It's easy to forget that there was a time when "True Blood" was HBO's premiere drama and most-watched show. It was nominated for Best Drama at the 2010 Emmys! Anna Paquin won a Golden Globe one time!
Then came the witches, and the werewolves, and the were-panthers, and the djinns, and the deadbeat shapeshifters, and the multiple vampire blood addicts, and the ever-expanding cast, and things were pretty rocky for a while there. Not to mention stiff competition on the prestige genre-show front ("Game of Thrones") and the batshit insane narrative front ("American Horror Story").
But you know, Season 6 was pretty good! With its internment camp plotline and vampire power-level rankings, it wound up being a decent season of "X-Men: The Live Action Series That Doesn't Exist." A shortened episode order probably didn't hurt in terms of tightening up the narrative. Plus the season finale, while laughable in many ways, set up decently apocalyptic stakes going forward, as the Hep V epidemic turned a portion of the vampire population into soulless killers.
When we last left our heroes, Sookie had sworn off vampires and opted to climb around the ab scaffolding of werewolf Alcide. Bill killed the governor of Louisiana and suffered no consequences, because I guess in this still largely vampire-phobic society, nobody cares if one murders a high-ranking state official, provided that state official was an asshole. And Sam became mayor of Bon Temps and threw a vampire/human mixer in an effort to protect his citizens, only for it to be interrupted by a pack of Hep V-infected vamps.
And that's right where we pick up with the season premiere, as the infected race through Sam's mixer, killing extras at random and kidnapping Arlene, Holly, and Sam's pregnant wife, Nicole. It's a surprisingly action-packed sequence to kick off the episode, since "True Blood" has tended to demure when it comes to big fight scenes like this. After a bit of chaos, the infected zip off into the night, leaving Lettie Mae covered in blood and wailing that the vampires killed her daughter Tara.
Now obviously Tara's death is a big deal, but it seems like such an obvious bait-and-switch that it's hard to take seriously. The last time we see Tara on screen, she's throwing down with an infected, using her old cage-fighting skills (remember those?). Then, boom, off-camera demise. Tara's been such a major part of the series and Lettie Mae's such an unreliable witness that I have real trouble believing Tara's really gone.
The problem with the episode is that the characters all have to react like she's dead, so we have to check in on Sookie's feelings and Jason's feelings and Lafayette's feelings and Lettie Mae's feelings and whew, it seems like a lot of feelings for a death that screams "narrative cheat." Of course, I could be completely wrong and the show just bumped off Tara in the most anti-climactic way possible, so stay tuned for further entries in Tara Death Watch 2014!
Sookie's obviously hit hard by Tara's death, but she's got other problems, too. Like many final seasons, Season 7 harkens back to the good ol' days of Season 1, specifically when Sookie found her telepathy to be a giant pain in the ass. Everyone in town seems to blame Sookie for the vampire rampage for reasons that aren't immediately clear (other than "dumb ignorance," I guess), so we get yet another scene in which Sookie curses her telepathy. She hasn't quite hit the heights of Season 7 Buffy bemoaning her chosen one status, but we're getting there. Paquin at least sells her frustration in her big monologue to Alcide, as her feelings are mixed with grief for Tara.
In the positive column, Pam is searching for Eric (who nakedly burst into flames at the end of last season), and finds herself in Morocco, engaged in a rad vampire version of Russian roulette involving wooden bullets and enormous buckets to collect the leavings of the loser. Kristen Bauer van Straten's acidic performance has always been a bright spot on this show, and I'm pleased to report that's still true.
Chris Bauer does some good work in his scenes as well, particularly when he has to face down a small human vigilante mob looking to murder Bill. Andy Bellefleur's been the butt of a lot of jokes on "True Blood," so it's nice to see Bauer get some straight dramatic material to play. (He was Frank Sobatka on "The Wire," once upon a time.)
Plus, we get some much-needed backstory on Jessica's new beau James, as he relates his draft-dodging past to Lafayette. James also implies that he swings both ways and there's a whiff of sexual tension between him and Lafayette, so it might look like poor Jessica just has no flipping luck when it comes to romance. Hasn't Jessica suffered enough, show?
It just wouldn't be "True Blood" without some one-note bigot running around, and this time it's Vince, who lost the mayoral election to Sam and is the head of the aforementioned human vigilante group that has it in for Bill. (They also seem to have teleportation powers, considering they beat both Jason and Andy to their respective investigation spots.) Vince also figures out that Sam's a shapeshifter, because Sam transforms right in front of the window of his own crowded restaurant, so good one, Sam. Nice to know you are still pretty dumb.
God, there's a million characters on this show, and everyone gets a little bit of business in the premiere. Jessica bonds with Adilyn by protecting her during the night. Violet lets Jason have sex with her once he finally stands up for himself. (I do believe that it would take Jason this long to crack that particular code.) Arlene, Holly, and Nicole all wind up prisoners in the basement of Fangtasia and scream a lot. And Willa winds up crashing in the basement of Reverend Daniels's church. I think that's everybody! Except Eric, of course. Who knows what that scamp's up to.
Overall, a decent premiere. I have no idea if any viewers will return to "True Blood" for its final season, but it's nice that all of the characters are tied together by one unifying threat (except Pam and Eric, but I'll allow it since it's Pam and Eric). One down, nine to go!
Jeff Stone loves cartoons, wrestling and hour-long prestige cable dramas. You can follow him on Twitter @WheelbearGo.