'True Blood' postmortem: Inside the twists of 'Almost Home'

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Image Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO

This post contains plot details of “Almost Home,” the True Blood episode that aired on Aug. 10. Read our full recap here.

The writer of Sunday’s installment of True Blood, supervising producer Kate Barnow, took EW inside Violet’s torture dungeon, Bill’s life-or-death decision, Jason and Jessica’s sweet car conversation, and every other big moment. 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Eric is finally healed. 
KATE BARNOW: This is where we find out that Eric Northman is not leaving us, and we’ve been teasing this since basically episode 10 of last season, so it is a big moment. The [opening] sequence got pared down a bit. Originally, there was a little more of the religious craziness coming from Sarah, a little bit more back and forth between Mr. Gus, Pam, and Eric. And ultimately, at the end of the day, we realized what that scene’s really about is Eric healing. But I still do really enjoy everybody’s point of view in that scene, especially the crazy rantings of Sarah Newlin.

Sookie and Bill’s postcoital pillow talk at the start of the episode is obviously key because it begins setting up his decision at the end to not take the cure.
And it was a big scene because really as a viewer, you’re asking yourself if you’re happy or not about them getting back together. You can’t help but ask yourself, how can Sookie trust him after everything they’ve been through? So she sorta goes back to the beginning and asks the question, was this love based on the real stuff? He answers what she needed to get closure on—whether or not the love was true. We went back and forth on a couple of different versions of it, and I think that we landed at a place where we got some really good emotional information, but we also get some interesting background information—information about Bill’s past, the mission to go seek out Sookie. I think Anna [Paquin] and Stephen [Moyer] played it so beautifully, and it was a really special scene on the day because it felt like the culmination of seven seasons of conflict between the two of them being resolved—but in a very bitter-sweet way because it’s at the end when he’s dying.

I know the writers want to make Sookie more active this season, so after Eric shows up to tell her he’s cured, she follows him to Fangtasia even though he tells her he’ll come back to her.
The idea was that Eric would feel kinda at a new place emotionally, which is that he has, to some extent, acknowledged that he has compassion for Sookie, even though she’s a human being. So with this new lease on life, for him to say, “I really want to reassure you that I’m not gonna die”—his whole plan is completely stymied when he gets there. He went with one thing in mind and learns something completely different. And then it’s this conflict of the enterprising Eric up against the romantic Eric. He’s like, motherf–ker, this keeps happening to me: Every time I let my guard down and care for Sookie, it gets in the way. But for Sookie, of course, she’s desperate, and there’s no way that she’s not gonna go after Eric when she finds out there’s a cure. She was just a little bit behind him because he can fly, which, you know, is an advantage. What is truly fun is watching Sookie see the Yakuza standing outside of Fangtasia and just being like, “Okay, I’m doing this anyway.” It feels new, but it’s kinda the same old thing: Sookie’s pursuit of trying to get what she wants, and usually it has something to do with Bill, is gonna mess Eric and Pam up in a big way.

I love that Eric pretended to glamour her, so Mr. Gus would think she knows nothing about the cure.
It was Anna’s very first time having to play glamoured in seven seasons.

In the end, Sookie goes against Eric’s orders again and brings Bill and Jessica through the tunnel to the basement of Fangtasia. Bill decides he doesn’t want to drink from Sarah.
Truthfully, we were a little concerned that maybe with all the flashbacks that people would guess this was where he was heading, that he was heading into this very fatalistic place. I think Bill has always been at conflict with himself as a vampire, and the thing that has kept him going has been Sookie. But I think that he’s feeling fairly resolute at this point that his time is nigh. That’s certainly what episodes 9 and 10 are gonna explore. Who’s to say if his time really is nigh? The moment where he decides he doesn’t want the blood is largely connected to the dream he’s had where Sookie’s holding the baby void. All of those flashbacks, that dream—everything’s adding up to this should be the end. That’s why he decides it, but all hell is about to break loose. People are not gonna be happy with his decision.

