From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

True Blood Season 2, Episode 3: “Scratches”

This week: backyard bacchanalia, the monster in the woods, and the most half-assed rescue of all time. “Scratches” is fast-paced and efficient, full of fantastic twists and character work, but a couple moments of what-the-huh? detract from an otherwise solid episode.

So it turns out that Bill dealt with Jessica’s family in the most humane way he could manage – by glamoring them “within an inch of their sanity.” But he is not a happy camper. Bill berates Sookie ferociously as they drive back to Bon Temps, with Jessica bawling in the backseat. Stephen Moyer is incredible in this scene—he really seems like he might lose his shit at any moment, and it’s deeply uncomfortable to watch.

Finally Sookie decides she’s had enough and storms out of the car. She’s twenty miles from Bon Temps, but she stomps determinedly through the creepy woods until she sees a silhouette in the distance. It looks an awful lot like a Minotaur—big, horned head, humanoid body. The monster rushes Sookie and scratches the hell out of her back. Theme song.

Much like the season premiere, “Scratches” cheerfully subverts the source material. In Living Dead in Dallas, Sookie is attacked in the woods by a lady with a pig, who turns out to be a Maenad. We’ve already met she of the pet pig, Maryann, and she sure is pretty maenad-y, but this monster looks like something different. From the same section of the mythology shelf, maybe, but different. Which is a wonderful surprise; once again, the folks behind the curtain demonstrate that a worthwhile adaptation works like a good cover song—respect the source material, sing its best lines and understand its emotional texture, but please, please surprise us. Nothing is more boring than a note-for-note cover.

Bill and Jessica hear Sookie cry out and zoom to her rescue. By the time they arrive, however, Sookie’s twitching in the dirt with three ugly gouges in her back. The monster is nowhere to be seen. Bill bites open his wrist and tries to heal Sookie with his magic blood, but it only makes her worse: she begins to froth and twitch. Terrified and desperate, Bill rushes her to Fangtasia.

Meanwhile, Jason’s having a crisis of conscience at the Light of Day leadership camp. During confessional circle time, he admits that he’s known and liked several vampires. More to the point, a rabid vamp-hater killed two of his favorite people in the world, and then tried to kill his sister. Dejected and confused, Jason leaves the circle and resolves to leave the camp, but Sarah Newlin runs after him.

At Merlotte’s, Sam plans to abandon Bon Temps to Maryann. He tells Tara to look closely at her new host’s life, then tries to hand over management of the bar to Terry (short order cook, Iraq war vet, and one of those wonderful minor characters I always want to spend more time with). Terry miserably agrees, but notes that whatever Sam’s running away from, he’s being a pathetic coward: “Remind me never to get stuck in a foxhole with you.”

The Fangtasia crew saves Sookie with the help of their tiny, delightfully surly supernatural doctor. I hope we see Dr. Ludwig again soon—she is truly Cottle-caliber awesome. The doc boredly rakes the poison from Sookie’s wounds (and Lord it looks painful) and compares it to that of a komodo dragon. With Sookie safely detoxed, Bill is able to administer his blood, and soon she’s right as rain.

You recall that Lafayette seemed destined for the fangy life last episode. Turns out, nah, the Fangtasia vamps just fed on him for a while. This particular fake-out is as annoying as it is nonsensical, since he was dying from blood loss before they fed. Anyhow, once she’s healed, Sookie quickly learns that Lafayette is being held downstairs. She slaps the hell out of Eric and demands that he release his prisoner, which is totally awesome and briefly makes me love her.

Eric agrees—on the condition that Sookie goes on the Big Important Mission to Dallas that he’s been yapping about for two episodes now. Very old vampire sheriff Godric is missing, need to find him, etc. Sensing that she has some strange advantage in this particular negotiation, Sookie demands ten grand and a second plane ticket for Bill. I want her on hand next time I buy a car.

Over at Camp Light and Hate, Sarah Newlin works to bring Jason back into the fold. She was once a vampire sympathizer too, she says—until her sister got too close to some vamps and disappeared. The two pray very, very sexily together, and then Sarah takes Jason to speak to her husband.

The good Reverend Newlin explains that if Christians are to love good, then they must also hate evil. Two sides of the same coin and all. Besides, given that vampires have murdered Daddy Newlin and family, wouldn’t it be downright disgusting for Steve to turn around and embrace the murderers? Jason looks more or less persuaded, so Steve switches gears and announces that they’re going to eat some of Sarah’s pudding. “Sarah doesn’t whip out her pudding for just anyone,” he says, beaming. Jason makes the same face you would make.

