True Blood: Season Five (US - BD RA)
Gabe thinks this series' streak of anemic subplots may have just turned critical...
True Blood is back for a fifth time around the horn. Since the show’s inception, each subsequent season has been a step down from the last and it appears that the diminishing returns have finally caught up with season five – the first season that spends more time being boring than entertaining. Since I already discussed the series as a whole during my season four review, I’ve taken time to briefly sum up and review each episode. Huge spoilers for those that haven’t seen the season yet.
Turn, Turn, Turn
The new season picks up where the last one left off with Tara (Rutina Wesley) taking a shotgun blast to the head and the Vampire Authority capturing Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) for murdering Nan Flanigan. Before the credits even roll, Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) convince Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) to turn Tara’s brainless body into a vampire. Eric and Bill are rescued by Eric’s sister, Nora (Lucy Griffiths), but the rescue plan heads south and all three are taken into Authority custody. Alcide shows up at Sookie’s place while she’s cleaning the gore out of her kitchen and tells her that Eric and Bill never killed the super powerful vampire villain from season three, Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare) and that the monster is loose. Meanwhile, Sam (Sam Trammell) is attacked by a wolfpack on suspicion that he killed Marcus (it was Alcide), newly vampired Rev. Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian) ‘glamors’ Jason (Ryan Kwanten) and reveals that he is in love with him, and, with Bill missing, Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) is put in a position of temporary queen. A lot happens this episode, as is the tradition for the first episode of a season, and not all of it is good (what’s the point of having an escape plot if it’s going to fail in the first episode?), but it’s hard to complain when plot is being thrown at your head at a million miles a second. It’s nice to see Eric and Bill coupled (they always work better as shifty allies than enemies) and personal favourites Pam and Jessica are given plenty to do.
Authority Always Wins
Eric, Bill, and Nora enter Authority headquarters, which looks more or less as expected (a clean, sterile environment with ancient artistic influences and lots of dark corners), but a new piece of the mythology is introduced – the Vampire Bible and the concept that Lillith was a vampire (Adam and Eve were made to feed her). The people in charge, lead by Roman Zimojic (Christopher Meloni), have based their political cabal around the same set of ‘mainstreamer’ rules Bill lives by, but they’ve taken it to an extreme. The problem is that in trying to paint them as hyper-liberal hypocrites, the writers seem confused. I think the audience, who have been trained to root against the hyper-conservative rednecks, is supposed to be uncomfortable with these apparent good guys being such douche bags, but it comes across as conceptually underdeveloped (which we learn it is in later episodes). Sookie and Lafayette’s plan to resurrect Tara works, but Pam has little interest in the project and leaves the pair alone with the newborn vampire. Not surprisingly, Tara is an angry, aggressive vampire who spends the episode screaming and throwing things. Meanwhile, the werewolf and shapshifter subplot quickly turns dull yet again, as Alcide and Sam continue to be the series’ most boring characters (which is a huge bummer, because I really like both actors) and their troubles in love continue to serve no purpose over the greater plot. Terry's (Todd Lowe) season story also starts to unravel. An old Marine friend named Patrick visits and reminds him that their platoon was cursed by a fire demon in Iraq. It sounds more interesting than it is and ends up just taking time away from the vampire plots. It’s only the second episode and I’m already I’m losing interest. Thank goodness for the glimpses at Pam’s history and strong performances.
Whatever I Am, You Made Me
At this point, the writers are spending time linking up all of their boring/troublesome storylines, which is nice in terms of structure, but does nothing to make these plots any more interesting. Tara runs to Sam for assistance with her vampire problem so they can be conveniently boring together, while Sookie tries to get Pam to care about her new brood (thank God for the flashbacks or else Pam would also be boring at this early point in the season), Jason starts the road to self-discovery when he runs across an old teacher (zzzzzz) and Terry leaves home with Patrick to fight the fire demon, or something. Meanwhile, the Authority storyline still works. Eric and Bill reveal that Russell Edgington isn’t as dead as the Authority assumed he was. They are allowed to live on the assumption that they’ll stop and kill Russell… or at least die trying. Alas, they don’t take to the road immediately and are both sex-terrogated by Authority Chancellor Salome (Valentina Cervi) with very little purpose.
