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True Blood: The Complete Fourth Season

HBO // Unrated // May 29, 2012
List Price: $79.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted May 12, 2012 | E-mail the Author
"The ghost of my serial-killing ex-fiancé just tired to murder us in our sleep. We're just peachy." -Arlene
The Series:
One of my favorite addictive shows, True Blood, is back for another season.  Though it doesn't seem possible, this fourth season manages to top the previous year's story.  There are more mysteries, another formidable villain or two, a dollop of humor, and some very unexpected twists that keep the show fresh.  Oh yeah, and it's still as erotic as ever.  The show is still firing on all cylinders and shows no signs of slowing down.
As we left Sookie at the end of last season, she had just discovered that she was part fairy and went to another 'world' where the fairies lived.  As this season begins she's just started to experience the fairy dimension and everything seems wonderful and nice.  But then she discovers her grandfather, Earl, who had gone missing decades ago.  Still young, Earl thought that he'd only been in the Fairy realm for a few hours, maybe a day, but not longer than that.

Realizing that she'd been lied to, Snookie makes a break for it and manages to escape just as the Queen of the Fairies closes the doorway forever.  When she goes home she's astounded to discover that, while she's been gone for 15 minutes, over a year has passed in Bon Temps and everyone thought that she was dead.  Her brother Jason has sold her house (to a corporation that was very eager to buy it) and her best friend Tara has moved away.  Since she can't tell anyone she where she really was without being locked up in the nuthouse, she lies and says that she was on secret vampire business.
Meanwhile Bill Compton has moved up in the world while Sookie was missing.  He's now the King of Louisiana and has to answer to the AVL, which is not as much of a cushy job as it sounds.  When he hears that a group meeting in the back of a psychic's store managed to briefly resurrect a dead bird, he gets very worried and orders Eric to personally check it out.  Bill is worried because a witch who can manipulate the dead can control vampires since, after all, they're dead.

The one-time Viking bad boy thinks it's much ado about nothing and crashes a meeting of the witches, which is attended by Lafayette and his boyfriend Jesus along with Tara who has returned to see Sookie.  Lafayette and Tara know just how powerful and vicious Eric is, and they're terrified when he shows up and starts to threaten them.  The leader of the group, a meek woman named Marnie, tries to reason with Eric and he attacks her. 
Then something unexpected happens.  Her eyes go glassy and she starts chanting in a strange voice.  After a moment Eric stops biting the witch, drops her, and runs from the building astonishing everyone there.  It's soon revealed that Marnie, being willingly possessed by the spirit of an ancient witch, has caused him to loose his memory. 

In another plot line Arlene has had her baby, a little boy.  She's worried about the child however, because the father is not Terry, the man she's living with, but Rene, the deceased serial killer from season one.  She fears that the baby is evil.  He loves to pull the heads off of Barbies and his favorite toy is a creepy doll that Jessica gave him.  Terry says it's all in her mind, and really cares for the child.  One evening when everyone else is asleep Terry is telling the little child how much he loves "his boy" and then puts him down on the floor for a minute to get something.  When he returns the baby is playing with a red magic marker and on the wall is written "baby not yours."
There's a lot more that they poured into the scat 12 episodes that make up this season.  Sam Merlotte meets a lady he likes, who also happens to be a shifter, but she has some baggage too, and not just her little daughter.  Sam's half-brother Tommy continues to make trouble, and Bill's young vampire progeny, Jessica, starts having troubles with her boyfriend Hoyt which leads her to make some bad decisions.  Of course Sookie's loveable but dim-witted brother, Jason, gets into trouble too when his ex-girlfriend's clan comes up with a plan to make sure that their were-panther bloodline doesn't die out.

This is another great season.  The show has continued to grow and develop and in each season the characters become more real and fleshed out.  As a matter of fact, in a lot of way some of the supporting characters have become more interesting and three-dimensional than Sookie and Bill.  In this season, Jessica really shines.  I've enjoyed her character since she was introduced, but now that she's gotten past the shock of being a vampire and has learned to accept what she has become, she's evolved into an even more engaging creature.  In one memorable scene Jason asks her if she'd ever go back to being human, if she could.  Jessica, holding her fingers an inch apart, explains that she never would because her world used to be that big.  Now it's endless, and she's strong, and fast, and powerful.  Yet even knowing that, she still loves goofy, red neck, Hoyt, and that's hard at times.
The only character that seems to be going through the same cycle is Tara.  She's always getting into a jam and becoming a victim.  Though she's a strong female and not your typical helpless woman I was more interested in the life that she had carved out for herself in New Orleans than the one she had left in Bon Temps.

