Back to School Part II #47: The Diary of a Teenage Girl (dir by Marielle Heller)


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Sometimes, the best way to defend a controversial film is to take a look at some of the people who have criticized it.  That’s certainly the case with 2015’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

First off, you have so-called critic and professional troll Jeff Wells, who landed in some hot water when he complained that the star of the film, Bel Powley, wasn’t attractive enough for him.  Never mind that he thought the rest of the film was intriguing, he simply could not get over the fact that Powley was not conventionally attractive.  Never mind, of course, that Powley (who was 23 at the time) was supposed to be playing a 15 year-old and that she gave one of the best and most honest performances of the year or that the film itself was about much more than just sex.  Jeff Wells wasn’t turned on and therefore, by his logic, the film failed.

And then you have Sasha Stone, the editor of Awards Daily.  Sasha claims to be a feminist and uses her site to regularly scold any actress who she thinks isn’t living up to Sasha’s idea of what a feminist should be.  Sasha is the same blogger who announced that her life mission was to “educate” Shailene Woodley and who threatened to never again report on any of Susan Sarandon’s movies because Sarandon was critical of Hillary Clinton.  Oddly enough, Sasha is also the online film community’s number one enabler of Jeff Wells, regularly providing cover for him whenever he makes one of his patented misogynistic remarks.

Anyway, Sasha absolutely hated The Diary of a Teenage Girl.  In fact, she hated it to such an extent that she’s probably still cursing about it on twitter.  Oddly enough, Sasha has never really stated why she hates Diary with such a passion.  I mean, here we have an honest film about coming-of-age, one that ends on a note of empowerment.  It’s a film that was both written and directed by a woman and it’s based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner.  This is an important film.  As far as I can tell, it appears that Sasha’s hatred was linked to the fact that apparently, she saw the film in a theater that was full of men and she felt that this film was specifically designed to appeal to “dirty old men.”

Which is bullshit.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m sure there are dirty old men who went to see The Diary of a Teenage Girl.  That’s just a fact of life.  When you have a film about a sexually active 15 year-old, it is going to attract certain people.  That, however, is not the film’s fault.  In fact, the film’s straight-forward approach to sexuality was probably the exact opposite of what most of those pervs were looking for.

The film’s protagonist is Minnie Goetze (played, as previously stated, by Bel Powley).  In 1976, she is 15 years old and living in San Francisco with her irresponsible (and, as becomes apparent as the film plays out, rather unstable) mother (Kristin Wiig).  Minnie is an aspiring cartoonist, an independent and intelligent teenager who often feels as if she’s separated from the rest of the world.  (The film makes good use of animation to visualize Minnie’s isolation.)  After losing her virginity to him, Minnie ends up having an affair with her mother’s handsome loser of a boyfriend (played by Alexander Skarsgard)….

When The Diary of a Teenage Girl was first released, so much attention was paid to the fact that 15 year-old Minnie was sexually active and frequently seen using drugs that many reviewers missed the fact that the film ultimately celebrates Minnie’s intelligence, independence, and her imagination.  Speaking for myself, after sitting through a countless number of teen films which either idealized virginity or insisted on punishing any sexually active teen with either pregnancy or an STD, The Diary of a Teenage Girl was actually a welcome change of pace.

Unfortunately, many critics have made the mistake of assuming that just because The Diary of a Teenage Girl does not judge, it therefore supports all of Minnie’s decisions.  Despite what some critics claim, Diary of a Teenage Girl does not glamorize anything that Minnie does.  (Many of the film’s sex scenes are deliberately filmed to be as unerotic as possible.)  At the same time, the film doesn’t feel the need to dispense out any sort of karmic punishment, either.  Instead, it’s a film that suggests that Minnie, like everyone else, is exploring and trying to discover what’s right for her.  In the end, the message of this film is that the most important thing is to love yourself and to find your own happiness.  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an engrossing and well-made coming-of-age story.  I can’t wait to see what director Marielle Heller does next.

 

Review: True Blood S5E6 — “Hopeless”


(SPOILERS BELOW)

I have to admit that Hopeless is not only the title of the latest episode of True Blood but it’s also the way I felt after watching the first 30 minutes.  After last week’s exciting Michael Lehman-directed episode, Hopeless seemed to be moving a bit too slowly for its own good.  However, once the show’s second half kicked in, I’m happy to say that the episode picked up the pace and it all ended with one of those wonderful (if, in this case, somewhat predictable) cliffhangers that we’ve all come to expect from True Blood.

