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Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Who Are You, Really" TRUE BLOOD?

Article first published as TRUE BLOOD Season 6 Premiere Review on Seat42F.

Grade: 93%

HBO’s TRUE BLOOD season six premiere, “Who Are You, Really?” takes place on the night that season five ends. It would be extremely difficult to do a time jump, as the series has before, given the dire circumstances major characters are left in, so it’s gratifying to continue the story right where it leaves off.

I like TRUE BLOOD a lot, but I tend to think of it as a soapy, fun guilty pleasure, rather than high quality entertainment. I wouldn’t say “Who Are You, Really?” changes that stance completely, but it is certainly a very good hour of television. Either the series has improved in its return, or my opinion of it went down during its absence without my realizing it. But the point is, this is a fantastic installment.

The reasons I can point to for this praise are both smart writing for well-defined characters, which leads to oh-so-many quotable lines tonight, and a deepening of the mythology. Yes, this series has always been serial, with long-reaching arcs. However, often seasons are mostly self-contained, with one or two or three bigger stories starting and ending within the year. As season six begins, we’re continuing the tale of the Vampire Authority, the shortage of a blood supply, fairy babies, a werewolf leadership change, shifter secrets being spilled, and the mystery of Sookie’s (Anna Paquin) parents’ murder, so there’s definitely more of a feeling of cohesiveness now.

Because of this, certain spoilers must be revealed in the review. However, I do pledge to make them as slight as possible, and to speak in vague terms when I can, saving the surprises for the viewing of the event.

The big shocker last year is Bill’s (Stephen Moyer) death and rebirth. This new Bill, “Billith,” as Pam (Krisitin Bauer van Straten) so cleverly dubs him, is a complete unknown, presumably devoted to a religion and planning on carrying out goals related to such beliefs. The problem is, it’s a very old system, and no one is quite sure exactly what that means.

It’s a positive sign that Bill doesn’t slaughter Sookie, Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), Nora (Lucy Griffiths), Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), Pam, Tara (Rutina Wesley), and Jason (Ryan Kwanten) as they flee the scene. However, he then reveals some darker nature, intentionally or not, as he calls his progeny to his side. And he certainly no longer aches for Sookie. So his continued benevolence is not guaranteed.

Unfortunately, Jessica is not in a good place to stand up to Bill, so if he is up to no good, she is susceptible to landing on the wrong side of the battle. She feels a very close bond with Bill, he being her maker, and after being rejected last season by Jason, she realizes she doesn’t have anyone. Enter Bill, who could (we don’t know yet if he will or not) take advantage of the vulnerable vampire.

There is also movement on Jason’s front, with his visions continuing. I don’t really want to go into that further, but there are definitely threats on multiple fronts in this season of TRUE BLOOD.

As well as familiar players, the new, annual Big Bad is likely to be Creighton Burrell (Arliss Howard). I say this not because of anything he does in “Who Are You, Really?” but rather because the character explicitly states “I am not the Big Bad.” That’s a sure sign that he actually is, no? It’s this wonderful, tongue-in-cheek, self-referential humor that gives TRUE BLOOD such a watchable quality.

On another front, “Who Are You, Really?” sees the death of a main character early in the episode. It’s someone whose fate is kind of revealed in the season five finale, but given the series’ penchant for keeping characters around, one is never really sure a person is dead in the moment of their passing. Now, in this new hour, it looks like we have a killing that will stick.

I applaud TRUE BLOOD for resolving the cliffhanger this way. Too often, the person has ended up safe, with no permanent repercussions. I’m not exactly thrilled by how this death affects a second character, who I predict will have the “lame” story this year, sadly, but at least there’s movement and development.

We get a bit of Alcide (Joe Manganiello) and his new pack, too. Alcide is originally caught up in very Sookie-centric stories, but after last year and this premiere, it appears he is definitely worthy of his own arcs, independent of the rest of the cast. This decision is a good one because Alcide is such a vibrant, rich character to work with, bringing elements to the show that no one else does, and providing complementary story. Cool.

Lastly, we get to see a very raw Andy (Chris Bauer) dealing with four babies, and the tough but sweet Arlene (Carrie Preston) assist, with a dab of help from Terry (Todd Lowe). There are times these people have been pushed into the background, but recent developments mean they stay relevant for now. The path Andy in particular is going down is ripe with some light-hearted disaster, which should keep TRUE BLOOD true to itself, even if the vampire side of things goes really dark.

“Who Are You, Really?” has a few surprises, excellent set up, memorable dialogue, and contributing mythology that combine to make it a top notch return. We’ll miss creator Alan Ball, to be sure, but the premiere proves that the series has not suffered in quality without him, and may even find new life in the realm of the undead.

TRUE BLOOD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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