruised and tortured because of Sook’s connection to the monster underworld. Still, it’s hard to get excited about Vampire Tara. The character started out strong in Season 1, but she seems to become less and less interesting with every new season. Turning her into a bloodsucker feels like a desperate move to shake things up and make the character more interesting. But the development also shows some promise – remember, Pam is Tara’s maker, which probably means Pam will have a lot more to do this season than stand around in Eric’s shadow and dole out biting quips. And, as I’m sure we all can agree, more Pam is always a good thing, especially if she’s wearing a bright yellow Wal-Mart sweatsuit.

While Sookie and Lafayette have her hands full with the Tara situation, Bill and Eric set off on a cloak-and-dagger-style adventure. The boys broke free from The Authority, but they’re still wanted men. Luckily, Eric’s sexy “sister” Nora (UK actress Lucy Griffiths) is an Authority turncoat who helped them fake their death and evade The Authority’s eye for now. There’s really not a lot to say about Eric’s gratuitous sexual relationship with a young woman he calls his sister. It’s just True Blood being True Blood. You can’t have a hot season premiere without a little sweaty incest action, right? I’m more interested in watching Bill and Eric star in their own buddy cop movie this season. Here’s hoping this storyline starts to take off once Chris Meloni’s badass vamp shows up and Russell starts yanking out people’s spines again.

This premiere was fun and fast-paced, but it was all setup. It felt like we didn’t get to spend a significant amount of time with any particular set of characters – a side effect of the season premiere that’s duty bound to touch base with every character in the series before the credits roll.

True Blood has always had an excess of characters and storylines, but things seem more disjointed now than ever. Bill and Eric are off on their own excellent adventure. Sookie, Lafayette and Pam are dealing with Tara. Jason is busy fending off Rev. Steve while trying to win Jessica’s heart and smooth things over with Hoyt. Sam Merlotte and Alcide are in trouble with the wolf pack again. Good ol’ Terry Bellefleur is fighting his past demons (which are represented by Scott Foley of all things). Oh, and Andy Bellefleur has a girlfriend, and he’s still making an ass of himself. It’s unlikely that all of these different storylines will converge in a satisfying way this season. But True Blood has never been about keeping things cohesive or consistent. It’s all about the blood, or getting the blood pumping with sexy, twisted supernatural tales that make us feel dirty in the morning.

King Russell’s back, Rev. Steve is a “gay vampire American,” and Tara’s got fangs! Things are off to a strange and promising start. Let’s get fuck-tarded!

Other thoughts and quotes:

- Nice to see Jessica blooming and playing the vixen here. Maybe her breakup with Hoyt was a good idea after all.

- Jason says vampire fangs are like “twin hard-ons.” He’s not wrong.

- “We fight like siblings, but we fuck like champions.”

- "I am wearing a Wal-Mart sweatsuit for y'all. If that's not a demonstration of team spirit, I don't know what is."