True Blood hasn’t become a breakout hit by resting on its laurels. Each season seemingly reinvents the wheel: taking another in the series of Sookie Stackhouse novels and interpreting it in a way that places its characters in an entirely new light. Season 3 has its ups and downs, but – as the new DVD set shows – when it hits its stride, it can’t be beat. Hit the jump for my full review.
It also demonstrates how the show avoids undue gimmickry with the introduction of new monsters. In the second season, we added the terrifying maenad Maryann to the mix, with brilliant results. In Season 3, it’s werewolves: bikers and brawlers who hate vampires with a passion and live in a state of undeclared war with them. A lesser show would put them front and center, dimming its vampire characters in favor of a new flash in the pan. But here, it feels like we’re exploring a new corner of the world: developing it rather than reaching for an easy ratings boost. The real villain is a plain old garden variety bloodsucker: the King of Mississippi Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare). His intricate schemes ensnare both Sookie (Anna Paquin) and her lover Bill (Stephen Moyer), as well as most of their friends and acquaintances over the course of the season.
The werewolves themselves come along as garnishes in that equation, letting the vampires plot against each other without falling into undue repetition. They also provide another potential love interest for Sookie – the hunky yet sensitive Alcide (Joe Manganiello) – which turns her love triangle with Bill and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) into a full-bore quadrangle. Season 3 definitely waxes soapy with these and other developments, but escapes potboiler status by keeping its tongue firmly planted in its cheek at all times.
Indeed, the perfect balance between sudsy horror and self-parody produces some of the greatest moments in the series. The scene where Russell yanks out the spine of a newscaster on national television may never be topped, and Eric’s lengthy plot for revenge never cheats on the juicy details. A few of the less interesting subplots get lost in the shuffle – as when Sookie’s dipshit brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) scores a job as a sheriff’s deputy – but they don’t linger the way the show’s best elements do. Creator Alan Ball never tries to top his various stunts, and the characters remain true to themselves even when the narrative surrounding them starts to overheat. Season 3 even finds its share of genuine heartfelt moments, notably in the burgeoning relationship between “baby vamp” Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and her lunkhead mortal boyfriend Hoyt (Jim Parrack).
It goes without saying that interested late-comers should pick up the first two seasons of the show before grabbing this one, though True Blood’s comparatively self-contained nature makes it easier to hop into the proceedings late than other shows do. The five-disc DVD set comes in a very handsome package, and includes a decent array of extras: including the “post mortems” which ran on HBO after each episode and audio commentary on six of the twelve parts of the season. A funny/ludicrous music video from Snoop Dogg and an engaging “Anatomy of a Scene” breakdown with Alan Ball round out the set. If you need a quick refresher or want to catch up before Season 4 comes around, this no-nonsense collection makes an excellent buy.