‘True Blood’ Season Three Premiere

Life ain’t about not havin’ problems. It’s about dealin’ with the ones you got.

— Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis)

Life isn’t getting any easier for Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) or the other human residents of Bon Temps, the most troubled little town in Louisiana. True Blood begins again on 13 June, right where the second season left off: Sookie is trying to convince law enforcement that her Civil War era vampire-beau Bill (Stephen Moyer), has been kidnapped. But, the cops have a problem, namely, “The person who’s missing ain’t even a real person.” Sookie’s best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley) is also upset, grieving the death of her lover, Eggs (Mehcad Brooks), who, it turns out, murdered several people at the behest of a maenad.

The vampires’ drama is even more extreme. Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) and Queen Sophie-Anne (Evan Rachel Wood) are anxious to cover their tracks now that their law enforcement has noticed a serious uptick in V usage. With Bill gone, young Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) is left to figure out how to deal with the messier aspects of a “traditional” vampire existence — that is, not subsisting on the synthetic True Blood alone — which leads in this new season to some refreshing girl-on-girl mentoring between Jessica and the always entertaining Pam (Kristin Bauer).

Adding to True Blood‘s ever-increasing collection of supes (and in keeping with the Charlaine Harris novels on which the show is based), Eric and the King of Mississippi (Denis O’Hare), have both enlisted werewolves as thugs (the discovery of the werewolves has led Sookie’s dimwitted brother Jason [Ryan Kwanten] to question other mythologies: “Does this mean Big Foot’s real? What about Santa?”). Like the vampires, the weres are immediately divided into good and quite laughably villainous. When Bill learns the seemingly toughest were is called Cooter, he laughs, “Cooter? Seriously?”

True Blood makes no pretense at subtlety. Again and again, the supes signify a range of current human anxieties, from immigration to race to class (it’s illegal for vampires and humans to marry, for example), the point helped by attendant right-wing caricatures. This season begins with emphasis on the slave-master dichotomy, which began last season with Bill and Eric’s efforts to deal with their makers. When Tara insists that it wasn’t Eggs’ fault that he was a killer, Arlene (Carrie Preston) asks, “Oh, why? Because of slavery?” (Arlene also offers up the episode’s cutest line, telling Tara, “I’m sorry you fell in love with a serial killer, but honestly, who here hasn’t?”

For all the politics, though, what True Blood reveals most consistently is that Arlene is right: all of them — vampire, human, and were — are enslaved in one way or another, by appetites, gifts, power, and family (or pack) bonds, intimating an uneasy commonality across races. Even the always-mocked Christian culture gets its counterpart here. The complicit vamps in the V trade have not merely jumped at an economic opportunity, they have also committed a sin, made clear in Catholic terms by the vampire Magister (Zeljko Ivanek): “The blood is sacred. Wasting it on anything other than procreation is blasphemy.

There is no possibility for liberation. Vampires must bend to the will of their makers; Tara, Lafayette, and Sam are stuck with their disturbed families; Sookie can’t not be telephathic. Neither can she escape the blood bonds she shares with both Bill and Eric. What is left then, is to deal within the framework of captivity, which for all of these characters involves not a little bit of self-loathing, especially, and most disturbingly, represented in Tara.

It’s frustrating to see Tara caught in yet another masochistic dead end, a relationship connecting sex and violence, just as she did last season. This time, she (justifiably) beats two rednecks within an inch of their lives for referring to Eggs as a murdering “nigger” before literally pissing on his grave. She’s assisted by a mysterious vampire, Franklin (James Frain), which leads to a bloodlust-fueled sexual encounter. The parallel to her relationship with Eggs is too obvious, right down to Tara’s eyes, rolled up so only the whites are showing, the opposite of last season’s zombie-black eyes.

Again, Tara falls immediately under a kind of spell, in this case, Franklin’s influence. (There’s little difference, it would appear, between vampire “glamourings” and the maenad’s spells: both deprive their victims of free will and memory/history.) This turn flies in the face of Tara’s long-time, very vocal, disapproval of human-vampire relationships, with Sookie even accusing her of prejudice in the past. Yet, here she is, of her own free will at this point, begging Franklin to bite her, living out the thing she hates, submitting herself to Franklin’s obvious sadism (he wont’ bite her because she wants him to). Unfortunately, at this point, such sadism repeats the show’s pattern when it comes to Tara, an incredibly powerful personality, consistently left with the least actual power.

RATING 8 / 10