Season five of True Blood seems to be a super-sized version of the show: bigger cast! bigger plot! bigger scope! It's enough to make the season feel completely out of control. And if you watched this season when it aired last summer it certainly felt out of control. With so many meandering plotlines it felt like the show had lost much of its excitement and verve. But True Blood has always faired better on DVD/Blu-ray, a true show that is actually more enjoyable when marathoned (but more on that later).
The season four finale left a high dead body count, and, in True Blood fashion, the season five premiere picks up right away with the characters cleaning up their messes. Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) must dispose of Debbie Pelt's body after killing her during a home invasion. Sadly (or not, for some fans) Tara (Rutina Wesley) also died in the attack, stopping Debbie's bullet from killing Sookie. At Lafayette's (Nelsan Ellis) behest (who was, in turn, still reeling from his boyfriend's recent death), Sookie summons Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) to turn Tara into a vampire (despite Tara's deep hatred of vampires). This creative plot twist makes the grating character of Tara into an amusing, snarky vampire and gives Pam (one of the fan favorites) a lot more screen time as well.
Meanwhile, Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) are cleaning up their own mess. After killing Vampire Authority spokeswoman Nan Flanagan, Louisiana's vampire royalty are captured by the Guardian Roman (Christopher Meloni) and sentenced to the true death. However, they have leverage of their own, dangerous vampire Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare) is not actually dead and happens to be on the loose again. To save their own hides they must track him down and eliminate him.
Whilst balancing these bigger stories, there are various subplots occurring throughout Bon Temps. Alcide (Joe Manganiello) faces wolf pack leadership posturing after killing the old pack leader. Jason (Ryan Kwanten) faces more love triangle drama with Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and Hoyt (Jim Parrack). Sheriff Andy (Chris Bauer) faces a frightening rise in supernatural hate crimes—which puts great strain on Sam's (Sam Trammell) relationship with Luna (Janina Gavankar). And Terry (Todd Lowe) faces danger from a fire demon curse placed on him by an Iraqi woman he killed. Plus there are character-origin flashbacks, incest, and all manner of faerie drama (I told you there was a lot going on.)
Fans of True Blood will be unsurprised to see how all these disparate plotlines slowly converge (it's become a somewhat signature style of the show). It's just that the getting there is not very pleasant. Especially painful to follow are Terry's adventures—he's never been a particularly interesting character and foisting a season-long story on him is taxing and boring. Alcide's pack drama grows pretty tedious as well, but that at least is connected thematically to the season.
True Blood has always used the vampires as a not-so-subtle allegory for the civil rights movement and even less subtly the LGBT rights movement. In this season, the show delves into religious fanaticism (or really just fanaticism in general) and its affects on a group of like-minded people. The Chancellors of the Authority get sucked into a battle between Mainstreaming (living peacefully with humans) and the Sanguinista movement (a group focused on worshipping the dark goddess Lilith, who, according to the Vampyre Bible, wants all vampires to engorge themselves on human blood and rule the world). Fanaticism rears its ugly head with the wolf pack, which is facing a schism between those who think wolves should ingest vampire blood for extra power and those who prefer to live life drug-free. And the humans have their own fanaticism with their Ku Klux Klan-like hate group hell-bent on murdering all supernatural peoples. While we may know which side we would (should?) chose, many of the characters get tempted by the allure of such fanatics (most notably, Bill and Eric get hardcore brainwashed into the Sanguinista movement).
One of the bigger downfalls of the season is the immensely bloated cast. On top of all the aforementioned characters there are at least 10 other recurring characters. While some of those characters are immensely tiring (I'm looking at you, Lucy Griffiths—who plays Eric's sister Nora), others are ingenious additions (I'm looking at you, Michael McMillian—who plays returning Reverend Steve Newlin, now a gay vampire!). The introduction of all these characters and the constant shuffling between them makes much of the first half of the season exhausting.
Which leads to the other downfall of the season (and the show in general). The writers have started using this rote structure of drawing out an entire plotline over the 12-episode season. While this gives the seasons some uniformity of story and theme, it makes watching the show each week deeply unrewarding. The individual episodes are not always strong enough to stand on their own, working solely as setup for events much further down the road. Thus watching this show on TV gets tedious, but binge watching it on Blu-ray is infinitely rewarding and enjoyable (and very, very addicting). Maybe with creator Alan Ball stepping down as showrunner, his replacement will inject some new life into the series (but I doubt it). Instead I'll just eagerly anticipate binge watching the next season when it gets its Blu-ray release.
This Blu-ray set is packed with special features. Each episode has enhanced viewing which includes backstories by the writers. There is cast and crew commentary for 5 episodes in the season as well as an extensive breakdown of episode six. The "True Blood Lines" featurette catalogs the large bounty of characters on the show so you can keep track of their connections to each other. And "Authority Confessionals" delve deeper into the various Chancellors of the Authority.
"True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season" is on sale May 21, 2013 and is not rated. Drama, Sci-Fi. Directed by Dan Attias, Daniel Minahan, David Petrarca, Lesli Linka Glatter, Michael Lehmann, Michael Ruscio, Romeo Tirone, Scott Winant, Stephen Moyer. Written by Alan Ball, Brian Buckner, Mark Hudis, Raelle Tucker, Alexander Woo, Angela Robinson. Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Anna Paquin, Chris Bauer, Deborah Ann Woll, Denis OHare, Joe Manganiello, Kristin Bauer Van Straten, Nelsan Ellis, Rutina Wesley, Ryan Kwanten, Sam Trammell, Stephen Moyer.