After “True Blood’s” extended dead-end detours involving faeries and witches, the HBO drama’s fifth season finds it back on the true (if not righteous, thank goodness) path, sinking its teeth deeper into arcane vampire politics while adding several strong new characters and squandering less time on subplots that make you want to zap past them. While the show has always been something of a guilty pleasure, the first four episodes suggest a welcome return to pleasure far outweighing guilt.
Without giving too much away, the crux of season five involves the interaction involving Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) with the Vampire Authority, the shadowy governing body to the bloodsuckers in author Charlaine Harris’ beastie-laden world. The Authority’s senior leadership includes Roman (Christopher Meloni, reminding us what a first-rate badass he played before his “Law & Order” stint); and Salome (Italian actress Valentina Cervi, who goes far enough beyond the customary nudity clause to merit some kind of flesh-baring bonus. She is, by the way, indeed that Salome — as in John the Baptist — and thus possesses enormous power, since the more centuries they hang around, the stronger Harris’ vampires become.)
Suffice to say the two familiar vampires must do the authority’s bidding or face the “true death,” which provides strong forward momentum to these early episodes, even as they deal with a dizzying number of loose ends from season four.
Admittedly, the past edition of “True Blood” almost veered off the rails as it layered one fantastic creature on top of another, with werewolves, shape-shifters, witches and faeries eventually adding so many horror and fantasy denizens to the tiny New Orleans town as to feel like the folklore contingent outnumbers the conventional human population.
Still, series creator Alan Ball and company have assembled a solid ensemble and instilled such a cheeky attitude the show remains great fun, and clearly benefits from being back on a better-directed course. That also includes a recurring interlude regarding the backstory for one of the supporting players, who suddenly becomes much more interesting in the process.
There’s also something refreshing about a series where a character tosses off a line about being a proud “gay vampire American” in a way clearly intended to extend a middle finger at cultural scolds, reveling in its ability to satirize homophobia through supernatural subgroups.
HBO is hoping “Blood’s” continued vigor will also help jump-start a new series, Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” which will premiere in a couple of weeks. And while at first blush the two don’t appear particularly compatible, there is a certain poetry in a series about soulless parasites following one about New Orleans vampires.