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Where Did True Blood Go Wrong?

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You know, it doesn’t seem so long ago that HBO’s supernatural sex and violence fest was the toast of geektown. A best-selling series of books to draw from, the HBO pedigree, an original vampire mythology that didn’t completely defang our favorite creatures of the night, and a great cast; what more could you ask for? Some bizarre spoilers from throughout the series will be present. I’m not sure anyone still cares, or if non-viewers will even believe them when they read them, but just in case, here’s your warning.

Season one was pretty much an entertainment masterpiece. Reworking and expanding on Charlaine Harris’ novel Dead Until Dark, True Blood managed to perform one of the rarest of feats; an adaptation that surpassed the original work. While the novels focus exclusively on psychic heroine Sookie Stackhouse’s point of view, the writers crafted an outstanding ensemble cast, expanding existing characters who were barely in the novels into fan favorites along with some originals and adding in political subtexts without harming the story’s original narrative. And people loved it.

But the love affair didn’t last long. By the time Game of Thrones came along, people had stopped speaking of True Blood with excitement. In fact, scorn is probably a better word for the typical reaction. But the best word for how people felt about the show was the unkindest one of all: indifference. People may pretend it’s because vampires are out or play the maturity card as if the new hotness wasn’t just as full of unnecessary nudity and violence. But let’s look at the real reasons why True Blood is in its last season and nobody cares.     

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Relax Pam, it’s not that bad. Or is it? A lot of eyes have been rolled about Sookie’s overall character arc, and not without good reason. I’ve got to admit that the show probably couldn’t have done a worse job handling the whole fairy thing, leaving gaping plot holes in the narrative along with some extremely goofy imagery and a general feeling of pointlessness to a lot of the proceedings in their rush to pair Sookie with every available male character. I mean, Alcide now, out of nowhere? Come on, guys.

While the books got a little “meh” for me around the 7th installment, they did a much better job of keeping me interested than the show has. True Blood was already falling apart midway into its second season, and I think that a big part of that was the expectations stemming from the first season. In expanding the first book in so many directions with such a popular cast while taking such care with the story, they had to find ways to keep the same ensemble feel, which didn’t fit in with the rest of the stories in the series.

So rather than following the story of the books and only deviating to further explore certain aspects, they now had to pretty much entirely rewrite stories to integrate characters that had nothing to do with the original versions, and in doing so they pretty much ended up throwing the books out altogether.

Season four was the last time they even bothered referencing anything from the books, leaving the stories to get progressively loopier until Bill was God and being attended by imaginary naked chicks covered in blood and half the cast was gay to improve shipability and Tara was a cagefighter and then a vampire and now ghosts are possessing everybody and then vampires could be fairies too and Terry was putting out hits on himself because reasons and Andy’s fairy lay gave orgasmic birth to a litter of kids who age like ten years instantly every night and Sookie was a princess and what the hell have you done to this show, HBO?!

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Don’t say I never gave you anything, ladies.

So basically, True Blood has been cruising on pure sex appeal for a long time now. I can dig that. I’m not going to pretend that their original character Jessica Hamby doesn’t make me feel like a blushing teenager with a crush every time she shows up onscreen or that that isn’t at least part of the reason I’m still watching after so much disappointment. The fact is that the show’s brand of sex and violence with a few servings of WTF is just entertaining enough to keep me watching. It’s just that I can’t honestly say it’s very good from an objective standpoint anymore.

Once you start having to stretch to the point where two straight characters who have barely interacted are having lengthy random gay sex dreams about each other, it’s pretty clear that the goal of the show is just to titillate, and the comparison shots of their abs really emphasized that point. Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with that. We have certainly seen worse and more in terms of straight male fantasies barging their way hither and thither. Brainless entertainment and eye candy is fine when that’s the point, but when it’s based on another work with a solid story that was done so much better it makes the fanservice seem even cheaper and more exploitative than it already is. It’s like they’re taking explicit fanfiction from the net and making it canon.

But for all my bitching about departures the original Sookie Stackhouse narrative, I’ve got to admit the first couple episodes of Season seven piqued my interest before my free HBO weekend ran out. The premise of roving bands of homicidal vampires assailing rural communities and leaving them as ghost towns is a pretty cool one, even if it’s because the vamps are infected with hepatitis. Yeah, hepatitis. I did mention the show’s typical WTF-ness, earlier right?

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Not pictured, but present in spirit: John Belushi chanting “Toga! Toga!”

But at some point, like in seasons before it, I’m going to be rolling my eyes and wondering what they were thinking once again. It always happens.  Hey, maybe Sookie will go on a greatest hits sexual rampage and give every past boyfriend another roll in the hay like a victory lap before we get to the end! Or perhaps a full cast orgy. It sounds like a joke, but can anybody who’s still watching rule these ideas out entirely? You know they’ve already done weirder.

But you know what? I’ve had a good time. I feel like I could have had a better time, but then again seeing things like a vampire twisting somebody’s head 180 degrees around during sex or ripping out a news anchor’s spine on live television before declaring his intention to “eat you… after we eat your children” in a bone-chilling speech given partially while waving the aforementioned spine around, or even a very gay black man in a southern bar throwing out a couple of ignorant redneck bigots and being applauded for it is arguably worth a thousand poor story choices. This is stuff that would never make it into the books but made for some jaw-droppingly entertaining television moments.

Still, it’s a pretty universal opinion that True Blood has overstayed its relevance and it’d be a challenging assignment to construct a compelling argument opposing that premise. I might go so far as to argue that it may have been better off quitting after adapting the first book and leaving everybody wanting more if the plan was to rip the story to shreds afterwards anyways, leaving the audience wondering what the hell is going on. How are fans even supposed to feel about some of this stuff?

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No, Tara, numb is not good. Go make out with Pam (or Jason, or Sam… or that one dude…. or that other chick) or something if that’s your only contribution to this discussion. Numb means we just don’t care anymore. And I want to care. I’ve loved watching you and Sookie and Lafayette and everyone else, but your writers refuse to allow me to give a crap about what happens to you anymore because it’s all been so outlandish for so long that it no longer feels like a coherent story. It’s like watching Looney Tunes.

I never worried about what happened to Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, or Wile E. Coyote because the proceedings were so cartoonish it was obviously never meant to be taken seriously. True Blood has gone so far off the reservation with their storylines that I didn’t even care when Tara was supposedly killed OFFSCREEN early in the final season. I cared enough to rewind the show because I felt sure that they wouldn’t deceasify a primary character offscreen and must have missed something, but on an emotional level, it didn’t really register. The real Tara is still back in season one in my mind. I’m not attached to this prop she’s become in subsequent stories.

And that, I think, is the ultimate mark of a series that’s more than ready to end: when a character you used to adore dies and you just don’t give a shit. So yeah, in spite of the good times we’ve had, I’m not really sad that Sookie and her nutty friends are finally throwing in the towel. The series is bent beyond recognition and it’s just time. Thanks for the good times, Sook. We’ll always have Bon Temps.

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About Nick Verboon

I am a guy on the internet who writes stuff sometimes. Try and keep up. I used to write reviews Amazon and other sites under the moniker trashcanman before semi-retiring from my unpaid career for a while. But now I'm back in action writing columns for Unreality and Gamemoir. Enjoy. I

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