HBO // 2010 // 720 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski // May 31st, 2011
"Oh, Sweetheart. You really don't know anything at all, do you?" -- Vampire King, to Sookie
In the third season of HBO's electrifying vampire drama -- incredibly sexy and incredibly gross, by turns -- small-town waitress and telepath Sookie Stackhouse really does find out just how much she doesn't know about the shadowy men in her life and about herself, too. Romantic bonds are tested about as often as hot supernatural men are seen without their shirts, but all the hearts and flowers are balanced out by bucket-loads of blood and guts, sometimes collected in actual bucket-like containers, for safekeeping.
Spoiler Alert! I'll be discussing plot points through the end of Season Three.
As the season opens, Sookie (Anna Paquin, X-Men) has just received a proposal from her undead paramour, Bill (Stephen Moyer, Priest). Before she can accept, he is abducted by unknown parties and goes missing. Not so eager to help find him is fellow vampire, Eric (Alexander Skarsgård, Generation Kill), who also desires Sookie but whose intentions are seemingly less noble. Others in Sookie's hometown of Bon Temps, Louisiana have troubles of their own. Her boss, Sam (Sam Trammell, Judging Amy) -- the owner of Merlotte's restaurant and a "shifter" who can turn into animals -- has set out to find his birth parents. Meanwhile, her brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten, Flicka) is reeling from fatally shooting her best friend Tara's (Rutina Wesley, How She Move) violently unhinged boyfriend.
The season's twelve episodes are spread over five Blu-ray discs:
* "Bad Blood"
Sookie looks for help in finding the kidnapped Bill, who we see being driven somewhere by a gang of no-goodniks that feast on his vampire blood (V, a powerful drug, as established in previous seasons). Once-bumbling cop Andy (Chris Bauer, The Wire) tries to calm down a guilt-ridden Jason, whose crime he is covering up.
Andy, to Jason: "Conscience off, dick on and everything's gonna be all right."
* "Beautifully Broken"
Tara's mental state declines as she grieves for her dead boyfriend. Sam meets his birth parents and discovers he has a shifter brother, Tommy (Marshall Allman, Prison Break). Bill discovers who abducted him: a pack of werewolves working for the vampire king of Mississippi, Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare, Half Nelson). Russell and his fastidious hubby, Talbot, wine and dine Bill in their mansion with various gourmet blood-based dishes.
Talbot: "Excuse me, I have to go drain the second course."
Commentary: Alexander Skarsgård and Scott Winant (director)
* "It Hurts Me Too"
Eric and Sookie fend off a bad werewolf, then Sookie teams up with a good werewolf, Alcide (Joe Manganiello, How I Met Your Mother) to search for Bill in Mississippi. Over at Bill's, young vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll, Mother's Day) tries to dispose of a guy she accidentally killed. Bill has a violent reunion at Russell's with his maker, Lorena (Mariana Klaveno, Gamebox 1.0).
Eric, to Sookie, crouching over a werewolf in a pool of blood: "I got your rug all wet."
Commentary: Alexander Woo (writer) and Michael Lehmann (director)
* "9 Crimes"
Apparently worried for Sookie's safety, Bill breaks up with her by phone and enters Russell's service. Tara gets kidnapped by a crazed, sinisterly romantic vampire named Franklin (James Frain, TRON: Legacy).
Bill: "Do not try to find me. I do not wish to be found."
Commentary: Kristen Bauer van Straten and David Petrarca (director)
Characters converge at Russell's, where Bill is now employed, where the kidnapped Tara has been brought, and where Eric has arrived to pursue Bill...and a long-simmering vengeance against Russell. Jason sets his sights on two new ambitions: to be a cop and to date some new blonde girl, Crystal (Lindsay Pulsipher, The Oregonian).
Crystal, to Jason: "Where's your badge? Where's your gun? Where's your shirt?"
* "I Got a Right to Sing the Blues"
Tara and Sookie, both held prisoner at Russell's, mount a daring escape and must rescue Bill from Lorena's clutches on their way out. Merlotte's chef Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis, The Soloist) makes out with his institutionalized mother's nurse, Jesus.
Arlene, to a prissy Merlotte's customer: "Where do you think you are, lady? Red Lobster?"
Commentary: Alan Ball and Denis O'Hare
* "Hitting the Ground"
Sam rescues Tommy from a dangerous situation his parents have put him in. Eric gets Russell's help in rescuing his vampire offspring, Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten, Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion), from the vampire Magister's clutches. Russell convinces the Magister to marry him to his reluctant new bride, Sophie-Anne, the Queen of Louisiana (Evan Rachel Wood, Thirteen).
Queen Sophie-Anne, at her "wedding": "I'm so happy I could bleed."
