Welcome to the seventh and final season of "True Blood"! When a great, long-running show comes to the end of its run, it feels like the end of an era, and this is a great show. Or at least it was. It peaked around the time Russell Edgington pulled the news anchor’s spine out on live TV, then sat down to address the camera. and proceeded to show Howard Beale how it’s done. And the last couple of seasons were real off-road torture tests, raising troubling questions about the motives and abilities of almost everyone involved, starting with Rutger Hauer’s agent. 

Ultimately, the big question faithful viewers were left asking was, as Richard Pryor once so eloquently put it, “How long will this bullsh*** go on?” Now we know: whether the show rallies and pulls out of its tailspin or continues to spiral toward the Earth like a piece of flaming space flotsam, it will go on for another six weeks. And then that’s it—none of that “first half of season seven, to be continued next year” nonsense that’s so popular with your high-profile cable shows nowadays. So much of life, like so much of late "True Blood," is about being grateful for small favors.

The previous season ended with Sam Merlotte, now the recently elected Mayor of Bon Temps, convening a human-vampire social at the renamed Bellefleur’s Bar and Grill. A massive outbreak of hepatitis-V is threatening the entire community, with doomed, hungry vampires running amok during the nighttime hours, and Sam has proposed an innovative solution: every human being should pair off with an uninfected vampire, who can protect them from the infected vamps, in exchange for a safe, monogamous feeding arrangement. You may remember that Sam’s mixer went to hell when it was invaded by a swarm of infected vampires, killing people and tearing the place apart. 

Or, like me, you may have been so confused by the episode’s last-minute time jump (“SIX MONTHS LATER”) that you completely forgot what happened in the last few minutes of last season, and sat through tonight’s chaotic opening scene waiting for the news that this was a flash-forward, after which the show would return to the present day and reveal the build-up to all this bloody, screaming craziness. It’s meant to be a grabber of an opening, but even though most of the major characters are on the scene, nobody manages to really distinguish himself, least of all the editor.  It’s a loud, confusing jumble. Finally, the bad vampires decamp, taking Holly, Arlene, and several Bon Temps Redshirts with them. 

Lettie Mae, last seen urging her daughter to chomp down on her as a first step toward mending their relationship, screams, “They’ve killed my Tara!” But have they really killed her, like, dead dead? It’s something to root for. Lafayette, still the character most likely to speak for the audience, sums up the enormity of the event when he says, “I feel relieved.” If this really is the last we see of Tara, the show’s graceless way of disposing of her will just be the final indignity visited upon a character who, back at the start, seemed intended to be the audience representative—the only stable, normal, down-to-earth person in a town full of monsters, shape shifters, pervs, and Southern Gothic crackers—on a show whose defining characteristic came to be its contempt for stability and normalcy. Anyway, here’s hoping that this isn’t the set-up for one more freaky plot twist. As Lafayette says, she’s already died once. How many trips back from the other side does anybody get? It’s a little late for this show to turn into Supernatural.

Bill and Andy set out to find the rogue vamps and rescue Holly, Arlene, and as many Redshirts as they can pull from the jaws of certain death and strap to the roof of the car. In the course of their investigation, they stumble across one of those remote, empty buildings where kids are all the time goin’ to make out—always a good place to look for signs of carnage and mayhem, just ask Longmire—and meet a bunch of anti-vampire vigilantes led by a charmer named Vincent, who’s the guy Sam beat in the election for mayor. Earlier this evening, Vincent happened to look out the window just in time to see Sam transmogrify into human form after having changed into a dog. On top of everything else that’s gone wrong today, Vincent is completely bent out of shape over losing an election to a dog, I can sort of see his point. 

Vincent and his raiders hate vampires so much that they’re going to waste Bill right there. Andy tells them that he has his own issues with ol’ Vampire Bill and asks for their blessings to kill Bill himself, but of course, he’s just faking them out. He points the gun they’ve handed him at the vigilantes and tell them to get on home, now. After they leave, he reminds Bill that they really do have some unhappy history together and he would dearly love to kill him, but he still needs his help to find Holly and Arlene. Holly and Arlene, meanwhile, are in the vampires’ lair in Shreveport, working to keep their spirits up while the vampires work their way through the Redshirts, in descending order of how good they can scream.

Does Andy still have any of those goddamn faerie daughters who amounted to the single most jarringly out-of-left-field plot development on television since Mitch from "Baywatch" started a detective agency? He does! Her name is Adilyn—faeries are real hippies when it comes to things like spelling their names—and she’s stuck alone at home while Andy is out being a lawman. But not quite alone: Jessica, who has taken over Tara’s role as the show’s resident punching bag, apparently now lives on the Bellefluer’s front porch, crying tears of blood and hoping for a chance to redeem herself for eating Andy’s other daughters and making so life so much easier for the writers who, had she not done so, would still have the task of keeping track of all of them. 

