True Blood Series Finale Review: Thank You

HBO has finally closed the coffin on True Blood with this series finale. But did it go out with real teeth or a moan of resignation?

Well, it wasn’t what I expected. And if you read my review for last week’s episode, then you know full well that my predictions were quite off. So in that sense, tonight’s True Blood series finale, “Thank You,” was a rousing success. And for that I can also thank Brian Buckner, writer of tonight’s denouement and showrunner for the past two seasons of HBO’s steamy summer soap. With that said, was this ending—Sookie lovingly impaling Bill and all—a satisfying conclusion or not?

….I’m not entirely sure.

For seven seasons True Blood has ostensibly been every HBO subscriber’s guilty pleasure (whether they admit it or not). Stuffed to the gills with impressive acting talent, including a leading lady who won an Oscar when she was 12-years-old and the writer of American Beauty and Six Feet Under, this is a series that had more to its first bite than all the flesh and heavy breathing that came with the territory.

The secret to its earliest days, besides the alluringly lurid beachside plotting of author Charlaine Harris, was the show marked HBO’s first foray into Southern Gothic. Sure, it treated Southerners by and large like a bunch of hillbillies who gum their tobacco, but Ball’s American Beauty could still find depth in a suburban lifestyle it all but mocked for two hours. Similarly, True Blood was caught up in the iconography of death in the land of cotton and supposed civility—such as a tragic star-crossed romance between Bill and Sookie, and monument-like gravestones that were reflected in the moonlight by the naked bloodstained skin of a vampire.

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Somewhere around season four or five that haunted quality, reverberated ever so softly by the utterance of “Suukkaaaahhh” (which was sorely missed tonight) and the lingering musical refrain that accompanied it, disappeared along with the show’s attempt at grandeur beyond Alexander Skarsgard’s self-aware smolder.

Tonight, True Blood made a last-ditch effort to re-embrace the shadow of that Southern phantom while also honoring the goofy soap it has ultimately been for the majority of its seven-year run. And I am chagrined to say that in its (supposed) grace note, the soapy side won out as the more successful aspect.

The aspect of the show that worked the best was, lo and behold, Bill giving Jessica away in her wedding with Hoyt. While I have for the past 10 episodes mostly jeered at the daytime television sentimentality this series has cuddled—such as the wild party Bon Temps had a day after half its population killed the other half—this one worked. This was in part because it disproved my cynicism from last week by giving Bill and Jessica a genuinely moving send-off as Maker and Progeny, and as father and daughter. The other reason it worked is because Bill’s death prompting this sudden shotgun wedding felt both believable from Jessica and Bill’s perspective (amnesic Hoyt notwithstanding), as well as folding into Bill’s Southern heritage.

Yes, this episode is Bill heavy and in many ways it makes sense. He might be an ultimately supporting and even minor presence in Charlaine Harris’ novels, but real-life Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer romance or not, Bill in many ways is a testament to this unique brand of gothic storytelling. Eric Northman is the more fun and entertaining vampire, but he also would not be out of place in an Anne Rice novel. This is probably why Anne Rice has previously stated Mr. Compton is her favorite character on True Blood; there is something subversively unexpected about Vampire Bill in a mythological world filled with Lestats, and Armands, and Viking Vampire Gods. Bill is a Louisiana Confederate gentleman who just wanted to see his wife and children again, but never could…there is something uniquely Southern-flavored to this vampire tragedy.

It prompting both the silly humor of Jessica and Hoyt getting married (Holly and Arlene enviously marveling at Bill’s house) as well as the pathos of him walking Jess down the altar.

[related article: The 13 Best True Blood Deaths]

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Yet, underneath the good vibes from this picturesque scene that would not be out of place in an episode of Australia’s Neighbors is the conclusion the show is drawing to, as depicted by Sookie hearing the thoughts of Bill Compton. On its own, this development is fantastic and could have led to a great breakthrough, but as the plot arbitrarily plays out its weird motions, it becomes consequentially pointless. Did Sookie hearing Bill’s thoughts excuse his wish to die? Even so, why did Sookie have to be the one to kill him? Most of all why is this the only way to break-up once-and-for-all with Sookie?!

Quite frankly, there is no real logical reason for Bill to die in order to stay away from Sookie. He is immortal and she (for now) is not. All Bill needs to do is move to Sweden to work for Eric or to Japan to lead the competition, or to just take a page from Rice and sleep through a century or two in the coffin. He could be gone for a hundred years and return to a Bon Temps that was Sookie-free. He claims he doesn’t have the will power to leave Sookie alone, but it takes as much will power to choose a painful death when the cure is within grasp.

Ultimately, it is an exceedingly high-handed attempt to bring back that gumbo pathos from earlier seasons by having Bill die at the end of Sookie’s stake. They meet in the cemetery, obviously near where the show had its most memorable and infamous fang bang, this time to put the fangs to rest in the coffin forever. But not unlike a flashback to Gran and Tara, it all feels a bit unnecessary (though it was great seeing Lois Smith as Adele again!).

