Tonight’s episode kicks off with Sookie trying to make her new werewolf pal, Alcide, feel a little less crappy about having gotten his ass kicked in Lou Pine’s were-bar. Alcide’s pissed that his brethren would indulge in vampire blood and sad about the departure of his fiancée, the latter feeling only slightly less shoehorned into the script than it did in the previous episode. Sookie obviously felt guilty about the way she was laying hands on Alcide, but one suspects that the guilt only lasted until the phone rang and Bill dumped her. I know he’s doing it because he thinks it’s the only way to save her life, but the effect it’s having on Sookie is clearly traumatizing the poor girl. She gets into a debate with Alcide over what Bill said, why he said it, and what it all means, but it’s quickly made obvious that the last person who she ought to be talking to about her situation is a werewolf dealing with his own relationship problems. Thank God the guy’s got some semblance of restraint, but come the next morning, things somehow end up even more tense between them, with Alcide accusing her of being a doormat and Sookie demanding that he take her to his ex-fiancee’s engagement party. Yeah, ‘cause that’s an event every guy wants to attend…

Alcide’s sister, Janice, sure knows how to offer a compliment, telling Sookie that she’s cute and sweet, but only after admitting that she’d’ve settled for a two-bit hooker to get her brother’s mind off his ex-fiancee. Between what Janice said and what Sookie heard her thinking, it appears there are some serious parallels between the relationships of Sookie and Alcide, insofar as how long one should suffer through first love before realizing that it might not be worth all the trouble. But I digress, when I should be pointing out how Janice made Sookie look like Joan Jett’s hot little sister. (Marjorie Kase suggested that I throw a “Sandy from ‘Grease'” reference into my write-up. I’m guessing this is a reference to the “tell me about it, stud” transformation.) Unsurprisingly, Alcide isn’t exactly pleased to hear the news about Debbie’s situation, but he nonetheless agrees to help Sookie get into her party…which we’ll get back to discussing in a little bit.

Sam’s ready to kick his little brother’s ass for sneaking into his office, but in the process of trying to hunt him down, he stumbles upon his family’s van and learns that they’re temporarily camped out in his parking lot because of unpaid rent. Mom and Dad are less than thrilled at the news, but they’re not in any way surprised, either. Meanwhile at Merlotte’s, Jason tries to buy a round for his boys, but he ends up suffering pangs of jealousy over some young high school punk, while Sheriff Bud really is retiring, apparently, and he’s been given a pair of “dancing shoes” as a farewell gift. The revelation that Andy’s taking over the reigns of command pisses Jason off, though, sending him over to start some shit with the aforementioned young punk. Jason might’ve confused the kid with his “ten years from now” speech, but it actually made more sense than most of the things that’ve come of his mouth on this show. Also, Jessica’s working for Sam as a hostess…but not a waitress, owing to the fact that she’s forever trapped at the age of 17 and therefore unable to sell alcohol for all perpetuity (have these people never heard of a fake ID?)…but being out in the open leads her to be spotted by a former Bible-study classmate. Clearly, she’s got the hang of this glamoring thing, but too bad Hoyt got the wrong impression by only seeing the situation from a distance. So Hoyt’s jealous, Deputy Jones and Jason are both pissed, Arlene’s sobbing because the number of redheads employed by the bar has suddenly doubled…yep, it’s just another night in Merlotte’s. Oh, and by the way, Sam’s family is having a cookout in the parking lot. Son of a…

Tara’s baring her soul to Franklin and telling him every single thing she knows about the Sookie / Bill relationship, but she also finds herself opening up about her feelings toward Jason. It was way creepy to see Franklin mouthing the exact words that Tara was saying to Sookie at the moment she was saying them. For a moment, I thought that he might actually feel something for Tara, but that theory went out the door the second he jumped her by the front door…and, yet, though he tied her up and abandoned her, he didn’t leave for dead. Eventually, of course, he returned to her, asking her if she missed him with apparently no sarcasm. Hmmm, I guess he really does have feelings for her, even if he can’t quite determine what they are. Either way, he takes her on a ride, calling their time together less a kidnapping than an opportunity. She’s scared shitless…and probably should be.

Okay, for as disgusted as I was by the sex scene that ended the previous episode, I still had to laugh when Lorena called it “the best sex I’ve had in decades” and cracked her neck. Bill quickly put a damper on any emotion she might’ve felt during their encounter, though. She’s just as deluded now as she ever was, convinced that he’ll come around eventually. Ain’t happening, Lorena. Later, Bill bonds a bit more with the Vampire King of Mississippi, who’s puffing away on a stogie and quoting Rudyard Kipling (“a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke”) while Bill’s trying to confirm that Lorena’s days are numbered. To do so, he quickly sells out Eric and the Vampire Queen. Attaboy, Compton!

The sight of Eric hovering outside Sookie’s window was pretty funny, but within moments of her inviting him into her room, I knew we were looking at some kind of dream sequence. I only wish the dream had gone on a little longer, ‘cause, damn, Anna Paquin was lookin’ good! I guess it’s a testament to my “type” that the sight of the stripper made me go, “Yeah, whatever, now get back to Sookie.”

Despite his new car, Lafayette’s sales gig looked like it was taking a serious turn for the worse until Eric stepped in to save the day. Clearly that’s not going to happen every time, but I guess it serves to show that Lafayette is not alone in this endeavor, and they’d better recognize that fact. It seems weird to see Eric and Lafayette talking shop, but it didn’t last long. The next thing you know, Eric’s getting word that Fangtasia’s being raided, and…hey, it’s our man Zeljko doing the raiding! Thankfully, Eric temporarily talks down Zeljko, thereby sparing Pam for the time being.

When Sam tried to bond with Tommy, I couldn’t imagine it was going to pan out. Tommy’s not exactly the sentimental type, based on what we’ve seen thus far. But he is, though, acknowledging the guilt he’d feel if he tried to forge his own path and leave his parents on their own. In the end, Sam gives his family a place to stay ‘til they get back on their feet, provided there’s no stealing or drinking. Yeah, I wonder how long that will last…

And, now, we come to the last portion of the episode, where storylines began to converge. Tara and Franklin’s trip ended at the resident of the Vampire King of Mississippi, who was – as his longtime companion informed them – not home. Where was he? Out and about with Bill and Lorena. Poor Bill found himself playing the part of the procurer again, a thankless job if there ever was one, but at least he ended up getting a few confessional-esque moments with a really hot stripper before taking her back to the limo to get the lifeblood sucked out of her. While he was gone, however, The King left Lorena alone in the limo for a bit, and the expression on her face led me to think that we were possibly about to see the last of her. Instead, I was surprised to see His Majesty stroll into the werewolf bar where Sookie and Alcide were hanging out. Sookie hung tough in her disguise – it was particularly hilarious when Gus looked at her and thought, “She looks familiar. Did I bang her?” – but Alcide barely kept it together when dealing with his ex, who’s either really under the influence of her new friends or just a complete bitch…or possibly even both.

Tonight’s episode was one of the darkest “True Blood” installments we’ve seen in awhile, but it wasn’t as disconcerting as last week’s, so it felt like a major improvement. I’d even go so far as to say that it was the best episode of the season to date. Let’s hope the various storylines continue as strongly next week.