This season's villain, Marnie, is a wonderful creation.  I enjoyed the contrast between her normal self, a quite, meek, powerless woman, and what she became when the spirit of the witch Antonia entered her body.  Marnie realized that she, herself, was virtually nothing.  At first she would freely and allow Antonia to take her over, thinking of it as a gesture of kindness or goodwill.  Soon however she was begging the witch to control her, cutting her arms over and over as a sacrifice to the dead mystic.  It was a natural, if pitiful, reaction.
This season does end with an episode that will make fans yearn for the next season to start.  I won't give anything away, but the creators do know how to ensure an audience for the first episode of season five.  Viewers of this set won't have long to wait.  The premier is June 10th, 2012.
The Blu-ray Discs:

The twelve episodes that make up this third season are presented on five Blu-ray discs.  Unfortunately they're housed in one of those fold-out books.  You know, the ones where you have to have four feet of free table space to unravel the cardboard so you can select the disc you want.  Most studios have gone to double thinpaks by now, and I wish HBO had followed.  The set also contains a pair of double-sided DVDs that present the series (but not the extras) in SD and have digital copies for people who want to watch the show while on the move.
The 1.78:1 AVC encoded image looks good.  The first thing that viewers notice is the nice detail.  As a matter of fact, that increased definition works against the show in a couple of places, mainly when someone is wielding a wound that is made with a prosthetic makeup appliance.  These tended to less realistic than they would have in SD, Pam's rotting face for example.  It doesn't look bad, but seeing the effect in HD on a big screen is a bit less forgiving than in SD.  Aside from that nit-pick I enjoyed the look of the show.  The earthy palate that was used for the show was reproduced well, as it has been in previous seasons.  The show captures all of the ambiance of living in Louisiana and just watching some scenes will make you feel hot and humid.  The swamps were filled with bright green foliage and brown rotting vegetation, the flesh tones are great, and the red blood is vivid and impressive.  Lines were generally tights and even low-light situations had a good amount of detail. 
Presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, the show sounds absolutely wonderful.  From the first notes of the opening song the full-ranged audio does a magnificent job of accenting the emotions of scenes without ever becoming intrusive or overbearing.  The full soundstage is used with ambient noises coming from all corners of the room and the result is very effective.  This doesn't only apply to the action sequences, but to the quieter moments too.  The soft sounds of a graveyard at night or the gentle noises you hear while two people are fishing on a lake do a lot to draw the viewer into the show.  This is a great sounding set that I couldn't find any fault with.
As with the first three seasons, this set has an extensive Picture-in-Picture "enhanced viewing" mode.  While watching the shows (with a player equipped for P-in-P playback, many early stand-alone Blu-ray players don't have the capability) viewers are treated to a plethora of in-character interviews with the people who populate the show, trivia, factoids, and even flashbacks to the earlier seasons.  There's a lot of content here, and it's not just fluff.  They show what happened during the year that Sookie was missing, fill in some vampire history, and much more.  This can be distracting when watching an episode for the first time, so luckily most of the video content is accessible from the extras menu.
There are also six commentary tracks with various members of the cast and crew who talk about the show, the production, and their characters.  While I didn't have time to listen to all of these, the ones I spot checked was entertaining and informative.
Each episode also includes an Inside the Episode featurette that originally aired after each installment on HBO.  Last season the equivalent bit contained interviews with various characters in the show where they revealed what they were thinking at certain points.  This year they took it in the opposite direction and had the writers and directors discuss the events of the episode and give their insights to what happened.  While I enjoyed the in-character bits from the previous season a bit more, these are a nice addition to the show and something I wish more programs would consider doing.
That would be enough for most shows, but True Blood has always gone above and beyond as far as extras were concerned and this season is no exception.  True Blood: The Final Touches is a half hour look at the post-production process lead by series creator Alan Ball. There's also an interactive feature, True Blood Lines, that lets viewers examine the various characters and races/creatures that inhabit the True Blood world and how they are related and interact.
Final Thoughts:
Be warned:  this show is addictive.  I watched this in the evenings with my wife after the kids went to bed, and the phrase "let's watch just one more" came up often and was followed by lots of caffeine the next morning.  It is a great season, and even manages to top season three, which I really, really enjoyed.  The image on these Blu-ray discs looks great, and the extras add a lot of value too.  If you haven't discovered this series yet, start with the first season and you won't be disappointed.  DVDTalk Collectors Series. 
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