This post will contain some spoilers on season five of True Blood specifically and the series as a whole. So if you aren’t caught up and don’t want any idea of what is coming, you may want to skip this post.
True Blood wrapped up its fifth season last night and frankly it couldn’t have happened soon enough for me. What had previously been a fun summer guilty pleasure has morphed into a bloated mess that I endure rather than enjoy.
True Blood, if you aren’t familiar with it, is based on the Charlaine Harris books and tells the tale of a small Louisiana town that is home to all sorts of supernatural creatures: vampires, werewolves, shifters, fairies, etc.
I should have known I was in trouble from the very first episode of the season; season four, which wasn’t particularly great either, ended with a cliffhanger as to the fate of Tara (Rutina Wesley). She had taken a bullet in an attempt to save her best friend Sookie (Anna Paquin). This had the potential to be a great development for the series if they had decided to let her die; her character had become increasingly useless as the series progressed. Every season there were new ways in which Tara wound up the victim and she had become frankly annoying and uninteresting. She had served her purpose and it would have been great if they ended the character’s tenure on the show by letting her die and then focused on the grief and guilt of those closest to her.
So of course, they decided to save her by turning her into a vampire. Annoying and angry Tara was sticking around. Yay.
That decision to keep Tara, in some form, as a resident of Bon Temps, Louisiana is systematic of the largest problem that I have with the show. True Blood the television program has fallen victim to the same problems I have with True Blood the book series – the inability to let characters go and the unsuccessful attempt to juggle multiple story lines in service of all these characters. The television show just got to that place much more quickly than the books did.
Much of season five felt like the writers and director were just spinning their wheels to kill time. There were an awful lot of story lines that I don’t think anyone really cared about; they decided to give fringe characters major story arcs that didn’t really go anywhere and accomplished very little. I’ll be surprised if I find anyone who was really invested in the “Terry is cursed” storyline or what was going on with the pack of wolves. Terry has always been a pretty minor character in the True Blood universe and while I like the actor (a Gilmore Girls alum), I don’t know that I was particularly interested in his back story. Terry is best in small doses and this particular subplot seemed to add nothing to the season other than as a vehicle to keep some of the other minor characters on screen. In fact, the whole story line wrapped up a few weeks ago and then was never mentioned again; if they hadn’t wasted 7 weeks on it, I would have thought I imagined the whole thing. Just completely unnecessary.
The politics of the Wolf pack could have been more interesting if given time to develop. In the literary series, the inner workings of the pack and wolf community was given an entire book. We got to know the characters and were more invested in their fate. The wolves have been part of the True Blood TV world for a while, but they haven’t really been given much attention. They have always had their story lines crammed in among all the other plots; the wolf characters have primarily been portrayed as flunkies to the vampires, held captive by their weakness for vampire blood and its drug –like qualities. Other than Alcide (Joe Manganiello), we don’t know very much about the wolves, so when we are expected to care about who runs the pack or their problems, I just kind of shrug. Don’t get me wrong -I’m all in favor of whatever keeps Manganiello on screen, but I wish he was given more to work with. With more development, that entire subplot could have been interesting.
True Blood hasn’t really known what to do with Sam (Sam Trammell) since season two and this season was no different. Season five found him saddled with a relationship with fellow shifter Luna and suffered from the same underdevelopment that the wolf subplot had. I really didn’t care very much about Luna – she actually seemed pretty unpleasant – so worrying about her being in peril was not very high on my list of concerns. The show also loves to abuse the shifter condition to make various characters shift into Sam, presumable to give Trammell more to do. The result this season was a bizarre scene where Sam was lovingly looking at himself, which was weird even by this show’s standards. Her fate was left unclear in the finale last night, but I’m hoping that the fact the actress has been cast in a Fox comedy this fall means that we’ve seen the last of her. Though knowing True Blood, it doesn’t.
