Film, News & Commentary

Farewell True Blood, the supernatural soap opera that finally lost its bite

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After seven years of blood, gore and gratuitous sex scenes, True Blood has finally met its ‘true death’.

Long-time followers of the series may have felt much the like vampire Bill did this season; trudging through a long painful terminal decline and haunted by days of glory passed, before deciding it’s really not worth it all and ending it.

While True Blood never quite plumbed the depths of disappointments that befell its cable contemporary Dexter, nor took its final bow to the extremes of How I Met Your Mother, it was still a shockingly anti-climactic finale to what once was a very good show.

Developed by Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball and based upon The Southern Vampire Mysteries book series by Charlaine Harris, True Blood was at once smart, sexy and damn good fun.

Supernatural creatures “coming out of the coffin” assimilating with the rest of humanity was a convenient metaphor for the racial, sexual and religious tensions in the deep south of America.

The vocalised anti-vampirism of several of its main characters made a handy vehicle for examining the motivations behind bigotry. It’s pretty hard to feel much sympathy for racists, yet much easier to see their point of view when they are preyed upon by incredibly violent supernatural creatures.

Early True Blood presented vampires as highly sexualised, temperamental and shockingly violent. They were never cute, cuddly or emotional, but rather more like wild beasts whose attraction lay in their inherent danger.

True Blood was always lumped into the same vampire fad as Twilight. While teenage girls were swooning at Robert Pattinson’s glistening abs,Game of Thrones took gratuitous sex scenes to the level of incidental artform, and True Detective mined the swampy surrounds of Southern Louisiana for chills, True Blood was always there, pushing the boundaries to new and unexpected places.

The bluesy thrall of Jace Everett’s Bad Things, playing below the terrifically constructed opening credits was an ever -present reminder that sex, death and prejudice were always lurking beneath the surface of seemingly god-fearing towns.

At the shows centre was Anna Paquin’s portrayal of Sookie Stackhouse — a virginal telepathic waitress who was a magnet for all sorts of crazy behaviour. Sookie resonated as the outsider who managed to find peace with creatures who were as different from other humans as she felt.

Typically an  episode of True Blood would end mid-way through a scene and the next episode took off right into the next frame; a tactic that no doubt ensured its popularity with binge-viewers.

And it was an amazing success. Approximately five million people a week tuned in to watch the fourth season and it became HBO’s biggest hit since The Sopranos.

Yet it wasn’t long before every major character was a werewolf, faerie, ancient Greek monster, witch or werepanther (yes, really), and the show struggled to capture the raw human emotions that made it so addictive in the first place.

It wasn’t until the fifth season that the show well and truly jumped the shark.

Ball, apparently inspired by the ongoing 2012 presidential primaries, decided to focus the season on the ‘Vampire Authority’. The idea was that an ancient order of the undead obsessed with ritual and scripture in a neat reversal of Bible Belt values.

He subsequently left the show and was replaced by Nurse Jackie’s Brian Buckner, but True Blood was never again able to shake the sense that it had become a high-roduction soap opera with enough eruptions of sex and violence to remind you it was a ‘premium’ cable show.

The final season promised so much, yet delivered so little. An appealing post-apocalyptic vibe was created,  and then completely ignored for the second half of the season. Major characters died in an instant with apparently few repercussions, while others appeared disappeared on what seemed like a whim. A reoccurring plot device revolved around a hidden tunnel — never mentioned before — yet now solved pretty much every problem previously encountered on the show.

The long-standing love triangle between Sookie and the southern gentleman vampire Bill and viking warrior vampire Eric, was seemingly settled and then reopened to an extremely dull effect. And the once entertaining side characters including Ryan Kwanten’s Jason, Kristen Bauer van Straten’s Pam, Nelson Ellis’ Lafeyette and Rutina Wesley’s Tara were reduced to two dimensional caricatures.

Despite the glaring plot holes, poor scripting and occasionally dodgy acting, True Blood was always an entertainingly pulpy ride that never threatened to take itself too seriously. It would have been a better show if it did.

 

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