Since its inception, Alan Ball’s True Blood has pegged Southern belle Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), arguably the weakest and most stretched-thin characters on the show, as the two lead anchors in this modern gothic rendering of the vampire tale. Mostly, their redundant storylines have encompassed the hazards and hiccups of human-vampire relations. Yes, there are moments when Sookie foolishly plays hero, but Paquin, utterly stuck in damsel-in-distress mode, acts out her mind-reading character as flat as she is written. Now that the pair is being cast aside to take care of some business in Texas for head-honcho vampire Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård), however, the supporting cast can take center stage.
In the latest episode of the show’s much-reenergized second season, we find the newly turned, teenage vampire, Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), left to her own devices for the very first time, eager to explore the night, looking for a date and maybe a meal. As she is greeted by a rubber-nosed redneck at Merlotte’s Bar, we brace ourselves for a quick bite and neck-drain as she gets her kicks on a lonely night. We wait for the horror and carnage…but nothing. Is Ball playing us for fools? Where is all that hair-raising gore to which we have become accustomed? Instead, we’re offered a serene moment of two, quiet young folks on an actual, sweet courtship, falling in love before our eyes. It’s the softest, richest experience in True Blood history, and certainly qualifies as the most honest, character-driven moment of sophomore HBO series to date. (Also, I might add, this is the first moment where I actually felt physically, and uncontrollably, compelled to watch the following episode.)
The second season of True Blood is expanding beyond vampire motifs, focusing on the more intriguing, witch-like Maryann Forrester, played by the thoroughly underrated Michelle Forbes. Coaxing Tara Thorton (Rutina Wesley) and the rest of the town into hedonistic rituals (code for “sex party”) with her undefined demonic abilities, Maryann’s mysterious origins and beguiling ways are now slowly being unveiled. The question remains: What is she really up to? Thankfully, Ball has brushed up on his Buffy reruns, opening up the show’s universe to far more devilish creatures and ideas, and it seems the further he steps away from the vamps, the closer he gets to the beating heart of the human.