At the end of last week’s episode, both Sam and Luna had been gunned down by a bunch of masked rednecks in a pickup truck and Emma had turned into an adorable wolf puppy and gone running into the woods.  At the time, I predicted that Sam would live but Luna appeared to be dead.  Well, tonight, I discovered that looks can be deceiving because Luna apparently isn’t dead.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I didn’t want Luna to be dead but, at the same time, considering just how dead Luna looked at the end of last week, it was still somewhat shocking to see her being not only wheeled into the hospital but being totally conscious as well.

Anyway, with Luna recovering in the hospital and Emma having safely made it to her grandmother’s place, Sam volunteers to help Andy track down the masked men who shot them.  Andy, at first, is reluctant to accept the help but Sam eventually convinces him and that’s probably a good thing because, as we all know, Andy is kind of a dumbass. 

Sam and Andy’s investigation leads them to the same gun shop where, a few episodes earlier, Sookie had gone to purchase some tools to use to try to control the newly vampiric Tara.  The same clerk that waited on Sookie is there to talk to Andy and, much like his last appearance, the actor playing the clerk goes totally over-the-top with his performance.  Fortunately, he tries to pull a gun on Andy which gives Sam an excuse to shoot him with a crossbow and kill him off before we have to spend any more time listening to him.

As for the masked rednecks themselves, they don’t show up until the very end of the show, at which point they kill a vampire who happens to be draining Hoyt dry.  Not realizing that Hoyt was a very willing victim, the rednecks proceed to “rescue” him by tossing him into their van.  It was, at this point, that I noticed that one of the rednecks was wearing a Barack Obama mask.

Tonight’s other big plot dealt with — of course — the vampires.  

At the end of last week’s episode, Bill, Eric, Alcide, and Sookie had finally found Russell and were preparing to take him in when Alcide was attacked by a werewolf.  At the start of tonight’s episode, Alcide managed to rather easily defeat the two wolves and for that, I say “Yay!” because it gave the show an excuse to show us Alcide all shirtless and tough-looking.  The Authority showed up at this point and took Russell into custody.  Before Eric and Bill were returned to Authority HQ, they were ordered to erase the memories of Sookie and Alcide.  While Eric erased Alcide’s memory (and took the time to tell him that he would, from now on, find Sookie physically repulsive), I got the feeling that Bill kinda faked it with Sookie. 

(Regardless of whether Bill faked it or not, it took Sookie all of a few hours to not only fully remember everything about Russell and the Asylum but also to restore Alcide’s memory as well.)

Back at Authority HQ, Bill and Eric are hailed as heroes by Roman and the other members of the Commission.  While Eric, being Eric, makes little effort to hide his contempt for the whole situation, Bill swears his loyalty to “mainstreaming” and, to be honest, goes a bit overboard while doing so.

Roman announces that he’s going to execute Russell that night and then grants Eric permission to speak with Nora.  When Eric goes down to see Nora in her prison cell, Nora reacts to the news of Russell’s impending execution with a joyous smile.  It soon becomes apparent why because, right as Roman attempts to administer the true death, Russell suddenly breaks free of his bonds and grabs him.  Salome’s little smile as Russell moves in to kill Roman should erase any doubt as to who originally set Russell free.

At first, I assumed that show ended with Russell killing Roman but, as my BFF Evelyn pointed out to me a few minutes ago, we never actually saw Roman die.  We saw some blood splattering on Russell and we saw Roman’s face twisting in apparent agony but we didn’t actually see him die.  Hopefully, Roman will survive this attack because, seriously, Chris Meloni’s performance has simply been too good and too strong for him to be so easily dispatched.

As for the rest of what happened on tonight episode, Pam broke up Jessica’s fight with Tara and Hoyt was all excited because he thought that meant that Jessica actually did love him.  When Jessica let him know that wasn’t the case, Hoyt replied by going out and finding that previously mentioned vampire to suck his blood. 

(Seriously, girls, haven’t we all had a Hoyt in our life at some point?) 

Meanwhile, Terry returned to Bon Temps and told Arlene that he couldn’t be near her because he’s got that fire spirit chasing after him.

Alcide decided that he wanted to be packmaster, after all.