Commentary: Anna Paquin, Joe Manganiello, Brian Buckner (writer)
* "Night on the Sun"
As Russell returns triumphantly to Mississippi with his new bride, Eric moves to get his revenge. Sookie breaks up with Bill, then has a heck of a brawl with a mean and crazy werewolf chick who used to date Alcide.
Talbot, to Russell: "You're acting like a century-old child."
* "Everything is Broken"
Eric faces prosecution by The Authority for selling vampire blood and being a suspect in the Magister's murder. Tara tries to get over her most recent trauma, but it comes back to find her. Sookie discovers that she's not the only one in her family with telepathy.
Sookie: "Just once I'd like to not find a dead body in my house."
* "I Smell a Rat"
Romance blooms at Merlotte's as Jessica and Hoyt rekindle their young love and Terry stands by Arlene even though she tells him that he's not the father of her baby. Lafayette and Jason go on a strange V trip together. With Bill's help, Sookie finally discovers what she is and the source of her supernatural powers.
Sookie: "I'm a faerie? How fucking lame."
* "Fresh Blood"
Pushed past his limit, Sam goes on a bender and yells at all his friends. Jason discovers his new crush, Crystal's, secret. Arlene lets a new waitress cast a spell on her that may get rid of Rene's (Season One's serial killer) baby that is growing inside her. Russell comes calling in Louisiana, originally looking for vengeance on Eric but then enticed by another opportunity.
Eric, to Russell: "Be brave. We'll die together."
* "Evil Is Going On"
Jason gets into a tough situation with Crystal's meth-cooking family on their compound. Sookie, Bill, Eric, and Pam have a showdown with Russell at Fangtasia, Eric's vampire bar, followed by explosive confrontations with each other.
Sookie, rejecting an offer of protection: "I'd feel better protecting myself now that I know I'm basically vampire crack."
Commentary: Stephen Moyer and Anthony Hemingway (director)
As long-running TV series mature -- and the popular True Blood seems a good candidate for a long TV life -- they generally reach a crossroads with each new season: Will the writers reinvent the show with a radical change, or will they stick with a formula that's been working? Perhaps because it is based on a long-running book series (by Charlaine Harris) and beholden, to some extent, to those books' plot points, True Blood has thus far chosen the path of continuation rather than reinvention -- a choice especially apparent in Season Three. The M.O. here seems to be more, more, more, as the writers take what fans love about the show and pile on those elements. Graphic sex? Check. Graphic violence? Check. Graphic, violent sex? Check. Hot men who often appear shirtless? Plenty. Queer characters and queer sex scenes? The most on mainstream television, by far. The variation in True Blood's formula comes mainly from the type of supernatural force the characters interact with: last year it was a maenad, this year werewolves, and advertising for the upcoming fourth season reveals a new type, as well.
The good news is that the formula True Blood sticks with really works, so thus far it's been a pleasure simply to return for another season of the elements mentioned above -- especially since these elements are certainly not your standard TV fare, and thus stay fresher than your ho-hum cop, doctor, and lawyer shows. The werewolves are a fairly satisfying addition to the show, especially with the twist of some of them being addicted to V and working for a vampire. Sometimes, though, these characters push the show back into territory that overlaps uncomfortably with Twilight. This is especially true of the connection between Sookie and Alcide, a hunky, sweet, and well-muscled werewolf with a high body temperature. Seeing them share a series of erotic hugs was a little too Bella/Jacob for my taste -- though it should be noted that Charlaine Harris published before Stephanie Meyer, for those keeping score in the "who copied whom" game.
Though I found Alcide a bit dull, True Blood did add at least one great character this season: Russell Edgington. Old and powerful, smart but with a few drops of crazy, polite and hospitable with a frightening menace underneath, Russell brings a different type of vampire into the mix -- and who can forget his de-spining of that unfortunate newscaster? As with maenad Maryann Forrester last season, played by Michelle Forbes, this big bad is also perfectly cast. From the moment he appears, riding a white horse in elegant attire, to the moment he departs, terribly charred and being covered by concrete, Denis O'Hare embodies this role marvelously. He creates a very old vampire who, unlike last season's Godric, has not grown weary of the world -- as O'Hare points out in a commentary track. Though there may be nothing new under the sun (a sun that he never sees), he continues to pursue ambitions and exist with a certain vigor.
The show's gay creator, Alan Ball (Six Feet Under), gives us the queerest season yet: Russell has a male vampire partner, Sophie-Anne keeps a human girlfriend, Pam gives head to Fangtasia's newest stripper gal, Eric seduces Talbot, and Lafayette finally gets a boyfriend. All this lovely queerness serves two positive functions for True Blood: it gives queer and queer-friendly viewers another thing to love about the show, but it also expands the possibilities for sexual and romantic links among characters, creating a nice extra layer of narrative complexity. The vampire characters generally give the impression that they fuck without too much concern for gender, plus drinking a vampire's blood makes humans attracted to that vampire regardless of gender. From the latter point, we get a great dream sequence near the beginning in which Sam -- who drank Bill's blood at the end of Season Two -- imagines Bill stopping by to take a shower with him.
