True Blood season 6 episode 1 review: Who Are You, Really?

Posted on 27 June 2013
By Debs Marsden
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After Bill Compton’s (Stephen Moyer) resurrection at the climax of the previous series, True Blood opens with a cannon loaded with high production values, fired point blank into the audience’s face.

Managing to cram a ‘trapped in a lift’ scene, a shoot out, a death, a solemn vow and a gas explosion (not to mention the ascension of one of the main characters, naked and blood drenched, into the night sky) into the first ten minutes, is no mean feat for any series.

A sense of a change in status quo hangs thickly in the air, and the jeopardy is felt palpably; both on a personal scale and on a state level. While our heroes flee into the night, an announcement is being made over the radio of a vampire curfew, with a speech by the state governor Truman Burrell (Arliss Howard) which is practically an incitement to riot.

In declaring Executive Order 846, he stops just short of distributing pitchforks and flaming torches to the assembled throng of onlookers, leaving a seething resentment throbbing in the air: this doesn’t bode well for the vampire community at large.

The action is never too heavy handed that it cannot be cleverly interspersed with character-enhancing dialogue and plot progression. This nicely keeps up the pace, but the show also knows when to pick the quiet moments, and hold them in suspended stillness. The beauty here is that the balance of the two is always deftly handled.

Given that a lot of the action in the series takes place at night, there are less opportunities to present magnificent eye watering vistas, although True Blood has a palette of inky hues which is rich in its own right. The lighting is always used to good effect, and there is a lovely example of this in a scene between Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll).

As the two women in Bill’s life mourn his altered state, the moon-soaked highlights spit and spot upon the landscape, picking out the crashing surf in the distance, or the stark grief on a winsome face, fleshing out what could have been a bland, dark canvas into something altogether more magical.

As an unwelcome counter point to this touching moment, we skip to darkened moonlit forest where we witness Alcide (John Manganiello) taking up his mantle as packmaster. The bestial ceremony involves ‘inheriting the flesh’ of his predecessor, a task as gruesome as it sounds.

He is headed into uncharted territory, and as they watch, a grim portent as to how this may end is spoken by Martha (Dale Dickey). “Power. It’s the only way to men’s decency.”

Bon Temps’ proudest new father Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer), is shirking his duties. Running parallel with the common concerns of many new parents, albeit through a supernatural prism (having had the news, then brood, dumped on him unceremoniously within a day), he is reeling still, and terrified. More importantly, he is running from it.

In her own inimitable style, Arlene (Carrie Preston) gives him a tongue lashing he will be thankful for eventually, though perhaps only after the welts have healed somewhat.

Bauer has always handed in a fine turn as the local Sheriff; playing him as ultimately a good man, struggling to overcome an awkward, slightly racist, insular world view. He paints him in a comically tragic light, which suits the writing entirely. Surely there is no finer sight than a new father introducing himself to his child with his job title. “I’m Sheriff Andy Bellefleur, and I’m going to be your Daddy!”

It is moments such as these which elevate True Blood above the dross of the typical vampire series. The humour twisted through the scripting is perfectly judged and natural. There is no more human a thing, than to laugh in the face of death, and even in the darkest and most sombre of scenes there is often a quip to soften the emotional blows.

Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), now a fugitive, sneaks into his own bar, only to be greeted quite unceremoniously by Lafeyette, in a typically marvelous performance by Nelsan Ellis, whose range has been forced to run the gamut from flamboyantly arrogant, to heartbreakingly vulnerable, and includes one of the best portrayals of possession on the small screen.

Jason (Ryan Kwanten) makes the unusual move to hitchhike through the dead of night rather than be near his sister and is picked up by a mysterious stranger. In an even more barking manoeuvre, he begins to tell his tale of woe to this unknown quantity; a typical Stackhouse play.

The character of Jason has always been a fantastic catalyst to action, played to thick redneck perfection by Kwanten. It comes as no surprise that when we catch up with Jason later on, we find he has spilled his guts utterly to easily the worst person imaginable.

The obligatory fang baring scene comes in the form of a showdown at the Compton house, where more of Bill’s new powers are revealed, and Jessica picks her side.

The relationship between Bill and Jessica (cast here in a light of a father tending to a sickly child) is tender and sweet, never saccharine. The emotional depth to interplay such as this, is what helps raise the series considerably above that of mere horror fiction.

Similarly, we are privy to a lovely heartfelt exchange between Sookie and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard). Skarsgard is on superb form as a man in silent soul-sick love with our hero; all gazes and rapture, and the perfect crystallised memory of a first glance (“To me, you’ll always be that girl in the white dress, who walked into my bar.” ), though a sudden rescinded invitation puts paid to any romance.

As Governor Burrell meets with a delegate of the company which produces the eponymous blood substitute, a mutually beneficial proposal is tabled and agreed upon, though what his precise intentions are, remains unclear.

An unknown quantity, Burrell’s character is an intriguing one, which piques interest and suspicion in equal measure, and will undoubtedly throw the proverbial cat straight at the pigeons, not just amongst them.

At the close of the episode then, we are left with more questions than answers; which is entirely as it should be. A competent opener, with the right mix of action and story progression, with tongue still firmly in cheek.

The wind of change has swiftly risen, the players flung about on its whims, to land we know not where. One soul injured, two have fled, one heartbroken, one now dead.