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TELEVISION REVIEW

‘True Blood’ continues its fang-tastic journey

Anna Paquin returns as Sookie and Joe Manganiello plays a good werewolf who watches over her in season three of HBO’s “True Blood.’’ Anna Paquin returns as Sookie and Joe Manganiello plays a good werewolf who watches over her in season three of HBO’s “True Blood.’’ (John P. Johnson)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / June 11, 2010

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All the creatures on “True Blood’’ have mad crazy powers. The vampires compel eternity, and they can glamour the human brain into delusion. The shape-shifters fool Mother Nature, morphing into dogs and birds and cats like flesh-and-blood cartoons. And the werewolves, who arrive this season on the HBO series with the sins of the Nazis embedded in their collective history, attack like steroidal thugs.

And what about the humans? We only have the power to feel, but don’t despair. Feeling trumps just about everything on this show, which returns on Sunday night at 9 with a big burst of psychodynamic, erotic, and hyperbolic energy. “True Blood’’ is a melodrama above all, a Gothic fantasia where even the supernatural characters are ultimately driven by emotion. Yes, even the steely Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) is ruled by his heart — by his passion for the late Godric and, now, for Sookie.

If that makes “True Blood’’ sound like romantic mush, like the “Twilight’’ series, then you haven’t seen the show, HBO’s highest-rated drama since “The Sopranos.’’ “True Blood’’ is dominated by heated emotions and tortured love, but there continues to be spiky satire and camp at every turn. The script offers an ongoing goof on real-life social conflicts and hypocrisies — the war on drugs, for instance, as Queen Sophie-Anne (Evan Rachel Wood) traffics in V, or the battle over gay rights now that vampires have “come out of the casket.’’ And twisted humor is rampant, from the sexual insouciance and the homoerotic imagery to the diva fits of Bill’s teen offspring, Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll). Almost every scene with Pam (Kristin Bauer), the fabulously vicious bisexual from Fangtasia, is a demented treat.

Sookie (Anna Paquin) remains the show’s emotional lightning rod this season, the Dorothy to the Scarecrow (that would be her lover Bill) and to the Tin Man (Eric). “True Blood’’ picks up exactly where it left off, moments after Bill’s (Stephen Moyer) abduction during his marriage proposal to the overwhelmed Sookie. With Eric at her side, lusting after her, Sookie follows the yellow brick road in search of her endangered lover. Her adventures take her deep into the realm of werewolves, both the bad ones who thrive on V and the good ones like Alcide (Joe Manganiello), the Dr. Jekyll who serves as her bodyguard.

The show, as fast-paced as ever, is crammed with subplots this season, some of which will be more engaging than others. The dimwitted Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten) is bent on becoming a cop to assuage his guilt about having shot Eggs, a story that appears to be heading toward a predictable punch line. More interesting is the spiritual journey of Sam (Sam Trammell), who is tracing his shape-shifting roots back to his birth parents. His family is a disappointment, and poor Sam may remain as forlorn as ever. Also potentially rich: Tara (Rutina Wesley) takes up with a particularly gaunt vampire played with feral creepiness by James Frain. No good can come of it, I’m sure.

“True Blood’’ began in 2008 as a pointed look at an oppressed group — the vampires — and the civil wars among their ranks. But it has grown into a sprawling vision of all kinds of supernatural beings, their physical and societal rules, and their lone struggles. The show has developed a fantastic community of freaks, as it pushes the art of occult metaphor to ever greater heights.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

TRUE BLOOD

Starring: Stephen Moyer, Anna Paquin, Sam Trammell, Alexander Skarsgard, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Nelsan Ellis

On: HBO

Time: Sunday night, 9-10