And, finally, Jason told Sookie about the faerie nightclub and that their parents were killed by a vampire.  Afterward, they went to the club themselves and it was there that Hadley not only confirmed Jason’s story but also explained that the vampire killed their parents specifically because it was attracted to the smell of Sookie’s blood.

Needless to say, Sookie didn’t take that news well.

A Few Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • Tonight’s unofficial scene count: 38.
  • Tonight’s episode moved a little bit too slowly for me.  As usual, the action picked up during the final 15 minutes and the show ended with a pretty exciting cliffhanger.
  • Dale Dickey has been one of my favorite character actresses ever since I first saw Winter’s Bone and I’m always happy to see her bring her own distinct brand of Southern gothic to True Blood.
  • I was going to comment on the fact that Sam seemed to recover from being shot pretty quickly but maybe that has something to do with him being a shifter.  That’s my usual excuse whenever something happens on True Blood that doesn’t ring true to me: “Well, they’re all supernatural.”
  • I’m usually not a huge fan of werewolf politics but I did enjoy it when Alcide and the packmaster had their little redneck confrontation.  As always happens whenever I see rough but confident men trying to intimidate each other, my inner country girl squealed a little.
  • I also have to admit that I laughed out loud at the sight of Roman in his blue polo shirt.  There’s just something oddly appropriate about a self-important bully like Roman wearing a polo shirt that is just a tad too small.
  • I hope that someday some guy says to me, “You’re way too pretty to not be stupid,” just so I can reply, “What’s your excuse?” 

 

Review: True Blood S5E4 — “We’ll Meet Again”


Tonight’s episode of True Blood could very well have been called “Everybody hates Sookie.”  Seriously, Sookie did not have an easy time of it for most of tonight though, in the end, she got to have drunken sex with Alcide so I guess things didn’t work out too badly for her.

But before we get to that…

When we last saw Tara (Rutina Wesley), she was torturing herself in a tanning salon.  At the start of tonight’s episode, Pam (Kristen Bauer Von Straten) finally abandoned her facade of indifference long enough to save Tara and, as her maker, command to Tara to stop with the attempts at self-destruction.  Though still reluctant, Pam has started to take Tara under her wing and accept her responsibilities as a “maker.”  By the end of the episode, Pam was even bringing Tara a willing young woman to feed upon. 

However, Pam had more to deal with than just Tara.  Having finally been released from the Authority HQ, Bill and Eric go straight to Pam and demand to know if she told anyone about Russell.  While Eric interrogated Pam, Bill talked to Tara about her new life as a vampire.  For me, Bill and Tara’s scene was one of the highlights of the season so far.  It was beautifully acted by both Rutina Wesley and Stephen Moyer and it was a nice change from the show’s often frantic pace.

Speaking of noteworthy acting, Alexander Skarsgard got his own Emmy moment in tonight’s episode when he released Pam from his control.  He did this to protect her from both Russell and the Authority and tonight’s episode skillfully got every note of drama and pathos out of the moment that it could.

Meanwhile, Jason and Andy were invited to accompany corrupt old Judge Clements for a night out on the town.  Of course, in this case, that meant going out to a deserted field and stepping through a portal that led to some sort of fairy-run Moulin Rouge-type nightclub.  I enjoyed the sequences in the nightclub, if just because they were so decadent and over-the-top.  Jason didn’t enjoy it quite as much because he ran into his cousin Hadley, who apparently works at the club.  Hadley let it slip that the nightclub’s actually a “safehouse” and that Jason and Sookie’s parents were killed by vampires.  When Jason had a bad reaction to that bit of  information, both he and Andy are promptly kicked out of the club and back through the portal.  Who would have guessed that faery bouncers could be that effective?

Speaking of vampires, Nora (Lucy Griffiths) finally breaks down and tells Roman (Chris Meloni) who the secret Sanguinista Chancellor is.  It turns out, to no one’s great surprise, that it’s the little kid vampire, Alexander Drew.  Roman promptly responds by giving Drew the true death and who can blame him?  That kid was a smug, spoiled little brat and, for a little kid,he certainly made a big mess when he exploded.

Even with all that going on, tonight’s episode truly belonged to Sookie and Anna Paquin’s frequently underrated lead performance.  The beginning of the show finds Sookie with not a friend in the world.  Alcide is mad at her for killing his fiancee.  Lafayette is mad at her for telling Alcide about Debbie.  Eric and Bill are missing.  Tara’s blames Sookie for her transformation into a vampire.  To top it off, she can hear the thoughts of everyone in town and it quickly becomes apparent that all of them blame her for everything bad that’s happened over the course of the entire series.

