Less than a month before Season Six premieres, HBO Home Entertainment today releases last season of its hit series True Blood on a special features-packed five-disc Blu-ray set that also includes a DVD and digital copy, capturing a cycle of 12 episodes that received a decidedly mixed reaction from fans when they originally aired on the premium service last summer. (Note: What follows reviews general highlights of season-five story lines, although I have tried to avoid any genuine spoilers. If you haven’t seen these episodes, proceed at your own risk).
Most of the viewer unhappiness stemmed from the creative decision to spend much of Season Five with fan favorites Bill Compton and Eric Northman (Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard) held captive in the New Orleans headquarters of The Authority, a vampire shadow organization headed by an autocratic Guardian named Roman Zimojik (guest star Christopher Meloni). Supposedly dedicated to mainstreaming vampires into the global culture, the group had, in fact, been infiltrated by the Sanguinistas, a vampire splinter faction driven by the fanatical worship of an ancient goddess named Lilith, who urged her disciples to seize control of the world and view humans only as food.
While that might have been a provocative notion for a limited secondary story line, this tedious and claustrophobic plot played out predictably and gave the True Blood screenwriters free rein to indulge their worst tendencies when it comes to exploring topics of religion and politics, using a sledgehammer to drive home “metaphors” reflecting real-life world events. Mercifully, things improved significantly mid-season with the return of Denis O’Hare as campy but terrifying vampire Russell Edgington, partnered with an unlikely but inspired new companion: Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian), the anti-bloodsucker fundamentalist firebrand from earlier seasons, now claiming his new identity as “a proud gay vampire-American.” The duo’s wonderful chemistry together injected a critically needed transfusion of comic relief into the otherwise dour Authority doings.
Elsewhere, the season’s biggest game-changer arrived in the opening moments as Sookie (Anna Paquin) made the high-risk choice of saving her dying BFF Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley) by having her turned into what she hated most in the world: a vampire. The season-long fallout from that decision gave a much-needed reboot to a character who had been turned from a feisty firebrand into an exhausted victim by the events of previous seasons, and Wesley seized the opportunity. In the most poignant Season Five development, the show’s resident Romeo and Juliet, sweet-natured Hoyt Fortenberry (Jim Parrack) and baby-vamp Jessica Hamby (Deborah Ann Woll), faced a series of painful decisions in the wake of his Season Four discovery that she was carrying on a passionate affair with Hoyt’s best friend, Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten). Don’t miss a quiet but devastating scene between these three characters around a table at Merlotte’s in the 10th episode of this Blu-ray set. If it doesn’t have you reaching for the Kleenex, you’re made of stone.
As usual, technically these discs are flawless and include the company’s expected extras such as commentaries by cast members and production team members you can listen to while the episodes unfold, as well as a “flashback” feature to remind you of the significance of what’s happening in a scene. For example, Season Five opens with Bill on the phone at his mansion while Eric, in the background, cleans up a gory mess. The flashback feature, if enabled, shows you the Season Four scene in which they assassinated Authority bigwig Nan Flanagan, so you know whose remains Eric is frantically cleaning up.
Also, be sure to catch an “autopsy” of the action-packed episode six, in which the actors, producers and design team members reveal a lot of genuinely fascinating production detail that you might otherwise not even have noticed.
All in all, a stunning record of a True Blood season that was, in terms of story, a very mixed bag.