If you're a True Blood fan who appreciates the show's desire to take death seriously in theory, but in actuality long for the days when it was a sudsy summer (guilty) pleasure, you may have found yourself tempted to fast-forward through this hour and stop whenever Eric is onscreen. He and Pam continue to be the one bright spot in an otherwise dark season, but this episode shows signs of life. Losing Alcide gives Sookie the desire to cut through the crap and move things along, such as the rescue of the kidnapped at Fangtasia and Jessica's eating problem. It's like how The Good Wife Emmy nominee Christine Baranski explained the effects of that show's season 5 shocker to EW last week: "Death can have a very purifying effect on people. And you can reconfigure, reevaluate what’s important in your life, and you also think, 'I’m through with a lot of bulls---. I’m through with having to deal with people I don’t care about.' You come closer to living in your center."
Let's start at the beginning.
The Notifications: The hour opened with Sookie using a payphone to call Alcide's dad, Jackson, and tell him Alcide was gone, and Jason on his cell, phoning Hoyt to inform him of Maxine's death. Both things had to be done and were beautifully acted by all involved, but having Jackson plan to come to town when you've finally put a nail in the coffin of the underdeveloped werewolf story line is like leaving us with Lettie Mae after Tara was killed—no one needs it. Couldn't Sookie, feeling guilty after Jackson tells her Alcide "loved the f---" out of her, have told him it wasn't safe to come to Bon Temps, period?
To his credit, Jason tries to tell Sookie that it's a bad idea for Hoyt to return now. He's probably in the safest location—an oil rig in Anchorage, Alaska, where it's light for 18 hours a day this time of year. But as an original character on the show, he's welcome. It'll be interesting to see if Bubba, who won't remember Jason or Jessica, will be used to pull the two back together (if they learn he's happy in his new life) or if he's there to serve another purpose. Predictions?
Eric and Pam's Trip Down Memory Lane: On their flight to the States, which Eric has diverted to Shreveport so he can see Willa before he dies (RIP, Tara), we finally see the origins of Fangtasia and learn how scream queen Ginger came into the duo's lives. When Eric and Pam are taken from France in 1986, they're brought to Shreveport, where the Authority's Magister—"I'm sorry, did we f--- and I blocked it out?" Pam asks him—sentences them to run a small business in a grimy strip mall that smells like "sperm, and piss, and bad hair dye." Pam's reaction to realizing that they're the not-proud owners of a video store is classic: [Gasps] "Oh... my... god," she says. Eric's response: "So sorry, Pam."
We should applaud the folks who decorated that set with VHS tapes and posters. The Magister takes them to the basement, which houses Northern Louisiana's largest collection of porn—and a tunnel that dates back to the Underground Railroad. (Remember that.) He makes Eric the sheriff of Area 5, and tells him he'll be paying 80 percent of his profits to the Authority and constantly watched. When the Magister throws the keys at Pam, she just lets them hit her body and fall. No one does an apathetic but disgusted face like Kristin Bauer van Straten.
In 1996, a dark-haired Ginger walks into the video store looking fresh out of Reality Bites or Singles, and asks Pam about good vampire cinema. She's a college student at Tulane, excited to be taking a course called Monsters in Our Midst, which examines the plight of "the other" in society and how "others" are treated using vampire lore. Ginger is calm and articulate—and claims not to be a vampire groupie since she doesn't believe vampires really exist. And then in walks Eric. We get our first loud gasp from her, and it's so amazing that you're already laughing out loud before you even realize that they have Eric walking in slo-mo looking like Jason Priestley circa Beverly Hills, 90210. The '90s are not the best decade for Eric if he's going to wear a black T-shirt under an open cream-colored button down—we need our heavage bare, thank you. The song playing is Garbage's stalker anthem "#1 Crush," which is perfect since Ginger immediately forgoes her college education once Eric kisses her hand. Pam confirms she and Eric haven't been together romantically since they took over the video store, and Ginger asks for an application when she sees that they're hiring for the day shift.
In 2006, Ginger is dressed like a goth-meets-American Idiot, now with blond hair and black streaks. She carries what turns out to be Eric's throne into the DVD store. Pam sees it as just a sh--ty chair: "Ginger, look at yourself and look at me—who has better taste?" But Ginger has vision: Now that vampires are out of the coffin, Eric and Pam can own any business they want. Ginger enthusiastically pitches the idea of Fangtasia, right down to the name. Knowing they do most of their business from the porn section, Ginger suggests stripper poles and an elevated stage where Eric's throne will sit: "Because sex sells, and Eric Northman is nothing if he is not pure f---ing sex on a throne. You're starting to see it, right? There is nothing else like it. He sits up there: This thing you can see but cannot have, and so everyone just gets hornier and hornier until they just can't take it anymore. And they start losing control... of how many drinks they're ordering. Poor things. Might as well just leave their wallets at the door, because when the sun comes up on Fangtasia, there won't be anything left in 'em anyhow."
Pam is impressed and tells her it's perfect, which is the nicest thing Pam's ever said to Ginger. That makes it extra sad when Pam glamours Ginger into thinking it was all Pam's idea, which is what Pam plans on telling Eric. Back on their private plane, Eric smiles hearing the truth and tells Pam she's such a bitch. "But you still love me?" she asks. "Always," he says, slowly. Thank god those two are getting great scenes together this season. They can both go from sarcasm to sincere tenderness in a second flat.
That series of flashbacks sets up the tunnel's use in the rescue attempt, which we all see coming, but it also sets the stage for Ginger's return in present day. Actress Tara Buck is a series regular for the first time in season 7, which means we're going to see a fair amount of her. Imagine her comically over-the-top/dramatic reaction when she finds out Eric is dying. Or, will it be shockingly contained and unexpectedly heartbreaking? Either way, since feeding on virus-carrying humans seems to speed up the dying, could Ginger offer to donate blood regularly in bags to Eric to keep him alive longer? And in exchange, will he finally sleep with her (even if it's literally just sleeping with her, which would be sweet)?
Why hasn't he taken advantage of her over the years? Is it just that desperation is not attractive to Eric, or something else? (Buck tells EW we'll get an answer.)
NEXT: Lafayette is kind, and Sam is kinda dumb