Poor Sookie!  Seriously, who couldn’t relate to that feeling in one way or another?

Lafayette, meanwhile, has one of his possessed moments and this leads to him attacking Sookie’s car.  Later, when Sookie is driving home, her brakes go out and she ends up crashing her car.  Shaken but unhurt, Sookie stumbles back to her house and does what anyone would do under these circumstance.

She starts drinking.

By the time Alcide shows up to tell her that he’s covered up her involvement in Debbie’s death, Sookie is totally drunk and soon, she and Alcide are engaging in perhaps the tamest sex scene in True Blood history.  And to that, I say, “You go, girl.”  It probably would have been better if a jealous Bill hadn’t been standing outside her window watching (and seriously, windows have blinds for a reason) but still, it’s about time something good happened to Sookie.

A Few Random Observations:

  • I apologize if tonight’s review isn’t one of my better efforts.  I’ve been dealing with an onslaught of allergies and asthma for the past week and I have to admit that I’ve spent much of tonight in a sort of daze.
  • Tonight’s unofficial scene count was 35.
  • You’ll notice that I haven’t spent much time on Terry’s flashbacks to Iraq.  That, quite frankly, is because that little subplot doesn’t hold that much interest to me.  So far it just feels as if it’s an excuse for Alan Ball to indulge in some nostalgic criticism of George W. Bush and the Iraq War without having to acknowledge that Barack Obama has pretty much been pursuing the same foreign policy in the rest of the Middle East.  I’m still hoping that the show does something unexpected with this whole subplot but, so far, it’s all been pretty predictable.
  • “How you like Bush now!?” was the epitome of a line so heavy-handed that it probably backfired.  What made this line annoying to me is that it was hard to shake the feeling that the show would never have had the guts to feature soldiers committing a war crime in Afghanistan while shouting, “Yes, we can!”  (Much less, “How you like Obama now!?”)
  • No appearances by the Rev. Newlin tonight but I’m sure he’ll play a big role in the later half of the season.  I get the feeling that there was a lot of foreshadowing going on with Bill and Jessica’s discussion concerning whether or not Bill was still king of Louisiana.
  • Compared to last week, there was a definite shortage of memorable lines in tonight’s episode.  However, Kristen Bauer Von Straten’s delivery of the line, “3 days old and she already has an eating disorder…” was perfectly delivered with just the right combination of concern and self-pity.
  • Anna Paquin’s version of the Pina Colada Song was adorable.

If I was the type to give out grades, I’d give tonight’s episode a good solid B.  If nothing else, I was glad that Bill and Eric finally got out of the Authority HQ.  I have to admit that I’m starting to wonder if Russell is actually going to show up this season or is he just going to be an unseen metaphor.

Time will tell.

Review: True Blood S5E3 — Whatever I am, You Made Me


Last week on True Blood

After being captured and tortured by the Authority, Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexader Skarsgard) were on the verge of being executed by Roman (Chris Meloni) until Bill revealed that not only was Russell (Denis O’Hare) not killed but that he was now missing.  Meanwhile, in Bon Temps, a newly vampiric Tara (Rutina Wesley) fled into the dark night while Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) watched helplessly. 

This week on True Blood

The majority of tonight’s episode was dominated by Tara and Rutina Wesley’s wonderfully angry performance.  We opened with Tara wandering through the night, searching for blood and nearly sucking it out of the first unfortuante stranded motorist that she comes across.  (“I got no problem with vampires!” the poor motorist protests.)  Eventually, Tara ends up locked up in Sam’s walk-in freezer where she has dreams about attacking Arlene.  (Like a lot of people, I went: “Oh.  My. God” at this scene until it became apparent that Tara was just having a dream.)  Eventually, Tara manages to get out of the freezer and, quite cleverly, breaks into a tanning salon so that she can expose herself to some UV rays.  I guess that’s one way to express your self-loathing.

The main reason that Tara’s having a hard time adjusting is because she’s been abandoned by her maker, Pam (Kristen Bauer Von Straten, who brings such life to the undead), who refuses to have anything to do with Tara.  For me, the highlight of tonight’s episode was seeing the continuation of the flashbacks to Pam’s origin.  In this episode we got to see how, in 1905 San Francisco, Pam went to rather extreme lengths to convince Eric to turn her.  Even better, we also got to see how Eric and Bill first met in Pam’s brothel. 