All of these subplots and tangents meant that even what I’d consider the A story line – the vampires – got short shrift this season. While I like some of the other characters – to know Lafayette is to love him – the real draw for me is the vamps and the introduction of the Vampire Authority (and the return of Russell Edgington (the fabulous Denis O’Hare)) just meant more characters to service. I had high hopes when Chris Meloni (Law and Order: SVU and Oz) was brought aboard this season, but they didn’t really use him to his whole potential. The Authority story line went off the rails pretty quickly for me and the fundamental character shift of Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) was abrupt and unexplained. The changes in Bill were not minor and I felt that the show really betrayed that character by not giving that transformation more attention. I really have no idea what caused Bill to abandon everything that he has stood for over the last four seasons and that seems like something that was more important than Sheriff Andy’s romantic relationships.
This season also brought back more of the fairies and I’m on record about how little I care about them. Even the casting of the fairies was suspect – the books are pretty descriptive when it comes to Claude and to say that they went in a different direction is an understatement.
It’s just too bad; while True Blood was never necessarily a great show, it definitely used to be a lot better when it played small ball and worked with only a few characters and storylines. I recently went back and watched some clips from the first few seasons and they were compelling and interesting. Minor characters were actually minor and were used sparingly. The first few seasons True Blood was a show that I really enjoyed. Now the show is becoming a series of snack breaks while I wait for Alexander Skarsgard (Eric) or Deborah Ann Woll (Jessica) to be on screen. Someone needs to rescue them, along with Kristin Bauer van Straten (Pam), from the mess that this show has become. The fact that they stuck Bauer van Straten with Rutina Wesley is a grave injustice.
I think that the show can still be rescued; perhaps the departure of creator Alan Ball will reinvigorate the series and the new showrunner can undo some of Ball’s unfortunate tendencies and decisions. If the new people in charge are interested, I have a few suggestions on how to improve the show:
- Start killing some people off – there are too many characters on the show and the landscape of Bon Temps is just too cluttered. Plus that fact that not many people actually die means that the stakes are great lowered when characters are in danger. Shipping off Hoyt, a character that had run his course, was a good first start, though the failure to kill him means he could certainly return. Stake Tara, let Luna die and scrap most of the wolves and fairies. True Blood needs to clean house.
- Narrow your focus – don’t try to cover so much territory in a season; pick two or three story lines and focus on them. The series was better when it was smaller. Only tell stories that are compelling or that move things forward. Stop taking the viewer on meandering tangents that ultimately are forgotten and are therefore a waste of our time.
- Remember what a supporting actor/actress is supposed to do – not everyone can be a star and True Blood needs to start using the minor characters as intended. Their job is to support the main characters and their story lines. Sit down your cast and explain to the actors that they can’t all get the same amount of screen time. Even though it was a scene that was kind of a waste of time, I enjoyed the birth scene from the finale; it gave us just the right amount of a lot of fringe characters like Arlene and Holly and allowed Lafayette to shine with his comedic relief. True Blood isn’t pee-wee soccer; not everyone needs to get a trophy or a major plotline. Characters need to take a backseat when they are not essential.
- A little nudity goes a long way – I’m no prude, but True Blood tends to use nudity a little too gratuitously. The third time we saw Lilith naked and covered in blood, I just yawned. It had lost all its effectiveness or shock value or whatever emotion that they were hoping to illicit. I have no issue with the use of nudity or sex scenes per say, but pick your spots and use them efficiently. The more commonplace they are, the less the audience cares.
- Kill Tara – I know I already said that, but it bears repeating. She’s the worst.
I’ll probably stick with True Blood because of my affection for Skarsgard and some of the other actors, but my enthusiasm for the show wanes as the series progresses. The reaction that I assume that they want from a viewer after a finale is probably something closer to disappointment that the show is over rather than relief. I’m more excited that I don’t have to sit through this mess for another 10 months than anything else. Hopefully some changes will be made to revamp (ha!) the format of the show and to sort out some of the problems I’ve listed above. If not, season six may very well be my last.