I want to jump right to Violet’s house. I talked to writer Craig Chester last week, who said he did all his own research for the props Violet would have in her sex dungeon. Did you do—
Tremendous research. I started to research the history of torture, which is an uplifting thing to Google. Karolina [Wydra, who plays Violet] is from Poland, so we always placed Violet in some sort of Slavic area where she came from. So I asked Karolina, specifically, does she have any knowledge of medieval torture contraptions from that time? And within a minute of texting her, she sent me this picture of a torture museum. So that was wonderful, because it gave our art department something to go off of visually. And then in my research, I came upon these things: Unfortunately, most of the torture devices for women have historically been of a sexual nature. They really, really go after women in the most visceral ways. If you go too deep into it, it gets pretty disturbing. So we just decided it had to be the most operatic, crazy, crazy, sequence of all time.

As I was writing it, because it was getting so over-the-top, I asked Bucky [showrunner Brian Buckner], “Is this okay? Because this seems bananas.” And he was like, “Just go for it. We’ll pare it back if we need to.” So I did, I went for it. The idea really was, what is it like to be a beautiful woman throughout history that’s been a sex object, and she comes from a different time. Much of this episode is origin stories, so we kinda learn who Violet is, to some extent, right before her demise. So, there was some seriously crazy rantings and ravings there.

Like when she told Jason she’d chosen to be with him because she wanted a world free of wit and intellect so she could be worshipped for the beautiful creature she is.
[Laughs] She thought after a thousand years of seducing really powerful men that it was time to go simple. This is a woman who’s been protecting herself through the ages and kinda let her guard down with Jason because she thought she could, and then he ended up hurting her more than she ever could have imagined. Her approach to the resolution of it is probably not the best. [Laughs] But you’re supposed to feel a little bit of compassion for her before she dies. So that’s where all that insanity came from.

So the “breast ripper” Violet planned to use on Adilyn?
That’s a real thing. None of those things were sprung from my brain, just so we’re clear. That stuff was all based in fact and in someone’s very sick, sad, unfortunate reality. I didn’t make any of that up. All that stuff was researched and horrific, but [Laughs] kinda brilliant.

I get what you mean: What she planned to do to Jessica was truly horrifying, but the fact that you had Violet holding a red-hot dildo was also tremendous.
I remember in the script itself, I specified something like “a hot burning phallus,” but I didn’t expect it to be perfectly shaped like a penis. So when the props department presented that, I was like, “Oh my god.” But of course, what did I expect? I did write the words, “hot burning phallus,” so at that point, it was really anybody’s fun to have. There was probably like $10,000 worth of dildos on the set that day. There were all these beautiful antique, just crazy sex toys. It was hard to keep a straight face.

I think it was Carrie Preston who told me that the show’s sets were being archived. Does that mean all the dildos will be catalogued?
Oh gosh. Because they’re dressing, maybe not. But if you wanted to start a collection of sex toys, you can buy some really old and very, very intricate things, I’ve learned.

Violet says she’s going to screw off Wade’s fingers and crush his head. But she didn’t get to say what she was going to do to Jason.
That thingie that she strapped him to has an official name that I’m blanking on, but the idea of that one was that it was an X that somehow stretches you into four pieces. Let’s be honest, she doesn’t need any of these machines in order to do what she can do with her own hands, but it’s so much more fun when it’s all built and pretty.

The other thing I’m curious about in that house sequence is when Jason started walking through the halls and touched the stuffed zebra. Was that scripted or just Ryan Kwanten?
That was all Ryan Kwanten. You can’t make that stuff up. That’s all just Ryan being wonderful. The same thing with shooting at the bear. We were lucky, all that taxidermy came with the house. The show did provide that. That was there for us. So he had a lot to play with, but he did a great job.

