My love of “True Blood” has come full circle. When I first started watching the show back in 2008, I felt deep shame for enjoying a series centered around vampires. I would wait until no one was home and an episode happened to be replaying (thank Lillith for HBO GO). Now, I feel that same sense of shame for staying #TrueToTheEnd, as HBO has called it, because real talk: The show jumped the shark long ago.
If you have never seen an episode of the hit HBO show based on Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mystery series, let me break it down for you. Sookie Stackhouse is a psychic fairy in the small Louisiana town Bon Temps and all the vampires in the world want to devour her because her weird fairy blood is delicious. Sookie won the hearts of two extremely good-looking vampires, and between the two of them they basically keep her more or less safe through various violent adventures. Throw in some werewolves, shape-shifters, witches, and charming Southern drawls, and you have a basic idea of what the show is all about. Oh, and attractive people taking their clothes off, but that’s an HBO given.
There were a few glorious seasons when liking “True Blood” made sense. There were all sorts of political overtones and creepy religious discrimination, a lot of which felt very fitting as the number of far-right hate groups rose in the U.S. “True Blood” was escapist, but somehow still relevant. The second season was a standout, using the juxtaposition of a religious militia bent on killing all vampires and an ancient vampire turning his back on violence to question what it really means to be human. Sure, the plotline back in Bon Temps may have been about a non-stop orgy, but that’s something everyone can enjoy. The dilemma of humanity’s capacity for cruelty is one the show returned to last season by having the plot driven by human’s imprisoning, torturing, and infecting huge numbers of vampires.
Sadly, as is HBO’s way, those complex questions have been pushed deeper and deeper into a show that relies more and more on violence and nudity to attract viewers. It’s the kind of practice we see with “Game of Thrones”—sure, it’s a violent and largely shirtless story anyway, but gore, sex and complexity aren’t mutually exclusive. Whereas the first few seasons used light fantasy to reflect problems facing our own society, in recent years the show has become a caricature of itself, all boobs and blood and very little substance to hold it all together. Killing off characters has become a stand in for more deeply emotional scenes, a cheap plot point that may tug at long-time viewers heartstrings but doesn’t pose any possible reflection.
The season premiere was a prime example of how far the show has fallen. Despite Tara Thornton (a main character since the first season) dying, the entire episode felt hollow and devoid of any real points of interest. Opening on a massacre, the show struggled to even pretend to be about anything less than pretty people covered in gore. Familiar crises were weakly revisited: Sookie gets hurt by things people think about her, humans don’t trust vampires, it’s hard for vampires to exert the willpower needed not to feed on delicious humans. We’ve been going over this for six years now. There has to be more room to play within the given framework of the show.
The final season is now halfway done, and it hasn’t picked up. The conversations between Holly, Arlene and the dying vampire who was once their children’s teacher gave me hope, but the show threw it away immediately by having the vampire literally explode all over Arlene. The flashbacks to Eric and Pam’s adventures pre-Louisiana are equally touching and entertaining, but I have whiplash from Bill Compton’s sudden turn away from being an asshole. Seriously—that was a topic of conversation. “Bill, are you still an asshole?” “No, not anymore.” Well, OK, great. And am I sad about Alcide dying? Maybe! I have no idea! Remember the painful mourning of Gran back in the first season? Yeah, we’re over that kind of human emotion apparently. Work through your feels on your own time because HBO ain’t got time for such sentimental hogwash. There are too many characters left to kill off to get hung up on just one.
That being said, I have some hopes for the season. The idea of Bon Temps being abandoned by the government and forced to survive could open the plot up to the layered stories that once made “True Blood” an at least decent show. But if I’m being honest, I’ll be tuning in no matter what. At this point, I’ve remained loyal through Bill Compton becoming a vampire deity, a fairy circus in the middle of a field, and evil witches. No matter what “True Blood” decides to throw at me for the rest of the season, few things could be more ridiculous than where they’ve taken the show already. And in the event they do top themselves, I’d honestly just be impressed.
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