From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

True Blood Season 2, Episode 4: “Shake and Fingerpop”

This week, in True Blood: lessons in glamor, wooden bullets, and coffins that open from the inside. For my money, “Shake and Fingerpop” is Season 2’s best episode yet: hilarious, well-paced, and beautifully directed, with at least one stand-out moment for every major character. There are a few minor points to snark about, and snark I will, but any and all quibbles are ultimately overshadowed by the fun stuff.

We open with Jason, walking at night through Camp Light and Hate. Signs creak in the creepy breeze; faucets drip eerily. Jason hesitantly enters the men’s dormitory, where he finds—oh crap!—a dozen dead bodies with bloody necks. From the cinematography to the action beats to the music, this entire sequence is a love letter to classic horror films, and it works fantastically. A hooded figure leaps on Jason from behind and moves to feed, and Jason’s attempt to fight back is valiant but in vain.

The attacker begins to laugh, draws back his hood to reveal himself as Jason’s burly frenemy. Someone flicks the lights on. The camper corpses sit up, brandishing bottles of ketchup. Everyone has a laugh at Jason’s expense. And then the scene turns awesome. Jason punches his frenemy in the face and shouts that vampires – are not – a joke! “There’s a war going on. And you’re either on the dark side, or you’re on the side of the light!” The chastising pep-talk is perennially Jason—hysterical in its earnestness, even though we know it bodes ill. I think Ryan Kwanten may be the most underrated actor on the show—he allows us to both laugh at and genuinely like Jason, even as the character does monstrously stupid things.

Anyhow, Jason thoroughly shames his fellow campers, and this leads him onward and upward to still greater things. The good Reverend Newlin invites him to go four-wheel shootin’ – Newlin drives while Jason pops silver caps in cardboard vampires. Silver bullets, says Newlin, are good for incapacitating a vamp, but wooden bullets’ll do the deal in one easy transaction. The Reverend is deeply impressed with Jason’s marksmanship, and even more impressed by the news that our boy from Bon Temps has watched a vampire die. He decides to get some wooden bullets in Jason’s hands sooner rather than later, and invites him to be part of an elite fighting force called the “Soldiers of the Sun.”

Meanwhile, Tara resolves to move in with Sookie, and pulls it off with minimal resistance from Maryann. Sookie has to be off for Dallas, of course, but she gives Tara a birthday present and clues her in about Lafayette’s return before she goes. Outraged that her cousin didn’t contact her himself, Tara storms over to Lafayette’s house and tries to force him to seek medical care. Mr. Reynolds, however, is having a fit of stupid, and not only rebuffs her attempts to help but does so pretty jerkily.

Tara, then, is alone and hurt on her birthday, and Lafayette is still dying from a gunshot wound. This being True Blood, both cousins’ problems are solved—albeit with sinister complications—by supernatural interlopers. Maryann, Eggs, and Manservant Carl show up on Tara’s doorstep with an enormous cake; Maryann declares a surprise party and says that everyone will be at Tara’s place tonight. Tara looks understandably ambivalent at first, but quickly warms to the prospect of having fun on her birthday.

Lafayette, meanwhile, is visited by Eric. The vampire sheriff can’t enter without an invitation, but apparently he can monologue through the window. Eric notes that Lafayette needs to treat his leg sooner rather than later, and Eric just so happens to have magical healing blood. Lafayette sensibly responds that Eric is the dude who tortured him, and no way in hell is he going to invite the vamp inside. Why would Eric want to help, anyway? Well, says Eric, because I like you. Also it gives me leverage over Sookie. Somehow, this persuades Lafayette, and he drinks ravenously from Eric’s wrist. The magic works quickly, and soon our Mr. Reynolds is doing handstands and sexy dances out of sheer joy.

Now, Eric and Lafayette play wonderfully together, and I like the sexual undercurrent of their interactions, but this scene stretches credibility a smidge. The only course of action to which Lafayette will consent is a dubious offer from his former torturer? This smacks of the writers straining too mightily to put the characters in the same room, and it’s the only real false note of the episode.

When we last left Sam, he and Daphne were skinnydipping in a moonlit creek. Stunningly, this doesn’t lead immediately to trademark True Blood sexy times; instead, the pair flirt and discuss the merits of Bon Temps. The flirtation is sort of sweet, though Sam is at this point begging for a smackdown from the labor board. Anyhow, he decides to linger in town for a while longer, and as a consequence encounters Lettie Mae in Merlotte’s. Lettie Mae, believing that Tara and Sam are still together, wants to Sam to carry a birthday present to her daughter. Sam reluctantly agrees.

Folks may lose their souls in the city, but at least they live out their undeaths swankily. Sookie, Bill, and Jessica arrive in Dallas via Anubis Air, a dedicated vampire airline with sleek black onboard coffins. There’s a dude with a limousine waiting for Sookie as she exits the plane’s more traditional passenger section, but even through the complimentary wine daze (“It’s like booze for dolls! I had ten!”) she can tell that there’s something dodgy about the fellow. Limo Guy rushes Sookie and attempts to abduct her, but Bill blasts out of his coffin and seizes the dude by the neck. Jessica, not quite as familiar with the interior mechanisms of coffins, just sort of rolls to the ground.

Bill decides that this is a teachable moment and uses the dude to teach Jessica how to glamor a human. It’s his first real moment of effective vampire parenting, and it’s creepy as hell—Bill kindly, silkily guides his ward in the art of turning people into jelly. Jessica uses her glamor to take the dude’s cellphone (yep, she’s a teenager), while Bill and Sookie needle him for information. Surprising no one, the dude reveals that he was hired by the Fellowship of the Sun. He doesn’t know why they wanted to abduct Sookie, though.

At Tara’s party, everyone does the now-sort-of-tiresome Bacchanalia Boogie. Eyes go black, people get naked, etc. This time, however, things progress a little further. Sam and Daphne get kissy, prompting Daphne to whisper, “I know what you are.” An elated Tara falls into bed with Eggs. And Maryann, after stealthily discarding Lettie Mae’s gift, steps into the dark outside and starts to do her shaky magic thing. This time she gets really shaky, though, and her hands transform into three-fingered claws. Looks like she’s the crazy horned monster after all!

Back in Dallas, Eric arrives at Bill, Sookie, and Jessica’s swanky vampire hotel to provide some extra muscle. Bill spends the boss’s money on overpriced synthetic blood and grills him on his fixation with Godric. The writers clearly want to be absolutely bloody certain we know that Godric is twice as old as Eric, and twice as powerful, because Eric goes through that entire spiel again. If humans can disappear a vampire so strong, says the sheriff, then everyone is in danger. More and more, we get the sense that there’s a personal—maybe sexual?—component at play here.

An unhappy-looking bellboy named Barry arrives with Jessica’s midnight snack—a hunky young Fabio type—and Sookie notices that the bellboy’s thoughts are reacting to her own. Hey, wait, his thoughts are reacting to hers! The kid’s psychic too! He hears her realization and runs away, panicked. Sookie gives chase. Credits!

Episode Grade: 9 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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