From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

True Blood Season 2, Episode 7: “Release Me”

Like many excellent songs by the Pixies, this week’s True Blood is built on a simple “LOUD quiet LOUD” structure, alternating between crazy plot-driving action and intimate conversations. The Pixies, however, never spent quite so much time on infodumps. There’s much to like about “Release Me,” but some weak writing and needless filler make it one of the lesser episodes of the season.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Ex-detective Andy Bellefleur stumbles into Maryann’s Nightly Hippie Rave of Death just as she’s about to send Sam to puppy heaven. Andy fires a drunken shot into the air, startling the ink-eyed party-zombies and inadvertently giving Sam a chance to flee into the woods. After a moment of general confusion, bull-masked Maryann gives chase. Right as she’s about to catch up, Sam finally transforms into something other than a wimpy little dog, and flies away on owl’s wings.

Meanwhile, Sookie and Hugo wait around in the Fellowship of the Sun’s makeshift basement prison. (Geez, everyone has a basement prison these days.) There’s no sign of Godric, but the room is strewn with quaint Sunday school artifacts, such as a board game titled “Send Them Back to Hell!” After touching Hugo’s hand, Sookie has a psychic-flash revelation: Hugo is the informant in the Dallas vamp ranks! Sick and tired of suzerain love, Hugo turns to the Fellowship—but given that he’s still imprisoned, they don’t seem to care much whether he lives or dies. Desperate to earn his freedom, Hugo tells Steve Newlin everything he knows, including Sookie’s name.

“Stackhouse,” Steve repeats. The look of marrow-deep betrayal on his face is fantastic. The Rev runs off in a fit of rage, leaving Hugo and Sookie to continue to rot.

The day after his escape from the Death Rave, Sam tracks down Daphne and demands that she explain what Maryann is doing in Bon Temps. He also waves around a pistol. Like the entire viewership of True Blood, Daphne knows that Sam won’t shoot her, but she infodumps obligingly.

And what an infodump it is! Ashley Jones does what she can to save a horribly exposition-bloated scene by infusing Actual Daphne with giddy, geeky enthusiasm. I found myself far more intrigued by the real deal than her clumsy waitress act. In little fits of nerd glee, Daphne explains that Maryann is a maenad, a sort of divine consort of Dionysius. As the audience has long since gathered, the maenad feeds on human ecstatic energy, so that’s what’s up with the Nightly Hippie Rave of Death. In a cool, effective, and very Southern Gothic bit of syncrenistic suggestion, Daphne hints that if you squint, Maryann’s horned patron god looks a whole lot like Satan.

But what does she want with me? Sam wonders. Well, there’s the catch. Maryann’s ecstasy trance thing doesn’t work on supernatural beings — vampires, shifters, presumably telepaths, werewolves and fairies. (Does this mean Andy is some sort of supernatural? ‘Cause that’d be awesome.) Sam’s a nut she can’t crack, and Maryann — who is more or less omnipotent — relishes a challenge. She’s going to make him submit freely to her will, and if he dies in the course of persuasion, well, no big.

Sam expresses no small degree of displeasure over this arrangement, then runs away. Without shooting his shifty ex-lover, obviously. And Daphne’s all like, Why on Earth wouldn’t you want to play with the awesome devil goddess? Crazy man.

All right, now it’s time for some LOUD! Steve Newlin and his trusty sidekick Gabe abduct Jason (they are really good at abduction, y’all) and carry him out into the middle of the woods. Jason assumes that he’s being punished for his tango with Mrs. Newlin, and very nearly confesses to the sexy deed, but in fact Steve believes that Jason is a vampire spy. The Rev orders Gabe to kill Jason and drives away (Gabe’s just gonna have to walk home, I guess?), but the murder doesn’t go down quite as planned: Jason fights his way free, knocks the hell out of Gabe, and kicks him in the groin for good measure. Then flees into the woods. Fleeing into the woods is a motif this week.

For lack of anything better to do, Bill flashes back some more. Chicago Bill is wracked by guilt over the decadent lifestyle he has enjoyed with Lorena, and attempts to leave her. (It’s parallel to his present day predicament, see!) Lorena won’t let him. Bill threatens suicide by chair leg. Lorena tearfully releases him. You can summarize the events of the flashback in a sentence or two, but the actual scenes drag on and on and never quite convince or engage. This isn’t just exposition — it’s boring, unnecessary exposition. It feels like the writers realized they were ten minutes short and needed to give Stephen Moyer some more lines. In the present day, Lorena and Bill’s standoff drags on into the daylight hours. They’re safe in their vampire suite, but when a vampire doesn’t sleep for too long, the “bleeds” begin. A tired Lorena reveals that Eric hired her to subdue Bill. Tired Bill is tired. And pissed. Alas, when Barry comes to door with a psychic situation report from Sookie, he remains unable to act or even speak, and Barry is seized by an ominous vampire hand.

Next door, in the other (conveniently soundproofed) suite, Hoyt and Jessica discuss their respective virginities, which they resolve to discard once Jessica has had her beauty sleep. While she’s dozing, Hoyt decorates the room with blood-scented candles and flowers. Once again, the Jessica/Hoyt relationship is so refreshing, so persuasive and wonderfully sweet that I fear it can only end in horror and blood.

Tara and Eggs don’t get to do much this week, other than notice that — huh — their memory sure seems to have gotten spotty lately. Well, that, and a zombified Eggs stabs and kills Daphne at Maryann’s command. Which is stupid as hell, and smacks of lazy, lazy writing. There is no good reason within the world of the story for Maryann to kill a loyal, useful servant. But the character had served the writers’ plotty purposes, so it’s curtains for Daphne. Look, you’re better than that, True Blood. That’s a Heroes move, and you’re better than that.

Speaking of people killing people, Sarah Newlin tracks down Jason (on a golfcart!) and shoots him point blank in the chest. We know that she shot him with a dart or somesuch because he’s still alive in the promos, but hey. Suspense. Elsewhere, the other Stackhouse sibling has her own problems: a humiliated Gabe storms into the basement, knocks out Hugo, and attempts to rape Sookie, only to be raised bodily into the air by Godric. “Godric?” says Sookie. End credits.


Episode Grade: 5 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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