Speaking of Eric and Bill, they’re still being housed over at the Authority headquarters.  They’ve convinced Roman to release them so that they can track down Russell but Nora (Lucy Griffiths) is still being held prisoner and, while being tortured, she admits to being opposed to “mainstreaming.”  Both Bill and Eric are seduced by Salome and there’s a great scene towards the end of this episode where they compare notes in an elevator.  (Seriously, the vampire bromance between these two is always fun to watch and Moyer and Skarsgard always appear to be having fun acting opposite each other.)  Of course, it turns out that Salome’s apparently working for Roman and was testing Bill and Eric’s loyalty.

Or was she?  To be honest, I have a feeling that Salome has an agenda of her own…

The Rev. Newlin (Michael McMillan) also shows up in this episode.  Apparently, the reason he’s been on TV so much is because he’s groomed by Roman to be the new face of vampire-human coexistence.  Showrunner Alan Ball has been very open about the political subtext of True Blood in general and season 5 in particular and that subtext was pretty obvious in Meloni and McMillan’s scenes tonight. 

Usually, I’m not a huge fan of obvious subtext for the simple reason that it’s often … well, way too obvious.  In the past, I have to admit, I’ve felt that Ball — like most writers — is at his weakest when he’s hammering home a point.  (That’s why I’m wary of this season’s subplot about Terry’s service in Iraq.)  However, tonight, I thought that Meloni and McMillan both saved what could have been a rather heavy-handed scene.  Both of them brought just enough of a hint of perversity to their lines to keep the scene interesting.  Between Meloni’s barely suppressed rage and McMillan’s nervously insincere smile, their conversation was a lot of fun to watch.

But that’s not all that happened tonight!

Sookie finally confessed to Alcide that she killed Debbie.  Lafayette was briefly tempted to serve poisoned gumbo and it appears that he might be posessed.  And Jason met a woman in the super market which, of course, meant that he ended up getting laid.  That woman, incidentally, was a former teacher and lover of Jason’s and promptly after re-seducing her, Jason apparently had such a change of heart that he was even able to resist Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) when she came calling later on that night.

To be honest, I wasn’t as big a fan of this episode as I was of Turn! Turn! Turn! and Authority Always Wins.  Don’t get me wrong.  Whatever I am, You Made Me had plenty of good moments and the script was full of the type of snarky one-liners that I’ll be repeating for weeks to come.  Overall, however, tonight’s episode felt a little bit off, just a tad bit uneven.  The final fourth of the show was genuinely exciting but the scenes leading up to it often seemed to alternate between playing out either too slowly or too quickly.  I’m looking forward to next week’s episode and I can’t wait to see how season 5 plays out but tonight’s episode was just okay for me. 

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • Whenever I watch a new episode of True Blood, I always grab a notebook and I jot down what happened in each scene.  I did this even before I started reviewing the show because 1) it was often the only way that I could actually keep track of what was going on and 2) I’m an obsessive list maker.  Anyway, by my very unofficial count, tonight’s episode had a total of 33 separate scenes.
  • For scene number 6, I simply wrote down “Skarsgard shirtless.”  Just in case there was any doubt where my mind usually is while watching True Blood
  • How cool is it that Salome is the actual Salome?
  • I thought the scenes at the beginning of this episode, where Tara was on the prowl, were very well-directed and did a good job at capturing the disorienting nature of Tara’s new existence.
  • Much like last week, I continued to be impressed with the set design of the Authority’s headquarters and the contrast between the baroque upper level and the rather shabby lower levels.  If nothing else, it provided a perfect reminder of the corruption that often lurks behind the benevolent facade of most authorities (including, it would appear, the Authority).
  • Most effective “Oh my God!” moment: Lafayette pouring bleach into the gumbo.  I have to admit that, after watching Arachnoquake last night, I was hoping Lafayette would shout out, “Now that’s how you make jambalaya!”
  • After last week’s rather grim outing, this episode featured several laugh-out-loud lines:
  • “Can I hug you without you thinking about my boobs?”  This was my favorite line in this episode, if just because I’ve often been tempted to say the same thing.
  • “And right now, I’m fuck buddies with the love of my best friend’s life.  Who’s a teenage vampire.”
  • “These beans are as cold as titties in a brass bra.”
  • “My dick starts shouting, ‘Just shut up and fuck her!'” At least Jason is honest.
  • “Go back to dry humping each other and buying my overpriced drinks or get the fuck out!”

