There is no easy way to say this. I hated seasons three and especially four of the HBO television series True Blood. In fact, the only reason I even bothered with season five can be summed up with the name Anna Paquin. I am not exaggerating when I say that Anna is in a rare class of actor (along with the like of Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stuart, and Michael Fassbender) whom I could watch sitting in a plain chair against a white background, reading the ‘phone book.
There are two distinct problems with seasons three and four of True Blood. Both of them extremely difficult to reconcile with entertainment. The first is that in spite of the very difficult-to-read title card proclaiming the series to be based on one series of Charlaine Harris‘ novels, those novels and this television series would not recognise each other if they met. In seasons three and four, they still attempt to make a pretense that they even give a shit about the simplistic but richly-tapered stories that Harris tells to great effect. Although I cannot be a hundred percent sure about this, season five marks the first season in which they do not even bother trying. The story in season five, where Bill and Eric spend much of their time in an underground compound full of vampire cultists who go from championing integration to revelling in the consumption of Human blood in quite a hilarious arc that owes more to Orwell than Harris, recalls none of the Southern Vampire Mysteries novels I remember reading.
When I saw that Rutina Wesley was in the cast of season five, I felt sick. Viewers will recall that after going through a long string of anti-vampire tirades that made me angry at how many false write-outs the character had been through by now (two in three seasons), Tara was shot in the head. Well, Sookie not being one to let things lie when she can make them worse, solicited Pam to make Tara a vampire so that Tara can live.
At first, this seems like pretty bad storytelling. After all, most vampires in this series would have been inclined to dismiss Sookie’s request and say one less bigot in the world is a good thing. But once we get past one of the cruellest and most officious of the regular vampire cast doing the exact opposite of what I would expect, this opens up a wide window of opportunity that True Blood has been sorely in need of.
Now, before I continue, I want to be perfectly clear about this. I do not “hate” Rutina Wesley the actor. I know nothing of her outside of True Blood, so I have no idea what to “make” of her. I did wish for two seasons that she would go to the writers on the True Blood staff and say to them “hey, you are making my character into a bigoted asshole, please quit it”. But that is on the writers, not her. Maybe she did do exactly what I just described, maybe not. But it seems the writers did get the message.
During one scene, Tara’s mother even comes into the bar known as Fangtasia and disowns Tara to her face. Dear Odin, if ever there was a scene to inspire hate, that is the one. But it is also a great window into the workings of that generation’s minds.
Even now, as our world openly erupts in chaos, baby boomers kid themselves that children of the 1980s and today’s young adults have it so much easier than they did. So tell me, baby boomers, why are today’s 18 to 40 year olds working more hours just to be able to afford median rents? Why is home ownership among today’s thirty year olds so low that they all have images in their heads of landlords cackling and twirling their moustaches a la Dick Dastardly? I thought so. This is the fundamental problem with baby boomers and curebies. Always ready to make a big prononucement on the lot of others, but curiously unwilling to actually educate themselves about what they are talking about.
Tara’s mother has emotionally and physically abused her all of her life, and yet has the hide to disown her in front of a crowd at Fangtasia when she learns that Tara is working as a pole-dancer and sometime bartender in a vampire bar. Well la-de-dah, Missus Thornton. Seriously. I guess this is how I know I have more rage flowing through me than Tara does throughout the entire season. Because Tara’s response is basically to show her mother her fangs and say “I will find you”. If this had been me we were talking about, said mother would have found herself impaled out in the middle of Bon Temps with a sign around her neck stating that this is what happens to child abusers. (And lest you think I am getting soft, if you impale someone in just the right way, it can take them hours, even days, to die.)
So to a great extent, the writing staff on True Blood have redeemed themselves. They dance around the line between being pro-neurodiversity, pro-civil rights, and pro-inclusion, and being overtly racist where some main characters are concerned. And they do so quite skilfully. Although most of the situations vamp Tara finds herself in are justly deserved, this season also succeeds in doing something that I thought I would never see it do again. Something it has not really done since the first season. Namely, make me sympathetic to Tara.
Rutina Wesley‘s performance in the season cannot be discussed without talking about Kristen Bauer van Straten and Deborah Ann Woll. Kristen‘s character, Pam, is a bit like lemon essence. She has to be absorbed in small doses. The writers on this season got the balance of her presence just right. She was, shall we say, a bit overused in the prior season. She is also at her best with she is trading lines with Eric, her maker. Who could forget the classic exchange towards the end of season two in which, after hearing expressions of wonder from Arlene’s children, muses that they make her so glad she never had any children.
