Sexy vampires and crazy subplots
I think the experience of watching True Blood primarily boils down to two somewhat opposing features. The dominant and most obvious aspect of the show is its outright pulpiness – it is an unusually self-aware and delightfully sincere soup of bloody viscera and sexual fluids. Violence and sex are so intertwined on the show that one is often confused for the other, and both are so overwhelmingly present that at times True Blood feels an un-plotted excuse for bloody, erotic vignettes. It would feel un-plotted, that is, except for the other primary feature of the show, the one most apparent to David as he watched Sunday’s premiere. He’d seen the first few episodes of the first season, and was sure that he could understand everything that had happened in the remainder of season one and the whole of season two by just watching the ninety-second “Previously on” clip reel. So I fired it up, and after ninety seconds of Maryann being gored by a bull, Lafayette in Eric’s basement, Jason at the Fellowship of the Sun, Godric’s self-immolation, baby vamp Jessica, the Bon Temps orgy, Sam’s search for his family, and finally Bill’s proposal to Sookie and subsequent kidnapping, David was left sitting there with his mouth agape and one index finger raised. “I was wrong,” he said.
True Blood is one of the most crazily plotted shows on TV right now, and it’s so strangely convoluted and overcomplicated that the sex and violence feel like excuses to take a breath from the forty-seven characters who all require mental juggling. As I tried to explain a basic plot outline after the unhelpful “Previously on” reel, I found myself again and again concluding with “well, I forget how that actually went down, but then he died,” or “I don’t know, it was something to do with this arrangement between Eric and Pam and the Queen of Louisiana?” or even, “actually, I don’t remember whether she died or if she just… left?” Snort.
Somehow, I find all of this firmly rooted in the “forgivable” column, even though I have nearly identical problems with Big Love, a show I continue to watch despite its probably permanent “unforgivable” status. True Blood’s saving grace in respect to this over-the-top plot silliness is its compellingly consistent atmosphere, which lends everything a surreal, sly, knowing quality. Where Big Love reaches for melodrama and emotional realism in the same moment, True Blood recasts everything in its immense breadth of material (gory murder, evangelical ministry, sex, small-town politics) in the same garish light, placing it all on the same level. It’s hard to believe that Barb’s grief over losing the Mormon church exists in the same world as J.J.’s villainous eugenics program, but Tara’s alcoholic mother and Bill’s werewolf showdown feel like pieces of the same puzzle.
So those are my general feelings about True Blood. Tomorrow – some specificity about why I’m so pleased to see Vampire Eric naked.