Finally, I’ll close with a quick prediction: By the end of this season, Salome will try to engineer a coup in order to take out Roman and install either Bill or Eric in his place.

Review: True Blood S5E2 — Authority Always Wins


Last week on True Blood

When last we checked into the lives of the citizens of Bon Temps, Russell (Denis O’Hare) was missing, Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), Bill (Stephen Moyer), and Nora (Lucy Griffiths) had been captured by the Authority, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) was being pursued by the newly vampiric Rev. Newhouse (Michael McMillan), and Tara (Rutina Wesley) had been turned into a vampire by a rather annoyed Pam (Kristen Bauer Von Straten).

This week on True Blood

Just judging by last week’s preview of “Authority Always Wins”, you would have been excused for expecting that tonight’s episode would have been totally dominated by Christopher Meloni, playing the role Roman, the head of the Authority.  Well, Meloni doesn’t show up until the episode’s final 15 minutes but he totally manages to dominate every one of those 15 minutes.  Even looking back on this episode in order to write this review, almost of all of my thoughts are dominated by Meloni’s intimidating and powerful performance.

Before Meloni’s appearance, the majority of the show was made up of scenes of Bill, Eric, and Nora being held prisoner and interrogated in the Authority’s headquarters.  Whoever designed the Authority’s headquarters deserves an Emmy for set design next year and director Michael Lehman makes good use of the contrast between the baroque corporate chic of the upper levels and the grim and stark prison in the lower levels. 

During one particularly harrowing sequence, both Eric and Bill are interrogated by separate Authority members.  Both Bill and Eric are hooked up to machines that look a bit like Jack Kervorkian’s suicide machine and silver is slowly pumped into their veins.  Bill’s wonderfully creepy interrogator asks if Bill is familiar with the Vampire Bible and then goes on to explain that, according to the Vampire Bible, God created Lilith first (as a vampire) and Adam and Eve were then created to serve as a food source.  As someone who has long loved all the legends that surround the character of Lilith, I loved this little development.

After they are both interrogated, Bill and Eric are eventually brought before the Authority and it’s here that Roman finally makes his appearance.  Stalking about with his hulking frame concealed beneath a perfectly tailored suit, Meloni totally owns both the role and the final fourth of this episode.  Whether he’s bellowing in rage or coolly slitting open his own wrist without so much as even flinching, Meloni gives a performance in this episode that perfectly captures the aura of power that a character like Roman needs to be believable.  I think the main reason why Meloni does so well here is because you look into his penetrating eyes and you see his cold expression and you believe — as you rarely believe with most other actors — that Meloni really could kill someone.

Speaking of killing someone, Roman comes close to killing Bill until Bill explains that Russell isn’t actually dead.  Roman agrees to put off administering the true death so that Bill and Eric can track down and kill Russell.  Another benefit of Meloni’s domineering performance is that seeing how scared Roman is of Russell serves to remind the viewer that Russell can be pretty intimidating himself.

The episode’s other major plotline dealt with Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) having to deal with the newly turned Tara.  Pam, to no one’s great surprise, reacts to Tara’s resurrection by saying, “She’s all yours, kiddoes,” and then running off.  Tara ends up spending the night tearing apart Sookie’s house.  When she’s asleep during the day, Lafayette — who was the one who first suggested that Pam turn Tara in the first place — comes close to staking her but he’s talked out of it by Sookie.  When Tara does wake up, she utters her first words since turning and tells Lafayette and Sookie that she’ll never forgive them.  She then disappears into the night.

Speaking of newly-turned vampires, Rev. Newlin is now showing up on TV where, smiling in that creepy way of his, he gives interviews about his new life as a vampire and how he can be both a vampire and a Christian.  One interviewer asks Newlin if he has someone in his life and Newlin replies, “Yes.  She makes me very happy,” which would seem to indicate that, even in the world of True Blood, it’s more socially acceptable to be openly vampiric than openly gay. 

Soon afterward, Newlin is confronting Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and offering $10,000 to buy Jason from her.  Jessica refuses and mocks Newlin with, “My dad is king.”  Newlin smugly replies, “Not anymore.”  This little scene makes me fear that somehow, in another episode or two, Rev. Newlin — who is preaching the same type of co-existence as the Authority — will end up as the new king of Louisiana.

It’s just a feeling I’ve got.

