“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 1: “Jesus Gonna Be Here”

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If the final-season premiere was any indication, “True Blood” is going to be limping to the finish line. That makes me sad. What was once one of the greatest guilty pleasures on television has become such an echo of itself that it can’t even do exploitative trash right. I found Sunday night’s episode largely boring, poorly written, poorly acted, and overly stupid. And I need you to trust and believe me when I say that my expectations for this show are fairly low. Where is the gritty fun? Where is the whiskey-soaked gallows humor? Even the T&A seemed forced and half-assed. (Technically we saw Jason’s entire ass, but that is kind of the point of Jason Stackhouse.)

The episode picked up right where Season 6 left off, with a pack of Hep V-infected vampires rampaging through Merlotte’s (now Bellefleur’s), the site of the human-vamp mixer hosted by Mayor Sam Merlotte (and let’s all take a moment and try to swallow that plot development; it’s best with lots of butter). To the show’s credit, several different characters pointed out what a stupid goddamned idea it was to put most of the town’s human and non-infected vampire population together -- AT NIGHT! -- in one easily accessible public space. They basically turned Bon Temps into Lunchables for the zombie vamps. So incredibly stupid.

So stupid that, of course, Vampire Bill had to be the “brains” behind it, along with the aforementioned Sam. And during the ensuing chaos they were even more useless than ever, as several D-list cast members got abducted, including Arlene, Holly, Kevin the police officer, and Sam’s pregnant girlfriend from the human-supernatural league whose plotline went absolutely nowhere. (I had honestly forgotten that she’d even existed.) A bunch of other people were bitten and attacked, and most notably one of the infected vampires apparently killed Tara. I say “apparently” because it happened offscreen.

Let’s unpack that for a moment. Tara has been a major cast member of this show since Season 1, Episode 1. And her death was offscreen within the first 5-10 minutes of the episode. I don’t even think Rutina Wesley had a line. That whole situation seemed very weird to me, so much so that I was partially convinced that Tara was not, in fact, dead. (A theory that was bolstered by the odd camera work in the scene with her mother, the pastor, and Willa; I kept waiting for a “Sixth Sense”-type reveal that Tara’s a ghost or some shit now.) I can’t say as I’m upset that Tara is dead. She outlived her interesting plotlines a few seasons back, and the show had a fantastic opportunity to kill her off at the end of S3, but didn’t. My issue is that the whole think felt so perfunctory, like an afterthought. Why was she kept around for so long if they decide to throw her away like THAT?

The rest of the episode featured various characters reacting to the infected-vamp assault and the situation in general, which frequently boiled down to everyone in town hating that stupid whore Sookie (their words, not mine; OK, “stupid” is my word, too). The show really lost me here. Sookie is indeed an idiot and the maker of so many terrible choices. But how exactly are marauding, batshit-crazy vampires the fault of one telepathic waitress? Because she keeps boning vampires? That is what caused this plague? Come on, show. Vampires existed in Bon Temps before Bill ever showed up -- we know this, because the series practically started with the vampire sex tape featuring great television slut Maudette Pickens. (RIP, Maudette; you were an inspiration to us all.) There was the nest that got burned up fairly early in S1. Etc. The point is, vampires existed in Bon Temps regardless of Sookie, and the fact that everyone in town somehow blames her for this horrible Hep V situation…it makes no sense. And yes, I know that I’m discussing logic on a show in which people shapeshift into dogs and Bill Compton was regarded as a god for like 12 episodes. But this is really shitty writing.

Further shitty writing: some whistle signal calls off all the rampaging, infected vamps, and Bill and Sam do not try to figure out what that was. The implication is that someone is controlling these guys, and Bill at least seemed to recognize this. But instead he teamed up with Andy Bellefleur to just randomly drive around looking for the abducted humans. OK.

