Stars: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Chris Bauer, Nelsan Ellis, Joe Manganiello, Carrie Preston, Deborah Ann Woll, Jim Parrack, Kristin Bauer Von Straten, Todd Lowe, Kevin Alejandro, Fiona Shaw, Lauren Bowles, Jessica Tuck, Dale Raoul, Janina Gavankar,  Daniel Buran
Mark Hudis, series created by Alan Ball, based on Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels
Michael Lehmann
HBO, Sundays @ 9 PM
September 4, 2011

In the penultimate episode of TRUE BLOOD’s fourth season, it seems like someone is in danger of death just about every second, with some characters taking seconds and thirds in the epic jeopardy sweepstakes. All this makes “Soul of Fire” powerfully suspenseful, with even the moments of levity – most of them provided by Chris Bauer as beleaguered Sheriff Andy Bellefleur and Carrie Preston as his sympathetic-but-clueless cousin-by-marriage Arlene – tinged with a hint of menace.


Vampires Bill (Stephen Moyer), Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), Pam (Kristin Bauer Von Straten) and Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) are ready to fire a batch of automatic weapons on the store/headquarters of witch Marnie (Fiona Shaw), even though they know there are innocents inside. However, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) stops them with the information that his sister Sookie (Anna Paquin) is among those being held within by Marnie.

When there is dissent in the ranks, Marnie invites anyone who wants to leave to go, but when Casey (Fiona Dourif) reaches for the knife Marnie offers to defend against the vamps, Marnie causes it to go into Casey’s chest. Marnie insists this was self-defense, but the spirit of Antonia tries to leave her, disgusted that Marnie would kill one of their own. Medium Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) sees the argument – and sees Marnie pull the unwilling Antonia back into herself. Lafayette’s lover Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) thinks the only way to save everyone is to use dark brujo magic and Casey’s corpse (Jesus lies and tells Marnie Casey is still alive and needs medical care) to separate Antonia’s spirit from Marnie.

Marnie takes Sookie outside with her to parlay with the vampires, saying she’ll let Sookie go – if the vampires will kill themselves. Bill and Eric agree, with Bill prepared to shoot Eric and then have Pam shoot him. Pam, however, thinks this is nonsense (she phrases it more strongly) and unloads a rocket launcher at the magical barrier Marnie has put in place. Jason is almost killed in the fiery fallout, with Jessica feeding him her blood to save his life. Eric is furious that Pam endangered Sookie (even though she saved him) and tells her to get out of his sight.

Jesus’ spell is ultimately successful. Antonia’s spirit takes her power with her when she leaves Marnie, and the barrier comes down, allowing the vampires to enter the store/headquarters. Sookie successfully pleads with Bill and Eric to spare everyone – this was only Marnie’s fault – though when one of Marnie’s acolytes steps up to defend her, Eric cheerfully rips out the man’s heart. Bill then riddles Marnie with bullets, killing her. It looks as though Jason and Jessica may reignite their relationship after all; Sookie isn’t sure what to do about her love for both Bill and Eric.

Back in werewolf/shapeshifter territory, werewolf Alcide (Joe Manganiello) is helping Sam (Sam Trammell) search for werewolf pack leader Marcus (Daniel Buran), who killed Sam’s brother Tommy. Sam’s girlfriend/Marcus’ ex-wife Luna (Janina Gavankar) turns up, frantic that Marcus has taken their young daughter Emma. Emma calls Luna – it turns out she and her dad are at Alcide’s place – because Marcus is trying to persuade Alcide’s Were girlfriend Debbie (Brit Morgan) to run away with him. Sam beats the living hell out of Marcus, but lets him live. Then Marcus grabs for a gun, Alcide knocks it away and chokes the other Were to death. Alcide then ritually (albeit non-magically) banishes Debbie from his company.

While walking home through the woods (cousin Terry thought it would be good for helping Andy kick his V addiction), Andy encounters the fairy Morella, who gets him to swear loyalty to “the light” and then makes love with him. When Andy tries to explain this to cousin Terry’s wife Arlene, she is very kind, but thinks this is a hallucination brought on by V withdrawal.

In bed with Lafayette, Jesus is miserable about his role in Marnie’s death, though Lafayette assures him Marnie brought the situation on herself and Jesus actually saved a bunch of folks. Jesus eventually falls asleep, and as Lafayette is starting to relax, Marnie’s spirit appears to Lafayette – and enters him.

Can we get a big “Uh-oh”?

“Soul of Fire’ is very skillful in its pacing, with one character saved from instantaneous extinction only to have several others immediately facing horrendous death. The Bill/Eric dynamic toward Sookie and toward one another is getting progressively more interesting, with a sense that there is a bit of mutual respect growing under all that hostility. (There doesn’t seem to be any irony in Eric’s voice when he calls Bill “Your Majesty,” even though Eric is now back to his old sardonic self.) Having Sookie see Eric casually kill a man and display his heart to a bunch of very unnerved humans is one of those instances where dramatic action is worth a thousand words.

As for Eric banishing Pam, we understand why he’s upset, but our instinct is to yell, “No!” Bauer Von Straten has a snark delivery system that is almost unrivaled – it would be a great pity for her to be banished from scenes that would be much the poorer without her attitude and sharp dialogue.

We can’t quite tell where things are going with Alcide and Sam, except that there’s now an opening in the local werewolf pack power structure, and even though Alcide’s a loner, he also seems the only Were in the area with anything like leadership skills. Sam, bless him, is just in his usual state of anguish, which Trammell portrays with great empathy.

What the fairies have to do with anything is also a question mark, though we can assume they’re not happy about Eric killing Claudine awhile back. The plot thread does allow Preston and especially Bauer to be absolutely delightful and extremely funny while their characters are dead serious about trying to figure out this fresh bout of local weirdness.

Then there’s that last “yikes” scene. The subplot with Lafayette being possessed by the ghost of the wronged Cajun woman was evidently meant to set up our comprehension of what may happen this time around, though it seems like we should have been able to understand it from Lafayette’s briefer bout with the helpful spirit of Jesus’ uncle. Marnie above the bed, poised to strike, is an honestly eerie sight, and of course doesn’t bode well for anyone in the vicinity.

“Soul of Fire” is beautifully structured and wonderfully watchable from start to finish.


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