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“Hey! You just shut your nasty mouth, mister. You might be a vampire. But when you talk to me, you talk to me like the lady that I am.”

HBO has finally gotten around to confirming the air date of season 4 – June 12, 2011. While we wait for our second-favorite* vampire to return to the small screen (helloooo, Eric), we’re going to take a speedy look at the three proceeding seasons. And don’t forget that book 11 in the Southern Vampire Mysteries – the Charlaine Harris series the show is based on – comes out on May 3rd.

The series premiere introduces us to Sookie Stackhouse, our heroine, who happens to be a small-town telepathic waitress. Most people don’t know that she’s psychic – though Sookie denies it to the few who do guess what’s up with her – and assume that her distraction and odd comments are, at best, symptoms of her being a bubble-headed blonde. At worst, they think she’s “a retard,” as Mack Rattray delicately puts it.

Sookie’s been drifting through her life, trapped in the little town of Bon Temps, which she finds harder and harder to leave as the years go by. There aren’t a lot of options out there for her. How could there be – she can barely function in the little town she lives in, hearing everyone’s thoughts, their secrets, what they want to do, and what they really want to say. It’s not outright stated in the show, but her particular talent, which she can not control, would be a serious liability in a big city. The books make it clear that people’s thoughts really bombard her and she has no defenses against them when the series begins. Its a little less straightforward in the show – her talent comes and goes, or at least her ability to block it out comes and goes. The telepathy is frustratingly inconsistently portrayed; I think it’s fairly obvious that the show is trying to shake out how to balance a power like Sookie’s against storytelling needs. Three seasons in, they still haven’t quite worked it out.

This first episode also introduces us to the main characters in Sookie’s life. There’s her horndog and dim-witted older brother Jason.

Jason Stackhouse: You know, I read in Hustler everybody should have sex with a vampire at least once before they die.

The best friend, Tara, who is introduced to us reading Naomi Klien’s Shock Doctrine during a shift at her dead-end job at a home goods store and then is never seen reading again, ever. (I would have liked to have seen more of this Tara, the one who reads challenging political books for fun.) There’s Gran, a nice Southern lady who has raised Jason and Sookie since the drowning death of their parents, and with whom Sookie still lives. At the bar, we have Sam Merlotte, the owner/bartender/besotted lust bunny, Arlene and Dawn, fellow waitresses, and Lafayette, the flamboyant, openly gay line cook/drug dealer/escort/road crew/man about town.

Yes, please.

We all love Lafayette. Please take a moment to remember how awesome he is.

Ok, we good?

Two years before the show starts, vampires came “out of the coffin,” declaring their existence to the world on the heels of the invention of a synthetic blood substitute that makes subsisting off of humans unnecessary. The show gets its name from that drink, True Blood. The book series is called “The Southern Vampire Mysteries.” True Blood is a catchier title, by far.

In the two years that have passed, no vampire has bothered to drag their coffin to Bon Temps until the night that Bill Compton slinks through the door of Merlotte’s. He’s pale, he’s tussled, he makes direct eye contact and smolders a little when he watches you from across the bar. He is, in short, Bad News. Anyone with a lick of experience in the world is pretty much able to tell this at a glance. But poor, sheltered Sookie, who practically screams “virgin” any time sex is mentioned, can’t wait to meet the vampire.

Meet she does. Within minutes of introducing herself to Vampire Bill, Sookie is frantically searching for him in the parking lot of the bar. She’s overheard the Rattrays thinking about draining VB for his delicious, delicious blood, which is sold on the street as a drug called “V,” and when Bill disappears with them, she suspects the worst. This is pure Sookie – she’s principled and strong-headed. She doesn’t rush out to the parking lot because Bill is a vampire, she runs out there because that’s what’s right. You don’t let people get hurt if you can help it. And if you’re Sookie, you don’t necessarily worry about getting hurt yourself. You just go.

Obvs sexual tension

Bill has been chained down by the Rattrays with a slip of a silver necklace. Sookie fights them off with a  length of chain that mysteriously gets wrapped around Mack’s neck and tightened without anyone holding it; the episode originally included a shot of a shadowed female figure watching the fight from the trees. We’re supposed to think that this person is protecting Sookie during the confrontation (Bill sees this person). This cutaway has been deleted from reshowings of the episode, so that the implication now is that Sookie somehow choked Mack herself. Vampire Bill owes her big time now. Big. Time.

The season’s b-plot mystery is forming around Sookie’s brother Jason, who is accused of murdering one of his fuckbuddies. Jason’s as dumb as a brick wall, which doesn’t mean he’s not a killer, but does mean he probably couldn’t cover his tracks about it, but he’s arrested by the end of the first episode anyway.

Sookie decides to cash in her vampire favor by asking Bill to speak to Gran’s “Decendents of the Glorious Dead” group. This is the South, and they do love their Civil War history, so the opportunity to speak to someone who actually lived through it is awfully exciting. Before she gets the chance to tell Bill the nature of her request, Sookie is grabbed by the Rattrays in Merlotte’s parking lot. They proceed to beat the everloving shit out of her, which is a fine and disturbing place to close the episode.

We have almost all of the themes the show is going to explore laid out in this first episode. Alan Ball lays his cards right on the table. Between the first scene and the opening credits, we have the subtext of vampires-as-gays (“God Hates Fangs” and “coming out of the coffin”) and the problems of appearances – we’re so seeped in seeing what we expect to see, that the real danger slips right by us (Vampire Billie Bob). This is especially important as we develop the main romantic relationships in the show. Watching the scene after Sookie rescues Bill now that the third season has wrapped casts an entirely different take on what happens there – Bill is aggressively trying to seduce Sookie, something she reacts badly to. He doesn’t try this approach with her again but it is vital to keep this first contact in the back of one’s mind as you watch the rest of the first season. Trust me, if you’ve seen the series before it will cast a different light on their romance. And if this your first time watching, just keep an eye on Bill. And remember Billie Bob.

Subtle

Trivia: Gran is reading a Charlaine Harris novel when Sookie gets home from meeting Bill the first time. She also bends the covers of her paperbacks, which I find inexcusable.

* Number one will forever and ever go to Spike. I don’t even see how that can be argued.

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