By John Keegan
The fifth season premiere left me more than a little concerned about the inability of the writing staff to focus. In what has become a familiar refrain for "True Blood" fans, there just seems to be too many irrelevant subplots taking up time that would be better spent with the main characters. Considering how strong the material with the Authority was, and the depth of mythology that it suggested, why stray into ridiculously mundane, mind-numbing material, if one doesn't have to do so?
And the Authority plot thread was about as good as it gets. Adding a religious component to vampire society is one of those ideas that seems obvious in retrospect, but often gets overlooked. Too many stories about vampires focus entirely on the notion of the food chain, and the typical predator/prey dynamic. Giving the vampires their own version of religious faith, including differing interpretations of "holy" text, adds some layers to the whole debate over "mainstreaming".
At the same time, I think the writers need to place this new layer in the proper context. The introduction of the Authority at this level should be used to clarify what has been, since the start, a rather muddled depiction of vampire hierarchy. The Authority was previously depicted in the shadows as some sort of legal entity that stood aside, if not over, the vampire nobility or "royalty". But just how does it all fit together?
What really brings this point home is the notion that the Authority, despite all their vaunted power and influence, is somehow still able to mistake Bill and Eric for members of a fundamentalist sect called the Sanguinistas. Have they not been paying attention? Eric hasn't been the most human-friendly guy around, but Bill has rarely wavered from his pro-human stance. No wonder the Authority is having trouble dealing with the Sanguinistas, if they think these two are extremists!
I also liked the scenes that delved into Pam's early encounters with Eric. I'm sure there's more to the story than what we saw in this episode, and it feels like the writers will return to this element later down the road. I wouldn't be shocked if the killings back in her human days somehow factored into a plot thread later in the season.
In counterpoint, there's the less interesting matter of hierarchy and politics within the werewolf pack, which despite all protestations to the contrary, will likely continue to draw Alcide, Sam, and Luna into a season-long mess. If so, the writers need to do something to make it more compelling. As it stands, I wouldn't mind if they all found a way to kill each other in the next episode. Even Sam has just about worn out his welcome.
Of course, so has Tara, and the writers seem intent on keeping her around well past her viable shelf life. I was whole-heartedly behind the idea of Lafayette staking her and getting it over with, but I suppose the writers want to use Tara in other ways. Sadly, it feels like she'll be used more as a plot device to explore how far Sookie has strayed from anything resembling normal human ethics. After all, why would the writers want to give Tara a good, strong arc of her own? It's so much easier to keep her around to be the eternal punching bag of the series.
But it's still far better than the cringe-inducing subplot with Terry. It takes up far too much time in the episode, and it makes me want to hit fast-forward every single time it appears. Did the writers think that Terry and Arlene were too happy together or something? While it's true that Terry's wartime memories have always been a part of his character, this just feels tacked on and unnecessary. (As do the characters, at this point, to be honest.)
And no matter how attractive I may find Jessica to be, especially now that she is embracing her hotness, it does little to make the seemingly endless Jason/Hoyt conflict more palatable. It needs to come to a conclusion soon, so things can move into more interesting territory. And the less said about the Reverend's continued presence this season, the better.
A lot is riding on where they go with the impending return of Russell as a villain, given how it pertains to the actions of the Authority. Russell reminds me a lot of President Logan from "24": a character that in and of itself is fairly strong, and perfectly cast, yet the writers never seem to give the character the right treatment. If this season is going to succeed, they are going to have to make Russell more than just an implied threat.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision.