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Well, that's a bit of a mess. After a few weeks of well put together episodes, “Fuck the Pain Away” turns True Blood into a disconnected hodgepodge of storylines and hilariously poorly produced flashbacks that do very little to move the season’s stories forward.
First, the good. This episode finally gives us a real look into “Vampire Camp,” as four of our vampires are captured and imprisoned. It's a particularly strong episode for both Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and Pam (Kristen Bauer van Straten), as each deal with emotional (or, in Pam’s case, a feigned lack of emotions) issues.
Still high on fairy blood, Jessica quickly begins spiraling downward, torn between her anguish over killing the halflings (although, it turns out, she didn’t kill all of them, just three) and the enhanced emotions caused by the blood. Distraught, and finding no help from Billith (who has to be the most self-absorbed vampire in the world right now), Jessica escapes Sheriff Andy and runs to Jason. Finding no help with her ex (mostly because he just finished “sexing," using Jessica’s terminology, Sarah Newlin), Jess is captured by the cops and taken to Vampire Camp.
Finally finding Tara, Jessica expresses her fear that she truly is evil and that she is following the devil rather than God when it comes to Billith. Showing more compassion than we’ve seen from her in a long time, Tara calms Jessica, confirming that Jess is not evil, but is still a good person -- just one with different needs. Deborah Ann Woll has been given a lot to do this year, and she has handled it all superbly. Jessica is one of the show’s most consistent characters, and she remains one of the most engaging as well.
The episode’s other standout is Kristen Bauer van Straten. Pam has been a fan favorite since the show’s beginning, often given the best one-liners and exhibiting a snarky sense of entitlement that masks a deeper caring underneath. Having Pam “reveal all” to a therapist is a stroke of brilliance on behalf of the writers. What makes it even better is having the therapist not fall for Pam’s claims that she feels nothing for anyone, especially not for her maker (Eric) who released her last year.
Pam’s bravado has served her well in the past. It has helped the character deal with setbacks and the pain that comes from living for over a century with one person and having that person kick you to the curb without warning. But so few people have ever called her on it and made her open up. This year, we’ve already had Tara break through her walls, and now we have the nameless therapist successfully deduce that Pam still cares for Eric. Seeing the shock and pain in Bauer van Straten’s eyes upon realizing the therapist didn’t buy Pam’s claims and finally understanding that she will have to fight Eric to the death was heartbreaking.
And, now for the major problem with the episode: its poor structure and disconnected storylines. When a show has a large cast like True Blood's, it becomes difficult to make sure each cast member has a story every week. Other shows in the same predicament, like HBO’s Game of Thrones (which has a cast even larger than True Blood's), solve this dilemma by letting some cast members sit out certain weeks. True Blood should really try to adopt this blueprint, as forcing all of the season’s storylines into each episode can result in badly constructed and confusing episodes like this one.
“F*** the Pain Away” had us jumping from story to story, without any transition or link between the stories. Unfortunately, this is what happens when you have a handful of storylines that are interconnected (Billith/Warlow, Sookie/Lafayette, Jason, and Vampire Camp) and several that have nothing to do with the main action (Sam, Alcide, and Terry). Jumping from a Billith scene to one involving Terry is jarring and causes confusion for the viewer. And since the “other” stories aren’t particularly engaging, it’s hard for the viewer to even care what’s happening, much less want to make the transition between the two scenes. I often find myself trying to remember what Terry or Sam’s stories were even about, and by the time I do, the scene is over.
Perhaps the time has come for True Blood to consider trimming down the cast, either by killing off superfluous characters or by bringing them back only when they have something to add to the main action. Ultimately, True Blood tells the story of Sookie Stackhouse. We are supposed to care about her more than the other characters. The show ceases to exist if she is not there. Likewise, storylines don’t work unless Sookie has a real stake in them. The Vampire Camp story works because we know Sookie cares about the vampires affected. The Terry storyline doesn’t work because Sookie rarely interacts with Terry.
Hopefully the writers and producers will realize their mistakes and correct them before the season is over. If not, the chances of True Blood succeeding or returning to its past glory become spotty at best.
-- While it's a nice cliffhanger, I don’t believe for a second that the show will kill of Pam or Eric in the thunder dome. Yes, there are rumors that a major cast member will die this year, but I hope the writers realize that if Pam or Eric is slated to go, they deserve a better ending than being killed for the humans' amusement.
-- Speaking of death, I can’t be the only person hoping that Terry’s Army buddy actually kills him. I enjoy Todd Lowe (Terry) as an actor, but the character has run its course (actually, he ran his course a while back). Anyway, trimming the cast down is definitely a good plan.
-- How horrendous were the Warlow/Lilith flashbacks? And how unnecessary? We had already been told that information, and it's a waste of time to spell it out for us through badly shot scenes (with really bad wigs and clothes that are definitely too well made for 3500 BC).
-- Lafayette finally gets something to do! Too bad it's a scene not worthy of Nelsan Ellis’ acting ability.
-- Finally, I would love to have some webisodes showing more of Pam’s therapy. I’m sure there are some really great snarky comments we haven't gotten to see.