A Few Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • The power struggle with the werewolves continued to slowly develop in this episode.  As I’ve stated before, I’ve never really been that interested in the werewolves but tonight’s episode had some effective black humor concerning the werewolf tradition of eating the previous packmaster.  Add to that, Dale Dickey continues to be a brilliant character actress.
  • Though Luna would probably disagree, didn’t Emma just make the cutest little wolf?
  • While the show was dominated by Meloni, I have to give some extra praise to Rutina Wesley who did a great job tonight as a feral, newly turned vampire.  The scenes where she hatefully and cautiously eyed both Lafayette and Sookie were some of the best in this episode.
  • Nelsan Ellis, who rarely gets enough credit for his work as Lafayette, also did a notably good job in this episode.
  • If there was one performance I didn’t care for in this episode, it was the performance of the guy who played the clerk in the gun store.  I felt he went a bit over the top in his performance and was trying way too hard to be a redneck.  That said, his overacting was nicely balanced by Paquin’s more humorous approach to the material.
  • While Tara was going crazy, Pam was having flashbacks to her previous life and the first time she met Eric.  I have to admit that I’ve reached a point where I’m cynical about flashback scenes on shows that feature vampires.  I’m always hoping that there will be at least one vampire who was not a decadent libertine in the 18th and 19th century.  That said, I thought that Pam’s scenes were well-handed.  If nothing else, Alexander Skarsgard looked good in a top hat.
  • By the way, how many viewers initially assumed that Eric was responsible for the dead prostitute in Pam’s flashback?
  • I’m not sure how much I like this whole subplot with Terry having flashbacks to what appears to be an Iraq war atrocity.  The whole thing feels rather predictable and, quite frankly, whenever a character on a television show mentions serving in Iraq, you know that he’s going to start having atrocity-flashbacks within a couple of minutes.  (It often feels like a cheap shot at the men and women who served in an unpopular war.)  Hopefully, showrunner Alan Ball will do something unexpected with this subplot and prove my doubts wrong.  That said, Todd Lowe’s sleep-walking scene was a definite highlight.
  • Finally, a correction.  Last week, there were a lot of people (including, I’m sad to say, me) who went, “Ewwwwww!” as soon as Eric started making out with his “sister” Nora.  As my BFF and fellow True Blood lover Evelyn explained to me later, Nora and Eric are not blood related.  Really, it should have been obvious from Nora’s English accent.

If only for the introduction of Christopher Meloni as Roman, this was a good episode.  If nothing else, it left us with no doubt that the Authority always wins.

Review: True Blood (S5E1 — Turn! Turn! Turn!)


 

(Possible Spoilers Below)

Before I start my review of the premiere episode of the 5th season of True Blood, I should offer up a confession.  I’ve enjoyed watching True Blood for a while now.  I think Alexander Skarsgard is to die for, I think Anna Paquin’s an underrated actress, and I think that Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and Jason (Ryan Kwanten) are a cute couple.  I thought last season was brilliant and I thought that the finale especially was exciting and well-done.

That said, I’m hardly a True Blood expert and I’m not going to pretend that I am one.  Like a lot of this show’s fans, I wasn’t there when the show first started.  By the time I saw my first episode, True Blood was already into season 2 and I didn’t become a regular viewer until season 3.   Since then, I’ve worked to get caught up on show’s first seasons but I’m hardly an expert.  (Incidentally, I haven’t read the books either.)  I’m a fan and that’s the approach that I’ll be bringing to my reviews this season.

Anyway, tonight’s episode starts right where season 4 ended: Tara (Rutina Wesley) is bleeding to death on the floor of Sookie’s (Anna Paquin) kitchen, as the result of being shot in the face by Debbie who was then shot and killed by Sookie.  Lafayette (Nelson Ellis), who is still mourning his dead lover, comes downstairs and discovers the mess.  Suddenly, Pam (Kristen Bauer Von Straten, who is hilariously scornful of everyone and everything in this episode) shows up searching for Eric.  Lafayette asks Pam to turn Tara into a vampire.  Pam is, at first, reluctant until Sookie says she’ll “owe you one” in return.  I imagine that promise is something we’ll being hearing about a lot for the rest of this season.  By the end of the episode, it appears that Tara has returned as a vampire and I get the feeling that she might not be too happy about that.

