‘True Blood’ recap: ‘Authority Always Wins’ welcomes Christopher Meloni

Last week’s season premiere set the table, and this week’s episode started to chew on the new storylines. As usual, it’s a mouthful.

Tara and Steve Newlin are newborn vampires, Bill and Eric are at odds with the Vampire Authority, Arlene is worried about the ghosts of Terry’s past, Jason still feels bad about sleeping with best friend Hoyt’s girl Jessica, and Sam and Luna are still boring.

The hour served up a whole mess of unrelated story strands, but on balance it also played more entertaining and intriguing than the premiere.

Let’s break down the highs and lows:

The Good (What worked)

– Turning Tara into a vampire is the best idea “True Blood” has had in awhile. It may go sour in the long run, but right now it’s giving four prominent characters — Sookie, Lafayette, Tara and Pam — something interesting to do.

And does so while successfully playing with details we already know about each of them: Tara’s hatred of vampires, Tara and Pam’s mutual dislike for each other, Lafayette’s guilt over Jesus, Pam’s suspicious attitude toward Sookie, Sookie’s complicated relationship with vampires (she finally breaks it off with her dueling vamp suitors and now her best friend is reborn a bloodsucker, and she doesn’t even know about Jason and Jessica yet…)

Exploring a story that ties this many threads together is not uncommon for smart dramas, but it’s becoming relatively rare on “True Blood,” so let’s appreciate the effort while we can. It’s also worth acknowledging that the Tara storyline is considerably more layered than what’s happening with the show’s other baby vamp, but more on that later.

– Lafayette: “Do something!” Pam: “I am. I’m laughing.”

– Another byproduct of Tara turning: we’re seeing more of Pam’s backstory, including her first meeting with Eric. I usually find the show’s period flashbacks a bit cheesy and this was no exception, but I’m invested enough in Eric and Pam that I wanted to see this moment. I hope we’ll see more of how their relationship developed from there.

– Why is Sheriff Andy on the show? I have no good answer. At least when he’s paired with Jason we get lines like Andy’s “Stackhouse, I had sex,” and Jason’s “That’s getting to eat the pie, without having to pay for the cow.”

– I’m going to be patient with the Terry/Arlene/Patrick storyline for now. It’s not exactly compelling yet, and it’ll probably be as anticlimactic as the haunted baby arc Terry and Arlene had last season, but until they make a glaring misstep I’m happy to follow Carrie Preston, Todd Lowe and Scott Foley wherever this goes. Assuming it goes anywhere at all.

– We all knew Chris Meloni was joining the cast this season, and now here he is… Presiding over a creepy “blood of Lilith” communion scene (this episode taught us that some vampires devoutly worship Lilith, the original vampire created in God’s true image and an actual figure in religious mythology), and threatening to sentence Bill and Eric to the true death. The rest of the Authority was a bit unimaginative — underground facilities, generic European baddies played by Valentina Cervi and Christopher Heyerdahl (imitating Christoph Waltz), an eerie little boy on the council — but Meloni immediately stepped up with the super-sized scenery-chewing performance the show needs. So far, so good. And I’m eager to see just how much he’ll get to do as the season progresses.

The Bad (What didn’t work)

– The biggest black hole in the show right now: Sam and Luna. The writers have struggled with Sam for what seems like forever (Sam Trammell is a likable actor, but the character hasn’t been useful since he permanently dropped out of Sookie’s love life), and it doesn’t help that Luna is dead weight as both a love interest and overall screen presence. The latest hurdle to their extraneous relationship involves Luna’s daughter, Emma. She may be a werewolf. This upsets Luna more than Sam (she doesn’t want to have anything to do with her ex-husband’s crazy side of the family), but doesn’t add much to the show beyond an irritating blowout between the two and a brief but adorable glimpse of Emma in young wolf form. (More baby wolves, please!)

We’ve seen a lot of werewolves in the past few seasons but haven’t met an interesting one yet. (And no, Alcide doesn’t count.) The latest performer struggling to give us a reason to care about the second-tier species is Dale Dickey as Luna’s former mother-in-law. Anyone who saw her in “Winter’s Bone” knows this would be a breeze, if only “True Blood” gave her the goods.

– Also at the back of the pack: Newly minted vamp Steve Newlin. Last week he proclaimed his undying love for Jason, this week he has an indecent proposal for Jessica — he’ll pay her $10,000 for exclusive rights to Jason. Jessica messes around with Steve, asks for $20,000 and teases him with details of Jason’s anatomy. This is fun because Jessica is fun. But the idea of bringing Newlin back to an already massively overcrowded show just to make passes at Jason and eliminate any semblance of subtlety from the series’ vampire/gay metaphor, well, that’s not so fun.

– Hoyt is still on the show. Jason tries to apologize to him again this week by going to his mom’s house. It’s a throwaway scene and it might be better to simply pull back from Hoyt until he has a reason to be here.

The Nasty (The week in sex and violence)

– Take one more look at the wolf pack devouring Marcus’ remains. You know you want to.

– Back when she was human, Pam was no stranger to vampire carnage at her place of business: she walks in on the grisly sight of a disemboweled naked lady of the evening.

– While they’re babysitting Tara, Lafayette opens up a vein for her to feed on, so Sookie can sneak up behind her and bind her in chains.

– Meet Bill, Eric and Nora’s Authority cell mate: Nigel, the baby-eater.

– We finally get a peek at the revived Russell, and Denis O’Hare’s makeup is even more grotesque than what he sported on “American Horror Story.” How many hours does O’Hare spend in the makeup chair on each job? The man is a trooper.

What’s your favorite storyline so far this season? Which character needs to take a hike?