Over the course of reviewing True Blood's four seasons, each one more disappointing than the last, I've been chanting, "enough with the humans, fairies and witches. Bring on the vamps! Give us the Authority!" Creator Alan Ball's bloody supernatural freak show has teased series junkies, casual fans and waning viewers alike with promises of the vampire High Council almost from the beginning, and Season Five finally, finally pulled back the curtain so we could all get a glimpse at whatever great, fanged Oz has been calling the shots all along. Unfortunately, the Authority turned out to be as much of a letdown as the rest of the season; a season that proved to be something of a twelve-episode descent into monotony and mediocrity, frequently reduced Denis O'Hare's scene-stealing Russell Edgington to a kitschy anticlimax, allowed the show's werewolves to devolve into an even scruffier nuisance, dragged a number of series mainstays through the proverbial mud, left us with at least seventeen more reasons the showrunners should write out Anna Paquin's Sookie Stackhouse, and offered very little in the way of satisfying storylines or character arcs.
Care Bare Stare!
The fifth season certainly has its share of memorable moments -- most of them involving Alexander Skarsgård's Eric, Stephen Moyer's Bill and Kristin Bauer van Straten's Pam -- but only enough to hold on to true believers and diehards who were desperately hoping, week in and week out, for something, anything that might redeem the increasingly soapy supernatural opera. Some tuned out completely, deleting True Blood from their DVRs, throwing their hands in the air and wondering why they'd stuck with the show as long as they had. (Select others only continued to watch because they knew they'd have to review Season Five when it arrived on Blu-ray. Ahem.) For what it's worth, the last three episodes mount something of a viable redemption, despite it ultimately being a bit too little, a bit too late. Yes, with more than 2.5 million hungry, insatiable viewers, True Blood remains a reasonably popular guilty pleasure and cult phenom. But it's also well past its creative prime, which begs the question: when will HBO drive a stake through its heart? If Season Five is any indication, the series' True Death might not be too far off.
Rather than tear through the entire season in one swipe, I've settled on an episode by episode breakdown with rapidfire impressions (written immediately at each episode's end) and individual scores. So, without further ado, The Complete Fifth Season:
Turn! Turn! Turn!: Sookie and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) struggle with what to do about Tara (Rutina Wesley), Bill and Eric are visited by the Vampire Authority, a werewolf pack comes after Sam (Sam Trammell), Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) enjoys her new freedom, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is paid a visit by a familiar face, Terry (Todd Lowe) is caught in the throes of PTSD, and Alcide (Joe Manganiello) warns Sookie about the recently resurfaced Russell Edgington.
My Take: Death is already beginning to have less and less of an impact in the True Blood universe, and the season opener is 99% setup, 1% payoff. And that payoff isn't much more than another tangled ball of plot threads that complicates matters, and not for the betterment of the show. The performances are uniformly excellent; fun, witty and full of life, dead or no. But performances can only carry a series so far, and Paquin and company have carried this one to the edge of a very steep cliff. Score: 3/5
Authority Always Wins: Tara makes an appearance in Bon Temps. Bill and Eric meet Salome (Valentina Cervi). Pam recalls her human life and her first encounter with Eric. Werewolves J.D. (Louis Herthum) and Rikki (Kelly Overton) pay tribute to a fallen member of their pack, but Alcide refuses to participate or to take his rightful place as new packmaster. Fearing Russell's return, Sookie procures a home-protection system, while Arlene (Carrie Preston) looks into Terry's erratic behavior.
My Take: Between the camp nightmare that is the Authority, a new heap of werewolf melodrama, Sookie's further uselessness and dim-witted crisis response, Terry and Arlene's marriage woes, Jason and Hoyt's falling out, and Tara's latest left turn, Season Five is shaping up to be a mixed bag all around. The various storylines are already losing steam, and I can't get over how dull and underwhelming the Authority is. It would have been better to leave them off screen and to the imagination. Score: 2.5/5
Whatever I Am, You Made Me: Bill and Eric barter for their lives. Salome and Roman (Christopher Meloni) enlist a reverend to be the friendly face of vampirism in light of Russell's return. After Tara bolts into the night, Sookie goes to Fangtasia for help. A past dalliance comes back to haunt Andy (Chris Bauer). Jason bumps into an old high-school teacher, but their reunion brings up conflicting feelings.