Speaking of which, nobody is using the vast superhuman resources that have been catalogued on this show to locate either the abducted humans or the infected vampires? Really? We’ve seen witches perform location spells. Sam and Alcide have tracked single characters for miles. God knows what the fairy powers do any more. But everyone in town is just sitting around with their thumbs up their asses? Except for the roving band of assholes equipped with two guns and a few stakes that somehow avoided getting picked off while skulking around after vampires in the middle of the night? (Including going to Jason’s house, which made no sense to me.)

For that reason, the closing scene in the church infuriated me. Let’s be honest: if this was a real-world situation, and you knew that there was a pack of feral predators trying to kill you, but that they were totally helpless during the day, would you spend your precious daylight hours sitting in church? Or would you either try to track down and destroy their nests, or fortify your own home? Or do SOMETHING? ANYTHING? Holly’s teenaged boys were sitting in that church. Their mother was missing and they were just sitting there. I don’t get it.

All the subpar writing made for some pretty shitty acting. Normally I think Anna Paquin does a decent job emoting on this show, especially given some of the insane plotlines the producers throw at her (Fairy Land, ‘nuff said). But she was pretty clearly phoning most of it in tonight, and her scenes opposite Alcide had all the spark of a pile of wet dishrags. We got some nudity. That’s always appreciated. But even their brief sex scene felt almost obligatory.

On the shitty acting tip, we were getting some daytime-soap realness from Nathan Parsons, the replacement actor for James, Jessica’s vamp boyfriend. Parsons is nice to look at, no doubt. But his first few scenes were almost comically bad. He was fine in his scene opposite Lafayette, in which they kinda-sorta hinted at a budding gay relationship between the two. But I have a feeling James is better seen, preferably in very little clothing, and not heard.

The James/Lafayette scene was one of several moments where I realized how far off this show has gotten in terms of its cast and characters. You guys, there are so many characters on this show that I do not give one single shit about. James is one, aside from his aesthetic contributions. Willa was a plot device last season, and I’m really not sure what purpose she serves now that Eric is gone (but she’s getting her own scenes now, so she’s either dying very soon or becoming a major character). Violet continues to be one of the worst, most irritating characters on this or any show, but at least she gives us an excuse for Jason sex scenes. (Not that the show ever needed an excuse for Jason sex scenes.) I love Lettie Mae, but the fact that Tara’s dead and she’s been promoted to a series regular leaves me totally perplexed.

The one new-ish, solely-show character that interests me at all is Adilyn, Andy’s half-fairy daughter. The relationship between her and Jessica is interesting, but that’s mostly because Jessica continues to be amazing at just about everything, even just standing there, yelling at a diseased vampire from across a yard for seemingly an entire episode. (Seriously show, THAT was your idea of compelling, edgy drama?!)

In the credit where it is due department, virtually all the storylines this episode revolved directly around the Bon Temps vampire crisis, instead of far-flung Who Cares? plotlines from the past few seasons. The new showrunner apparently has made this is one of the season’s key missions: to keep things very tight in and around Bon Temps. That’s good. The one exception is Pam’s world tour tracking down Eric, which has the potential to be fun, but which repeatedly came off as Amateur Hour last night. Kristin Bauer was trying it, but not even she could sell that corny dialogue that was supposed to read as badass. And the fact that some dude in Morocco has a hand-drawn map to where Eric is supposedly hiding… Again. Come on, show. This is just stupid.

The end of the episode SHOULD have been the kidnapped survivors from the vampire raid freaking out in the basement of Fangtasia, watching poor Kevin get his throat ripped out by a diseased vamp. But instead the episode ended in the limpest way possible, with Sookie delivering a monologue to the church congregation about how nobody in town knows vampires better than her (debatable), and she really wants to help. That was your cliffhanger? Sookie Stackhouse offering her vampire-wrangling services? THAT is supposed to get me to turn in next week? You saw the hairstyle she allowed Bill to wear in seasons 1 and 2!

I miss Debbie Pelt.

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