When last we last left True Blood (HBO, Sunday, 9 ET/PT), Russell Edgington was getting ready to kill all the Faeries.
We should be so lucky.
Unfortunately, as much as we may wish for a murder/suicide pact, there's only one stroke of luck viewers can count on: We have just Sunday's episode to go, and then this horror of a season will be over.
Squandering a terrific start, this once-entertaining, now wildly aggravating series went into a mid-stretch tailspin from which it never recovered. While Sunday's finale may turn out to be an improvement, it can't possibly be good enough to redeem a disastrous season. And judging by the heavy-handed war-is-upon-us previews, even improvement may be too much to hope.
Subtlety was never a True strong suit. But there used to be some wit in the outrageousness. Now the episodes seem a disjointed collection of blood, bare butts and breasts, mixed in with silly asides and a club-fisted attack on religious zealotry.
Those seeking to assign blame can start with a string of terrible subplots, many of them tied to the weakest set of new characters Blood has yet to introduce. It's hard to imagine what poor Scott Foley ever did to the writers, but whatever it was, it didn't justify being thrown into the show's most insultingly idiotic plot yet — a fire monster seeking revenge for Foley's character's war crimes. You can argue whether the special effects were stolen from Lost or Lord of the Rings, but that the treatment of the story demeaned the subject matter seems indisputable.
While that was clearly the worst subplot, none were worth the airtime they occupied, from Alcide's problems with his werewolf pack (does the character now exist solely so Joe Manganiello can appear shirtless?) to every painful moment spent with Sam, Luna and her puppy child.
As for those Faeries and their space-wasting nightclub, in their thousands of years of existence, shouldn't at least one of them have learned to dance? And what good is having a super-powerful Queen if all it takes to kill her is the age-old human shield trick?
Still, problems with its secondary stories are nothing new for Blood. What was new this season was the by-now unbearable main story, a drama-free plot that allowed the writers to mock fundamentalist beliefs without bothering to couch the mockery within an intelligible story or worrying about what it did to the main characters.
When the season introduced its "Lilith" vampire-religion factions, it looked like they would be background noise to the real point: turning Stephen Moyer's Bill, Alexander Skarsgard's Eric and Anna Paquin's Sookie into Hope, Crosby and Lamour, and sending them on the road in search of the missing Russell (Denis O'Hare, whose character has become as ludicrous as his occasional German accent). Instead, Russell was instantly found, and the three main characters separated and haven't shared a scene as a trio in months.
Why? So the show can continue to make the same point again and again about the foolishness of fundamentalism taken to violent extremes. What was once an allegory about prejudice has been stripped to the complexity of a billboard ad.
Still, there's always Sunday's last hope. Fingers crossed that Eric kills everyone in the vampires' secret compound, killing the vampire religion story with them — and that the show returns with a renewed determination to tell a story first, and let the point flow out of it.
Because otherwise, if this is the show True Blood now wants to be, the only point it needs is a stake to the heart.