True Blood

(SPOILERS AHEAD) HBO recently announced that True Blood would have a seventh season. I have mixed feelings about this, primarily because I have a love/hate relationship with this series. Based on the Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse books, True Blood is essentially supernatural soft core porn. The protagonist, played by New Zealand actress Anna Paquin, is a telepathic waitress who, throughout the series, finds out that her hometown of Bon Temps, Louisiana, is a lightning rod for the weird and unusual. In these last six seasons, she has encountered vampires, fairies, werewolves, several types of witch, shapeshifters, serial killers, religious fundamentalists, and several ancient gods. Other characters have come into contact with a vengeful, Middle Eastern ghost.

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Sookie has an older brother, Jason, played by Australian actor Ryan Kwanten; and she has had several past beaus, including the vampires Bill Compton (her real-life husband Stephen Moyer, who is British), and Eric Northman (Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgard). She was sort of involved with her shapeshifter boss Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), a werewolf Alcide Herveaux (Joe Manganiello), and, most recently, the mysterious vampire/fairy Ben Flynn (British actor Robert Kazinsky). For some inexplicable reason, she is “catnip” to men. Although the series focuses on the trials and tribulations of Sookie, it also spends a fair bit of time on the lives of her friends, co-workers, ex-lovers, etc. In addition to the aforementioned, there is her best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley), Tara’s flamboyant cousin Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), a vivacious newbie vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), and cynical and stylish vampire Pam De Beaufort (Kristin Bauer van Straten).

I have watched True Blood since it debuted in 2008, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had a dysfunctional relationship with it. While I watched the first season, my reaction was: “Wow, does anyone get to keep his or her clothing on in this show? And why are there so many scenes of a naked Jason Stackhouse having sex with just about every woman in Bon Temps?” As I tend to prefer TV shows with a plot, I wasn’t all that keen on the series. It didn’t help that right off of the bat; it spent a lot of time on Sookie’s budding relationship with Bill. I am not a fan of romances; therefore, I wasn’t sure that I would continue watching. And then they introduced Eric, the charming flaxen-haired owner of Fantasia, and I decided to persevere.

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Season 2 was infinitely better than one. In fact, to this day, it remains my favorite. Woll joined the cast, and Michelle Forbes played newcomer MaryAnn, a woman who would turn Bon Temps upside down. Also, this season centered more on origin stories. We learned about Bill’s “maker” Lorena (Mariana Klaveno), and about Eric’s Viking origins and we met his “maker” Godric (Allan Hyde). The episode, I Will Rise Up, brought me to tears; unusual for a soap opera-y show like this. (Godric commits suicide by sun, while a tearful and pleading Eric watches helplessly.)

Season 3 introduced Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare), the Vampire King of Mississippi who is one of the more entertaining characters on True Blood; and muscle bound werewolf Alcide. This, for me, was a rather uneven season, and it started to go into truly bizarre territory. Tara hooked up with a mentally unhinged vampire named Franklin Mott (James Frain), Jason found love with Crystal (Lindsay Pulsipher), a werecat; and Sam got in touch with his deadbeat family. I was beginning to wonder what was wrong with Bon Temps. Something in the water? Or maybe Harris takes a lot of mushrooms before she writes her novels.

Season 4 begins with Sookie coming back from the land of the fairies after 13 months. A lot has changed in Bon Temps, but the weird continues. One of the waitresses at Merlotte’s – Arlene (Carrie Preston) – thinks that her baby is evil; and the town gets a new resident named Marnie Stonebrook (Fiona Shaw). At first she seems mousy and harmless, but, as the rule goes, she becomes the town’s major antagonist. Despite the fact that this is my least favorite season, it had a few “perks.” For instance, Marnie puts a spell on Eric that makes him, for lack of a better word, sweet and child-like. It gave Skarsgard an opportunity to show us another side to the character. It made him more likable and relatable.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, True Blood has a definite formula. Each season seems to introduce a new supernatural creature. That being then poses a threat to Bon Temps, and like the Scooby Doo gang – but with higher libidos and fewer clothing – the main characters must do whatever they can to stop it. Season 1 introduced vampires. Season 2, a fertility god. Season 3, werecats and werewolves. And season 4, witches. I’m oversimplifying the show, of course, because sometimes more than one supernatural creature is introduced, but you get the idea. Some seasons develop some characters over others. But, sadly, you always have to endure the boring to the point of screaming ever-changing relationship status of Sookie. I know that she’s the main character, but I do not understand her appeal. At all. The actress or the character. And when it became a Sookie-Bill-Eric mess, I just wanted to start throwing things.

