The supernatural saga of Sookie Stackhouse continues as “True Blood” heads into its fourth season. When last we left Bon Temps, quite a bit had happened to its denizens: Bill attempted to destroy both Russell and Eric, Sam shot Tommy, Sophie-Ann and Bill commenced a brutal battle to the death and we learned of Sookie’s own paranormal origins. Could the season four opener possibly measure up to all that? Well, read on to find out! (hint: the answer is yes.)

The Players:

  • Director: Michael Lehmann
  • Writer: Alexander Woo
  • Cast: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard, Nelsan Ellis, Ryan Kwanten, Sam Trammell, Rutina Wesley, Deborah Ann Woll

Episode Title: “She’s Not There”

Sookie escapes from the realm of the fairies when it ends up being not all it’s cracked up to be, only to find that over a year has passed on earth. A lot has changed in that time: Jason now dons a police uniform; Lafayette and Jesus hang out with a coven of witches; Arlene and Terry’s new son worries his parents with his odd behavior; Tara moves and reinvents herself as a lesbian MMA fighter; Hoyt and Jessica play house, problems and all; Mrs. Fortenberry takes an injured – and apparently reformed – Tommy under her wing; Sam bonds with other shapeshifters; Bill has a new position in the vampire community; all the while, the vampires of Bon Temps go on a PR tour to win back the hearts and minds of humans.

The Good:

  • The exposition: This episode spends a fair amount of time explaining what various characters have been up to over the past 13 months. The arc of the episode covers the gamut of principle characters, showing short vignettes that offer a glimpse into their new lives. By the end of the episode, you’re not even aware that little plot development has taken place. The premiere functions mainly as a subtle character study that brings the viewer up to date and provides a peek into the psyche of each character.
  • The Bon Temps flavor: The unique, supernaturally-tinged Bon Temps spirit is in full swing in this episode. While a good deal of time has passed, it feels as though we have never left the town and its inhabitants. The consistency from last season melded with appropriate and expected change lend Bon Temps its genuine feel.
  • The sexy factor: “True Blood” certainly hasn’t lost its sex appeal in the premiere’s jumble of scenes. Bill and Eric, in particular, are as appealing as ever, and Tara and Sookie get their fair share of, ahem, “attention” in that department. Still, this episode continues last season’s more subdued sexual philosophy: sex is shown when it is vital to the plot and not used as mere spectacle.
  • Hoyt and Jessica: The perfect not-so-perfect couple, Hoyt and Jessica steal this episode. Their first scene, in which a trivial fight at home ends in warm-hearted laughter, is authentically written, beautifully acted, and brilliantly nuanced. We get a sense of the problems plaguing their otherwise happy home, and it sets the stage for Jessica’s future near-indiscretion.

The So-So:

  • The land of the fairies: While “True Blood” is known for pushing the envelope in asking viewers to suspend their disbelief, the fairy plot introduced last season and continued in this episode seems to be asking a bit too much. “Fairyland,” as I like to call the realm of the fairies, is certainly beautiful, elegant, and befitting the fairies who inhabit it, but it’s cheesy even by “True Blood” standards. It simply does not fit with the dark, somber tone and atmosphere of the show.
  • Tara: Poor Tara endured a lot last season. It seems only natural that she should make some major changes to her life, but these particular changes, and the way in which they are glossed over without explanation, make Tara’s subplot feel as though it took a turn for the melodramatic. I hope that next week’s episode will go deeper into the changes Tara has undergone and bring her psychology to light.

Overall:

It’s sexy, it’s fun, and this episode in particular has some genius moments of psychological introspection. “True Blood” has awoken from its off-season slumber and is well worth watching, both for die-hard fans and new viewers alike.

Rating: 9/10

“True Blood” airs every Sunday night on HBO!

What did you think of last night’s episode?