Speaking of new vampires, the thoroughly creepy Rev. Newlin (Michael McMillan) is back, he’s now a vampire, and he’s’ apparently in love with Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten).  After he manages to trick Jason into letting him enter his house, Newlin explains: “I’m a gay vampire American…”  Newlin explains this while he just happens to have Jason tied to a chair.  The scene between Newlin and Jason were probably the most obviously politically-charged sequence in tonight’s episode, with Newlin seemingly standing in for such real-life homophobic bigots as Rev. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church.  Anyway, Newlin is chased off by Jessica who shows up to announce that “Jason is mine!”

So are Jessica and Jason back together all official-like now?  Not quite.  Jason later tracks Jessica down to an incredibly tacky frat party where Jessica explains to him that she just said that to scare off the Rev. Newlin.  The whole party sequence was actually my favorite part of this episode.  I loved the reminder that not everyone in Bon Temps is obsessed with the supernatural.  Some people just want to drink beer and sing karaoke.  Deborah Ann Woll, in particular, gave a good performance here and it was obvious that both she and the character she plays loved vamping it up.

But what about Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) and Bill (Stephen Moyer)?  When last we saw, they were killing Nan (Jessica Tuck) and getting told off by Sookie.  Tonight’s episode found Eric scrubbing away Nan’s remains while Bill called Jessica and told her that he would be going away for a few weeks.  They detect the danger at Sookie’s house but Eric coldly dismisses it with, “Fuck Sookie.”  Bill disagrees but even as they run out of the house, they are captured by the Authority.  Fortunately, Eric’s sister Nora (Lucy Griffiths) works for the Authority and she rescues both of them.  She and Eric then proceed to spend most of the rest of the episode having sex and uhmmm…Eric, that’s your sister.  Eric tells Bill, “We fight like siblings but we fuck like champions.”  Ewwwww.

Now, it’s a testament to the charisma and body of Alexander Skarsgard that, even when committing very graphic incest, he’s still the hottest thing ever to show up on HBO.

Anyway, Eric, Bill, and Nora meet up with some rebel vampires and are given false identities and appear to be on the verge of escaping when suddenly, the Authority’s goons show up and recapture them. I assume this is setting everything up for Chris Meloni to show up in the next episode.

But that’s not all that happened tonight!  One of the things that I love about True Blood is that it’s never shied away from offering up as many plot complications as possible per episode.  This is not a show that moves slowly and that was certainly true tonight.

It turns out that season 3’s main villain Russell (Denis O’Hare) isn’t dead and he’s not where he’s supposed to be.  Meanwhile, Scott Foley is wandering around town acting enigmatic, Andy (Chris Bauer) is still proving himself to be a dumbass in general, and apparently there’s some sort of power struggle developing with the werewolves.

A Few Random Observations:

  • I have to admit, I’ve never been that interested in the werewolves.  They’re just not as much fun as the vampires.  That’s one of the few things that True Blood has in common with the Twilight series.
  • Best line of the episode comes from Pam: “I’m wearing a Wal-Mart sweatsuit for you all.  If that’s not a demonstration of team spirit, I don’t know what is.”  My twitter timeline literally exploded with people reacting to that line.
  • My second favorite line was Alcide’s “It smells clean.  Like lemons on top of ammonia on top of bleach.”
  • If you’re like me and you mostly watch this show because you’re hoping for a chance to catch Alexander Skarsgard undressed, this episode did not disappoint.
  • This was a good episode for your Jessica lovers as well.  One of my favorite parts of tonight’s episode was when she dismissed the Rev. Newlin by explaining that she’s older than him.
  • Chris Bauer continues to play the most realistic lawman on television.
  • As much as I love Alexander Skarsgard, Stephen Moyer had some great scenes tonight.  His facial expressions while watching Nora and Eric were priceless.
  • I felt bad for Sookie during her little flashback scene.
  • The return of True Blood means a return of my effots to get my sister to allow me to dye her hair “Pacquin blonde.”
  • I hope Nora’s around for the rest of the season.  Incest aside, she’s a great character and Lucy Griffiths gave a great performance tonight.
  • I was hoping that Russell would physically show up on tonight’s episode but I’m actually kind of glad that he didn’t.  With everything else that was going on tonight, I’m glad that I have something to look forward to in the future.
  • Another thing I’m looking forward to: Chris Meloni as Roman.  If anyone was born to play a vampire named Roman, it’s Chris Meloni.

So, over all, I think tonight’s episode was a good start for season 5 and I look forward to spending another 11 episodes in Bon Temps.