The most pressing issue heading into the third season of True Blood was whether or not they once again pull one of their golden credit sequences and replace it with something lesser, like they did with Big Love earlier this year. Thankfully the answer was no. The one minute masterpiece featuring music by Jace Everett redefines the term “Southern Gothic” and should never be retired. Picking up right where the dramatic season two ended, this season finds a recently propositioned Sookie (Anna Paquin) in a state of shock as her soon to be vampire beau Bill (Stephen Moyer) has vanished right in front of her, seemingly the victim of an ugly political kidnapping. That storyline, and many others, work very well but their impact is dulled by the fact that the writers have crowded this season past the point of comfort.

True Blood has always played the older, more hedonistic sibling to Twilight’s emotionally unstable, ab-obsessed adolescent. It has more depth and character development and less self-absorbed brooding. But here it seems as though Twilight has gotten in their heads as they seem hung-up on doing things their way. Twilight is making a mint off of a vampire/werewolf war so, predictably enough, here come the werewolves. And that would be fine if it didn’t come at the expense of other, richer plots that would have blossomed had they been nurtured properly. It pains us to think about how good Jessica’s dilemma involving an accidental draining, which resulted in a corpse in desperate need of disposal, could have been portrayed had more time been made available. There is also a suicide attempt, Sam’s quest to track down his birth parents, a murder cover up, aristocratic vampires from Mississippi and everybody’s favorite. . .Nazi’s! Smooshed together it feels convoluted, confusing and in need of another pass in the edit suite.

Bill spends most of the first episode being drained by some disgusting V junkies, being driven god knows where, while back home Sookie plays the role of hysterical girlfriend. And while she may not notice, the town of Bon Temps is busy being overrun with chaos. Chris Bauer is back as grizzled cop Andy and this season he is playing guardian angel, of sorts, for Sookie’s brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) as he takes the blame for killing admitted serial killer Eggs. It turns him into a local hero, but we all know that as the truth slowly comes out his star will start to fade and inevitably crash into the grieving and unpredictable Tara (Rutina Wesley), who is tore up over the murder of her lover. Evan Rachel Wood has aged dramatically in the years since hooking up with Marilyn Manson but is still a welcome presence on my screen and here she is playing the hard-dicked Sophie-Anne.

But for this True Blood season to work we have to believe in Anna Paquin’s performance. Sookie, while seemingly not reading minds anymore, has gotten stronger over the years and Paquin has done a great job of picking up on that. At times it still sounds like she is reading a script but those instances are becoming fewer and fewer. The show remains easily accessible and fun to watch especially to those who are fans of the books. It has always been surprisingly loyal to those books, though that is probably due to the fact that a season of this is around 12-hours-long giving it much more freedom than is awarded to your typical big screen adaptation.

But fidelity is not enough and even though its implied purpose is to steam up your already scorching summer nights (have you seen those posters?) they would be well advised to steer clear of the romance novel pitfalls that sometimes befuddle the books. There does seem to be a prevalent theme of class warfare and a gay rights allegory that is welcome here, and we hope that they stick with it because relevant social issues is something that neither Team Edward nor Team Jacob would ever dare to touch.

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