Tell me about deciding that Hoyt would save them all.
We knew we needed to reunite Jessica and Hoyt, and it was sorta meant to be this moment of love at first sight all over again, except that for him, he didn’t know it was the second time that it was love at first sight. It was kind of a wild way to end what’s already a very wild scene—lots going on there. But I think that [Deborah Ann Woll and Jim Parrack] did an amazing job of bringing that feeling back of, like, the magic’s happening all over again. That’s juxtaposed against the insanity of Jason and Violet. I think you’re supposed to start to see that Jason wants something more, and you’re supposed to start to see that it’s not just a triangle, it’s a quadrangle that’s beginning between Brigette and Hoyt and Jessica and Jason.

That was the purpose of putting in Brigette and Hoyt having the disagreement about her wanting children. Planting that seed.
Jason’s priorities have been shifting throughout the season, but he’s been sort of strapped to this crazy person, and then he was reunited with Jessica for a moment there and brought back to the more humane side of himself. I think he’s sorta thinking about a family and what that means to him as well. There are a lot of themes circulating, and everyone’s wondering who it is that they should be with.

The Jessica and Jason car conversation was just so lovely. I always love when Jason gets to say something poignant, and that line about how he feels like they’re in a bubble above the ground, and he knows they can’t stay there, but it makes coming down to earth feel better, was so perfect.
When we knew that we had that scene to write in this episode, I was a little daunted by it. The marching orders were essentially, these two really care about each other, but they’re not really right for each other, and they end it in a mutually good way, but they end it. Those are shades of grey, and also they just came from a really intense place where they slept together in episode 5. As a writer, you want to know what your trajectory is when you get into a scene, and that felt very nebulous. Oh god, how am I gonna get them to be at the same place at the same time? I don’t know how I got to it, but I just was so lucky in that those two characters’ voices are so strong and lovely, and I kinda felt like they were both poised to do something new in the next couple of episodes finishing up the series. One of the concerns that we were having about the scene was, do you buy it? Because Jason and Jessica are kinda great together, do you buy that they don’t want to be together? I dipped into the times in life where you’ve been in something that can’t work but there’s still something very special to it, and just tried to write from there.

That moment of Hoyt and Jason sitting at the bar at Bellefleur’s was also great. It felt like Jason really telling viewers he was ready to move on from Jessica when he told Hoyt that he wasn’t involved with her.
He gives him permission, and he really lets go of Jessica in that moment. There’s a lot of big moments for Jason in this episode. It’s really sweet to watch them replay how they became bros to begin with. There was a beginning of their friendship, and we get to see it happen again.

Jason tells Hoyt about Bill’s illness, and Hoyt goes to see Jessica. The way Hoyt turns around with tears in his eyes when Jessica asks if he misses his mom—and his perfect explanation of what it’s like to lose a parent—was beautiful.
Jim was really, really wonderful in that scene. He could only work on Mondays because he was doing his play [Of Mice and Men] in New York, and Monday is their only dark day. So he would fly Sunday evening and get there after doing this play all week along, have his lines, and just go right into it. Maybe it helped, because he was so raw and so ready to go there. It was just amazing. I think it was the very first scene we shot of the episode, so I was just like, “Oh, I think the Jessica-Hoyt stuff is gonna work, guys.” [Laughs]

We got the resolution to Tara and Lettie Mae’s storyline, which was Tara acknowledging that she knew how abusive her alcoholic father had been to her mother, forgiving Lettie Mae for not being able to handle it when he left, and making her promise to let Tara go by living her life.
We wanted to give Tara and Lettie Mae, and Rutina [Wesley] and Adina [Porter], the origin story that they deserved, because they’ve been playing such incredibly emotional material for so long, and it felt like we wanted to know where it all came from. We came in to the series with Lettie Mae already so far gone, and this was the inciting event that was the shift for her—from a decent, caring woman who was in an abusive relationship to not really being able to care for Tara anymore. I know it was definitely a circuitous journey to get there, with people wondering for a long time why the cross and snake, but we hope it pays off.


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