We'll Meet Again
Eric and Bill are finally released to find Russell, which involves interrogating the only two other people that knew where he was buried at the end of season three – Pam and Alcide. This involves two genuinely dramatic/moving scenes where Pam is so hurt by the accusation that she asks Eric to ‘release her.’ He accepts in the sweetest way possible. The process leads Pam to take an interest in ‘raising’ Tara, which I’ll admit makes for an interesting and unexpected pairing. Back at the Authority headquarters, it’s beginning to look like Eric’s sister is a real ‘Sanguinista,’ not just claiming to be one in a misguided effort to save her brother. She also reveals one of the characters we don’t care about is also a Sanguinista traitor. Meanwhile, Sookie feels super-guilty about murdering Debbie (Aliced’s ex) and her part in turning Tara into a vampire. She disappoints Alcide and Lafayette (who curses her car…), tries to turn herself in to her brother, who, naturally, refuses, and struggles with hearing the disgust of the people she serves at Sam’s bar. Then it turns out that there’s a sort of pocket dimension Fairy brothel, because, why not?
Let's Boot and Rally
The search for the person that freed Russell leads Eric and Bill to Sookie and Alcide pre-coitus. Poor Alcide. Anyway, the four characters join forces to figure out exactly what happened to the ancient, super-powerful vampire and, with their powers combined, find him nearly 100% recovered, Hellraiser’s Uncle Frank style. Tara takes a job at Fangtasia as a bartender and almost becomes friends with Jessica, which would’ve been a really interesting twist for the characters. Alas, their connection is wasted by the end of the episode. Meanwhile, Lafayette is sad and saddled with disturbing visions, Jason is also sad and also saddled with disturbing visions, and it turns out that Terry’s sad and disturbing visions are definitely coming true. In other words, the writers are taking the supporting cast back to where they were season two. Oh, and Sam’s shifter friends are mysteriously killed, but who cares about Sam?
So Russell is finally discovered and, with unsolicited help from the Authority, take him into custody (…perhaps a little too easily). Surprised that Eric and Bill have actually succeeded in leading them to Russell, the Authority showers them with affection, though Bill is much better at placating Roman and his friends than Eric. Then the writers whip out their big, mid-season ‘twist’ – Russell kills Roman. Deleting Christopher Meloni so early in the season after building so much of the pre-season advertising around him is definitively a True Blood-esque shock that helps kick up the fading momentum. Not so surprisingly, the Authority also murders all the non-vampire witnesses, besides Sookie and Alcide, who are ‘glamored’ by Bill and Eric respectfully. Of course, Sookie isn’t actually glamored – she fakes it and takes Bill’s advice to stay away, then un-glamors Alcide (which, apparently, she can do now). While pouting about the situation, she’s taken to the Fairy brothel by Jason to learn about their parents’ death (which I’m sure will be an interesting plot point eventually, but not this season). Meanwhile, Pam and Tara bond a bit (sorta), Terry and Patrick learn the ‘Ifrit’ fire demon is definitely real (and a lame special effect), and, having been shot by anti-shifter bigots, Sam and his girlfriend Luna (Janina Gavankar) develop a shaky alliance with Marcus’ mother.
In the Beginning
At this point, anything not involving Eric and Bill is becoming a chore, but the deliriously goofy adventures of the Authority and the Sanguinistas remain entertaining. It turns out Salome is the Sanguinista traitor and that she was the one that freed Russell, who is a born-again Lillith worshiper. The surviving Authority chancellors join up with Salome because she ‘controls’ Russell, and drink the sacred blood of Lillith. The blood causes them to trip balls and kill a bunch of humans in a karaoke bar. While hanging out with the stripper Fairies, Sookie learns that her fae powers are limited, because she’s half-human. Instead of fearing her loss of fairy-ness, Sookie’s eyes light up at the prospect of being a ‘normal human.’ Meanwhile, Alcide trains for his werewolf fight with his new girlfriend, Terry’s wife Arlene (Carrie Preston) pouts while watching their wedding video, Lafayette visits the home of his dead warlock boyfriend (who, by the way, has been sort of haunting him), and Tara’s mother shows up at Fangtasia to disown her, bringing her and Pam closer together.
