Wednesday, September 17, 2008

True Blood: "The First Taste" (1x02)

True Blood’s second episode does a successful job of expanding the universe a bit, and clarifying some of the elements that remained rather ambiguous after the first. The second episode is typically the toughest for a series, after pouring all kinds of time and money into the first episode, the second one comes along and you’ll frequently see shows stumble as they figure out what to do. With both Six Feet Under and The Sopranos, the second episode is arguably the weakest of the entire series. Here, I get the sense that Ball knew the show would be picked up for the whole thirteen when he made the pilot, so there’s not that lurch of trying to get a bunch of ongoing plots into motion after a semi-standalone first episode. This is an unabashedly serial show, jumping from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, and the best elements of this episode all flow directly out of the first.

The best scene in the episode, on all levels was undeniably Sookie feeding on Bill while out in the swamp. I love the way the swamp feels so artificial, the moody lighting and carefully placed trees give it a very theatrical feel, like the characters have wandered onto a stage and are now playing out a drama in the most consciously stylish way possible. I enjoy works that embrace the stylistic potential of departing from a strictly “realistic” space. I’m sure people will be complaining about the fake looking sets, but that swamp environment felt so much more distinct and dreamlike than a real swamp would.

The Sookie/Bill relationship is interesting because it feels quite consciously drawn from the archetypal beautiful girl and brooding vampire archetype, we’ve seen this before, we know that the story will inexorably push them together, the characters can sense this magnetic pull, but remain unaware of its exact nature. Either way, Anna Paquin as Sookie remains the sun shining at the heart of the galaxy that is this show, eclipsing everyone else on screen with her great performance. She’s a really likable presence, and her sunshine persona contrasts with his darkness.

There’s a major contrast between the very physical relationships that the other characters have and the more chaste flirtation that Bill and Sookie share. The juxtaposition of Jason having sex in an extremely graphic scene with Sookie and Bill just holding hands in the swamp works well to demonstrate which one is about real affection. That’s not to say there’s no physical connection between Sookie and Bill, the blood drinking scene would say otherwise.

So, after two episodes, I’m definitely on board. I don’t know that it’ll ever become as great show as Six Feet Under, but there’s a lot of intriguing stuff here, Anna Paquin is fantastic and the tone and atmosphere really work. It’s trashy TV for smart people.

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