When Season 5 started last June, I was already reluctant to watch it. That whole witch-vampire showdown at the end of Season 4 was just plain over-the-top stupid. Not that I should be surprised. Sometimes it feels as if the writers are dared to out stupid previous seasons. Despite all of my complaints, I still tuned in. But this time around, I did something different: I only made it through two episodes before I called it quits. I was burnt out on True Blood. My husband, who has never been a fan of the show, watched the season without me.

I started seeing teaser ads for Season 6 in early June, and, for some reason, despite our turbulent history, my brain’s reaction to them was, “Hey, it’s a new season of True Blood? Maybe I should watch Season 5 so I can be ready for the new season.” And I did. Don’t ask me why. This show seems to have some sort of control over me. Like an alien parasite attached to my brain stem.

I binged on Season 5, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The series uses discrimination against vampires, as a way to comment on our society’s discrimination, specifically against homosexuals. Targets in the program are usually right-wing politicians and religious groups. It’s done in an effective manner, and I applaud that effort. An earlier season focused on a hate/religious group that discriminated against vampires; this season turned the tables, making a segment of the vampire population religious zealots against humans. The focus of their devotion was Lilith – a figure discussed in Jewish lore – who, they claimed was the first vampire. They also talked about a vampire bible. As a fan of mythology, I found it all rather fascinating.

My biggest problem with the season was its focus on Terry Bellefleur (Todd Lowe), one of the most boring and useless characters on this program. He and his comrade (Scott Foley) from the Gulf War try to prevent themselves from being killed by a Middle-East smoke/fire monster. (I don’t make this stuff up.) Every time the storyline came to them, I felt like finding something better to do. I also am not fond of new character, Nora (Lucy Griffiths), Eric’s “sister,” with whom he has an incestuous relationship. Bringing back Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian) was also a mistake. Now this former right-wing pastor is a gay vampire with lustful feelings for Jason. (I told you, I don’t make this up.) The season had a few highlights, including the return of Russell Edgington, and the very brief addition of Christopher Meloni, who played Roman Zimojic, the head of the Vampire Authority. For some reason, Hoyt Fortenberry (Jim Parrack), who has become a very unlikable character since he cut Jason and Jessica out of his life, is given the series boot. His send-off was one of the saddest moments in a long time. Great acting by Kwanten and Woll. It’s difficult to imagine that I’m saying this, but Tara is better as a vampire than she was as a human. That said, I still wish that she would have died at the beginning of the season. And one final plus was the addition of Robert Patrick as Alcide’s father. Sadly, he’s wasted, because he’s rarely in any of the episodes.

Fans of nudity will adore Season 5. I don’t think that Sam wears clothes during the last few episodes, and two other new, pivotal, characters: Salome (Valentina Cervi), and Lilith (Jessica Clark) are mostly nude. Actually, Lilith is usually only ever cloaked in blood from head to toe.

All of this leads us to Season 6. It kicked off June 16, and already it’s pretty odd. Even for True Blood. I read a comment on Get Glue awhile back, and the person wrote: “This season is pretty ridiculous.” Sadly, this can be applied to the entire series. It sometimes starts out “normal,” but by the end, it’s just batshit. Half the time, it doesn’t even make sense. True Blood is really like junk food. You hate yourself for watching it, but for some reason, you just can’t quit.