My Take: Moyer and Skarsgård shine, and I dig the direction Bill and Eric are being hauled. Meloni, though, is horribly miscast, armed with some truly awful dialogue, and firing every word, grimace and sneer over the top of over-the-top. There are a few laughs to be had at Andy's expense, but the latest step in Jason's maturation is underdeveloped and poorly implemented. Did we really already run out of stories to tell surrounding Sookie's endearing simpleton of a brother? Unfortunately, then there's the rest of the episode, which is all smoke and mirrors, without anything in the way of genuine spectacle, delicious bedeviling or an engrossing hook. Ugh. Score: 2/5
We'll Meet Again: Eric and Bill have doubts they will survive their search for Russell. Sookie opens up to Alcide. An irate Lafayette unwittingly puts Sookie's life in danger. At the Authority headquarters, Roman and Salome continue their interrogations to obtain information on the Sanguinistas, as well as the identity of a possible traitor within the Council.
My Take: Paquin tries her best, she does, but Sookie spoils another episode; an already hit or miss episode at that. It turns out vampire politics aren't interesting in the least, and the series' social commentary is thinly veiled, thinly realized and thinly strung. The subtext is so obvious it becomes silly, the "traitor within the Council" staple is as trite and predictable as it sounds, and Eric, Bill and Pam are all that save "We'll Meet Again" from becoming a complete snooze. Score: 2/5
Let's Boot and Rally: Bill and Eric enlist Sookie to probe for clues as to Russell's whereabouts. Unable to deal with the demon magic plaguing him, Lafayette calls out to an old friend's spirit for help. Patrick Devins (Scott Foley) and Terry are held hostage in a bunker that belongs to an Iraq War buddy. Jason wakes to a disturbing dream, and Jessica gives a newly turned vampire advice on adjusting to undead life.
My Take: More "Where in the World is Russell Edgington?" More of Jason spinning his emotional wheels. More of Terry's slowburn struggles with weird developments. More Sam and the Shifters, which isn't nearly as interesting as it might seem. More of Lafayette's misadventures in black magic, which drain the poor fry-cook of everything that first made him a fan-favorite character in Seasons One and Two. More of everything that makes the fifth season a haphazardly scripted misfire. Even Eric and Bill fail to dazzle this time around. And in a series already packed with more supernatural beasties than Ball and company know what to do with, yet another creature is thrust into the show's mythos. Great ending, though. "Give it your best shot," indeed. Score: 2/5
Hopeless: The aftermath of an asylum encounter leaves Sookie with an eerie sense of foreboding. At Fangtasia, Pam breaks up a vamp-girl fight. Lafayette visits a woman who also received a disturbing message from beyond the grave. Fearing for his family's safety, Terry blames his curse for his troubles with Arlene. Alcide challenges another werewolf, and Roman lays out his plans to take out a troublemaker.
My Take: The werewolves aren't getting any more compelling, that's for sure. Alcide included. Not that they were compelling to begin with. They're code-bound country boys... who continually break their code... while preaching about keeping the code... to whichever pack member happens to be breaking said code. Wash, rinse, repeat. Another dose of fairy nonsense doesn't bode well for Sookie, Jason and the dead-on-arrival mystery surrounding their dead parents, and most every Bon Temps resident offers up more of the same. But O'Hare is back with a vengeance, so that's something. Another fantastic ending tacked on to a surprisingly flat, alienating episode. One itch is at least scratched, as one of the fifth season's more disappointing characters shuffles off this mortal, or immortal, coil. Score: 2.5/5
In the Beginning: A Council member reveals his or her true allegiances. Sam sniffs out several shifter shooters. Hoyt finds camaraderie in a new group of friends. Alcide prepares for the worst in his face-off with a rival werewolf. Andy attempts to reconnect with Bud (William Sanderson). Lafayette finds an unlikely ally searching for a dead lover's body. Tara receives a visitor, and Arlene takes a sentimental journey.
My Take: Surprise! Or... not. Season Five has plenty of twists and turns, but most of them can be seen coming a mile off. There are more than a dozen storylines at this point, and few have anything to do with the others. It's the most scattershot season True Blood has to offer, as well as the most redundant. The Authority power plays are tiresome, the budding Lilith cult is promising but handled with too heavy a hand, the werewolves are a bore, and O'Hare is the only real entertainment to be had. Otherwise, the series' comedy isn't that funny anymore, its drama isn't that engaging and its horror isn't horrifying at all. What's an over-seasoned genre gumbo to do? Worse, the final minutes are ridiculous. God only knows how things are supposed to improve from here. Score: 2/5
Somebody That I Used to Know: At the Authority, the Chancellors revel in the afterglow of the previous night's dealings. Eric sobers when he gets a message, though, and Bill is shaken by a distant memory. Sookie and Jason visit the site of their parents' deaths, with shocking results. An emotional Luna (Janina Gavankar) tries to walk in Sam's shoes. Lafayette leads a seance to purge a curse, and a rival werewolf ups the stakes with Alcide.