In Bon Temps, Maryann still hasn’t gotten the party-hardy out of her system. She throws a huge shindig in her backyard, and the bulk of the town seems to be there. Tara and Eggs get closer and closer, while around them, the party gets wilder and wilder. Mysterious music plays, and people’s eyes go all black and ecstatic. Tara doesn’t really notice any of this until one party-crazed girl offers Eggs a sensual massage, which he happily accepts. Tara gets up and stumbles away from the party, deeply freaked out. You can practically hear Sam’s earlier exhortation—look closely—in voiceover. Thankfully, this isn’t a voiceover sort of show.

At least a few Bon Temps residents are sitting out the Great Backyard Orgy of ‘09. With Bill and Sookie out having adventures in alternative medicine, Jessica is free to roam. She wanders to Merlotte’s, where she meets dear, innocent Hoyt. After some deeply awkward flirtation, Jessica invites him back to Bill’s place, where Hoyt tries to show her how to play Wii. These scenes are unstoppably adorable, and make for fantastic counterpoint to all the orgies and slow-mo limb-flinging. The chemistry between Jim Parrack and Deborah Ann Woll is astonishing, and this subplot masterfully twists around the innocent-teen-girl-meets-dangerous-vamp-boy formula. The whole scenario emerges organically from the characters—and with Hoyt’s hyperprotective mother in the mix, there’s endless potential for awesomeness.

So: Write to Alan Ball. Demand more Jessica and Hoyt.

Their negotiations all ironed out, Sookie and Bill take Lafayette home. “Sure you don’t want to go to the hospital?” they ask. Lafayette says he doesn’t have health insurance, and anyway his veterinarian uncle can take care of him in the morning. Bill and Sookie are all, “Oh, okay, you’ve got a vet uncle, cool,” and let him out of the car. Have a good night, dude! Don’t get tortured again! Or die from your gunshot wound! Lafayette hobbles inside, astonished to see the place again. He wraps himself in a blanket and begins to weep.

This last bit’s extremely moving, but the most striking thing about the scene is that Bill and Sookie are the worst friends ever. Possibly Lafayette is crying because they are such bad friends. Dude has been tortured and shot—by Bill’s associates, no less—and neither offers to cover the hospital bill? (Bill can surely afford it, and Sookie’s just been promised ten grand.) Bill doesn’t offer a few drops of his magical blood? Yeah, yeah, the restorative blood is a big vampire secret, but so is the fact that they round up people for torture and evisceration. Even from the shrewdest of shrewd points of view, it seems like the vamps would want Lafayette healthy if he’s going to go free. With all the fang wounds, he might as well wear an “I was abducted by vampires” sandwich board.

Back in the car, Sookie reflects that some vampires are really shitty people. She used to think folks like the Fellowship of the Sun were just closed-minded bigots, but maybe they have a point. Bill agrees that some vampires totally suck, but isn’t the same true of people? Sookie reckons he has a point. The viewer feels that this exchange is maybe just a bit too on the nose.

We finish off the episode with Sam. He’s all packed up and ready to flee, but his doggy companion begs him to come out and play. “All right, one last time,” he says, stripping down and running off into the woods. After an interval of canine fun time, Sam leaps into the lake and reverts to human form for a spell of moonlight skinny-dipping. The other dog runs away, scared of something. And then Daphne (Sam’s clumsy new waitress) appears.

Looks like Mr. Hardass Boss is real sweet to dogs, she says, and Sam bashfully apologizes for being all angry eyebrows lately. Oh, it’s all right, says Daphne. And indeed, it’s really all right. She pushes down her shorts, pulls off her shirt. And—holy crap!—she’s got the same monster scratches on her back as Sookie!

Credits roll.

“Scratches” is as weird, engaging, and propulsive as True Blood gets, but a handful of distracting logical malfunctions knock its score down a couple notches. What do you think? Do you get half-credit for saving someone’s life but then leaving them to bleed out? Also, can anybody explain why vamp blood is a drug in some instances and a restorative in others?

Maybe we’ll get answers next week. In Texas.

Anything can happen in Texas.

Episode Grade: 7 out of 10

Eric Gregory spends too much time writing and hiding from the light. His stories have recently appeared (or are forthcoming) in Interzone, Black Static, Strange Horizons, Apex Book Company’s The Blackness Within, and other cool venues. He blogs semi-regularly about books, writing, food, and sundry.

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