I understand why killing Bill works for the show, as well as the character of Sookie. Bill leaving Bon Temps for a lifetime could realistically solve this problem, but narratively, it doesn’t have as much power as Bill departing this mortal coil for good and all. More importantly, however, is that Bill was always somewhat tragic, and not in the traditional vampire fiction way post-Rice. He is the Unknown Soldier who could never go home, and he never saw his daughter grow up until he met Jessica Hamby. That tragedy of him returning to the earth to be with them, and finding their picture no less, should have been his reason to crawl back in the coffin in a satisfying manner.

Doing it for Sookie is ham-fisted romance writing, especially since it takes the choice away from our supposedly independent and empowered protagonist. Sookie doesn’t agree with Bill’s death wish nor does she want to be the one who does it. Bill makes these decisions for her, and worse still, she agrees that she cannot have a normal life unless Bill Compton isn’t waiting in the wings. It is an implicit confession to her own weakness that she crawls into that grave to be with Bill and push the stake in. Guilt that she gave him his death-virus be damned!

I am not against the idea of Bill Compton dying in the series finale. In fact, this character crying drops of blood on his daughter’s photo while Sookie is there to consecrate the earth onto his resting place is terrific stuff. Sookie just should not have been the one to climb down there nor the motivation for that stake to touch his heart.

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The result is a theoretically good scene that makes little sense in the context of either character’s explained presence. Take from it what you will.

But if Bill gets at the un-beating heart of True Blood’s best qualities, Eric Northman is the face and joy of the show, no matter the highs or lows. Thus his relative anonymity for tonight’s episode is a bit startling. We get some perfect Eric moments early on when he shows up with gasoline and a smile for his soon-to-be-ex-partner. “Humans are slow.”

When Eric says “I’ve tried, trusting, I’ve tried sharing, and it’s just not fucking working for me,” I don’t think any fan was surprised. But they were all smiling through head-bobbing drive back from Sookie’s house post-slaughter. Otherwise, it was an Eric-free episode with Pam getting the better moment when she turned Sarah Newlin into the $100,000 floozy she always knew Sarah was capable of becoming. The ending of them becoming billionaires on the New York Stock Exchange with “New Blood,” complete with the “Sarah got away” dodge, is nice. Given how sitcom-y everything else is, hopefully the spin-off will be Eric, Pam, and Sarah having wacky hijinks in their new New Blood office. It really is unfulfilling that the audience favorite essentially was tonight’s afterthought.

What should have been the afterthought is the “Come Together” ending that capped off Sookie putting her true love in the dirt. Seeing Sookie move on to a non-vampire existence, especially since the Twilight ending of her being turned seemed too likely, is a wise choice on the part of the show’s writers. But somehow, bearing witness to every character in Bon Temps coupling off at dinner party (including a line-less Lafayette who never got anything of interest to do after Jesus’ death in season four) felt like the kind of Kodak Moment that went the way of most Nick at Nite syndications.

Fellow Den of Geek writer Tony Sokol was far more damning of this ending and the finale as a whole. After it was over, he told me, “I think it was nice of them to leave us with an ending that would ensure we wouldn’t wonder what happened to these characters or miss them in any way. They spent this entire season, except for one episode, stuffing their throats with garlic, knowing that they were finally going to cut the head off of the series and bury it upside down.”

While I am not quite as downbeat about this happy ending of Sookie and a mystery husband (who has given her the first pregnancy) throwing a barbecue for their neighbors, it is the definition of schmaltz and is only missing a freeze frame. It also clashes horribly with the bitterness they tried to recapture at Bill Compton’s gravesite. Though, I would love to know what the dinner table conversation is between Hoyt, Jessica, Jason, and Bridget.

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For years, fans of Harris’ book series have said that the show should be more faithful, and they were probably right. The show was never as good as its first season, but none of the subsequent seasons matched season two either. Indeed, other than the nadir that was season five (which the last two years mildly improved upon), the series’ quality decreased with each new calendar. It is no secret that the first three seasons were marginally close to the books and the last three had nothing at all in common with the literary source material.

They probably should have been more related. Jessica was a great addition, and keeping Lafayette alive was a savvy move. And yes, keeping Bill Compton a prominent player on the show was shrewd up until the Billith identity crisis that the series shared with its character. But this ending attempted to go back to that early wistful gloom that not even the book series ended on. I respect that, but the final result is as messy as the blood splatter Bill left behind.

True Blood was once HBO’s flagship. In the years after The Sopranos, The Wire and Sex and the City, other than Entourage HBO had no zeitgeist lightning amongst its plethora of quality projects (including Rome, Big Love, and Deadwood). True Blood put the network back on the map even if it was mostly due to the red mist that sprayed over all the nudity that got folks salivating. This status has now been usurped by more ambitious masterworks like Game of Thrones, but True Blood earned its place in the premium cable pantheon. So, it’s still odd that in its final three seasons, this red spray mostly came from the on-set tears applied to the vampire actors’ face.

Tonight, True Blood ended with more crimson tears streaming down its countenance while smiling for its main cast of characters. It’s a nice thought, but like the dear departed Mr. Compton, it’s perhaps better to remember the show for what it once was and not how it ended.

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2.5 out of 5