I could fill this review space just cataloging each subplot. Instead, I'll go for a big-picture analysis and get down to a few specifics. First, Ball now so owns these characters created by novelist Charlaine Harris that he can, in the July 10 episode, drop in a quick shot of (minor spoiler alert) Anna Paquin's Sookie reading a Charlaine Harris novel, as though the books themselves were a part of Ball's fictional world. Second, what Ball is up to this season is nothing less than a reinvention of nearly every major character.
After a brief season-premiere visit to fairyland, Sookie has come back to Bon Temps a newly emboldened woman. She's no longer taking guff from anyone; as with all of True Blood's identity politics, once Sookie learns who she really is (in her case, a fairy), it empowers her. Thus, when she returns to find that Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) has bought her house as a means of controlling her, she doesn't wail the way early-period Sookie would have. Now she talks about how fed up she is with being lied to and exploited by these damn vampires. When Eric says in the July 3 episode, ''Your blood tastes like freedom, Sookie,'' he doesn't realize he's talking about her freedom, not his own.
Stephen Moyer's Bill, once a sensitive agonizer, is now a strutting king among vamps, admitting with oily ease that he deceived Sookie the past few seasons to attain his power goals. Tara (Rutina Wesley) has decided she likes girls and mixed- martial-arts fighting more than whining and crying a big, welcome change for her. The season's significant new character is a witch played with wizardly virtuosity by Fiona Shaw (Harry Potter's Petunia Dursley). As for Eric, he falls under a spell that renders him a virtual blank slate. It's fun to see Skarsgård, usually so knowingly wily, turn his character into a meek kitten with fangs.
In general, the new True Blood is grappling with the notion of change how to deal with it, and how to use it. The choices? Face it with either mature grace or callow fearfulness. Regardless, it's time, as one character says in a future hour, to ''vamp up.'' B+