Somebody that I Used to Know
Still tripping balls, the vampires return to the Authority base. Only Eric, who was visited by the ghost of his mentor/father Godric during the feeding orgy, realizes how badly everyone has fallen apart. He reminds Bill that things are bad, but ever the plotter, Bill opts to hang out with the blood-crazy, newborn Sanguinistas a little longer. The hallucinations convince most of the Authority types that Lillith is real or at least that feeding on humans is fun and that it’s pretty easy to justify eating them in her name. This continues the theme of religious vampires being hypocrites, no matter what their political beliefs are. Sookie decides to ‘dump’ all of her ‘fairy light’ in an effort to be a regular human being, much to the chagrin of Jason, who, even in this cast, is an incredibly inconsistent character from episode to episode. With the magic-dumping plot-point done away with, Sookie and Jason participate in a fairy séance and discover the name of the vampire that killed their parents. Meanwhile, Luna is so enraged by the attack that she inadvertently becomes a ‘fleshwalker,’ transforming into Sam and leading to some cute Sam talking to Sam moments, Alcide finally takes on his rival/packleader, Hoyt (Jim Parrack) is put in an awkward situation by his new vampire-hating friends, and Lafayette escapes Jesus’ tio (why he went to visit him in the first place is never adequately explained), only to be confronted by Arlene begging him to help Terry with his medium powers.
Everybody Wants to Rule the World
During its initial run on HBO, I gave up on season five after episode eight didn’t strike my fancy, so the last five episodes on this disc were new to me. The vampire story starts kicking into high gear here, extending the Sanguinista battle plans to an epic scale as they begin toward burn Tru Blood factories. The plan is to drive the mainstream vampires to drinking humans again to survive, thus inciting a civil war. Eric calls Bill out on his behavior and, having been locked in the Authority compound for security purposes, the two begin to develop an escape strategy. With the help of Lafayette’s medium powers and her dead Gran, Sookie discovers a box of pictures that might give her a clue as to what vampire killed her parents. This leads her to ex-sheriff Bud Dearborn (William Sanderson) and a bizarre twist that must’ve been pulled out of a hat at random. I suppose it serves the writers’ heavy-handed political allegories pretty well. The reveal is also pretty funny, but is incredibly convoluted and severs only to close the season’s least interest loop. Meanwhile, Luna seems to have recovered from her stint with skinwalking, Jason and Andy get clues to help the shifters to find the people killing them (and innocent vampires, it turns out), Pam worries about Eric, and, after learning from the fire demon that one of them has to die, Patrick turns on Terry and his family. This episode effectively brings three subplots to an end and puts the major plot into turnaround.
Gone, Gone, Gone
With minor subplots out of the way, the Authority’s plan appears to be working. Vampire violence is up 50% and humans are packing heat with wooden bullets. With Bill officially in cahoots, they kill safety technician Molly (Tina Majorino) and try to force Eric to accept Lillith by feeding him more of her blood. After taking the blood, Nora and Eric see Godric, who begs them to remain righteous and is then ‘remurdered’ by Lillith (I believe this is only a vision?). Russell then reveals his master plan to drink fairy blood and walk in the sun, which is suspiciously similar to his master plan in season three. Meanwhile, Sookie takes a second look under her bed with the help of Jason and finds the correct clue to their parents’ murderer, Hoyt recovers from his season long ordeal by moving to Alaska to drill oil, Pam and Tara are forced to deal with a new vampiresheriff and his scary new rules, Bill sends a security detail to collect Jessica, then freaks her out with his newfound religious fervor, and Sam and Luna start a suicide mission to save Luna’s daughter…who has been kidnapped by Russell in an effort to keep the shifters and werewolves a relevant part of the main storyline.
