Between its witches, multiple spiritual possessions, amnesia, and shifting alliances, True Blood's fourth season was a sloppy, often exasperating mess. It's not so much that there was too much going on in Bon Temps and beyond last year (although that was part of the problem), it's that it was all in such small doses, executed gracelessly. Why would we care about Sam's brother Tommy's path from would-be con artist to some minor redemption when his appearances throughout the season were spread so thin? Likewise, why was Lafeyette given two concurrent storylines about discovering his inner medium, neither story really progressing the character in any real way?
Thankfully, last night's premiere—which starts minutes after last season's blood-spattered finale—has the benefit of being able to narrow the scope a bit, and over the span on this first hour (and a well-cut preview of the upcoming season), True Blood has recaptured some of the magic that makes its sex-crazed, moss-covered take on the vampire myth so compelling.
When we last saw the cast of True Blood, Sookie was cradling Tara's dead body in her arms while Eric and Bill were killing the Authority rep Nan, and not a fairy was in sight. As ever, things were looking pretty dicey for our cast of characters. This week's episode picks up minutes later with Bill and Eric planning their escape (they're totally bros now), and Sookie making a pretty rash decision in order to save Tara's life. Sam takes the rap for killing werewolf pack leader Marcus, while Alcide tries to warn anyone who'll listen that 3,000-year-old crazy vampire Russell Edgington is loose and probably going to be a problem for everyone involved. Oh, and anti-vampire crusader Reverend Steve is back and he's a gay vampire American (in a cute node to former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey who also saw himself on the outs with his constituency after finding himself).
The episode moves along at a brisk clip, and there's not a whole lot of bloat in terms of introducing new characters and storylines. The primary action is intercut with a couple of attempts at covering up something from last season (Sookie, Eric and Bill, Sam), or dealing with the unavoidable fallout from the previous batch of episodes (Jason and Jessica's "we're all adults here" relationship status, Andy unexpectedly finding love or at least "like" with someone) while a couple of smaller plots crop up around the edges including a corrupt judge with Andy in his back pocket and whatever the hell is going on with Terry and his fellow former Marine.
Oh, and did I mention that Pam continues to be the single best character on the show and that I wish she, Lafeyette, and Jessica Lange's character from American Horror Story would open a B&B or something where they could just be hilariously pissy towards each and every guest who pass through their door? As Pam, Kristin Bauer van Straten is the perfect match for the material, always just sort of outside of the story, aware of how utterly absurd hers and her fellow characters' grubby, violent circumstances are, letting us viewers know that she knows, without taking us out of the story. This episode she wears Wal-Mart PJs for us and it's right up there with Tyrion's "Those are brave men" speech.
Sookie isn't at the edges of self-pity in this episode, and thankfully, the action in "Turn! Turn! Turn!" moves along so briskly that she's instead forced to deal with body part disposal instead of having to worry about which beau is the one she loves. I do think if there's one misstep this episode, it's having her hide Debbie's fate from Alcide. It was clear last season that Debbie was pretty far gone and creating this drama about when and how Alcide will find out Sookie shot his girlfriend's face off doesn't have all that much tension to it. Alcide didn't like her, Sookie didn't like her, who exactly liked junkie werewolf Debbie?
Perhaps one of the the most unexpected and welcome evolutions of the series across this and last season is the gradual, almost accidental friendship between Bill and Eric. Born at first out of mutual necessity, the duo aren't quite buddies, but they're in this weird, funny, dark buddy comedy now, prepared to escape the Authority together and making daring, explosive escapes. Skarsgård and Moyer have a wonderful rapport with each other by this point, and there's a lot the two actors can get across with their sort of mutual exasperation and loyalty.
The promise of the Authority finally becoming a full presence in the series gives the episode a lot of its heat. While some of this could be based on that season teaser after the episode, the quasi-religious tone of the shadowy organization that controls the world's vampires makes it sound in the rough outlines more interesting than a bunch of bickering old vampire bureaucrats. Chris Meloni is going to be in this season? Sign me up for more.
True Blood airs Sunday nights at 9 ET on HBO.