It’s true: this week’s episode of True Blood was the best yet in the show’s three seasons. Why? Because Alan Ball and his writers are perhaps the finest team in the business right now (with Southland, Californication, Glee, Fringe, Modern Family and Nurse Jackie).
With ‘Trouble’, they took everything great about the series, and punched it the f**k up.
The show has fully grown into its core strengths: utter insanity, and a visceral, joyous sense of combustibility. True Blood now deeply revels in the possibility that any given moment on the show could violently explode into beautiful, raw, sexy chaos. The show thrives on this constant state of danger, handling it with an intense stare and crazed, high-velocity humor. The dialogue snarls, rips and tears through every scene like one of the wolves amped-up on Vampire blood. The writers throw lines like Jason Bourne throws punches: this is writing like Krav Maga – the brilliance reveals itself with dizzying speed, line after line after line.
All this has been richly surrounded in this season by the growing depth and complexity of the vampire political and power structures, which has proved to be fascinating source of menace, conflict and fascination, and a chance for the actors to play some great scenes.
The energy from the actors in this particular episode was fantastic, and they had awesome writing to work with, to play with. Watching James Frain access pitch-perfect, utterly unhinged madness as the crazy vampire Franklin Mott (interesting in itself as the show hadn’t shown us vampires who were truly insane), or Stephen Moyer and Denis O’Hare as Bill and Russell playing their diabolically subtle power games, or Anna Paquin continuing her raw, edgy emotional makeover. In many ways, it was Franklin and Tara that propelled this episode with the show’s signature blend, its seamless, unholy and explosive mix of “what the f**k?!”, genuine danger, and sick, literally twisted humor. When Bill and Lorena had their vampire hate sex at the end of episode three, this writing team delivered their TV game-changer: as Lorena’s head slowly turned around, so did the television landscape.
That’s what Alan Ball and his writers (and the stellar cast and crew), have done with this season: changed the landscape, with each episode, with each scene, with each line sometimes. They are charging the show with plummeting rollercoaster velocity into completely unpredictable territory: we have no idea which insane left turn it’s going to take next, and that’s an extraordinary feat of story-breaking. Not only that, these writers deliver some truly nuanced emotional and psychological arcs, accessing the existential sadness of the vampire’s existence, and the many kinds of desire, the endless different ways we can lust after each other.
If there’s anything to criticize, it’s that Jason’s arc seems to be far away from the rest of the converging stories, Sam’s story is unfolding at a slower pace than the other arcs, and for now, Jessica appears to have been abandoned in Merlotte’s. This last is particularly upsetting since, as one character put it, Jessica is a “smokin’ hot vampire, in the majors.” Yes, she is. Therefore it would be great to see her brought into the monumental clusterf**k that is undoubtedly awaiting the rest of the characters by season’s end.
However, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from watching this show, it’s this: trust the writers.
Firstly, they know how to amp shit up: they salvaged the relative smallness of Jason’s story (compared to the high drama of the others) by pulling out a “classic Jason” moment, giving Ryan Kwanten an actor’s dream entrance to a scene: they were duly rewarded with ‘Jason Stackhouse’ being the number one trending topic on Twitter the next day.
Secondly, simply, they always weave their complex plot strands together in the end, as amply demonstrated by the previous two seasons.
Each episode so far this season has roared through the TV stratosphere, and the deep, dark power of the wars to come is looming. This is one of TV’s most purely thrilling experiences, and this episode took it further still.