The wind up for the season finale is good enough to really make you regret wasting time with the non-vampire characters for so much of the season. Russell Edgington has now officially left the ranks of the Authority/Sanguinistas and is running wild along the countryside with Reverend Steve. Their exploits draw attention from the US government, who send an army general to the Authority to investigate. Bill is visited by Lillith’s spirit, who tells him to drink all of her blood and lead her followers to victory. He refuses, but continues acting pious, otherwise. Fortunately, it seems that not only has Eric not turned, but that seeing Godric has ‘fixed’ Nora and, after a bit of sexy make-up (because it’s True Blood), they develop another escape plan. Meanwhile, Sookie and Jason learn that Sookie was actually sold to a vampire by her parents, Sookie meets a wacky elder fairy (Erica Gimpel) and develops a plan to destroy Russell, Jessica warns Jason about Russell, Tara is scolded by Pam for killing the new sheriff, Luna and Sam run around the AVL headquarters, and, to ensure he still has anything to do the rest of the season, Alcide is attacked by a gang of ‘baby vamps.’
Even the ‘off’ seasons of True Blood usually end with a big bang of a climax. With every convoluted plot twist, the writers have managed to gather most of the main cast in two places for two epic climaxes. Well, except one isn’t as epic as we’ve been led to expect, since, instead of fighting Sookie and the surviving fairies, Russell is staked by Eric before the credits even roll -– all very much in keeping with the show’s sense of humour. After killing Russell, Eric gathers Tara and Sookie to stop Bill and the Authority. Bill, by the way, has gone A+, unforgivably insane, which is actually a nice turn for the series. It appears that he will be the primary villain next season. I hope they stick with it, because, bereft of his relationship with Sookie, he’s only really interesting as Eric’s sidekick. I’m not sure how the producers are going to maintain the epic plotline they’ve been setting up with their nominal TV budget, but there at least appears to something to look forward to, even if almost all the other characters have regressed to the same places they were previous seasons (especially Jason, who is a militant vampire hater yet again). Oh, and some stuff happens with the werewolves and the shifters. You know, the usual baby-rescuing and Alcide chasing his honor type stuff. Actually, my favourite bits of the entire episode are the largely inconsequential sequences of the most unnecessary characters hanging out in Merlot’s Bar, getting drunk, and helping deliver Andy Bellefleur’s (Chris Bauer) fae babies. Oh, did I forget to mention that Andy impregnated a fairy? Andy impregnated a fairy.
It appears that True Blood is still shot using 35mm film, an increasing rarity for big budget television ( The Walking Dead is still shot 16mm, I believe). This 1080p, 1.78:1 Blu-ray transfer looks more or less the same as the season four collection I reviewed last year. The filmstock shows in the crushed blacks, uneven grain levels, and minor edge enhancement. A couple sequences look like they’ve been optically zoomed, which punches up the grain texture and edge haloes quite a bit. Otherwise, the look is mostly consistent. The palette tends to skew dark in tone, but eclectic in the number of differentiating hues. Warmth and coolness depends on location, though I suppose the default look is either bluish (night and darker interiors) or green and orange (daylight outdoor locations). The fairy brothel is an especially colourful location, brimming with pinks and lavenders that bloom out of the screen, thanks to diffused focus. The flashback sequences stand apart visually. Pam’s flashbacks to her early 20th century life are soft and warm with far less contrast, Jason’s childhood flashbacks are massively blown out, and Terry’s war flashbacks are super grainy and harshly contrasted with saturated colour highlights. The black levels are rich and pure throughout the season, though the severity of the contrast does mean the blackest shadows tend to eat up some the finer details. My biggest problem with this entire transfer is some unattractive motion blurring peppered throughout the episodes. I’d expect this from digital product, but it’s rare that 35mm looks as if it has been smeared when the camera tracks too quickly (usually such things are jittery, instead).
Like most HBO shows, True Blood sports a very impressive uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Every channel in the system is given its proper workout. The centered dialogue is natural and consistent without being overwhelmed by effects and music. Ambient sounds are strong, especially anything involving the Louisiana bayou wildlife and any sequence involving more than one werewolf usually features some nice surround growling/howling. Directional highlights usually pertain to the occasional action sequences, especially those that involve vampires zipping at super-speed while they attack people. The ‘Ifrit’ fire demon and any blast of ‘fairy light power’ also gives the surround and LFE channels a powerful rumble. The musical soundtrack is consistently given a stronger rear channel influence than I’m used to, especially for a television series. The surround enhancement usually matches the stereo enhancement, though, creating more of a dual wall of sound than a proper directional influence. The club music in the fairy brothel, on the other hand, is given something more of a specific directional placement.
