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DVD Review: ‘True Blood’ Season 4

★★★☆☆

Charged with picking up the pieces of a muddled and tedious third season, True Blood Season 4 sees HBO’s vampire soap opera move into fresh and new directions. Although Season 4 once again pedals the familiar heady mix of sex, gore and foul-mouthed debauchery – a staple mark of creator Alan Ball (of Six Feet Under fame) – it does try to extol some of the wheat from the proverbial chaff, with varying degrees of success.

Set a year after the third season’s climax, which saw drippy protagonist Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) embracing her fairy heritage (!?) and joining their world. A treacherous post-Russell Edgington world, Sookie returns to Bon Temps to find herself entangled once again in a love triangle between deceptive Nordic vampire Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) and ex-lover Bill (Stephen Moyer), the newly appointed Vampire King of Mississippi. Alongside their constant battle against the heated scrutiny of vampires and the supernatural within the media, the central narrative sees the characters encountering an unanticipated new foe: a timid witch named Marnie (Fiona Shaw), who, along with a coven of necromancers, threatens to overpower and vanquish the vampire race once and for all.

Retaining True Blood’s overtly camp and ridiculous attitude, Season 4 clearly attempts to right as many of the show’s past wrongs as possible. Whereas contemporary shows like Desperate Housewives use leaps in time between seasons to lazily mask a lack of sustainable ideas, Ball uses it to examine the ramifications of the previous season on the cast of characters. Although the first episode begins with a carelessly rushed tying up of Sookie’s experience in the land of the fairies, the ceaseless predicaments of the season, as has become customary, quickly slot into place, introducing new characters and catching up with old ones.

Perhaps the best element of the show is in its ability to ground its explicit world into a version of reality, rustling up a plethora of believable ghouls and mystical beings, from vampires to werewolves, shape-shifters to were-panthers, imbuing almost every episode with graphic scenes of paranormal activity. Yet, however much these exist to help boost the image of the show as a hub of uncensored bizarreness, these elements do tend to take away some of the threat from each season’s predominant evil.

As eventful as the development of the principal story arc is, it is somewhat let down by a series of cliffhanger endings. Lumbered with forgettable and throwaway storylines, many formerly-appealing characters have very little to add to the overarching drama, instead appearing in less integral positions than they once assumed. For instance, Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten) is literally strapped to a bed for the best part of three episodes, whilst Lafayette (Nelson Ellis) is wasted in a melange of subplots.

Not without its numerous highlights, True Blood Season 4 is a jumbled concoction of jarring red herrings, appeasing action and persistent suspense. Much like the True Blood saga as a whole, this fourth season works by demanding a severe suspension of disbelief, hiding behind the occasional plot hole or narrative contrivance in an attempt to escape its inherent flaws. Although patchy and uneven, Season 4 succeeds in setting the mould for a hopefully more refined and emotionally-driven Season 5.

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Edward Frost