True Blood: The Complete Second Season Release Date: Available now Studio: HBO Packaging/Materials: Five-disc fold-out digipack with slipcover Year: 2009 Rating: TV-MA Running Time: Approximately 12 hours MSRP: $79.98 THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.78:1 High definition Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1; DTS: French 5.1, Spanish 2.0 Stereo Subtitles English, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Dutch, English SDH Variable The Season: 4/5 The second season of the vampy, frequently visceral horror drama picks up immediately from the end of the first season cliffhanger, showing that regardless of one murder mystery being solved, another will immediately take its place. The latest begins with a body found with its heart ripped out, again casting suspicion on the vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer) and his kind, even though everyone knows it's blood they crave. No, the brutal excision of the victim's heart points at something ritualistic and, as it turns out, ancient in nature, with connections to restaurateur / shapeshifter Sam (Sam Trammell) and his all-too-human bartender Tara (Rutina Wesley). Eventually its influence will spread to the citizens of the entire town of Bon Temps, threatening the natural and supernatural alike. Meanwhile, Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Bill have reached a new stage in their relationship, essentially becoming parents to freshly minted vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll). After 17 years of a sheltered human upbringing, she's now determined to make up for it, vampire style. Conversely, Sookie's brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) decides to abandon his lifestyle of drink and fornication for one of faith and discipline, joining up with the anti-vampire group the Fellowship of the Sun. His time of indoctrination and training in their fold will eventually bring him back to his sister, as she begrudgingly helps the vampire sheriff Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) search for his missing sire. Though the Stackhouse siblings will find themselves on opposing sides in the inevitable confrontation with the kidnappers, there's little doubt their relationship will triumph over what amounts to petty vampire-human politics. More challenging will be how to rid their town of the supernatural presence that's turned it inside out and reclaim the hearts and minds of their friends without succumbing to its power as well. The second season of "True Blood" became an increasingly complex affair, with the juggling (and attempted interweaving) of at least three definable story arcs. The elements involving Sookie and Jason wound up being the strongest as they delved deeper into the culture of the vampires and the underlying agenda of the humans who hate them. Less intriguing in the end was the mystical takeover of Bon Temps, which had a promising start but ultimately didn't get the strongest of finishes, feeling more like a multi-episode afterthought when all was said and done with the more compelling vampire-human melodrama. Indeed, the highlights of the show continue to be anything vampire-centric, whether it's the calculated machinations of Eric, the scene-stealing petulance of Jessica, or the introduction of the Vampire Queen and her court. Which raises the question of how peripheral, comparatively ordinary characters like Sam (Sam Trammell), Tara (Rutina Wesley) and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis, woefully underused this time) can remain involved and relevant. As the third season is under way, here's hoping we'll see a more for them to do, hopefully alongside Sookie and her growing vampire entourage rather than apart from them. "True Blood: The Complete Second Season" includes all 12 episodes that aired on HBO. The third season is currently airing on Sunday nights. Video Quality: 4.5/5 The series is accurately framed at 1.78:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec. Black levels can be inconsistent, at times looking appropriately inky but at others a touch too gray, which in turn affects apparent contrast, making the image look flat. Fine object detail and sharpness are impeccable, however, and are the obvious strengths of the transfer. Visible skin texture - sometimes to a fault - precludes any use of noise reduction; likewise grain structure appears appropriately preserved with no signs of artificial sharpening or edge enhancement. Color, though at times manipulated for effect, also appears nicely saturated and deep. Audio Quality: 4.5/5 The DTS-HD Master Audio track offers an immersive and enveloping mix that includes an effective blend of atmospheric, environmental and dramatic surround effects with consistently clear and intelligible dialogue. Though perhaps not as surrounds-intense or laden with LFE as a top-shelf theatrical release, it's an impressive mix for a "mere" TV program. Scenes often have the sounds of crickets, wind or other environmental noises giving things a subtle sense of place. In contrast, more dynamic measures are taken to enhance various supernatural states and conditions. LFE is infrequent, but deep and clean when it appears, and bass activity is deep and rich. Special Features: 4/5 The special features package offers a respectable and entertaining set of materials - with only a minor amount of fluff. The only obvious thing lacking is behind-the-scenes production footage. Audio Commentaries: Seven commentaries feature members of the cast and crew in various combinations. Though the tracks featuring Creator Alan Ball and the lead actors will be the first to be sampled, and seem sufficiently informational, there are likely some good nuggets to be found in the other tracks as well. The commentaries consist of: Episode 2: Nelsan Ellis and Director Michael Lehmann Episode 7: Writer Raelle Tucker and Director Michael Ruscio Episode 8: Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard and Director John Dahl Episode 10: Ryan Kwanten and Sam Trammell Episode 11: Rutina Wesley, Alan Ball and Director Daniel Minahan Episode 12: Anna Paquin and Michelle Forbes; Writer Alexander Woo and Director Michael Cuesta Enhanced Viewing: Included with all twelve episodes, the picture-in-picture feature includes character perspectives, which provide background on motives and plot points, a flash back and flash forward video feature that helps jog viewers' memories or teases what's to come, and official statements from the vampire and anti-vampire organizations related to developments in the story. Enhanced Viewing adds another, entertaining layer to the episodes, and the material that makes the most sense on its own is finally available as a standalone feature. Character Perspectives (2:02:14, HD): Monologues used in the Enhanced Viewing mode provide thoughts and observations from the show's supporting characters. Hoyt [Jim Parrack] (27:04): Twelve clips Pam [Kristin Bauer] (43:12): Twelve clips Karl [Adam Leadbeater] (29:44): Eleven clips Steve Newlin [Michael McMillian] (22:12): Nine clips Fellowship of the Sun: Reflections of Light (12:11, HD): Steve and Sarah Newlin (Michael McMillian and Anna Camp) offer their views and beliefs on various topics. As much as I liked the characters in the show, they seem particularly cartoonish in this superficial piece. Fortunately each clip is brief. Who Needs Marriage? (2:52) Do You Want to Live Forever? (2:41) Detoxify Your Marriage (3:33) It's Hip to be Alive (3:05) The Vampire Report: Special Edition (23:50, HD): Faux TBBN television anchor Victoria Davis reports on various developments in vampire news, politics and pop culture. It's another fluff piece that has some entertaining moments, but it's not likely to viewed more than once or twice. Facebook Connect: Broadcast your viewing experience by connecting to your Facebook account. Be warned this feature is promoted each time a disc is loaded, though it is easily skipped with a chapter forward command. Previews and Recaps: Each episode includes the "Next On" and "Previously On" segments that were attached at the time of broadcast. Recap The Season: 4/5 Video Quality: 4.5/5 Audio Quality: 4.5/5 Special Features: 4/5 Overall Score (not an average): 4/5 HBO turns in another great presentation for "True Blood's" second, somewhat less cohesive, season. The special features are varied, interesting and entertaining, with only a handful of fluff pieces.