The extras begin with an ‘enhanced viewing mode’ for each episode. These in-episode features include Authority Confessionals: footage of Authority actors speaking to camera about the history of their order (accessible via branching), Flashback/Flashforward: footage from previous episodes available (accessible via branching), and Histories/Bios/Hints/FYIs: a series of pop-up factoids that fill in the blanks (though sometimes they create new ones). I didn’t notice any substantial spoilers here, so, unlike just about every in-film/in-episode viewing mode, this one is actually meant to be watched the first time around. Unlike many similar features, this one can be turned off and on during viewing without breaking away or stopping the footage. Each disc also features Inside the Episodes featurettes for each episode of the season. Most of these run around three or four minutes and feature interviews with various cast and crewmembers.
Some episodes feature cast and crew commentaries, which can be accessed via clicking on the episodes in question, not from the special features menu (I really hate this practice). These include "We'll Meet Again" with actor Chris Bauer (Andy), writer Alexander Woo and director Romeo Tirone; "Somebody That I Used to Know" with actor/director Stephen Moyer (Bill) and writer Mark Hudis; "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" with director Dan Attias and actors Denis O'Hare (Russell) and Carrie Preston (Arlene); "Sunset" with co-executive producer/writer Angela Robinson and director Lesli Linka Glatter; and "Save Yourself" with actor Anna Paquin (Sookie), creator/executive producer Alan Ball and director Michael Lehmann.
More extras begin on disc three with True Blood Episode Six: Autopsy (63:40, HD): a behind-the-scenes featurette that acts as an in-episode pop-up experience (similar to the extended viewing experience seen on the Game of Thrones season one Blu-ray). It covers writing, characters, stunts, special effects, production design, costumes, the original books, and the complexity of shooting the brothel sequences. It includes interviews with Ball, director Dan Attias, costume designer Audrey Fisher, cinematographer Romeo Tirone, production designer Catherine Smith,
And cast members Alexander Skarsgård, Denis O’Hare, Debra Ann Woll, Rutina Wesley, Todd Lowe, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Peter Mensah, Scott Foley, Anna Paquin, Janina Gavankar, Ryan Kwanten, Nelsan Ellis, Carrie Preston, Sam Trammell, Chris Bauer, Christopher Heyerdahl, Carolyn Hennesy, Valentina Cervi, and Christopher Meloni.
The extras end on disc six with True Blood Lines: an interactive, text-based appendix of the series’ characters, and Authority Confessionals (31:00, HD) for those of you that don’t want to sit through the enhanced viewing mode.
The quality drop over each season of True Blood has been subtle enough that I hadn’t really become frustrated until now. Even the other weaker seasons usually had enough vulgar and sensationalistic cheese to keep me entertained through the blander subplots. At this point, the bulky cast is wedging huge chunks of boring subplots between the actually interesting vampire-based superplot. True Blood doesn’t have the same excuses as Game of Thrones when it comes to broadening their scope and I think it may be time to either trim some of the fat or do a better job of limiting character locations. Or maybe it’s time for spin-offs. I know I’d watch Sheriff Bellefleur and His Fairy Babies. This Blu-ray looks and sounds as good as you’d expect, based on previous seasons, and the extras are plenty solid.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 28th May 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: Enhanced Viewing Mode, Cast and Crew Commetaries, Inside the Episodes, True Blood Episode Six: Autopsy, True Blood Lines, Authority Confessionals, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Anna Paquin, Alexander Skarsgård, Stephen Moyer, Ryan Kwanten, Deborah Ann Woll, Jim Parrack, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Rutina Wesley, Sam Trammell, Nelsan Ellis, Todd Lowe, Denis O'Hare, Deborah Ann Woll
Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery and Romance
Length: 730 minutes