After four episodes that, in terms of narrative development, largely amounted to the show clearing its throat, “True Blood” sets aside an hour for taking stock, giving its surviving characters a chance to appreciate what they have and how far they’ve come. In a few cases, this means that some of the actors get to collect a paycheck, and rack up some screen time, just by swaying to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” while swigging from red plastic cups. But along the way, there are some nice moments.

About half the episode is set at a richly stocked house party at Sookie’s place that Lafayette and Alcide’s father, Jackson, throw together to honor the recently departed and help Sookie move on with the grieving process. (The dialogue makes it clear that, by “recently departed,” we’re just talking about Alcide and Tara. The deaths of Hoyt’s mother, the entire police department except for Andy and Jason, and about half a dozen Redshirts were pretty much processed, painlessly and without tears, in less time than it takes to make it to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.) At first, Sookie is appalled at the idea of staging what Lafayette calls a celebration of life while Alcide’s body is still warm, especially if she’s the one who has to pick up the empty beer cans after everyone else goes home. 

But as the evening wears on, she is increasingly entranced by the music and smoky rhythms and communal fellowship, until she fully gets with the program. She gets so wasted that she can’t shut off the flood of thoughts pouring into her consciousness from other people’s minds, and for a change, all the things people are thinking about her are so nice that she has no desire not to hear them. Before bedtime arrives, she even stands in a doorway, looking all sexy-little-girl and casting come-hither looks at Bill. She tells him that he’s barely been sociable all evening, even though “everyone” sure is glad he came. Ever the gentlemen, Bill scoots back to his place before things can get sticky. While Sookie lies alone in her big empty bed, contemplating the space where Alcide used to lay his big ol’ head, Bill soaks in the bathtub, then rises to discover the tell-tale stigmata that marks him as a victim of the vampire AIDS, hep-V.

In other news, Eric, who has released Willa from his makers’ bond in exchange for information leading to Sarah Newlin’s whereabouts, tracks the hussy to Dallas, where she hopes to connect with her estranged parents at a big bash for Ted Cruz at the George W. Busb Presidential Library. He and Pam crash the ball, decked out in tasteless J. R. Ewing finery; Eric is even wearing a cowboy hat, though Pam spares herself the indignity of appearing in public with big hair. The scene includes some especially blunt digs at Texas Republicans, starting with the use of the actual names and photographic images of Bush and Cruz, instead of some “Mad”-magazine funny-name stand-ins for the actual famous politicians; it’s as if, with only a few episodes to go, “True Blood” were saying, “Screw metaphor! Take no prisoners!” When Sarah finally finds her mother in the ladies’ room, she tells her that she is in desperate need of help from people in high places and asks if Mom can call Laura Bush on her behalf. Mom angrily tells her that Laura cut her off after word got out that Sarah was “the monster” responsible for the hep-V outbreak. (Anna Camp has her best line of the season to date when she whimpers, “But I’m not a monster. I’m a Buddhist!”) Suddenly, Yakuza assassins break up the party, showing their disrespect for all things American by shooting up Ted Cruz’s picture, along with a few of the extras. Sarah is rescued by the hep-V weakened Eric, who couldn’t punch his way through a wall last week, but has no difficulty shredding the Yakuza with his bare hands. (He tears the jawbone off one of them, and the camera holds the gory keepsake in close-up for an eternity, as if to say, “Hey, what did you think of that, huh? Bet you won’t see that on ‘The Strain’!”) Who will rescue her from Eric? That, along with the bad news about Bill’s medical condition, is this week’s big cliffhanger.

There’s plenty else going on. Andy is finally cajoled into getting down on one knee, right in the middle of the party, and proposing to Holly. She says yes, thank God. (Andy also supplies a handy motto for this entire series when, revving up for his big moment, he says, “I don’t know if I’m supposed to be taking some kind of message from all the bulls**t that’s been going on, but I’m taking one anyhow!”) Arlene runs into Keith, the vampire whose blood restored her to full health and then some, and they flirt pretty vigorously; he tells her that she’s “the most beautiful woman I’ve seen in three hundred years,” promising to see her again “in my dreams.” (He may not be exaggerating by much. The lighting and makeup crew really give Carrie Preston the movie star treatment in this episode, as if they were trying to make it up to her for having had to spend most of the first half of the show’s final season sweating it out in a dimly lit basement.) And Alcide finally gets a decent send-off, when Jackson toasts his memory, declaring that his son, who never fought for the sake of fighting, find something he believed to be worth fighting about in Sookie, and so truly “died a hero.”

Not all the developments are so happy. Lettie Mae crashes the party and stabs Willa with a knife, so that she can drink her blood and enjoy another vision of Tara. When this doesn’t go over so good with the other revelers, she wails that people think she’s crazy just because she’s a recovering alcoholic. Lafayette, the show’s resident truth teller, quite rightly points out that everyone thinks she’s crazy because she just up and stabbed somebody. Lafayette and New James finally get to the scene that reportedly caused the actor who used to play James to shred his contract and bolt the set: Jessica catches them doin’ it in her car. This leads to a big Emmy-bait speech from Lafayette, about how he, too, wants love and happiness, and will not apologize for seizing the opportunity to find it with New James. Those who have more down-to-Earth reasons for watching this show than stirring orations on the power of love are rewarded with a brief snippet of a hot and steamy sex scene between Jessica and Jason, who, like LaVern Baker’s Jim Dandy, just can’t stand to see a little girl cry. (Before they start ripping each other’s clothes off, he has tried to comfort Jessica by asking her, about New James, “You mean with all that sensitive musician s**t, it never occurred to you that he might be gay?”) Their coupling is the mini-cliffhanger of the week, as it ends with Violet about to burst in on them.

All in all, a hangout episode, and maybe a final opportunity to just relax and spend some time with the characters before the plot picks up some steam with the second leg of the series. The flashbacks this time are restricted to Bill’s Civil War days, where the foreshadowing includes moments in which he tangles with a Confederate villain and makes a promise to his wife, Caroline, that she will always be his one true love. More enjoyable is the opening sequence, which may well be the last we see of Fangtasia, before Eric and Pam set out for Texas. Eric enjoys one final sit in his chair, and has to deal with Ginger, who complains about the deficiencies of their relationship: “I have been your sex slave for fifteen years, Eric Northman, and we ain’t never had sex!” What, she wants to know, is a sex slave who never gets used for sex. “A slave?” Pam says, in her best “No, duh” voice. “True Blood” is often most fun when it’s aware that the philosophical questions its characters are chewing on aren’t that deep.

Is Eric’s hatred of the Yakuza the key to Sarah saving her hide? How do Bill’s Civil War memories tie into all of this? Is Jason about to learn just how many hot vampire babes you can string along? And is Tara ever coming the heck back, or what? So many questions, so few episodes left to supply some answers…