It's a curious quirk of True Blood that the series works best when its romantic leads, Bill Compton and Sookie Stackhouse, are kept apart. When they share the screen, they do little more than moon over each other -- we can only stomach so much "Sookah!" and "Beeeeel!" -- but when they're fighting to get back together, there's a spark, a bit of magic, that makes us forget the whining and the bad accents.
Apparently recognizing this, creator Alan Ball & Co. orchestrated the cliffhanger kidnapping of Bill in the Season Two finale -- or, rather, plucked a thread from author Charlaine Harris' third book Club Dead -- and pick up the story just moments later in the Season Three premiere.
A frantic Sookie leaves the restroom of the French restaurant to discover her would-be fiance gone, and virtually everyone, from the hostess -- "Fucking vampires! It's always nothing but shit!" -- to Deputy Kenya Jones to Sheriff Bud Dearborn, entirely unsympathetic to her plight. In fact, the only ones interested in Bill's abduction (at the hands of V-guzzling redneck werewolves, no less) are Eric Northman and Jessica Hamby, both of whom have their own problems: The former hatched his own aborted plan to kidnap Bill, the only vampire who can connect him and, more importantly, the vampire queen of Louisiana (Evan Rachel Wood), to the illegal sale of vampire blood. Now he must covertly find Bill while avoiding the steely gaze of the Magister (the returning Zeljko Ivanek), who's investigating the trafficking of V. The latter, poor crying Jessica, was never properly instructed by her maker Bill, and now must contend with the body of the trucker she inadvertently killed while feeding. After trying unsuccessfully to revive him, she hides his corpse under the house, explaining away the stench as a dead possum.
But as entertaining as it is to watch Sookie bounce from the sheriff's department to Fangtasia, with the always-awesome Pam -- "I'm in no mood for lesbian weirdness tonight, Pam" -- and the buck-naked Eric, to the home of freaked-out Jessica, the episode's real drama centers on Bill. (I know! I'm just as shocked as you are.) His forced joy ride with "the Fuck-You Crew," whose members get high from his drained blood, is tense and fast-paced, interrupted only when Bill snaps the driver's neck, causing the car to flip. What emerges from the wreckage is a more primal Bill, one who buries himself in the ground to escape the sun, then claws his way back out to feed -- on a lonely old lady whom he then gives money and glamours to forget the incident. However, that's the only flicker of the kindly, dull Bill we've become accustomed to seeing. Surrounded by werewolves in the wilds of Mississippi in the episode's closing moments, Bill snarls, "I should warn you, I've fed."
Back in Bon Temps, which must certainly rate a spot on Forbes magazine's list of Worst Places to Live, everyone else is left grappling with the fallout from last season's dragged-out, and drugged-out, Maryann storyline. Part of me had hoped Season Three would pick up weeks, if not months, after Season Two, if only so we wouldn't have to endure Tara wailing about the death of Eggs, who was killed by Jason Stackhouse (although Andy Bellefleur takes the credit/blame for shooting the confessed murderer). Of course, then we wouldn't get to hear waitress Arlene Fowler tell an unhinged Tara, "I'm sorry you fell in love with a serial killer, but who here hasn't?" And we wouldn't get to witness Andy, who spent most of last season in a downward spiral, finally regain control and advise the guilt-ridden Jason not to come unglued about killing Eggs: "I need to see a lot less conscience and a lot more cajones -- and I need to see them pronto! ... Conscience off, dick on!" That Andy Bellefleur is a wise man.
Perhaps equally as wise is Lafayette Reynolds, who juggles caring for his emotionally shattered cousin Tara -- a cocktail of tequila and Klonopin helps -- selling large amounts of V for Eric and making sure that Tara's manipulative mother Lettie Mae knows there's no such thing as water under the bridge. True Blood hasn't been kind to Christians, but in this episode the "born-again" Mrs. Thornton is cast in a particularly bad light -- and this time she can't even blame alcohol or the devil for her actions. Called by Lafayette to keep an eye on her suicidal daughter, Lettie Mae instantly turns the focus on herself, and reaches out to the Rev. Daniels, if only so she can paw at him, then reads a magazine while Tara attempts to overdose in the bathroom. Then again, who among us wouldn't thumb through a copy of Men's Health while Tara choked down pills in the next room?
Far more interesting than Tara's continued descent into despair is Sam's search for his real family in Arkansas, which removes him from the mayhem of Bon Temps and allows for hilarious moments like his homoerotic dream about Bill, who used his blood to heal Sam in the Season Two finale. I imagine after that brief but sexually charged scene, Sam/Bill slashfic may give the Eric/Bill stories a run for their money.
"Bad Blood" is a strong start to the season, making up for the sluggishness of the prolonged Maryann storyline. Oh, sure, I could do with a lot less Tara and a lot more Pam, but all in all, I can't really complain.
• Jason Stackhouse and Hoyt Fortenberry as roommates may be the 21st century's Odd Couple. However, I doubt Oscar ever told Felix anything like, "There's a certain amount of pussy overflow you're just gonna have to get used to dealing with."
• I'm hoping Hoyt and Jason's new living arrangement means we'll get a few scenes between Jessica and Jason. Those should just about write themselves.
• The sorry financial state of Sophie-Anne Leclerq -- "Hell hath no fury like a vampire queen broke!" -- and her entanglement in the illegal sale of V with Eric, Pam and, ultimately, Lafayette, obviously is going to be a developing subplot. The presence of the Magister, and his not-so-veiled suspicions about Eric's involvement in trafficking vampire blood, should keep the usually subdued sheriff off-kilter. What's more, Eric's desire to cover his tracks gives him an ulterior motive for helping Sookie to find and rescue Bill.
• Pam, upon entering Sookie's house, which still bears the vines from Maryann's occupancy: "Now why'd you have to go and kill that maenad? She's a terrific decorator." I want Pam to have her own series.