As usual with HBO's Blu-ray releases of True Blood, Season Three looks and sounds amazing. The discs offer rich color and deep blacks while maintaining the grainy film look that complements the atmospheric density of its Louisiana setting. Everything is crisp, clear, and beautiful -- or beautifully gory, when appropriate. Only the sound work in this DTS-HD track beats the images, with Season Three continuing the series' tradition of providing very detailed and well-balanced audio tracks. For technical presentation, I can't imagine a studio doing a much better job than HBO routinely does with True Blood.
Also consistent with previous Blu-ray releases of the show, we get a bounty of well-produced special features for Season Three. Six commentary tracks with cast and crew (listed above with the episode they accompany) offer the standard behind-the-scenes stories and praise for fellow cast members. I always enjoy Paquin's commentary tracks, and she's a standout in this set, too, as when she pokes fun at Joe Manganiello's giant jumpsuit and makes two separate requests for more guy-on-guy sex scenes in the show. Alan Ball and Denis O'Hare's track also makes for a good listen. Each episode also features an enhanced viewing mode, which will activate little picture-in-picture snippets as you're watching: clues about the series' mysteries, backstory bits, and flashbacks/forwards to show you other scenes relevant to the one you're watching. The most substantive part of this mode is the "Character Perspectives" element, which features four characters (Jessica, Andy, Tommy, and Alcide) giving their in-character thoughts about what's transpiring. These are a lot of fun and also provide additional insight into character backgrounds and some of the more complicated supernatural parts of this fictional world: Jessica talks about craving human food and the ways in which Bill is a negligent maker, and Alcide clues us in on some of the nuances of werewolf transformations. The funniest parts are Andy's, of course, as the amazing Chris Bauer delivers lines like: "[Arlene and Terry] are like the blind leading the blind, but they're both okay with running into the wall" and "I never had a chance to observe the mating rituals of homosexuals." These are available to view in standalone chunks outside of the enhanced viewing mode, and they total about two-and-a-half hours of content on their own.
"Anatomy of a Scene" (10 minutes) is the main featurette, going into detail about how the production created werewolves for Season Three. We hear from wolf trainers (no CGI furballs here, Twilight), actors like Moyer who worked with the animals, and the effects guys who managed the wolf-to-human morphs. Twelve more shorter featurettes (averaging around 2 minutes each) are billed as "Postmortems" for each episode. These are an incredibly varied and fun bunch, ranging from your standard behind-the-scenes bits to a video guide for vampires on surviving werewolf attacks, a classified interrogation tape in which a vampire promises to reveal his kind's secrets to the FBI, a call-in show segment with Season Two's Rev. Steve Newlin, and a clip reel commemorating the "love" between Bill and Lorena. If you're a little rusty on your True Blood history, the "True Blood Lines" interactive character map will reorient you, providing lots of info on a few dozen characters from all seasons of the show and how they are connected to each other. Last, but certainly not least, is a music video from Snoop Dogg for his song "Oh Sookie" (3 minutes). Seeing Snoop Dogg sing like a slightly-cooler-than-average fanboy about how he wants to get with Sookie is hilarious, so don't skip this one!
True Blood always has a lot of storylines going on, and not all of them are winners. Jason's romance with the werepanther (sigh) from the meth dealing family was dull and unconvincing, and took up way too much screen time. Also, even though at least three guys are crushing on Sookie this year (and some supernatural explanation is given for her irresistibility, as hot as Anna Paquin is), I found her less endearing than usual. In previous seasons, there was a genuine sweetness to Sookie Stackhouse that was complemented by her strength and no-nonsense attitude. In Season Three, Sookie seems harder and more unfeeling, which is understandable considering all the crap that keeps happening to her, but still distances viewers from the character who should be the emotional core of the show.
Perhaps this season of True Blood is best summed up by the observation that you'll see someone or multiple someones covered in blood in almost every episode: from graphic wounds or from the blood tears that vampires cry. The kind of carnality these blood-soaked people represent is the series' core element. It's all about bodies and the ways they interact -- flesh, teeth, blood, sexual fluids, and blood as a sexual fluid. If that's your cup of tea (and if you've made it to Season Three, it probably is)...On second thought, I think I'll skip the tea metaphor written in such close proximity to the phrase "blood as a sexual fluid." You get the picture.
Not guilty, but delightfully sinful.
Review content copyright © 2011 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 720 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Enhanced Viewing Mode
* Character Map
* Music Video
* Official Site