Jessica would like to come inside, the better to protect Adilyn.  Adilyn points out, not inaccurately, that the whole business of untamed, murderous vampires not being able to enter a person’s home without an invitation is “a weird rule,” but chooses to take advantage of it anyway. Jessica spends much of the night staring down a slavering, infected vampire whose voice is so deep that it reminded me of the echo-chamber effect used for the green-tinted bloodsucking title character of Al Adamson’s "Dracula vs. Frankenstein," 43 years old this year and still the most embarrassing horror movie ever made to have the nerve to invoke the name of the one of the all-time greats. At long last, the sun comes up, and Adilyn, who has at least partly bonded with Jessica, invites her in, just in the nick of time. Jessica scampers up to the attic, while the infected vampire becomes a crispy critter on the Bellefleurs’ front porch. When daddy comes home, somebody’s going to have some explaining to do.

If the show has a spark plug left in its utility belt, it’s Pam, who’s first seen in Marrakesh, playing Russian roulette with a man who holds up a gun and announces, “We watched 'The Deer Hunter!'” (Was it thought necessary to explain how the rules of Russian roulette had made their way to Morocco? Surely somebody there has the Internet.) “I’ve survived 27 times!” this guy says with a grin as he places the gun to his temple, demonstrating a serious failure to grasp how the law of averages works. He thinks that Allah is on his side, and asks Pam how things are going between her and her God. ‘Everyone I love leaves,” she says. “Everything I touch dies. So forgive me if I don’t share your feeling for my Lord.” Summing up, she tells the man, “Your God and my God can go to a motel and have a f***ing circle jerk for all I care. I’ll be in Hell, having a three-way with the devil.”

In addition to the ballsy blasphemy of the speech, her pronunciation of the word “Lord”—she slips at least three extra syllables in there—makes for the highlight of this episode in terms of crazy Southern accent-talk, at least until one of the Redshirts goes out with the line “Nae feckin’ waey!” on his lips. After the Russian roulette scene ends the way you’d expect, with Pam’s rival making an exit out of Scanners, it is revealed that she has been playing in order to earn information regarding Eric’s whereabouts. When they last saw each other, Eric seemed to be trying to do the “’Tis a far, far better thing I do!” bit, cutting her loose for her own good, and it would be hard at this point to argue that she’s not better off without him. Maybe she just wants to ask him for his password for HBOGO.

That’s about it this week, except for Sookie. You remember Sookie Stackhouse -- sweet girl, real cute, kind of a drag on the action these last few years. She spends the entire episode pouting because she can’t turn off her internal NSA-monitoring power, which enables her to hear everyone’s thoughts, thus cursing her, as she puts it, to always know what everybody thinks of her. These days, nobody in Bon Temps thinks all that highly of her; she keeps receiving inter-cranial text messages calling her a slut and a “vampire whore” who brought death and misery down on the whole town by being too nice to the sexy undead. She even hears these kinds of thoughts emanating from the brain of her current squeeze, Alcide, and though he tells her that everyone has harsh, fleeting private thoughts about those they love and that she shouldn’t take it personally when she hears him bellowing in her head that her vampire-mingling sexual history makes her nothing but trouble, how can she not, really?

The only hotness in this episode—except maybe for a moment when Jessica and Adilyn are finally of the same side of the Bellefleurs’ front door and Jessica looks at her as if she were dinner—comes from Sookie’s brother, Jason, and the sexy lady vampire who has claimed him, but who won’t permit him to have intercourse with him, until he’s proven himself worthy of the honor. So Jason, who’s used to being the most oversexed man in Bon Temps, has been trudging around with a worn-out tongue and balls as big and blue as the ocean. After she humiliates him by taking charge in a confrontation with the vigilantes, making him fell “unmanly,” he makes a most Jasonly speech—“I’m gon’ f*** ya! And you’re gonna f*** me back! We’re gonna f*** together! Let’s f***, for f***’s sake!”—she leers ecstatically, asks him what took him so long, and then they tear off their clothes and go at it like a house on fire. Apparently, she wanted him to prove himself by declaring his intention to force himself on her. Coming so soon after the big incest-rape controversy on "Game of Thrones," I’m not sure about the sexual politics of this: it just skirts violating the spirit of “no means no.” But at this point, I don’t feel like coming down too hard on the only people on this show who are having fun.

What'd you think of the premiere? Do you think Tara's gone for good?