Alan Ball’s a believer. Now on his last season as True Blood’s major domo, he continues to see no reason at all why Big Themes and literary stuff can’t coexist with camp, bodice ripper romance, Hammer gore camp and a Ken Russell-esque free-for-all approach to fantastic filmmaking. This week’s episode added family as a major element and ended up a sweetly, amusingly, and painfully memorable piece of work.
In genre dress, it playfully explored the pleasures of successful parenting while going very dark on the adjoined subjects of letting go badly, ultimate loss, and the persistent survivor’s guilt.
Pretty heady stuff. Not to worry—there are also state of the art splatter gore and broiling flesh effects. Still, the name of the season’s first episode—“Turn! Turn! Turn!”—continues to define everyone.
Even the non-familial characters were in extreme motion. We finally see the mix of LSD and mass murder in Iraq that caused Terry (Todd Lowe) to lose it. And somehow grief is making Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) a target for Jesus’ demon. And Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is still trying to sever himself from the childhood sexual abuse that’s sentenced him to a life of empty zipless fucks.
Lately the entire show seemed to be bent on deconstructing its hero, Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), to the point where the show seemed to have nothing to do with her.
I was missing the point. With the memory of her grandmother fading, and so many people dying for her or at her hands, what she’s really about is survivor’s guilt.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, she hooks up with Alcide (Joe Manganiello, currently bouncing his wolfie goodness on-screen in Magic Mike). But that bit of oo-la-la is poisoned by Sook’s self-hatred. However, a single sentence at episode’s end changes everything. We’ll talk about that IN a bit.
What rules this episode is family, starting with Pam (Kristin Bauer) mothering Tara, three words I’ll enjoy typing for quite a while, it’s so beyond slash fiction fun.
As you recall, Tara (Rutina Wesley) tried to tanning-bed herself to death. Pam stopped it before Tara totally fried.
"Mothering" pace Pam is still bitchy and, well, Pam-ish, but still, she’s taking care of Tara. The question is, Why?
Easy answer: Eric said it was the right thing to do. And Pam worships Eric. And Eric made it clear last week that when you make someone a vamp, it’s akin to having a child, with all the same responsibilities.
Interestingly, Pam’s bitchiness fades fast. She may quip of Tara’s reluctance to sink her teeth into a human, “three days and she already has an eating disorder”, but Pam really wants to help. When she finds a willing vamp fetishist at Fangtasia and orders Tara to feed, Pam wraps her arm around her young vampire and whispers encouragement. “This is who you are now . . . the top of the chain.”
Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) is also feeling good about his progeny, Jessica, who’s gone from whiny adolescent to very determined young woman over the span of just four episodes. And unlike your usual overpraised cable TV show where a female character’s “complexity” is defined by her ability to become as cynical and nihilistic as the males she’s secondary to, Jessica, who’s very aware of all the horribleness life (and un-life) has to offer, makes a conscious choice to become more morally centered, supportive, and empathic than the males around her. She’s a born leader as well.
Bill, who always failed at all these things, enjoys a rare happy moment as he regards her and says, “I think I did well.”
And sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do, or how hard you work. Because Pam is going to lose Eric and vice versa.
When Eric and Bill first return from their meeting with the vampire Authority—how about we call it the “VA”?—Pam tries a squirt of playful snark regarding Tara: “Congratulations, you’re a grandfather.”
But Eric is not amused. Instead, he grills her about Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare), the 3,000 year-old psycho-vamp who, having somehow broken out of the cement prison Eric and Bill created for him, will not only try to kill Eric, but destroy the VA and its goal of mainstreaming vampires into normal human life, for the sheer hell of it.
Eric tells her that whether it’s because of Russell Edgington or the VA, he’s going to die. And so he sets her free, officially, of all and any bonds to him. “I need you to live when I’m gone…you are my child as I was the child of Godric . . . and you’re a maker now . . . our blood will thrive.”
And then it’s done. He sets her free, ending a century-old relationship, but leaving her with child—Tara.
Trust me, True Blood is not my go-to destination for deep emotional experiences but, yeah, I got choked up. But this wasn’t TV-melodrama choked up. This was stranger, more like I felt when seeing, say, Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast when I was 15. Is Ball mining similar subconscious monster archetype energies? Without going full-out Jungian on you, I do think that we don’t care about beauties, and beasts, and bitchy vampires named Pam, and their sudden ‘familial’ feelings towards African American girls who’ve suddenly turned vampire just because. I think there’s always something they represent in a grand passion play happening beneath every surface—and if you’re a grand fantasy master, as Ball has proved himself to be (with the help of with his writer’s room), you know how to work the under-surface stuff.
You’d think the cold, 007-ish underground world of the VA would be the last place for anything domestic, but the show’s on a family roll, so here we go.
When VA head Roman and his . . . whatever she is, Salome (Valentina Cervi), are unable to torture ex-chancellor Nora into spilling info on who else is up to anti-mainstreaming, fundamentalist no good, she only cracks because it will save the life of her brother Eric, with whom she’s sleeping. (Ah, incest, what would cable TV dramas do without it?) And after Salome reminds her that for centuries she’s been like a sister to her.
Meanwhile, out in a grassy field somewhere, Andy (Chris Bauer) and Jason are in a limousine with the obsequious Judge Clemmons (Conor O'Farrell). The Judge is taking them somewhere really deluxe for serving Bon Temps so damned well. And with a flash of light they’re magically teleported to a Moulin Rouge-y fairy nightclub because in True Blood,a fairy nightclub is always a light-flash away. And frankly, that sort of gleeful disinterest in how the show “logically” gets characters from point A to B is one of its many charms.
Captain Andy runs into Maurella (Kristina Anapau), the spacy girl he had fairy sex with at the end of last season. Jason runs into a girl he knows from some time ago who says he and Sookie are in great danger from the vampires—worse, she tells him that vampires killed Sookie and Jason’s family and will soon kill them all!
Before he can find out anything more, some guards throw Andy and Jason out the cosmic portal—big burst of light!—and they’re on their asses in that grassy field. Run credits to a cover version of Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again.”
So there it is. A smoking gun, why Sook’s been almost predestined to be involved with vamps from the git-go. Or—Ball’s just screwing around with us until something else entirely happens. This is one of the joys of tuning in. But what I’m mostly taking from this is Pam and Eric, the look on both their faces when they realize there’s nothing they can do no matter what they want. Such beautiful flowers are sprouting up in True Blood to soil this fine fifth season.
Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times, gothic.net, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out New York.