True Blood: Who Are You, Really?, Review

HBO's summer smut is back and so far is more tasty than last year's offering...

Summer can mean many things. Poolside, beachside, lakeside, just a nice time anywhere outside. But for HBO it signals only one thing: Blood and Sex…er, True Blood. Like a premium cable backyard barbecue every Sunday, the network has, for six years running, served up its Cajun spiced bowl of gumbo. And if we are lucky, they don’t drown it in cheese going down. In the broadest sense possible, the series is based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries novels by Charlaine Harris. And just as frequently as those Home Box Office cookouts, the book fans spend every summer vocally criticizing the many twists and changes TV series creator and showrunner Alan Ball has made to this world of vampires, fairies, werewolves and the occasional orgy. Yet for the most part, I have accepted the ride the show offers: a trashy roll in the hay that is going to leave you feeling confused and ashamed the morning after. However, even I have to admit this hot mess express is spilling over and ruining the party for everyone. Coming off what is inarguably hands down the worst season of True Blood ever, Season 6 is entering the vampiric world with something to prove. Harris acolytes will be quick to condemn Season 5 for not following the book at all, yet it was worse than that: It was boring. That may be partly due to its lack of reverence for the written word, but it also has as much to do with an ensemble cast that has exceeded the show’s grasp. The once guilty pleasure of fangs and the gangs that they bang has become weighted down by too many non-vampires pissing in the pool. Werewolves are one thing (even if the show’s vision of the awesome creatures is pitiful), but once you introduce fairies, werepanthers, shape shifters and a particularly stupid Vampire Goddess named Lilith, things just lose their bite. That last bit came to a head in Season 5 when the series attempted to keep things fresh by turning Bill Compton, Sookie’s first love and a Southern gentleman with a habit for Anne Rice levels of angst, into the reincarnated body of Lilith, Vampire God Extraordinaire…Yeah, a year later I still struggle to believe that really happened. But a new season brings a new chance to redeem the series. I am not a strict believer of “jumping the shark” and news that an obviously bored Alan Ball was being replaced with Brian Buckner as showrunner could mean things can only go up, right? Seriously, it cannot get any worse than the last half dozen episodes of Season 5! So, like a series fan who drank the kool-aid (or bodily nectar), I am back for another serving of HBO’s warm, wet hug. Is it worth it?  Well, it is too early to tell, but the show seems creakily succeeding in its movement toward a course correction. Indeed, the entire cold open felt like a quick sweeping under the rug of last year’s cliffhanger. Luna (Sam’s shifting girlfriend and mother to Emma) quickly dies in one of the least effective TV deaths in recent memory and Sam is paired with a new storyline of being a single parent. Meanwhile Jason, Nora, Jessica, Tara and Sookie escape unscathed beyond Jason’s character arc and Bill, well…flies off. After the dust settles, the episode quickly becomes the obvious question from last year: “What’s wrong with Bill?” The Louisiana Southerner who survived the Civil War only to be fang raped by a kooky temptress while on his way home has remained an enigma for the series since its first two (and best) seasons. Reportedly Anne Rice’s own favorite character, Bill began as a parody of her creations. Hardly a flowering name like “Lestat,” “Armand” or “Marius,” “Bill” is just Bill. He’s there to reluctantly kill. Yet, eventually Harris did get bored with the conceit and apparently banished him from the spotlight of her series (I never read the books). In his stead, she became fascinated with readers and viewers’ favorite character, the mysterious and aloof Eric. A thousand year old Viking with a bad boy exterior and a heart of gold interior that only Sookie can see, he always felt like the best (or worst) traits of Lestat mixed with some Northern European existential apathy. A cold, lifeless heart that can only beat for the right woman.  Possibly because actor Stephen Moyer has such amazing chemistry with series lead Anna Paquin—they did get married between seasons, after all—or since Ball has such a soft spot for the tortured creature, the series has gone the opposite approach of finding any way to keep him on the show. Sometimes it led to intriguing concepts that went nowhere (Governor Bill Compton!) and in other moments, it just sucked (Bill: Lilith Worshipper!), but he has stayed on. Season 6 hopefully has found the final solution: He is no longer Bill. The anguished vampire who has broken up more times with Sookie than a high school Romeo appears to be gone. In his place is a confused recollection of who Bill once was…by way of Lilith. The Babylonian demon who was adopted into Jewish mythology and even claimed to be Adam’s first wife in curious medieval texts has been reimagined as a well endowed naked chick covered in blood; kind of a walking metaphor for the entire series. Fortunately, the show seems to be playing Bill 2.0 as a chance to shake things up, hopefully for the better. Directed by Moyer himself, the Premiere offers what I can only hope is the definitive end of the Sookie vampire love triangle when she stabs Mr. Compton in the back with a stake to save Eric. The moment is contrived because he clearly will not kill Eric, but it nicely shows where the loyalties of Bon Temps’ least productive waitress truly lie. Do not get me wrong, I don’t have a dog in this fight. As a character, TV show Bill can be just as interesting as Eric, but not when he is pining for the fairy tease next door. Same goes for Eric, but the show one-ups this event by having Sookie respectfully and tearfully break up (again) with her Norse bloodsucker. Given the painful looks on the Undead’s face, I am sure