From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

True Blood, Season 2, Episode 6: “Hard-Hearted Hannah”

This week’s major revelation is that Bill sings. More specifically, he sang, back when he was a nasty faux-French aristo who cut a bloody rug through Chicago with his maker, Lorena. And how do we learn about Bill’s Angelic past, you ask? Why, Ms. Lorena arrives in Dallas — and at the request of Eric, no less, who hopes to throw a wrench into Bill and Sookie’s loveworks. While Sookie’s off on her mission to infiltrate the Fellowship of the Sun, Lorena subdues Bill in his hotel room. (Apparently, it’s impossible for a vampire to overpower his maker.) This prompts Bill to flash back to the good ol’ days when he and Lorena pretended to be French, sang merry old songs, seduced wealthy young socialites, and generally slept where they ate.

In order to infiltrate the Fellowship of the Sun, Sookie teams up with the human partner of Dallas vampire Isabel. (The reasoning here being that evangelicals don’t trust young single women.) Said human partner, Hugo, enjoys the opportunity to commiserate with a fellow fanglover, but sort of poops on Sookie’s party when he brings up the uncomfortable fact that vampires are ageless and the humans who love them, well, aren’t. Sookie and Hugo’s foray behind enemy lines doesn’t last too long — after a brief and creepy meeting with the good Reverend Newlin, they’re thrown into a basement with Godric, while Sarah looks on disapprovingly. Bill hears Sookie’s distress, but Lorena’s bear hug of doom prevents him from intervening.

When not imprisoning strange young women, the Rev explores alternative career paths — specifically, that of construction project manager. He sets Jason and Jason’s Frenemy to work on a large platform, on which he plans to hold a “Meet the Sun” event. Jason wonders what a “Meet the Sun” event entails, and his Frenemy is only too happy to answer him: it’s a particularly fine bit of Inquisition-inspired theater in which a vampire is bound to a cross shortly before dawn, and left there until the sun rises. While working on the platform, Jason and Frenemy discuss the severity and forgivability of various sexual sins. Adultery, says the Frenemy, is basically the worst forgivable sin, eclipsed only by sex between dudes, sex with a vampire, and sex with a vampire dude. This little exchange causes Jason to pause for about ten or fifteen whole seconds the next time he encounters Sarah Newlin alone. Ultimately, however, Sarah’s sad and creepy “I was born to serve a great man, and you are it!” talk gets the better of him.

Back in Bon Temps, Tara and Eggs go on a mission to procure a rare component for their broken water heater. (Yes, really!) The quest is interrupted, however, when Eggs gets a creepy feeling from a random country side road. Against Tara’s protestations, the pair follow a mysterious path through the woods which Eggs feels that he half-remembers. At the end of the path? A big ol’ creepy ritual site, full of bloody rocks that are just the right shape for bashing heads open. Eggs freaks the hell out, and seems pretty damned genuine in his terror. The pair returns to Tara’s place, only to find a disturbingly similar ritual setup in the backyard, and Maryann in the center doing her freaky magic shake.

Elsewhere, the Sam and Daphne romance continues apace. Well, for a few paces, anyway. The two shifters duck out of work to go for a run in the woods — this time, however, Daphne turns into a pig. (We do, happily, get a hilarious shot of a pig and dog frolicking through the woods together.) She leads Sam to a mysterious place that he really ought to recognize, then reverts to human form and tells him that she has a surprise for him. Boy, does she — two Maryann-controlled henchmen jump Sam from behind and haul him to the ritual site in Tara and Sookie’s backyard. Daphne then calmly lifts an enormous bull mask (aha!) and places it on shaky-dancing Maryann’s head. Off to one side, we see Eggs and Tara in the throes of Maryann’s bacchanalian spell. Sam then unleashes an excellent and appropriate scream of pure terror.

The plot skips along merrily in “Hard-Hearted Hannah,” with plenty of fun and well-executed twists, but the episode really wins on the force of its sweetness. Two instances in particular scored the proverbial home run: first, after finding that his mother has canceled his cellphone service, Hoyt proudly declares (in Merlotte’s, no less) that his girlfriend has to call him at unladylike hours, because she’s a vampire. He then drives to Dallas and shows up at Jessica’s door with a fistful of unhealthy flowers. This is so adorable that it can’t end well. (Dammit.)

The second instance of sweetness is one of my favorite moments of the season. Ex-detective Bellefleur shows up in the kitchen of Merlotte’s to interrogate Lafayette about his long absence. When he threatens to throw Lafayette in a cell until he’s willing to talk, Lafayette has a post-traumatic freakout and pictures Eric’s face on Andy’s body — which should be funny, but is actually scary as hell. Terry shows up and delivers a vicious verbal smackdown on the ex-detective, then falls to the floor, wraps his arms around Lafayette in a kind of halting man-hug, and softly, sweetly, begins to talk Lafayette out of his freakout. (Terry, we’ve long known, is an Iraq vet who spent time in the VA hospital for similar breakdowns.)

This scene is stunningly touching, and demonstrates that True Blood can really bring an emotional A-game when it’s in the mood. Two of the show’s greatest dramatic strengths, I think, are its willingness to let powerful events alter its characters in believable ways, and its constant effort to give even secondary and tertiary characters a real sense of interiority. The heat and light of the primary plot threads are exciting, but without these quiet, grounding moments, they might grow quickly tiresome — the biggest misstep an action movie can take, after all, is to insist on too much action. Let’s take a moment to thank Ball and company for quiet, grounding moments.

Done? Great. Now back to your regularly scheduled flamethrowers.

Episode Grade: 8 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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