"She's Not There," the first episode of True Blood's fourth season, thrusts us right into the mayhem and supernatural madness we were trying to figure out when last season came to an end. We begin with Sookie Stackhouse crossing over into faerie land, and get adequately briefed on the ins and outs of faeries, witches, werepanthers and shape-shifters — but it's the vampire storyline that remains most compelling (Spoiler Alert: Bill Compton and Eric Northman's power switch has a lot to do with it). Though this season, like its predecessors, closely follows the same numbered volume of Charlaine Harris' best-selling Sookie Stackhouse novels, the series runs the risk of confusion over camp with the ever-increasing number of characters it introduces. Here, the first of our weekly species-by-species recaps of True Blood, season four:
Sookie is brought to the home of the faeries, a Garden of Eden-like land where everyone is consuming "light apples." We meet Claudine, Sookie's faerie godmother ("I have a faerie godmother?" Sookie deadpans. "If your job is too look after me, can I just say you suck? Do you know how many times I could have used a faerie godmother?"), Barry the Bellboy, who has also met his faerie godmother, and Sookie's Grandaddy Earl who introduces us to the weird time-lapsing of the faerie's home: his "week" away was really 20 years.
Finally, we meet Queen Mab, who summoned Sookie to scold her for being responsible for letting a vampire — the reason faeries almost died out previously — enter their world. "I'm staying away from vampires. I can guaran-damn-tee you that," Sookie tells her, but it's not enough: her refusal to eat the light apples sets Mab into an ugly rage, and Claudine's brother, part of the rebel faeries, leads Sookie back to a portal of safety. There's no time to think about how absurd all of this is; we're quite literally thrown into the plotline from the second show starts. And so we find ourselves feeling Sookie's pain when she returns to Bon Temps through the portal with Grandaddy Earl, who has eaten light apples in faerie land and promptly dies. We then find out that Sookie's brief journey into faerie world was really 12 and a half months in real time, causing everyone to believe she was dead and Jason to sell her house.
Jason Stackhouse has become an upstanding member of the Bon Temps police force, cooling Andy Bellefleur's temper and trying to steer him away from a V addiction. Tara Thornton fled Bon Temps and reinvented herself as Toni from Atlanta, a steely cage fighter in New Orleans who is dating her competitor, Naomi (a timely reveal for another gay romance, given Friday's passage of marriage equality in New York). Arlene Fowler and Terry Bellefleur got married, and Arlene gave birth to her devil child, a precious baby boy with a penchant for beheading barbie dolls (likely a sign of what's to come, knowing this crowd).
Sam Merlotte continues to be the tempermental head of Merlotte's, only now he has a three-person shifter support group (including schoolteacher Luna), whose form of post-dinner entertainment is shifting into horses and galloping through the woods. His younger brother, Tommy Mickens, disabled from Sam's shooting rampage, is now under the wing of an unkowning yet still overbearing Maxine Fortenberry, now that Hoyt has defected to the vampire world.
Crystal is still M.I.A. after last season's Hot Shot raid, and Jason shows up with rations for the malnourished and overall odd residents of Hot Shot — but is shoved into an icebox and trapped there by an unknown culprit.
Lafayette Reynolds' brujo boyfriend, Jesus Velasquez brings him to a coven, which includes Merlotte's employee Holly Cleary and "the greatest witch ever," Marnie. She scares Lafayette by embodying the spirit of Eddie, a vampire Lafayette used for his blood earlier in the series, despite Holly's disclaimer that the magic doesn't always work. Lafayette's second visit to the coven, at Jesus' persuading, confirms Lafayette has power of his own: after initially refusing to join the chain, Lafayette's hands provide a link that take Marnie's spell to another level, prompting a vampire spy to take the info to the king.
Jessica Hamby and Hoyt Fortenberry continue to live together in mostly domestic bliss, the main point of contention being his need to eat and hers to... not. The dynamic provides the most blatant and least jaded dose of reality out of all of the Blood pairings. Pam De Beaufort continues to do Eric Northman's bidding, but lacks his charismatic ease.
As it always seems to, the plot returns to the Bill/Sookie/Eric love triangle, at this point almost a welcome comfort: Bill Compton continues to talk with 19th century stiffness and provides Sookie's alibi for the last year, telling everyone she was off doing his top-secret vampire errand. What he doesn't tell Sookie is that he's been involved with laywer-about-town Portia Bellefleur (Sookie gleans this from a peak into Portia's head) and that he has seemingly claimed the Louisiana vampire throne from Sophie-Anne Leclerq, meaning he's now officially above Eric on the vampire feeding chain. Eric Northman, who appeases Nan Flannigan's need for a suave vampire to front their PR movement ("It's a post Russell Edgington world, everyone, and we win back the public one smile at a time"), also proclaims he was the only one to not believe Sookie was dead. He reveals he was the mystery proprieter who bought her house: "If I owned the house, then I would own you," he tells her in his cocky drawl, after interrupting her mid-undress. "Sookie. You are mine."
"Sookie" Count: Two — the episode was bookended by Bill's pronunciation at the beginning and Eric uttering the key phrase at the end.
Favorite Couple: Hoyt and Jessica give us the supernatural sexiness we desire with a touch of realism that reminds us they're just two kids working out life together. Coming in at a close second is the always thick sexual tension between Eric and Sookie.
Losing Species of the Week: Ignoring the absence of werewolves, (where were you, Alcide?), shape-shifters were the bore of the week. With so much change in everyone else's plotlines, these guys remained status quo — in the most boring way possible.
Winning Species of the Week: How could it not be the vampires? Between Eric's "Sookie, you are mine," Bill's continually sneaky power plays, the realistic-with-a-twist Jessica/Hoyt dynamic and the dry wit of Pam and Nan, vampires remain the driving force of True Blood's success.
Related: The Season of the Witch: 'True Blood' Delves Into Magic and Past Lives in Season Four
• The Kinky Beasts of 'True Blood'
• Video: Deborah Ann Woll Reveals 'True Blood' Secrets at Sexy Photo Shoot
• 'True Blood': Key Moments of the First Three Seasons
• The Joy of Vampire Sex: The Schlocky, Sensual Secrets Behind the Success of 'True Blood'
• Peter Travers on the Best and Worst Vampires on Film and TV
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