After a tepid and somewhat frustrating fourth season — what, with all the silly nonsense about fairies and an ultimately boring love-triangle subplot better suited for daytime melodrama — 'True Blood' was starting to lose much of its bite. Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) was slowly turning into an annoying, wishy-washy nuisance, while the other characters were relegated to foot-soldier status, underlings to her every whim and desire as the season's overarching plotline centered on her. Granted, there were enough good episodes to maintain interest, finishing the season with a strong cliffhanger, but the series looked as if it was losing a good deal of steam. Thankfully, things pick up in the fifth season and sprout some seductive fangs.
Picking up directly where the last season left off, the opening episode ("Turn! Turn! Turn!") isn't exactly the strongest, but it's a massive improvement over fairies eating radioactive fruit while lost in their own thoughts. It properly sets the tone for the rest of the season, as Sookie and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) negotiate a deal with Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) in order to save Tara (Rutina Wesley). Frankly, Tara's latest alter ego is a long-time coming but nice to see actualized and used as the final nail in the coffin to her strained relationship with Sookie. In fact, I rather enjoyed this particular storyline because she's finally allowed to find a sense of self as well as her place in this fantasy universe. We also learn more about Pam's history, which makes her a more sympathetic character.
Speaking of strained relationships, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) realizes his affair with lovely redhead Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) isn't all it's cracked up to be while forced to confront and deal with the pain he caused Hoyt (Jim Parrack). Although not as engaging as other aspects of the season, it still provides a satisfying emotional center. Of more interest is the return of Rev. Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian) and his hilarious declaration as a "Proud Gay American Vampire," establishing his place as the comic relief throughout much of the season. Denis O'Hare also reprises his role as the dastardly but wickedly funny Russell Edgington. Although O'Hare's talents feel largely underutilized, not making an official appearance until the end of the fifth episode, his presence adds some amusing value, striking an affair with Newlin, causing all sorts of havoc and slowly building towards an inevitable if also predictable conflict between the vampires.
This rift grows from the season's central and most interesting plotline where, after a long wait, fans are finally privy to the Vampire Authority, the clandestine agency ruling over the undead and the group responsible behind the mainstreaming social movement and The Great Revelation. Unfortunately, our look into this covert society, governed with an iron fist by Roman (Christopher Meloni) and Salome (Valentina Cervi), is somewhat short-lived. The arrest of Eric (Alexander Skarsgård), Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric's sister Nora (Lucy Griffiths) leads to the coup d'état by the fanatically religious group Sanguinistas. It's a bit disappointing not learning more about the Authority, but I found myself really enjoying this political conflict between fundamentalists because it's return to what made the series great in the first place: the vampires.
Of course, the season does include several subplots involving the other residents of Bon Temps, each given a good amount of time and wrapped up pretty neatly with some sort of connection to the main story. Well, except for the whole Terry (Todd Lowe) and Arlene (Carrie Preston) ordeal with an old army buddy (Scott Foley) and the fire demon Ifrit, which really only gets in the way and slows things down. The same goes for all that fairy junk with Sookie and the mystery behind her parents' death. The side story with Alcide (Joe Manganiello) returning to his wolf pack ways is actually entertaining, and Sam (Sam Trammell) forced to handle a hate group comes with a decently satisfying conclusion. Regrettably, the fifth season of 'True Blood' doesn't live up to the first two seasons, but it's a good improvement over the previous one, ending, as always, with a shocking cliffhanger that'll leave fans anxious for season six.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
HBO Home Entertainment brings 'True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season' to Blu-ray as a five-disc cardboard fold-out with individual plastic hubs for each Region Free, BD50 disc. The package includes a separate cardboard folder with two double-sided DVDs and a code for Digital Copies of all 12 episodes. Both folders fit snugly into a sturdy, white-and-red cardboard box.
The fifth season of 'True Blood' takes a bite out of Blu-ray (yes, I know, pretty corny) with an attractive and mostly highly-detailed 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Clarity and resolution can waver from episode to episode, and in some instances, from scene to scene, looking a tad softer than others. While a thinly-layered grain structure is, for the most part, stable and pleasing, it tends to standout in some nighttime sequences and seems a bit noisy, yet in other scenes, it appears natural and unobtrusive. This could have something to do with the fact that contrast runs a hair hotter in some episodes than in others, causing highlights to bloom slightly. In general, however, the video is comfortably bright with excellent visibility into the distance.
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the presentation displays strong, rich black levels, providing the image with a good deal of dimensionality, without taking away the finer details in the deep, dark shadows. A lush, full-bodied array of colors animate the screen with energy, particularly the vivid primaries making the greens in trees and grass glow with zest while the blood reds soak each scene exaggerated extravagance. Definition is often stunning and razor-sharp with the occasional soft spots sprinkled throughout each episode. Nonetheless, fine lines in hair, clothing and buildings are distinct and mostly resolute. We can make out individual bricks inside The Authority's conference room, and each pore and wrinkle in revealed with lifelike texture.
The sexy vampire series also arrives with an outstanding DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that genuinely pleases with its subtlety. Discrete atmospherics are employed for various effects, from generating an immersive and satisfying ambience to expanding the few action sequences with excellent directionality. Crickets are heard singing during many nighttime sequences, and birds chirp in the distance when characters are out and about in the daylight while the Goth electro music of Fangtasia fill the room with dark melodies. In fact, it's the score and song selections which make up much of the rear activity, keeping the listener engaged. Pans are used occasionally, and they're flawless, giving the impression that vampires fly from one side the room to the other.
In the fronts, the music and original score continue to impress with sharp, precise separation in the instrumentation. The mid-range is extensive and dynamic, exhibiting splendid detailing during the loudest moments and appreciable clarity in background activity during quieter scenes. With exceptional and well-defined channel separation, the soundstage feels broad and expansive with a good deal of warmth and fidelity. The low-end isn't particularly wall-rattling, but plenty of good, clean bass provides the lossless mix with palpable depth and some substantial weight. A couple segments surprise with some fairly low frequencies that fill the room. Amid all this, dialogue and character interaction is clear and well-prioritized in the center.
'True Blood' returns with another season of vampires, werewolves, fairies, and all manner of supernatural freaks learning to live with one another. Although not as strong as the first two seasons, this fifth installment is an improvement over its predecessor, thanks to the inclusion of the Vampire Authority, brief as it is. The Blu-ray arrives with an excellent audio and video presentation and a healthy collection of supplements, making the overall package a good rental for the disbelievers and a strong purchase for the most devote.