Stars: Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Nelsan Ellis, Alexander Skarsgard, Deborah Ann Woll, Jim Parrack, Kristin Bauer Von Straten, Fiona Shaw, Chris Bauer, Kevin Alejandro
Writer: Alexander Woo, based on Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels
Director: Michael Lehmann
Network: HBO, Sundays @ 9 PM
Airdate: June 26, 2011

Nobody who hasn’t planted electronic listening devices in the writers’ room can claim TRUE BLOOD is predictable. The show is loaded with stunning moments, but in the Season Four opener “She’s Not There,” the creative team members have outdone themselves. Practically every single character is in a situation neither we nor they could have anticipated last year, and yet every plot development works both logically and dramatically.

BE WARNED – SPOILERS

At the end of TRUE BLOOD Season Three, our telepathic heroine Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) had just learned that her beloved vampire boyfriend Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) had been a lot less than candid in his motives for striking up a relationship in the first place. Having also learned that she has fairy in her family tree, Sookie departed in a burst of light with another fairy.

Bill, unaware of Sookie’s absence and desperate to protect her, engaged in mortal combat with the vampire Queen of Louisiana (Evan Rachel Wood). Sookie’s best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley), shell-shocked by all that she had been through, skipped town. Tara’s cousin Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) found out that he and his new lover Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) both have powerful magical powers of the warlock variety.

Sookie’s brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) had blackmailed his way into becoming a sheriff’s deputy and was left reluctantly protecting the were-panther community of Hotshot after his were-panther girlfriend was kidnapped by her jealous ex. Sookie’s roadhouse boss, shapeshifter Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), fired a gun at his shapeshifter little brother Tommy (Marshall Altman) because Tommy is a thieving little jerk. Sookie’s fellow waitress Arlene (Carrie Preston) worried that she was giving birth to an evil baby.

Teenaged vamp Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) moved in with her human boyfriend Hoyt (Jim Parrack), much to the fury of Hoyt’s vamp-hating mother (Dale Raoul). Vampire sheriff/club owner Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard) had broken the news of Bill’s betrayal to Sookie – Eric’s very fond of Sookie himself. Along with the rest of the vampire community, Eric was left dealing with the aftermath of the actions of Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare), vampire king of Mississippi, who killed a newscaster live on TV to make the point that vampires are still dangerous to humans.

If you’ve seen the episode, you don’t need major descriptors, and if you haven’t seen it, go watch it before reading this. Suffice to say, Sookie’s visit to somewhere else doesn’t turn out the way she’d hoped. She manages to escape – and clear up a family mystery while she’s away – but when she gets home, time has passed and a number of things have changed. Jason is now a legitimate sheriff’s deputy. Tara is living in New Orleans with a job and in a situation we wouldn’t expect. It seems from at least circumstantial evidence that Arlene may be right to worry about her baby. Jessica and Tommy both got shot at, both survived, and a weird alliance has sprung up – but not between the two of them. Jesus drags Lafayette into a local coven, where leader Marnie (the fabulous Fiona Shaw) has some unsettling ambitions and abilities.

Some things never change, though. Bill is still mooning after Sookie, who moons right back, even though she’s still pretty horrified by his actions, and Eric still really wants Sookie.

Exactly how all this shakes out keeps us constantly startled, in a good way. It all fits perfectly with how things have been set up, but there are only a few pieces of the puzzle that we can see coming before they slot into place. Some of the highlights of the episode come in small moments that remind us how great all of the characters are. Sheriff Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer), dealing with a problem of his own, has a wonderfully crazy confrontation scene with a nonplused Lafayette. Kristin Bauer Von Straten proves once again that she can get belly laughs by being almost perfectly still as Eric’s right-hand vamp Pam, who is pressed into service to do a public service announcement on behalf of her species. It beautifully sets up Eric’s more effective follow-up and the cross-cutting with Bill’s more localized efforts at good p.r.

The cast is as phenomenal as they always are on this series. Paquin makes Sookie ever forthright, never self-righteous. Moyer gets to show a bit of an intriguing new side to Bill, thanks to an absolutely established yet totally unforeseen development, and Skarsgard’s Eric is as cool and beguiling as ever. Wesley gets to demonstrate some great physical chops this time around and Ellis is endlessly watchable as Lafayette grapples with his instinctive caution vs. his feelings for Jesus. Woll and Parrack play off each other gorgeously.

Yeah, it’s a bummer that it’s a year between seasons, but “She’s Not There” demonstrates that TRUE BLOOD has been worth the wait.

Click on link: Exclusive Photos from the Los Angeles premiere screening of TRUE BLOOD – Season 4

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Click on link: TRUE BLOOD – Season 4 review – “You Smell Like Dinner”

Click on link: TRUE BLOOD – THE COMPLETE SEASON 3 DVD review

Click on link: Exclusive photos from the TRUE BLOOD Paley Fest screening

Click on link: Exclusive photos from the TRUE BLOOD comic book signing featuring some of the cast


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