By John Keegan
"True Blood" has suffered a bit in the past couple seasons, even if the fourth season was a step in the right direction. The third season was all over the map, notoriously ending with little or no resolution to any of its plot and character threads. The fourth season was more abrupt, promising some massive changes to the status quo. Of course, with Alan Ball still in charge (for now), the usual spinning of wheels is hardly avoided.
Ball has a bad habit of starting a show off with vibrant characters and solid plot arc elements, only to lose focus and tread water as a series wears on. This holds for "True Blood", which begins its fifth season with a messy premiere that tries to cover too much too quickly. Frankly, I got the impression that the writers never really thought about how to resolve the fourth season cliffhangers, and used this premiere to pick and choose the elements they wanted to keep.
For example: what was the point of bringing back Reverend Newlin? Easy commentary about bigoted church leaders, perhaps? I didn't mind seeing Jessica in that outfit when she came around to claim Jason as her own, but it just felt extraneous, especially since all the other complicated relationship dynamics were already clear enough to feed into the scenes later in the episode.
Compare this to Eric and Bill's excellent adventure against the forces of the Authority. Sure, there was the out-of-nowhere introduction of Nora (who is gorgeous and willing, so hardly a negative), but it all made sense within the context of what came before. The Authority has been brewing in the background for quite some time, and it makes sense that the instability in the vampire world would reflect itself in factions within the Authority. And Russell's impending return will only serve to complicate matters more, I'm sure.
Less successful is the ongoing drama with the werewolf pack. I like the idea that Alcide isn't given automatic control over the pack, but unlike the vampire politics, the situation with the pack is a bit obtuse. Never mind that it's long past time for Sam to grow a pair and stop being so damned noble in the face of direct threats to his interests. It also seems to me that if Alcide would just put his foot down and dictate terms, enough of the pack would fall in line to end this power struggle once and for all.
As much as I love the notion of Sookie and Lafayette owing Pam a few favors, I'm deeply disappointed in the thought of Tara coming back. The character had been run into the ground in recent seasons, to the point where even the actress seemed to be tired of playing her. Is making her a vampire finally going to give her a sense of control over her life? Or is she still going to be the eternal victim? This, more than anything, makes me feel like the writers aren't willing to make drastic changes for the good of the show.
Just covering these four major plot threads would have probably been enough to cram into a premiere, but therein lies the problem with "True Blood": they also felt the need to delve into Andy's drama with Holly and the time sink of Terry's issues with his old Marine buddy. There are too many disparate character threads that have nothing to do with one another, and that's been the stone dragging "True Blood" into the depths for the past couple seasons.
A show with tons of characters with their own set of circumstances and season arcs can certainly be done well; "Game of Thrones" has just completed its second season by showing how it can be done. The difference is that the various plot threads on "Game of Thrones" all have a direct or indirect impact on one another, when taken into full context. There's a clear sense of direction. "True Blood" lacks that feeling of interconnection. If the series wants to return to its early glory, it needs to streamline, or find a way to get all the characters involved in different facets of the same overarching narrative. Right now, it's still too scattered for its own good.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision.