By Sara Smith, McClatchy Newspapers -
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sookie Stackhouse is taking a break from love. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
Sunday night, HBO’s “True Blood” kicks off a fifth season of vampires, werewolves, werepanthers, shape-shifters , witches, mediums, demons, fairies and even the occasional boring human populating fictional Bon Temps, La.
“Zombies are the new vampires,” long-suffering waitress Arlene decreed last season. No brain-eating newbies, please. “True Blood” has plenty of soapy supernatural drama to keep track of, as usual, including the return of a formidable villain.
A 2,800-year-old vampire, bent on killing everyone worth caring about in the “True Blood” universe, is not going to stay shackled and seething below ground for more than a single season.
As droll anarchist Russell Edgington, Dennis O’Hare kept Season 3 deadly and lively. Russell redefined vampire-human politics when he matter-of-factly murdered a news anchor on live TV and declared, “Let’s face it, eating people is a tough sell these days.”
Of course, with the misguided overconfidence of James Bond villains, Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) and Bill (Stephen Moyer) gave up their chance to kill Russell for good, imprisoning him in concrete instead. Sure enough, one of the last scenes of Season 4 revealed a pile of silver chains and rubble at a year-old construction site. He will have to be dealt with.
“True Blood” is at its cartoony, violent best when characters are taking care of this kind of business, and the first third of the new season is all about putting out fires (bullet holes in kitchen, angry best friend, sticky vampire remnants) with varying degrees of success.
Breaking up the grim work, a series of flashbacks to 1905 shines a light on the overdue backstory of how Eric met his progeny, Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten), and why he turned her into a vampire. In the present, Pam needs help from Sookie (Anna Paquin) to get back in Eric’s good graces, but she’s torn about how far she’ll go to get it.
Last season’s female bonding moment was the witchy one-two punch of 17th-century necromancer Antonia Gavilan de Logrono and local coven leader Marnie Stonebrook, who shared a body to lead the local Wiccans in a deadly plot to lure vampires into the sun. By the time Eric and Bill managed to save Sookie, drawn again to danger like a moth to flame, they had attracted way too much attention, despite the vamp squads that sweep through cities erasing memories “Men in Black”-style.
When misbehaving vampires point the finger, they invoke the Vampire Authority. The shadowy threat of the always-unseen guys in charge manages to turn the undead a whiter shade of pale. This season, Eric and Bill have misbehaved so badly that they get to meet the Authority, chock full of new characters to replace recent casualties.
As Detective Elliot Stabler on “Law & Order: SVU,” Christopher Meloni was the kind of cop you didn’t want to annoy on a stale doughnut day. The guardian of the Authority is the same kind of guy, working the conference room of vampire VIPs like Robert De Niro in “The Untouchables,” not afraid to sacrifice the carpeting when his disgust boils over.
The guardian is in a lather because there are traitors in the Authority’s midst, and they mirror a larger conflict. The vampires, not long out of the coffin, are already on the cusp of civil war over the issue of how to live with humans: Either we’re food or we’re friends.
Series creator Alan Ball, who likes to score points for his worldview, beat the vampire metaphor like a drum for gay rights in “True Blood’s” early seasons. And this season’s fanged fundamentalists — who vote for farming us like soybeans — even have their own vampire bible to quote out of context.
“I’m trying to stay away from politics these days myself. And religion,” Eric responds under the guardian’s questioning. He’s not going to have much luck with that this season. But at least he has something to keep his mind off his broken heart.
“I am so over Sookie!” Pam was ranting the last time we saw her. Totally understandable.
Despite the pack of handsome guys with supernatural powers constantly sniffing around her porch, Sookie Stackhouse is not an easy heroine to love. Vampires would disagree, but she smells like warm apple pie to them.
Last season’s Eric-Sookie romance was the culmination of seasons of scorching sexual tension. But our sweet, earnest heroine didn’t fall for the Eric Northman who started out a randy Viking and spent centuries perfecting bad-boy magnetism. Instead, she waited until a convenient spell wiped his memory and turned him into a tapioca-flavored guy in a sleeveless hoodie with a thousand-yard stare. And that’s the Eric that Sookie finally took off her sundress for.