We are treated to a series of flashbacks in which we see just how Pam convinced a 1500 year old vampire like Eric to make her a vampire. Although the story is a little flawed, the exection of it both at a direction and acting level is so excellent that I can easily forgive that.
Kristen as Pam forms the nastier, meaner side of Tara’s conversion from what I will refer to as self-entitled delusions of monopoly on suffering bitch back to worthwhile character. When Tara steps out of the line that vampires draw for themselves, Pam is the one to rush in, slap her around, and tell her this is how it is going to be, and all the whinging in the world is not going to change that. Those scenes are examples of the reason why the Pam character is so much damned fun in short bursts.
When Pam is practically wringing Tara’s neck and saying “these rules do not exist just to protect you, honey, but also vampirekind in general”, in many different words, it is one of the most satisfying things I have seen from this series to date.
Deborah is both the kinder, gentler side of Tara’s conversion, and a none-too-subtle reminder that in spite of appearances, vampires are in fact the discriminated minority here.
(Oh, and people like Leonard Maltin et al, unsubtle is good with things like this. Pam’s declaration that Arlene’s children make her glad that she is in fact childless is an example of good subtle. The above image in which Jessica looks like she has been tied up and raped by a bunch of hick redneck fukktards is as subtle as any metaphor for the bullying that variant folk like myself are always trying to prepare themselves for deserves. Dislike it? Then go and fukk yourselves with the shovel that I would rather be fukked with than ever set foot in Queensland again.)
Deborah Ann Woll plays the side of the conversion that extends a gentle hand and says “hey, I understand your pain, I can still remember what you are going through as if it were yesterday” and so forth. This effectively makes the decision to replace the novels’ Bubba with Jessica one of the best changes that the series’ producers ever made to the material.
I will be brief about the two male vampires that previously served to provide a source of romantic conflict for Sookie. Bill and Eric are basically on autopilot for this season. Nothing that they do or say will really get much of a reaction out of people with minds of their own.
Which is a major contrast to Nelsan Ellis‘ performance as Lafayette. This is another example of a change from the novels that benefits the series enormously. You could count the number of times the Lafayette of the novels is mentioned before he gets killed off for putting his nose where it should not be on your fingers. In this season of the television series, the serious conflict he feels as he deals with his own minimal powers, the death of his boyfriend, and the newfound challenges this season brings, he becomes one of the most interesting characters in the story. He does not demonstrate to any hick fukktards how happy and capable he would be to kick their arse, but his scene with Kevin Alejandro in a cameo as the spirit of the deceased boyfriend is a home run in terms of making one feel for characters.
Another performer who is absolutely on fire this season (and has been for most of the series) is Todd Lowe, who plays Terry Bellefleur. When explaining why a character is the way they are, there are two important elements to keep in mind. One: show, do not tell. Two: make the audience understand, but do not beat them around the head with it. In season five, the flashbacks to what really happened in Iraq and the demonstrations of what the consequences are in the present show the writers of these sequences are really on the ball. As in if I were enabled to make a film or TV series showing how I was treated as a boy and what the present-day consequences are, I would want the people who wrote Terry’s story arc in this season to write the scripts. That is the highest compliment I think I can pay any writer who is dealing with this kind of material.
An interesting tack that the writers have taken on during this season, too, is that although there is still plenty of material emphasising the vulnerability of the vampires in a world overflowing with fear of them, the extent to which the vampires as a whole are ready to fight back is made much more evident. Underground fortresses, connections with the Pentagon, armed forces with weapons that Rambo would get a kick out of using, it is all right here.
The existence of other “supes” in the True Blood canon also should no longer surprise anyone. Although Sam Merlotte, as played by Sam Trammell, swings wildly from being a sympathetic guy to a complete asshole, he seems to have found his groove as a boyfriend to Luna Garza and a surrogate dad to her daughter, Emma. Luna and Emma, portrayed by Janina Gavankar and Chloe Noelle respectively, find themselves caught up in a mad campaign to exterminate all of the “supes”. In fact, the brave boys illustrate nicely the true level of bravery on the part of those they may as well be proxies for by firing their rifles upon Emma. Emma, a nine year old girl.
Remind you of anybody, curebies?
Luna turns out to be the kind of woman I wish I could meet in my real life. Even when she is nursing multiple injuries after being shot at, she makes it clear she wants to track down the assholes who fired at her little girl and peel their skins off. Hell, I wish I had a mother like Luna. Let us not get into that right now.
Long story short, if you were turned off by the past two seasons of True Blood that are available on home video as of this writing, then please give season five a go. It is not completely perfect by any means, but the last time my world was rocked this well by a television series, it was the first season of True Blood.