So, what’s going on? Several new players have been added. A bald Arliss Howard is playing Truman Burrell, the season’s antagonist. He’s an anti-vampire politician who needs to be shot into the sun. I hope he gets a huge comeuppance. For some inexplicable reason, they brought Sarah Newlin (Anna Camp) back on the show. If you don’t remember her, she was married to Steve, the former pastor who is now a gay vampire in lust with Jason Stackhouse. She’s a religious zealot, anti-vamp, freak. Also sun fuel. Ben Flynn (Robert Kazinsky) is Sookie’s new love interest. Initially, we were told that he was benign, and then he was nefarious. Now I have no idea what he is. Maybe the writers don’t either. All we do know for sure is that he’s named Warlow, he has dibs on Sookie, and he dates back thousands of years. The flashback during which he gets “turned” looked like outtakes from 10,000 BC. It was all very ridiculous and embarrassing. I feel sorry for Kazinsky, who, for some reason, can’t maintain a dialect. Sometimes he sounds Southern, other times British. Rutger Hauer – the reason I decided to start watching again – showed up briefly, sporting a crazed Einstein hairstyle. He plays Niall Brigant, the Sookhouse’s royal fairy relative from way back. He came to kill Warlow, but he’s already been “dispatched” from Bon Temps. Maybe he will come back, but I’m already angry they got rid of him so quickly.

In Season 5, the vampire zealots destroyed all of the True Blood plants. The humans quickly retaliated, and, under, Truman Burrell’s leadership, vampires are being rounded up, put into camps where they undergo experimentation … it’s a “Holocaust,” for lack of a better word, for vampires. Bill, who has become a super vampire, is trying to find a way out of the mess through science. (So far, he has failed.) And Eric has tried to find a solution through “conversion.” He kidnapped Burrell’s beloved daughter, Willa (Amelia Rose Blaire), and has turned her into a vampire. (So far, he, too, has failed.)

I’m already not keen on Willa. Enough with the newbie vamps. We experienced all that with Jessica, and she’s an infinitely better character, AND Tara. And the werewolves and their unending search for Emma, the daughter of a werewolf and Luna, Sam’s shapeshifter girlfriend, who has since died,  are getting old, too. I don’t know what has happened to Alcide’s character, but now that he’s packmaster, he’s really unlikeable. As much as I like werewolves, they do them so poorly in True Blood that I would just prefer that they kill them all and forget it.

Actually, as I’m thinking about this season, I realize that I’m already tired of it, and there are still five episodes left. The only things that keep me tuning in – the only things that have KEPT me coming back for more punishment – are Skarsgard, Woll, Kwanten, Ellis, and Bauer van Straten. I like Eric Northman’s character, and I like how Skarsgard plays him. Woll is one of the most, all-around, beautiful actresses on TV, and although I disliked Jessica in the beginning, I have come to like her a lot. Jason Stackhouse always makes me laugh. He’s an oversexed lunkhead, but Kwanten plays him very child-like and sweet. Jason is entertaining enough that they should spin his character off into a police drama. In Season 2, he and Chris Bauer, who plays Andy Bellefleur, had some memorable scenes together. Lafayette is sassy and fabulous. And Ellis plays that character so well that it’s difficult to imagine that he isn’t like that in the real world. This is another character that could be “spun off.” Pam is mean, bitchy, and bristly as hell, but she often says what I’m thinking. I do appreciate that they delved a bit into her madam past, and showed how she became a vampire. I wish they would spend more time on her character.

As much as I’m complaining about this season of True Blood, I’ll probably keep tuning in. I’m actually curious to see what the hell Bill has become, and if he’s going to succeed in the next step of the plan. I guess, I’m also curious to see how the vampires are going to get out of this predicament. As long as the solution involves Skarsgard, I’ll be happy. And unless they get rid of the characters that I like, I’ll probably be back for Season 7, all the while wondering why I don’t seek professional help.

True Blood was created by Alan Ball, who adapted the Harris books. He left at the end of Season 5, leaving Brian Buckner to be the current “showrunner.” It airs on Sundays on HBO, and according to the Hollywood Reporter, it is the cable network’s third most watched original scripted series behind The Sopranos and Game of Thrones. The premier episode of the current season drew “4.5 million total viewers, down about 700,000 year-over-year.”

Author: Julien R. Fielding

Julien R. Fielding has been reviewing films, and covering the entertainment industry, for more than a decade. Her favorite genres are sci-fi, horror, action, and anime. She authored the book, Discovering World Religions at 24 Frames Per Second.

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