True Blood Sucker Punch: Season 4, Ep. 3

Welcome to Sucker Punch, the only blog post that ranks that gaudiest moments on this week's episode of True Blood.



Before we dig in to the inter-species bloodfest of this week's installment, "If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin'?", let me thank everyone who emailed me with their nominees for Sucker Punch of the Week. It's great hearing from you all... because it reminds me that I'm not the only dork who sits at home on Sunday night getting really, really into this show.

Be warned, though, that I cannot be bribed into picking a Sucker Punch of the week. Cannot! Unless you can get Little Debbie to revive their long-dormant Spice Cake flavor, which was my favorite in the '80s. If you do that, then I will happily anoint any Sucker Punch you choose.

But before I write another pleading/angry letter to McKee Foods, let's carry on... because I'm anxious to talk about Eric. His sudden "loss" at the hands of the witches -- loss of memory, loss of self, loss of control -- could be the greatest arc of this season.

For one thing, it's delightful to see Alexander Skarsgaard give a brand new performance. His playfulness and innocence are such a departure from the dark and stormy Eric of previous seasons that it feels like we're watching a new actor in a new role. It speaks to Skarsgaard's skill that he's able to make this Eric as instantly convincing as the other one.

The transformation also speaks to how well the writers and directors handle the soap opera conventions on this show. A series can use the heightened, pulpy elements of soap opera storytelling -- which themselves are rooted in older forms of playwriting -- and still be sophisticated. It's totally General Hospital, for instance, to have a character lose his memory, but in this episode, we see that Eric's "great absence" is filled with deep ramifications.

Consider this: Eric has been hollowed out just as many other characters are discovering deep truths about themselves. Sookie is learning what it means to be a fairy, Lafayette is exploring his natural gift for witchcraft, Jessica is acknowledging the darker parts of her vampirism, and Tara is embracing her independence. All this self-knowing, as Ken Tucker recently wrote in Entertainment Weekly, is empowering: It's shaking up the characters, changing them, and giving them much more power as they move through the show.

How striking, then, to see that Eric, who knew himself as well as anyone in previous seasons, has suddenly been denied the very empowerment that's being granted to so many others. His great absence makes him a flickering candle in a room full of blazing fires, and that sharpens our understanding of both. Sookie's new confidence, say, resonates more when it's contrasted next to Eric's childlike happiness to discover he once bit Sookie's neck. (I watched that moment twice.)

AND YET. Eric's great absence is not all puppydog eyes and awkward politeness. With increasing clarity, David Petrarca's script demonstrates the danger of Eric's condition. He's not only lost his memory, but he's also lost the political savvy and interpersonal connections that kept his dangerous instincts in check. He has forgotten that he doesn't want to drain Sookie's fairy blood until she dies. He has forgotten that it's advantageous not to reach into Sookie's car window and try to grab her neck. (That scene made me jump.) That gives a terrifying charge to the scene where Sookie wants to climb out of Eric's underground room in her house. Will he let her go? Or will his primal urges take over before she can climb up to safety?

And in case we think Eric isn't really "that way," the episode ends with his brutal murder of Sookie's fairy godmother. Sure, there's a little joke about Sookie having a fairy godmother, but really, her death is a troubling sign. Eric, suddenly, is a loose cannon. A thousand-year-old, incredibly powerful loose cannon who has lost the restraints of civility. Who knows what he'll do next week, simply because he doesn't know better?

This situation raises a deliciously thorny question: Is there a dark side to "just doing you?" You could argue that Eric is now really in touch with himself -- that losing his "civility" has brought out his purest identity. So... is this the endpoint for Jessica? After all, she tries to confess her Fangtasia indiscretion to Hoyt, but when he flips out, she glamours him into forgetting there's a problem. That's disturbing, but it's also part of being a vampire. If she gives up on human niceties, will she end up like Eric, just feeding on whomever she likes? Could Sookie or Lafayette, drunk with their newfound power, do something similar?

And furthermore, what does this mean about King Bill's decision to inflict the True Death on any vampire caught feeding on humans on camera? The vamp he sends to death declares that Bill is punishing vampires for "being themselves," and honestly, he's right. I'm sure Bill can justify this as an effort to make it truly safe for vampires to live in the open, and to prove his point, he doesn't feed on Portia Bellefleur (the real estate attorney from the season premiere) while they're having sex, even though she offers. But as the doomed vampire says, you can't partially leave the closet. You either exist in the world as yourself, or you don't.

Obviously, there's a parallel here to any minority that tries to coexist with the majority. How much of yourself do you compromise in order to make the majority comfortable? Do you shun the members of your group who keep behaving in an aggressively "alien" way?

Seen through that lens, Bill becomes a force for serious evil, and honestly, I don't think we can look at him the same way again, now that he has sentenced a vampire to death for doing what he himself has done so often. (It's no accident that we saw him feeding on that British guy just last week.) He can cite whatever principle he likes, but the fact is, Bill had a member of his own species destroyed for behaving "naturally." There's no going back to the argument that "Bill's just a decent-hearted vampire." I'm not saying he is a purely evil character -- he isn't, as we can see from his ongoing concern for Jessica and Sookie -- but he's not a dreamy romantic hero anymore. He's a character who has done great evil in the name of the greater good.

And true... in the real world, it's easier to pick a side in this battle. When, say, a group of "polite" gay men shun a flamboyant drag queen for being to "queeny," they are obviously in the wrong. It's trickier, though, when vampires shun other vampires for draining the blood of the unwilling. Moral complexity! Hooray!

But you know what's less morally complex? A group of meth-heads... sorry, v-heads... kidnapping Jason, turning him into a werepanther against his will, and then force-feeding him Mexican Viagra so the women can rape him until he gets them pregnant. It's just awful. The show makes it slightly more palatable by making it clear that the Hotshotters believe they must breed with Jason in order to survive as a species, but still... he's being raped. This is a powerful storyline, but I hope Jason gets untied soon. We just got Tara up on her feet, and I'm not interested in watching yet another character be a passive victim for weeks on end.

Moving on, let me give quick winks to Alcide and the recently-drug-free Debbie. Sookie is right to drop her "please look after Eric" plan when she realizes that a former v-addict is still skulking around Alcide's life. Debbie will go kaboom sooner or later, as will Tommy, who is nastily plotting to bilk Hoyt's mama out of her house and some money she may be coming into. Maybe Debbie and Tommy can join forces with Arlene's Evil Baby, who is obviously the best character of all time. When I see Evil Baby playing with the Evil BabyDoll (the one that keeps finding its way back to Jessica and Hoyt's house), I just want to clap my hands and holler for joy.

But even Evil BabyDoll can't compete this week with Marnie the Witch, who is so eager to supplicate herself to the ghost-spirit-demon of that pretty brunette woman that she slices the hell out of her arms and drips her blood into a silver goblet while delivering a Tennessee Williams-esque monologue about sacrifice in the name of unholy devotion. Fiona Shaw makes this moment crazy and desperate and fascinating, and she once again makes me wish I'd seen her celebrated turn as Medea a few years ago. But for now, I can savor her twitchy devotion to Magick, and I can declare that last slice of her arm our Sucker Punch of the Week.