She’s terrible at her job, when she bothers to show up. She takes her friends and family for granted and puts them in harm’s way. She rushes headlong into danger again and again.
Most maddeningly, she unfailingly forgives on-again, off-again vampire boyfriend Bill for whatever he throws at her. Drained of her blood until comatose? No biggie. Set up to be assaulted so that Bill could rescue her and play hero? These things happen. Hunted with the purpose of making her into a late-night snack for his boss? Nobody’s perfect.
All that forgiveness meant a lot of makeup sex for Bill and Sookie, but the married Moyer and Paquin might be taking a break from their naked revelry. Sookie wriggled free of her tortured, too-lovable existence at the end of last season by dumping Eric and Bill simultaneously.
Even though there is always someone with protective, broad shoulders at Miss Stackhouse’s front door, she should take it slow. The longer she stays single, the longer “True Blood” can concentrate on more rewarding relationships.
It would be risky to use the word bromance about two alpha males with fangs, but sharing a romantic rejection and being locked in a trunk together are great team-building exercises. As the new season gets going, Bill and Eric’s fates are fused, and it’s pure pleasure to watch Moyer and Skarsgard put their twist on the buddy adventure, a nocturnal Butch and Sundance in black leather.
Since the false reports of his death, Russell has become a hero to vampires who are not interested in assimilating with humans, “the Osama Bin Laden of the anti-integration movement,” as the guardian puts it. Once he re-emerges, he’ll have Eric at the top of his to-kill list. Odds are Russell will also come looking for Sookie, and not just for a shot of her Red Bull-esque fairy blood â€” she dumped his lover’s remains down a garbage disposal in a moment of awesomeness.
If she stays alive without a panting, lovesick supernatural safety net, Sookie will move even further away from Bella Swan territory. When she finally shot conniving weretramp Debbie Pelt after Tara took the slug meant for Sookie, a different Sookie began to emerge. She’ll need that toughness to survive what’s coming for her this season.
As fun as it is to watch the former love triangle’s victims as singletons, it can’t last forever, making the start to this season a rare treat. As Bill and Eric put the pieces together about Russell and what his escape means for them and Sookie, you can tell it won’t be too long before the gang’s all together again.
YOU GUYS HAD BETTER CLEAN UP THAT MESS …
Season 4 of “True Blood” wrapped up a few storylines in the finale, but it left a lot of its characters on cleanup duty. Here’s what they’ll have to deal with right away:
—SOOKIE STACKHOUSE (Anna Paquin)
Her friend Tara is dying in her arms. She has a murder to cover up. And she just dissolved her vampire fan club.
—JASON STACKHOUSE (Ryan Kwanten)
He slept with his best friend’s ex, and fanatical preacher Stevie Newlin showed up at his door â€” with fangs.
—SAM MERLOTTE (Sam Trammell)
The Shreveport werewolves think he killed their leader, and his kid brother died after taking a beating for him.
—BILL COMPTON (Stephen Moyer)
He staked the Vampire Authority’s spokeswoman, which leaves a pile of gore and is generally frowned upon.
—ERIC NORTHMAN (Alexander Skarsgard)
He turned a Festival of Tolerance into a public bloodbath, which is also a no-no with the Authority.
—PAM DE BEAUFORT (Kristin Bauer van Straten)
Her maker, Eric, shunned her after she risked Sookie’s life. And, there’s that spell making her rot.
—ALCIDE HERVEAUX (Joe Manganiello)
He killed a very deserving fellow werewolf, but his pack isn’t likely to see it that way if they find out.
—LAFAYETTE REYNOLDS (Nelsan Ellis)
A victim of possession, he killed his lover, Jesus, and still can’t control his powers as a medium.
WHERE TO WATCH
The new season of “True Blood” premieres at 9 p.m. EDT Sunday on HBO