Witches and Vampires Face Off in the Fourth Season of HBO's "True Blood" Review

Sookie. The name has been said by every character in HBO’s softcore, bloody offering True Blood, each time more gravelly and hungrily than the time before. Anna Paquin returns to Season 4 in the role that landed her a 2009 Golden Globe for Best Actress. While she has yet to be nominated again, and no season was as critically acclaimed as the first, True Blood has bit into the carotid of seduced fans, building a loyal following that has comfortably propelled it into Season 5. But, before that bloodbath begins, this boxed set brings us Season 4 in all its uncompromising, melodramatic, twisted, bloody, sexy, seductive, repulsive glory.

Sookie (Paquin) makes a dramatic escape from the horrors of Faerieland and returns to the backwoods bayou of Bon Temps. Unbeknownst to her, the minutes she spent away were actually more than a year in the real world. In a matter of seconds, the cast is all back around her and the storylines pickup where they left off. Bill (Stephen Moyer) is the Vampire King, answering to the conspiring Nan, while the imposing Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) has bought Sookie’s house and wants her for his own. When Marnie (Fiona Shaw), a seemingly harmless witch, discovers the power of necromancy, her circle becomes a terrifying threat to all vampires. Her circle, including Lafayette (Nelson Ellis), Tara (Rutina Wesley), who begrudgingly returns from a stint in New Orleans, and a collection of the townsfolk, manage to erase Eric’s memory and put him on a path of deepfelt regret and endearing humanity that ultimately pits Sookie’s love equally between him and Eric.

Needless to say, there are a slew of subplots that rise and resolve throughout the season, but the juiciest material surrounds Fiona Shaw’s dominating performance as Marnie. Starting out as a odd duck and social reject, she changes on a dime when possessed with the spirit of Antonia Gavilan (Paola Turbay), a witch burned at the stake during the Spanish Inquisition. Set on revenge. Antonia leads the assault on Bill’s kingdom with a perilous spell that calls vampires into the sunlight. Shaw’s performance is in keeping with her substantial abilities. Though best known to most as Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia, she is a multi-Laurence Olivier winning stage actress and recipient of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire from the Queen in 2001. The gravitas she brings to the season elevates the season and grounds some of the more absurd elements.

For those that have followed True Blood since its humble beginnings, there is no denying that the show has gone from a superb concept with a much simpler, albeit still gratuitous narrative, to a genuinely farcical melodrama taking on as much as it can chew. While vampires might have been the show’s kernel, the world of True Blood has everything from werewolves and were-panthers to nympho fairies and resurrected souls. Little Bon Temps has gotten big for its britches, trading in slim-fit jeans for a set of slacks from the big-and-tall store. Suspension of disbelief doesn’t scratch the surface, but if you can set aside a necessity for realism, the ride is exactly what it promises.

Alan Ball brought the world American Beauty and Six Feet Under, both of which challenged and confounded in equal doses. Both were undeniable masterpieces and while True Blood lacks the power of either, Season 1 boldly stood as social commentary for the homosexual plight in America and continues to attract viewers around that idea. Not every cinematic work tips the scales more strongly to art, and sometimes tipping more to the commercial side can be just fine. By Season 4, True Blood has done just that and for the devout, it’s better than synthetic blood in a bottle.

BLU-RAY BONUS FEATURES

This boxed set pulls out all the stops, shamelessly extending the web of True Blood’s world beyond the episodes themselves. As is necessary with any successful branding campaign, the special features enrich and deepen the diehard fan’s understanding, while simultaneously filling in holes or elaborating on plot and subplot lines the TV show didn’t have time for.

The most basic feature is Enhanced Viewing, giving each episode more meat on the bone, followed by Character Perspectives that fill in the year that Sookie was in Faerieland for the rest of the cast. Character Bios, Vampire Histories, Hints/FYI, Flashback/Flash Forward constitute other basic features.

Among the more dynamic feature offerings are: True Blood Lines, giving a web to help make the show’s many plotlines more cohesive; The Final touches, wherein Alan Ball provides a look into True Blood’s ever more-involved post process; Inside the Episodes, with interviews on each episode from the writers; and Audio Commentaries tacked on for good measure. Needless to say, it’ll keep you busy!

One does, however, have to wonder how distributors make money off of these multi-platform bundle sets. Basically, you keep the Blu-ray, give your friend the DVDs, and hand-off the Digital Copy code to your family so they can watch too. The number of prospective buyers has been cut by at least a third, but perhaps even Blu-ray just isn’t that expensive to mass produce. It leaves one wondering what the mark-up is on all these products we buy, but then again, who really cares?

"True Blood: The Complete Fourth Season" is on sale May 29, 2012 and is not rated. Drama. Directed by Michael Lehmann. Written by Alan Ball. Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Anna Paquin, Chris Bauer, Fiona Shaw, Joe Manganiello, Ryan Kwanten , Sam Trammell , Stephen Moyer.

May
30
2012
Kyle North • Staff Writer

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