This feature contains spoilers for True Blood seasons 1-5.
True Blood’s five seasons so far have all been very different to each other. From season one’s murder mystery, through season two’s twisted look at religious fundamentalism, season three’s gothic fairytale, season four’s hazy romance to season five’s slightly-different religious allegory, the show has so far reinvented itself every year. Some reinventions have been very successful, others less so.
True Blood is based on Charlaine Harris’ book series The Southern Vampire Mysteries, with each season roughly corresponding to one book. Each season varies in how faithfully it adapts its particular novel. Season one is a relatively faithful adaptation of the first book, Dead Until Dark; the series’ world is expanded a bit to provide new storylines for some of the ensemble not featured heavily in the first book (especially Tara and Jason) but broadly speaking it follows the mystery plot of our literary introduction to Sookie and her world. From season three onwards, the series has more or less left the books behind, taking only the most basic of concepts from the books and developing them in its own way. Season four (based on Dead to the World) stayed a bit closer to the source material, largely because the sex scenes between Sookie and Eric were rather beloved of fans, but season five bore almost no resemblance to the fifth book, Dead as a Doornail.
Season two, however, struck a nice line between linking itself to the source material (Living Dead in Dallas) and branching out on its own. Elements of the book’s plot were moved around a bit and expanded to suit the TV show’s large cast, but the essential elements of the anti-vampire terrorist group and the maenad were maintained. Godric, a much more sympathetic character on TV than the book version, became Eric’s maker, neatly enriching the season’s main arc for both of them and making the stakes (har har) that much higher. Most importantly, the fabulous Lafayette was kept alive, and no matter how much his story might have petered out a bit by season five (they should never have killed off Jesus!) that can only be a good thing.
It’s essential for TV series based on books to find their own voice and tell their own story, and this is exactly what season two of True Blood does. On the other hand, keeping major structural elements of the books helps each season to feel more driven and more complete; some of us here at Den of Geek are very fond of the generally less well-loved season three, but it may be that part of the reason that season was less successful with fans was that its plot started to meander just a bit too much. (Also the fairies, which do feature in the later books, just don’t work all that well).
This is not the only reason season two comprises True Blood’s best twelve hours though. It’s structurally and thematically the strongest season, telling parallel stories about fundamentalism; buttoned-up and repressed in the form of the Newlins’ vampire-hating Fellowship of the Sun, or wild and ecstatic in the form of Maryann’s revival of the cult of Dionysus – both equally harmful. In between the two sits Godric, a Christ-like figure all in white trying to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Godric’s suicide-by-sunlight is still the best and most moving scene the series has done, not just because it’s the first time we see hard nut Eric cry, but because in a few episodes, Allan Hyde’s performance has absolutely sold the concept of Godric as a reformed monster, a two thousand year old youth who’s tired of un-living and who sees his fiery death as a form of redemption.
Season two also sees the love triangle at the centre of the show at perhaps the strongest point of its arc. There seems to be some embarrassment about love triangles around the geeky corners of the net these days. It’s very popular to say you enjoy everything about a particular show ‘except the love triangle,’ which is derided as boring, even though the three members of said triangle are the three leads and all the publicity for the show, as well as a substantial proportion of the plot developments, revolve around the love triangle. There’s really nothing wrong with enjoying a sexy, fun, well played out love triangle, or with watching a show because you like its love triangle. (As with so many things, we blame Twilight for this discomfort around supernatural love triangles). Love triangles done badly can be tiresome, but they are not flawed in and of themselves. As far as True Blood’s central triangle is concerned, season two is the point at which Bill and Sookie are reasonably solid, but Eric is starting to be portrayed as a more three-dimensional character and Sookie is starting to become interested in him, or at least less openly hostile towards him (even before he tricks her into drinking his blood). The tension and snarking between the three is playful and engaging.
Some of season two’s highlights include:
Keep This Party Going
The (non-book-based) story of Bill’s forced siring of Jessica could have gone so, so wrong (a whiny teenage girl trapped with a nineteenth century father?) but as it turned out, it went so, so right, and this episode is the beginning of that trend. Bill and Jessica’s interactions may not seem that promising here, but then Sookie’s sympathy for both Jessica and her grieving parents brings them to Jessica’s house, and we see that Bill is far from the worst parental figure she’s had to deal with. It might be argued that revealing Jessica’s father to have been abusive is something of a cop-out, alleviating the guilt that should fall on Bill for murdering her, but the moment she bares her fangs at the man is undeniably satisfying.
This is the episode where season two’s plots start to get going, as Daphne partially explains Maryann’s dedication to Dionysus, Jason starts to realise just how messed up the Fellowship of the Sun and Sarah Newlin in particular are and we finally (briefly but awesomely) meet Godric (previously seen in flashback). Best of all, Lorena fulfils the promise of her overly dramatic entrance a couple of episodes earlier by holding Bill prisoner throughout the day while both bleed from the eyeballs. What a metaphor for a romantic relationship.
I Will Rise Up
Eric tricks Sookie into drinking his blood, which is pretty disturbing really, but the net result for TV viewers is the first of many, many dream sequences featuring Sookie and Eric having sex. Two seasons before their characters actually get together, this was all good fun at the time, and we definitely see a different side to Eric’s character in these sequences. The episode’s climax proves that this softer side isn’t just a dream, as we see Eric deeply mourning the imminent death of his beloved maker. And then there’s Godric’s suicide, surely the most moving scene the show has done, certainly since Sookie ate her grandmother’s last pie back in season one. It’s beautifully shot, beautifully acted and generally stunning all round, topped off with a perfect musical choice in ‘I Will Rise Up.’
This is the episode that introduces us to Sophie-Anne, the Vampire Queen of Louisiana. She is as wonderfully ridiculous as anyone called the Vampire Queen of Louisiana should be, played with both lightness and a threatening core by Evan Rachel Wood. Her day room is evocative of the lavish, gaudy excess of ancient Egypt or perhaps, more pertinently, of the Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra, and it’s hard not to love a powerful vampire with a Yahtzee obsession. This episode also features Eric and Pam reacting to the presence of small human children, which sidesteps presenting them as too threatening and creepy by making the whole encounter hilarious.
Season two of True Blood, like all seasons of True Blood, takes a few episodes to get going and some storylines work better than others. But this has by far the highest hit to miss rate in terms of individual plots, and encompasses all the elements we watch True Blood for; sex, violence, over-the-top silliness and lots of humour. What makes season two the best season is that it underwrites all of that with plots that have real weight. The exploration of fundamentalism is nowhere near as broad and in-your-face as season five’s later attempt to explore the same theme. The finale is fun and explosive, but the heart of season two is Godric’s death about two thirds of the way in, which succeeds in putting silliness and overblown sex scenes in the background for a few minutes, focusing instead on three characters at both their strongest and their most vulnerable.
Season two is the best season of a lot of shows (see also Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Friends, The West Wing, Life on Mars, Battlestar Galactica, Fringe, Alias, Torchwood, Community…). In season one, the writers are getting to know their show, establishing their world and their characters. When they get to season two, they enthusiastically throw all the great ideas they’ve been keeping in their pockets at the screen, and the success of later seasons depends on whether they have any more ideas that are as great once those are gone. True Blood is no exception. Season two is sexy, funny, silly and serious, and that’s why it’s the best season so far. Only time will tell if season six will be able to better it.
True Blood season six starts on HBO this Sunday the 16th of June.
Juliette Harrisson is a part-time lecturer and full-time Trekkie. Her thoughts on what the Greeks and Romans have done for us can be found here.
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