Alan Ball was known for his masterful use of music in Six Feet Under. He's lost none of his touch when it comes to his current HBO series, True Blood -- which happens to be set in the Louisiana swamps, not terribly far from Houston. Much thanks to True-Blood.net, who has offered to help us with tracking down the songs of True Blood post-episode.
I apologize in advance for this, but this week's episode review is particularly spoiler heavy. I can't help it. The moments are built too perfectly to ignore and discuss, and they are the essence of all that was amazing in this week's offering. So if you haven't seen the episode yet, go watch it and I'll see you when you get back...
Good now? Awesome. Let's move on.
There is one thing that the television Sookie Stackhouse doesn't get to do nearly as much as her literary version, and that is to be unspeakably fearless and badass. Don't get me wrong for a second. Anna Paquin is a phenomenal Sookie, and nobody's victim. It's just that sometimes she's a hard sale as that can-do Southern gal so familiar to us here in Texas, Louisiana, and the like.
When literally everyone around her from her knuckleheaded brother to her grandfather, a millennial old faerie king, is just as clueless as a Duggar at a birth-control seminar, she gets to freakin' work! She almost immediately realizes that not only is the halfling fae she's befriended is part vampire, but that he's also Warlow, the murderer of her parents who has come for her. What does she do with this information?
She puts on her sexy drawers, invites him for dinner, drugs his food, lets him get on top of her (by the way, they're related, so ewwwwwwww), and then tells him in no uncertain terms to put his dick back in his pants before she blasts him with magic sunlight.
It's just the perfect payoff, and it proves something I talk about way too seldom; that Paquin is capable of absolutely spell-binding moments as an actress. She suffers as Sarah Michelle Gellar suffered on Buffy, in that as the glue that holds the whole thing together she occasionally fades to the background while the more garish players caper.
Make no mistake, the only reason that True Blood works is because Anna Paquin can pull off these moments perfectly, and part of what sells it is that Etta James' "At Last" is playing in the background while Ben is foreplaying in the battleground.
For more than 70 years, "At Last" has been a hit for various artists, especially Etta James. It's her classic version that appears in the episode, though of course many other artists have put their spin on it. Beyonce lent it new legs when she sang the tune in Cadillac Records and for President Obama at his first inaugural ball.
It's been the key musical sting in dozens of great movie scenes, like my favorite in Pleasantville when it shows the newly-colored citizens of the idyllic black and white town driving off in a pink convertible. It's just a genius tune.
James' version continues to be the definitive rendition, perhaps because of all that she poured into it. Her life was worthy of song and legend itself. Born into a single-parent home, her mother left her with foster parents as she ran around town. Her foster father would wake her up with beatings to sing for his friends. She suffered from heroin addiction, alcoholism, a string of broken relationships, and yet through it all was never questioned as one of the great vocal talents of all time.
That's what makes the scene in True Blood perfect. "At Last" is a love song, but the person most famous for having sung it lived the kind of life a bluesman would have called excessive. The same can be said of Sookie: she's been beaten, broken, drained, lied to, and yet on the other end of all that retains her desire to love and be loved in return.
That experience, though, teaches wisdom. The man who steps on a snake watches the grass in the future. Between James and Paquin there's another layer to the words. It's not just a loving response to finding someone, it's also a warning.
"You are mine at last." Depending on the situation, that's both a come-on and a threat. It's a reminder that love is a two-way street, and you better be willing to be flexible on the right-of-way. God only knows how big the other truck is.
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