Although I haven’t been writing about it, I have continued to watch this season of True Blood, and been interested by some of the often contradictory complaints that it has gotten relatively boring, that there are too many new supernatural characters (were-panthers, fairies, witches), that clearly the plots won’t all be wrapped up by the end of the season, or that it’s obvious the writers are now just vamping (heh) to fill time.
It’s an odd sort of show where all of those things seem like they could be true at the same time, and yet, True Blood is a pretty odd show. It does seem unlikely that something as shapeless and undirected as Lafayette’s strangely mystical new relationship could be tied together neatly by the end of the season, just as it seems clear that the Sam’s An Angry Shapeshifter With Family Issues plotline has been stretched thin and is on repeat until the season ends. I find both of these plotlines boring, which is a shame given that Layfette used to be a highlight of Bon Temps society. Over in Mississippi, though, things have been quite fun this season. Crazed vampire villain Russell Edgington makes a pleasingly unpredictable nemesis, and he has the good grace to find his Nazi werewolf minions just as disgusting as the rest of us. Plus, how can you find a show boring when the villain slaughters a news anchor on live TV and then announces to the world that he plans to enslave all humankind? That’s just solid entertainment.
In truth, True Blood is built to elicit all of those reactions and more, because any show with the sheer number of plotlines it insists on carrying at once is asking to be received with bewilderment, dazed acceptance, or uncharacterized resistance. It’s so strange to read that True Blood is boring, because the only possible explanation must be that there’s so much going on at once that you can’t actually see any of the individual pieces. I know it’s absurd, but these lists are sort of entertaining to try to construct:
- Sookie, Bill and Eric are engaged in a battle with King of Mississippi Russell Edgington, a battle which began with Russell’s desire to acquire Bill in order to get information about the Queen of Louisiana, but which now is mostly about Eric’s need to avenge the death of his family over a thousand years ago and Russell’s belief that Sookie’s fairy blood will allow him to walk in the daylight. The Queen of Louisiana was distributing V through Eric’s bar Fangtasia, and in order to get out of trouble with the vampire hierarchy, has agreed to marry King of Mississippi and The Gays, Russell.
- Sookie’s a fairy, which is why all the vampires think she’s so tasty. Sookie’s cousin Hadley, the Queen of Louisiana’s plaything because she’s also Queen of The Gays, has a son who is clearly also part fairy.
- Sam is a shapeshifter, and so are his mother and brother, who have been forced by Sam’s mother’s husband to participate in dog fights. Sam is now really, really angry.
- Tara had this whole crazy thing with a creepy disturbed vampire who kept her locked in a Scarlett O’Hara fantasy until Jason staked him, and now she’s back to mourning Eggs, who died when he was killed by Jason.
- Speaking of Jason, he’s dating a were-panther who lives in the Crystal Meth Capital of Louisiana and whose father wants her to breed with her half brother.
- How about a little Arlene? She’s pregnant with her serial killer ex-boyfriend’s baby and can’t seem to get rid of it, which she really wants to do even though her current boyfriend and dreamboat Terry is supportive.
- Lafayette has a hot new boyfriend, his mother’s nurse from the mental hospital, and together they do V and rediscover their crazy voodoo pasts.
- Also, Jessica’s back together with Hoyt, who lets her drink his blood even after she admits she accidentally killed a trucker that way.
- Let’s see, what have I forgotten? Oh yes, the Nazi werewolves. And the friendly witch in Sam’s bar. Oh, and that whole thing with Bill’s creator Lorena. And something about the high school quarterback?
Right, so how can a show that looks like that be boring? There are enough head-twisty sex scenes and serial killer demon babies to fuel twelve seasons of The Vampire Diaries (if it were allowed to have head-twisty sex scenes, that is). I think the answer to that question is much the same as the answer to one of the common criticisms I mentioned above, which is that there are now too many supernatural characters. In the Sookie Stackhouse book series, there are just as many magical beings as in True Blood, but through Sookie’s narration, you get a perpetual reminder of how that could be true. If there are vampires, she continually says, just think of how many other creatures are hiding in the woodwork, of how little of the world you must actually understand. The effect is to continue to push the point of blasé familiarity farther into the distance – yep, there are werewolves and witches and fairies. Think of what else must still be out there.
True Blood is not that interested in extending that sense of mystery, or of keeping things hidden away. Its operating aesthetic, in fact, is exactly the opposite of that technique. Think of the most disgusting, bestial sex act you can imagine, it says. Now watch as we show you something even weirder, plus way more blood and moaning sound effects. Russell Edgington isn’t just going to mourn his dead lover. He’s going to carry his partially-dissolved, goopy corpse around in a clear glass urn, and chat with it about favorite paintings. It may just be possible that one reaction to True Blood is boredom, not because nothing happens, but because a complete, panoptical view eventually gets boring, even if what you’re looking at are seventeen different but equally orgiastic plotlines.
Our mothers and the team over at What Not To Wear were probably right, True Blood. Sometimes what you don’t see is much sexier than what you do.