My Take: Camp, camp, camp, camp and moooore camp. The vampires are suddenly the punchline of a very bad joke, the Stackhouse "shock" isn't a shock at all and doesn't pack any of the punch the writers clearly assume, and the shifter twist isn't nearly twisty enough. Lafayette? For the first time, I could not care less. Alcide? Silver bullet, please. Hoyt? Move on, nothing to see here. In the end, I have to say it's quite possibly the worst episode of True Blood to date. And my fellow reviewers? Perhaps they'd pen a more favorable review? Hardly. They'd say I'm being much too kind. Score: 1.5/5
Everybody Wants to Rule the World: As the Authority proceeds with their new plan, Eric plots. A ghost directs Sookie to a clue to her parents' murderer. Andy and Jason search for leads to the identities of the people behind the shifter killings. Alcide recalls his pack induction. Arlene gets caught in Terry and Patrick's conflict, and a vampire gets a new pet.
My Take: Everybody may want to rule the world, but I'd just like someone to take control of the True Blood writers' room. The vampire in-fighting puts a stake through the heart of the Authority storyline, no matter how many ancient vampire goddesses it invokes. Likewise, the fifth season's arcs -- both character and plot -- make it seem like a lot is happening when, in reality, very little is actually happening. The season has all but stalled out, even though the action is fierce, betrayals are in season, and a rare surge of much-needed heart finally makes Alcide's good intentions and strange decisions resonate a bit more. The Eric and Bill rivalry comes to a head as well, and with a devastating right hook no less. As per the series' M.O., the ninth episode has a lot of potential that sadly goes untapped. Score: 2.5/5
Gone, Gone, Gone: With vampire-on-human attacks on the rise, the Authority attempts to woo public favor. Meanwhile, Nora (Lucy Griffiths) tries to convert a vampire to another gospel, Jason finds a mysterious scroll, new Area Five Vampire Sheriff Elijah (Keram Malicki-Sánchez) pushes Pam and a newly turned vampire to obey a mandate, Sam and Luna search for Emma (Chloe Noelle), and Russell seeks a higher calling.
My Take: Van Straten and Wesley score. Moyer and Skarsgård deliver. O'Hare chews up a bit more scenery. Unfortunately, the Stackhouse mysteries, the Authority's rampant zealotry, and Sam and Luna's cloak-and-daggering dominate the episode, overshadowing a scene (arguably one of the series' finest) that's truly touching -- heartbreaking even -- and features Woll's Jessica, Kwanten's Jason and Parrack's Hoyt; three characters that usually don't stand out as clearly as they do here. Is Season Five about to pull off a strong endgame? With lesser storylines dying deserved deaths, it's possible. The season is certainly getting less cluttered. If Ball and his writers find a way to ditch the fairies, they might eek out a decent denoument. Score: 3/5
Sunset: Slipping further into religious fervor, a Maker gives his offspring an order the child doesn't want to carry out. Armed with a damning video, the military delivers an ultimatum. Claude (Giles Matthey) and Maurella (Kristina Anapau) take Sookie to meet the faerie Elder, who may know something about an ancient family secret. Alcide reconnects with his father (Robert Patrick), and Sam and Luna hitch a ride into a dangerous installation.
My Take: Instead, we're taken deeper into the world of the fairies in a subplot that nearly derails the entire season; derailed as it already was. As expected, Fairy Land... or Fairy Club... or whatever the fairies flock to is a little slice of safe-saven heaven for Sookie's kind but the ninth level of hell for anyone watching. Manganiello and Patrick are quite good, as are the usual suspects, Skarsgård, Moyer, Wesley, van Straten and O'Hare. The writing still isn't up to snuff -- tone and pacing are all over the place -- and the visual effects are more CW than HBO, but I'll venture a bit of hope. Cautiously... Score: 3/5
Save Yourself: Eric embarks on a final, desperate mission. Bill struggles to retain his humanity. Andy faces the consequences of a Light Pact. Alcide readies for a second showdown, and Sam and Luna test their limits during a daring escape. A shocking end brings about change for a power player in the vampire world.
My Take: The season finale is full of season highs and lows, with a variety of legitimate surprises, chief among them a cliffhanger to end all True Blood cliffhangers. Much as I didn't enjoy the series' latest twelve-episode run, particularly anything involving fairy night clubs and, well, fairies, the final moments of "Save Yourself" left me dying to know where Season Six is going to go. As often as I was tempted to abandon the show, here I am curious to see what happens next. It still isn't a great episode by any means, and problems abound. (One kill comes too early, and should have been added to the end of the preceding episode rather than the beginning of the finale.) But it gets enough right to earn a very hesitant, not so optimistic pass. Score: 3/5
Like the series' previous Blu-ray releases, True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season boasts a fantastic 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation that, while not always HBO's prettiest belle at the ball, is true to its source and showrunners' intentions. So ignore the at-times ungainly grain. Ignore the unforgiving shadows and inherent crush and delineation issues. Ignore the faint anomalies that occasionally accompany the show's less-than-seamless visual effects. Fans won't find the imperfections to be distracting in the least, and the fifth season looks every bit as good as the four that have come before it. Color and contrast are sometimes stark, stylized and ripped straight out of a comic book; other times dark, grungy and brimming with dusty earthtones, lifeless browns and greens, and ominous shadows. Even so, primaries consistently boast a visceral pop (red in particular), black levels are deep and satisfying, and detail is exquisitely resolved. Edges are razor sharp (with only an intermittent hint of ringing), textures are revealing and closeups are terrific. Moreover, there aren't any significant instances of macroblocking, banding or aliasing to be found, and minor but widespread crush is the only thing that prevents the presentation from nabbing a perfect score.