that he and Sookie will be back together soon—especially since the book series can be boiled down to “Every Supernatural Creature Schtoops Sookie”—yet, we can all hope the Twilight triangle is over. Sookie claims she will always love Bill, but as Jessica points out after the stake went in, the lady doth protest too much. Conversely, Bill seems weary of dealing with the biggest Drama Queen in the state. If this really is the end of that triangle, Season 6 is already shaping up to be a vast improvement over the last couple of years. The rest of Bill’s storyline is left annoyingly vague. Jessica sides with her Maker, who still seems at least somewhat to be the Compton character. He even tucks her into bed after the bad people leave and reminds us of that always lovely paternal relationship he has with his adorable progeny. Meanwhile, Eric and Nora begin plotting their scheme to end Lilith-Bill for good. However, something tells me they are soon going to be sidetracked.  One of the villains of the season appears to be series newcomer Arliss Howard as Governor Creighton Burrell. The walking cliché of Southern Republicans has all but declared war on vampires and is issuing an ordinance that requires vampire businesses be shutdown while a curfew intended to keep vamps in their coffin goes into effect. He is also making a deal on the side with Tru Blood manufacturers to start running again after the Authority blew up their own factories last season in a Lila-coup. There is obviously some angle here, as I suspect that business to soon be destroyed in a week or two. It will somehow play a factor into his political machinations. I mean are we really supposed to believe any politician would NOT put his face on a solution between multiple constituencies? His nasty scheming is already bleeding into other vampire storylines. Pam, the relentlessly rejected, and Tara, the infinitely irritating, continue their role reversals in the most half-hearted attempt at lesbian shipper pandering on television. Neither are so much characters at this point as ciphers meant to build the other up by whatever plot twist the story dictates, in hopes that the hopelessly romantic sigh. This week, Pam is in the dumps because Eric will have nothing to do with her (he has Sookie and a sister to play with), so Tara tries to cheer her up with even-headed relationship advice about how they do not need men. You do not need to take crap from anyone, girl! This from the character who spent the last five seasons playing victim to her mother, boyfriend, vampire stalkers and even Sookie? Whatever. The state police break in to close down Fangtasia by order of the governor. Tara inevitably does something stupid and gets shot with what is, sadly, not a lethal weapon.  Jason’s character assassination quickly reached a needed turn in what is hopefully an upper season. Instead of just whining about how vampires killed his folks, which he still does, he makes an excellent point that Sookie will always choose nosferatu over her own living blood. Bill attacked her in a car in Season 3 and Eric almost did the same in Season 4, but she keeps going back to them. As Jason sulks on his own on the road, he runs into Roy Batty Rutger Hauer. This old and creepy driver looks like sadism warmed over and is played by a cult icon actor; we all know he has to be up to no good. He reveals himself to be Macklyn Warlow, the man who killed Jason and Sookie’s parents and who also scares the crap out of Nora, because he was one of the first vampires and a progeny of Lilith. Apparently, he has big plans for Sookie… Overall, it was a pretty tight episode. There were a lot of stories that needlessly continued as well, such as a werewolf threesome giving new meaning to doggie-style and Andy Bellefleur’s fairy children growing really fast, but it’s True Blood; there is always a few stories worth ignoring! It seemed to wipe the slate clean with a lot of the crap that filled last season. Lilith unfortunately will continue to play a role. But maybe she ain’t half bad if she broke off the central triangle? She appeared later to re-posses Bill’s body, but maybe this will lead to more story cleansing, such as causing him to kill Tara. I can hope. What these new villains offer is a chance to interconnect all the stories. The reason the first two seasons of True Blood were so good is because there were only a few plot threads. In Season 1 it was a serial killer out to get Sookie and her family while she fell in love with the first vampire to walk through her door. Season 2 was a road trip with Sookie, Bill, Eric and Jessica coupled with Sam, Andy and Jason fighting a sea of orgies at home. HBO had the perfect vehicle for their naughty summer programming and we got the television equivalent of great seaside smut reading! Unfortunately, long before last year’s dog, the show has become weighted down by a preponderance of characters, subplots and supernatural beings. Already, Season 6 seems determined to streamline events. Bill is Lilith. Kind of. Warlow, who is Lilith’s protégé, is after Sookie and will go through Jason to get her. Eric will protect Sookie and eventually his business, which is being run by Pam and Tara, who are threatened by the governor. This is all tying together more neatly than the last three season premieres.  Moving forward, I hope to see Warlow reveal plans for Sookie that involve more than drinking her blood. Vampires and fairies seem to go back a long way and Warlow is one of the oldest. Confronting Sookie’s specialness head-on without a trip to fairyland sounds good to me. I also want to see Eric and Nora confront the governor, because the easy-to-hate cliché deserves an easy-to-love vampire visit. Finally, I want to see more Bill and Jessica because…well, Jessica is an awesome character as the vampire newbie figuring out how to use all the users around her. And at the moment that means more Bill. So be it, as long the Sookie love story has reached for its own closing-time bill. Den of Geek Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars


3 out of 5