Death and All His Friends (who are also dead)
Watching this first episode of the third season of True Blood was different for me than it has been in the past, because between last season and this, I’ve actually read the books that the series is based on, Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries. I’m fascinated by the connections and divergences between the books and the show, in part because I think the multi-episode, multi-season show is most closely related to the novel series form. Even serialized novels, which can look a lot like a television show broken down into individual episodes, have no strong corollary for the role of the television season. The novel series provides the clearest parallel because each book follows several different plot arcs but always makes some attempt to tie them up at the end, and while characters, themes and major conflicts carry over from one book to another, we see the book as a single, complete unit. The same can often be said for the television season, particularly the consecutive thirteen-episode season on cable networks like AMC, HBO or FX.
And yet, while books are often made into blockbuster movies or movie series (Harry Potter, Twilight, The Godfather, Silence of the Lambs, ahem, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), there have been fewer examples of the book series-TV series crossover until Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and True Blood started to appear in the last few years. So I’ve been interested in how True Blood compares with the originals, especially because the plot of the show is so ridiculously esoteric. (And also, I will be honest. Those books are seriously addictive, completely empty brain candy, and reading them is like stuffing your face with caramel corn and then falling into a sugar coma for the next three hours. Plus, my Kindle enables me to purchase them for pretty cheap without also having to stare at the physical reminders that I’ve just bought eight books with titles like Definitely Dead, Dead as a Doornail, All Together Dead, Club Dead, Death Comes for the Archbishop –wait.)
The first thing that strikes you when thinking about how to translate a book into a television series is that although a season may be roughly equivalent to a book, a book is not similarly equivalent to thirteen episodes. Television has a much more demanding, far more structured internal organization, because each episode has individual requirements that a chapter just does not have. The books are full of sex and excitement and fangs and blood-sucking, but there’s no way it could be enough to fill out thirteen balanced, satisfying, exciting, complete episodes. It’s easy to see why True Blood is so overloaded on subplots, because rather than try to divvy out Bill and Sookie’s romance into unimpressively small chunks, it’s much easier to just add on a whole Lafayette storyline, and then make a bigger deal out of Tara, and also give Terry Bellefleur and Hoyt more to do. At least up through these first two seasons, True Blood has left out very little of the basic material from the first two Harris novels, Dead Until Dark and Living Dead in Dallas, but it has added a whole lot more.
Which is why season three is going to be so interesting in terms of how True Blood continues to negotiate this relationship with the original novels. While Sookie’s relationship with Bill peters out quite quickly during the third novel, True Blood’s Sookie and Bill seem to be on much steadier ground, fueled in part by the well-publicized relationship between the actors who play them (Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer). Indeed, Bill largely disappears from the novels after the third book, and Sookie’s healthy sex drive get sparked by several other lucky supernatural beings. I’m curious as to whether the show will continue Bill and Sookie’s lusty relationship, and in doing so, effectively divorce itself from anything other than a very loose connection to the novels, or whether TV-Sookie will end up dumping Bill’s unfaithful rear-end and turning to greener pastures.
Let’s just say this – after reading the books, I’d love to see the show explore Sookie’s subsequent relationships, and was therefore quite heartened to see the show give us a good long glance at Eric’s naked body. And it was completely because I’m interested in the show’s future relationship with the books, and not at all because I enjoyed the view. (Oh, True Blood. At least you objectify both sexes.)