True Blood's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is, once again, the heart of the release. Dialogue is clean, intelligible and perfectly prioritized, regardless of the macabre madness the series' soundscape conjures up next. The LFE channel bears its teeth and bites time and time again, clamping down on anything and everything even remotely in need of additional weight, presence or heft. The rear speakers keep busy as well, expanding the show's soundfield, heightening the reality (or unreality) of the various Bon Temps and Authority locales, delivering a string of convincing directional effects per episode (sometimes per scene), and creating a fully immersive experience that makes even the dullest Season Five encounters and campiest bloodbaths that much more exciting and unsettling. All told, it's an aggressive, almost feral lossless track, and yet more nuanced and delicate in its quietest moments than you'd ever expect from such a monstrous beast of a mix.
Audio Commentaries: Five cast and crew audio commentaries are available: "We'll Meet Again" with actor Chris Bauer (Andy), writer Alexander Woo and director Romeo Tirone; "Somebody That I Used to Know" with actor/director Stephen Moyer (Bill) and writer Mark Hudis; "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" with director Dan Attias and actors Denis O'Hare (Russell) and Carrie Preston (Arlene); "Sunset" with co-executive producer/writer Angela Robinson and director Lesli Linka Glatter; and "Save Yourself" with actor Anna Paquin (Sookie), creator/executive producer Alan Ball and director Michael Lehmann.
Enhanced Viewing Mode (Discs 1-5, HD): Each of the twelve fifth season episodes include an optional Enhanced Viewing experience that serves up a variety of spotty, hit-or-miss goodies, among them brief featurettes, "Flashbacks and Flash Forward" videos, character bios, vamp histories, production tidbits, trivia and more.
Inside the Episodes (Discs 1-5, HD, 44 minutes): Each episode is also accompanied by an "Inside the Episode" featurette that offers a quick, spoiler-packed look at the weekly revelations, developments, and twists and turns that come to bear on the Bon Temps denizens.
Autopsy: True Blood Episode Six (Disc 3, HD, 64 minutes): An extensive, in-depth dissection of one of the fifth season's most crucial episodes, "Hopeless," complete with behind-the-scenes footage, revealing interviews and the episode itself, which plays in a dynamic, Maximum Movie Mode-esque Picture-in-Picture window. It's easily the best extra in the set. It's just a shame an "Autopsy" isn't available for every episode.
True Blood Lines (Disc 5, HD): An interactive but cumbersome character tree that provides information about the humans, vampires, werewolves and other supernatural heavyweights that frequent Season Five.
Authority Confessionals (Disc 5, HD, 31 minutes): Nora, Steve Newlin, Salome, Kibwe, Rosalyn and Russell discuss their origins and pasts in twelve cheesy, in-character confessional sessions.
DVD Copy (SD, Discs 6-7): The entire twelve-episode season (minus extras), spread across two double-sided DVDs housed in a separate cardboard sleeve.
Digital Copy: Download all twelve episodes to your Mac, PC, iPad, iPhone, or other compatible device.
True Blood is a series in desperate need of an intervention. New showrunners Mark Hudis and Brian Buckner have an opportunity this coming season to right what's been going wrong and to effectively re-energize what has become a flailing show. All they need to do is find a way to blend the competing horror, comedy and drama elements fans already love into a more seamless and rewarding overarching storyline. And clean up the mess Ball left them with Season Five. And figure out a way to make Sookie matter. And downplay all the fairy nonsense, which is spiraling out of control. And... suffice it to say, Hudis and Buckner have their work cut out for them. Thankfully, HBO's fifth season Blu-ray release doesn't buckle under the crippling weight of the series' worst season to date. With an excellent video presentation, a fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and a solid selection of supplements, The Complete Fifth Season set follows in the footsteps of the four True Blood Blu-ray releases before it.
HBO Home Entertainment has announced the Blu-ray release of True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season, the latest twelve-episode season of the hit supernatural drama from creator/executive producer Alan Ball. Spread across five Blu-ray discs, the 7-disc set also includes ...
True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season Blu-ray, Forum Discussions