True Blood: A Long Slow Crawl Towards An Anti-Climax
IF YOU’RE reading this in America, you probably know what I’m about to say. Last night on the FOX UK Network, the final episode of True Blood aired. True Blood was once a phenomenon bringing in around 5 million viewers as its peak. Based on the popular series of Sookie Stackhouse books and from Alan Ball, writer of American Beauty and most importantly considering True Blood’s place on HBO’s line-up, Six Feet Under.
To begin with, the series followed Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a waitress at a bar/restaurant in Bon Temps, Louisiana who meets a mysterious vampire called Bill (Stephen Moyer). Over the course of six seasons, she has discovered she’s half fairy, fallen in love with vampires and werewolves, battled a maenad and seen a lot, a lot of deaths. I probably should have mentioned spoilers but seriously, if you haven’t watched the programme yet and you’re reading this, you probably won’t be convinced to start.
What was impressive about this final season was how despite the low depths other series had sunk to, the programme still managed to lower expectations one last time. The main problem with this final series has been a lack of story to tell. At its best, True Blood was an enjoyable slice of pulpy nonsense delivering the kind of cheap thrills you’d expect and pushing gore and nudity to levels that Game Of Thrones might find ridiculous.
At its worst, it was ridiculously, almost remarkably dull, saccharine, Twilight-standard nonsense. The main problem throughout the series for me was a lack of empathy from Sookie. Whilst she was made stronger than you’d expect as a romantic heroine, I never cared. While she jumped from one forced romance to another and complained about how she didn’t want to be as important as she was, I was bored of her by partway through season two. Luckily the programme seemed to partially realise this and began expanding its ensemble’s role more and more.
The programme’s real trump card was Eric and Pam; a pair of vampires in their hundreds who run the local vampire bar Fangtasia. Both were given the occasional plotline that sank (does anyone fondly remember Eric’s amnesia-fuelled questioning if he was evil phase? I wish I didn’t) but for the most part they worked much in the way of Han Solo in Star Wars; they swaggered through the show snarkily dismissing a lot of what happened until they felt a need to care about something.
Their relationship as Maker and Progeny was one of the few pieces of subtlety employed as often it would be something as simple as a shared glance but you could see the weight of the years they’ve shared. Equally Ryan Kwanten as Sookie’s brother Jason deserves credit for somehow making some of the worst writing any character was given work, this included being kidnapped by were-panthers and kept as a fuck puppet, he still made it work which is quite the achievement.
In terms of part-time players, True Blood knew how to make an over-the-top villain to add colour to proceedings. The eventual reveal of first series’ serial killer had considerable menace; Fiona Shaw (Her of Pertunia Dursley and the secondary antagonist in Super Mario Brothers Movie) brought an appropriate intensity to her character of a possessed necromancer and Pitch Perfect’s Anna Camp and Michael McMillian were a consistent highlight as a pair of religious fanatics turned genocidal maniac and Vampire Prince respectively.
This also brings us to the programme’s greatest contribution: Russell Edgington. Russell Edgington was a near three-thousand year old vampire and played to hammy perfection by Denis O’Hare. What worked so wonderfully about the character was that his complete madness was perfectly justified, having lived so long and killed so many people he had almost completely lost touch with the human part of him, he was less a character at times and more a devastating, charismatic force of nature.
He also had the effect of making the entire cast and crew raise their game resulting in some memorable moments including my single favourite moment of the series, a searing monologue delivered by Edgington on a news broadcast whilst holding the bloody spine of the newsreader he had just killed.
Having successful villain arcs does have the problem that then when the programme lacks as exciting a villain it just sinks. Halfway through the penultimate series, it became clear that the actual villain of the entire run was never just one person but the organisations that monitor vampires and produce their synthetic blood product, the titular True Blood.
As this happened, the programme began to run out of people to root against. It felt like for most of this last run the programme became more about adding closure to every single possible story even bringing back characters we hadn’t seen for seasons and hadn’t really cared about to begin with just to kill them off.
There have been villainous groups like the Hep-V infected vampires (oh yeah, Hepatitis-V is a thing) or the human mob who are about three pitchforks and a torch off being directly from James Whale’s Frankenstein or the Yakuza (no explanations there) but no one physical presence has felt like it presents a threat to the universe. In the end the only threat is that of the writer, daring storylines that didn’t need to continue to keep going (I haven’t even mentioned how little I cared when Tara died, let alone how little I care about her mother trying to communicate with her beyond the dead).
It was on the same network as The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire and many other ‘prestige’ dramas but it was never going to be as important as those programmes. It was never really a television programme, it barely had separate episodes, it was more a series of moments connected by the occasional (by which I mean nigh-on weekly) cliffhanger.
The amount of hanging threads lead even seasons to blur into one another as it became a mess of spine-rips and sex scenes. Yet when it was on the top of its form, it was very fun. The programme’s commitment to showing characters of all genders, races and sexualities was often blatant but always commendable. Now, it is done and I am glad. It is a show that had long worn out its welcome. It was long past an ending and in the end it barely even gave us one.
The finale was neat but completely unsatisfying leaving little in the way of closure but only a sense of relief that you don’t have to keep up enthusiasm. At least Pam and Eric came close to an ending. It eventually became like the drink the show was named after: sweetened, artificial and attempting to recreate something better than what it could but despite its best efforts, ending up bloodless. If there’s one thing that we can be glad about, at least for once, it turned out better than in the books.