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True Blood: The Complete Third Season

HBO // G // May 31, 2011
List Price: $79.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted May 25, 2011 | E-mail the Author
Werewolves come to Bon Temps.
The Series:
HBO's hit series True Blood keeps getting better and better.  This third season is the best yet, expanding the show's 'world' by exploring the politics of vampires but also telling an interesting story that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
Series background:
Due to the invention of artificial blood, vampires have now come 'out of the coffin' and revealed their existence to humanity.  Since they no longer need to feed on humans, they want to be productive members of society... or so they say.
The politics surrounding vampires doesn't really concern Sookie Stackhouse however.  Being a waitress at a restaurant/bar in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, she's never even seen a vampire.  She has problems of her own, including the fact that she's a 25 year old virgin who's never had a boyfriend.  That's because Sookie has a special ability:  she can hear other people's thoughts, whether she wants to or not.  It's hard for her to get past the first date when she knows the boy across the table from her is wondering how far he'll get that night.
That changes when Bill walks into the restaurant one evening.  A ruggedly handsome and extremely genteel man who is new to town, Bill is the one person who Sookie can't 'hear'.  That's because he's a vampire, 'killed' during the civil war he's come to reclaim his family's house and land, abandoned since his last living relative passed away with no heirs. 
Sookie and Bill grow close, and in the first season they investigate a series of murders that has terrified the sleepy little town.  Most people thought that Sookie's brother, Jason, was the killer, but it turns out they were wrong.  During the second season, where they investigate the disappearance of a very old and very powerful vampire, they grow even closer.  The season ends with Bill proposing to Sookie.  While she's in the bathroom trying to decide what to say, some unseen people attack Bill and drag him out into the night.
Season Three:
When Sookie realizes that Bill has been kidnapped, she's beside herself with worry.  Not a wilting violet to just sit at home and wait for developments, she turns to Eric Northman (the vampire sheriff of her area) after the human sheriff blows her off. 
Eric is little help, and he has troubles of his own.  He's been dealing V (vampire blood) on the orders of the Queen of Louisiana, something that is strictly forbidden by vampire law.    The Magister has determined that the source of the V is coming from Eric's area and has turned his eyes on the one-time Viking.  Needless to say Eric is in a tough spot.  If they find out he'd been dealing V he's dead, and if he turns on the Queen, that's treason which is also punishable by death.  What he needs is a scapegoat... someone he can pin the illegal activity on.  Maybe someone who is currently missing...
Meanwhile Bill has been captured by a group of werewolves and taken to Mississippi on the order of the king of that state.  The two types of supernatural creatures have always been enemies, but these particular werewolves are branded with a mark that shows they've pledged themselves to follow a particularly powerful vampire.  It also happens to be the same mark that was on the creatures that slaughtered Eric's human family a thousand years ago, and he's been looking for their master ever since.
Back in Bon Temps, Jessica, the 'baby vampire' that Bill turned, is having troubles with her relationships and figuring out just how to be a vampire.  With Bill missing, she's at loose ends.  She's not sure how to feed without killing someone, or what to do with the body if she goes too far.  Tara meets a sexy vampire and becomes involved with him, Sam goes searching for his birth parents and gets a rude surprise, and Jason finds his true calling again:  he wants to be a sheriff's deputy. 
There's a lot going on in this season, though it does get off to a somewhat slow start.  The first couple of episodes seemed to lack the impact of a lot of the earlier shows, but that's mainly because they're introducing new races and characters.  The vampire politics, which have never been my favorite part of the story, also start playing a more important part in this season which makes the beginning drag a bit.
After the first couple of episodes however the show shifts into high and really starts to move.  The story advances quickly and the various subplots are all juggled nicely so that no one dominates. 
It's the characters in the series that really draw me in, and this season introduces a lot of new and interesting players.  The werewolves add a new dimension to the True Blood world and the one that befriends Sookie is a very sympathetic, yet tough, character.  The King of Mississippi, who first seems to be a caricature of a rich, incompetent European noble from the middle ages soon reveals himself to be a calculating and more devious than anyone imagines.  There's also a psycho vampire, a family of redneck shape-shifters, and a mysterious girl, Chrystal, which Jason falls for.  Each off these has a complex back story and that makes it very easy to forget you're watching a show about vampires and witches.         
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 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, Crystal's black eye when she shows up at Jason's house and the wounds on Tommy's back are good examples.  The earthy palate that was used for the show was reproduced well too.  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 two 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 player's can't) 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.  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 a 'Post Mortem" which originally aired after the episode on HBO.  These are fun, shorts that expand the True Blood universe by filling in details and presenting clips that didn't quite fit into the narrative of the show.  These include an interview with Anne Flannigan, the Vampire Rights PR person and US Representative David Finch, a documentary on werewolves in WWII, and news reports concerning a high-profile murder that takes place in this season.  I really enjoyed these.  They're a lot of fun.
The fifth disc includes the bulk of the stand along featurettes.  It starts out with Character Perspectives, two and a half hours of the in-character shorts that made up part of the P-in-P experience.  These are fun, getting a chance to hear the characters speak about their thoughts and motivation without having to shoe-horn it into an episode, but it did go on for a bit too long.  Near the end my eyes were glazing over.  Anatomy of a Scene: Episode 2 has the cast and crew explain how a scene was filmed (the werewolf attack) and True Blood Lines is an interactive guide that keeps track of all the main characters and their relationship to each other.  The disc is rounded out by a music video.
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.  This season fleshes out the back story of some of the main characters even more (especially Eric Northman) and is even more engrossing than the previous two seasons.  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.  DVD Talk Collectors Series. 
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