Saturday, September 13, 2014

The True Death

Our long, sexy, national nightmare is over.  This past summer, perennial WTF generator True Blood finally met the True Death and concluded a seven season-long run on HBO.  And while I can’t say that I’ll really miss the show, I am going to miss always knowing that there was something on TV that would make me shake my head and mutter, “well, okay…” 

True Blood started ridiculously strong back in 2007.  In an era where every single story emphasized the misunderstood, sympathetic, chaste, teenage nature of vampires, True Blood’s malicious, randy bloodsuckers were a breath of fresh air.  There was no “romantic” staring into each other’s eyes scenes, no “they just don’t understand us” soliloquies set to classical music.   You got the sense that the entire cast and crew of the show read about 30 pages of an Anne Rice novel and said to themselves, “well this is boring as hell” and then immediately got to filming a butt sex scene while covered in blood.


Because the show’s mission was always to showcase adults, the initial storylines functioned as a mature, if telegraphed, metaphor not for growing up or some other theme ripped from Joss Whedon’s notes, but for social issues like racism, anti-gay bigotry, and the American South’s continuing struggles emerging into the 21st century.  (Sorry, southern readers.  You know it’s true.)  And while the show was never subtle about its issues (the opening credits featured a billboard sign reading “God hates fangs”), it made up for its lack of grace with original storytelling and fresh visuals that hadn’t been used before.  If you haven’t seen the show, the first time a vampire is staked it will make your mouth fall open. 

The first season featured an erstwhile murder mystery as a framing story to introducing us to a world where vampires have “come out of the coffin” (what is this thing you call subtlety?) and organized, more or less, under two factions – those who want to integrate into society and live among humans thanks to a new synthetic substance called True Blood that mimics human blood thus negating the need for vampires to feed off humans, and those vampires who still believe that they are the superior race and that humans should be subjugated, not cohabitated with.  Later seasons ran with this tension, showing more and more about how vampire society worked and the ways in which the rest of the world had adapted or not, including the rise of “fangbangers” who are humans who have a sexual proclivity with vampires and drinking blood and even vampire-focused legal offices that only operate at night and help vampires who have been undead for many years figure out what their legal rights are to property owned while they were living.  Add that to a healthy dose of graphic sexuality, and you're at least going to be entertained for an hour each week. 

Did I mention the ho-yay?

All of this world-building made for fascinating watching.  Even as the show began to jump off the rails around its fourth or fifth season, seeing how the creators imagined how the most mundane aspects of everyday life would be managed in a world where vampires were real (a specialty airline service with UV-blocking windows caters to the vampires who wish to travel abroad) was always still interesting.  And if you couldn’t get into the subplots involving werewolves, fairies, shapeshifters, or witches, you always at least had the recurring southern gothic drama between the townspeople of Bon Temps, Louisiana, to keep you occupied. 

Unlike the characters, however, True Blood was not destined for an eternal life and began to age.  Plotlines got more and more ridiculous, the show developed an unhealthy tendency toward melodrama such that the speechifying and campy grandstanding of the later seasons stand in stark contrast to the more nuanced and, at times, genuinely scary first few seasons.  Where the first two seasons played with the audience’s expectations about reality and mystery, the show in its later life preferred to keep strictly to over-the-top plot contrivances and characters behaving like characters instead of people. 

An assemblance of well-developed, three-dimensional characters that were sadly never seen again after season three. 

Nothing is more illustrative of this trend that season seven’s insistence upon finding a way to bring lead characters Sookie and Bill back together.  True Blood was premised on the story of diner waitress Sookie Stackhouse falling in love with Bill Compton, a nearly 200-year-old vampire who is the first of his kind to make himself known to humans in his small Louisiana town.  Sookie and Bill remained the show’s primary couple for the first three years before starting to breakdown in season four.  By the start of the final season, it is well established that both characters have moved on, however the writers couldn’t resist the chance for an easy bookend and piled on the nostalgia to create a final story arc where both characters realize that they are Meant To Be or something.  This is particularly remarkable considering that neither character in the novels that serve as the show’s source material ever comes to any similar consideration.  Thanks, Hollywood. 

The final season is slightly mitigated by sheer number of Easter Eggs tossed in to appease long-time viewers.   The return of several fan-favorite characters, as well as the reunification of several others, helped to send the show off properly even if several other major characters, Tara and Alcide being the two most prominent, are given some of the most abrupt write-offs in the history of television.

So Hail and Farewell, True Blood.  I won’t miss your convoluted storylines, but I will miss Eric.  I won’t miss your unfortunate tendency toward saccharine storytelling, but I will most definitely miss Pam.  Actually, thinking on it, Pam is the thing I’m going to miss the most.  Someone get Kristin Bauer van Straten a pilot, STAT.  Meanwhile, I remain confident that television audiences have not lost their taste for WTF programming.  In any case, Salem is going to have some large, bloody shoes to fill.

Oh, Pam.  You can keep sassing me/slitting my throat for another ten seasons. 

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