True Blood, Season 6: Episodes 1 and 2 – “Who Are You, Really” and “The Sun”
Directed by Stephen Moyer (1) and Dan Attias (2)
Written by Raelle Tucker (1) and Angela Robinson (2)
Airs Sunday nights at 9 on HBO
Love it, hate it or stand somewhere in between, True Blood has ventured into almost royal territory. The only other two HBO dramas that have made it to a sixth season have been The Sopranos (widely considered the first or second best TV show of all time alongside HBO brethren The Wire) and Oz (the utterly spectacular predecessor to The Sopranos that made the latter show possible). While Game of Thrones has caught up with True Blood in terms of viewership and will likely keep surpassing it in the coming year, True Blood still has a huge fanbase for a show that airs on a pay-to-view channel. Most critics and probably a good part of that fanbase, though, is now asking: why? Why have viewers not outgrown True Blood in the wake of a huge decline in the quality of its writing and the flourishing of a much better vampire show in The Vampire Diaries? Approaching this show from a critical perspective is a difficult task at this point, because the natural impulse is to be almost cynical about how ridiculous the show has become (ridiculous in a bad way as opposed to the fun kind of ridiculous that it was in its first season). Kate and Simon over on The Televerse talked about how one of the few strategies left in an ideal world would be to grab a few of the current characters, kill all the rest and reset the show. True Blood has become so immersed in the rickety mythology it has set up for itself, though, that even though I would completely support that decision, it just won’t happen.
One of the things Kate and Simon discussed and which I sympathize with is True Blood‘s cowardice at killing off some of its characters. Granted, many characters in the show are already “dead,” but in a high-stakes, ultra-violent series like this, it’s just confusing how long this cast has remained in tact. While I’ve never really agreed that Game of Thrones is brave enough to kill off any character at any point, it’s absolutely brave enough to kill off characters in general. And that has really helped its storytelling not just because it evokes that high-stakes quality but because it makes it easier to deal with problematic characters and stories. True Blood is rife with problematic characters and stories right now and has been for some time. The only recent instance in which there was a meaningful departure happened towards the end of season five when Hoyt was glamoured to forget Jason and Jessica. The fact that that moment was actually really emotional and compelling given that Hoyt had become a shell of the character he used to be should tell you that True Blood is still capable of doing good and interesting things (or maybe just that Deborah Ann Woll is a great and misused actress). That, in turn, might explain why so many people are sticking around this late in the game. But there isn’t enough of that kind of material in the writing to excuse the nonsense that occupies so much of the 50+ minutes every week.
And nonsense there is aplenty in the early stages of season six. Rather than focus too much on that, I think it’s possibly more important to talk about what True Blood is doing right still. Structurally, the show still owns the cliffhanger. This is pulp and addictive TV at its base level, which it executes without fail. Almost no time passes between episodes and seasons of True Blood, so the effectiveness of the cliffhanger is even more interesting since it really illustrates just how bat-shit insane things are in Bon Temps. There are the occasional moments of self-awareness regarding this when characters like Andy make comments along the lines of “…Fuck this town.” That, too, is something that can be put into the positive column for True Blood: it’s well aware of what it is even if what it is isn’t very good and being aware of it doesn’t make it any better. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it’s not meant to be, since the greater crime would be to aspire to true drama and leave behind the camp that still makes the show fun from time to time if only viscerally. And that’s not to say that True Blood isn’t capable of being dramatic. “The Sun” has a sequence near the end in which Jessica is sitting in front of a catatonic Bill (or Billith, as he will be called in these reviews for the rest of the season) praying for all her friends – including the absent Hoyt. Again, maybe it’s just Deborah Ann Woll owning the material, but it comes off as a touching montage. Unfortunately, the episode doesn’t end on that note and goes back to a huge reveal (Billith can now see into the future), but it’s worth noting those moments where True Blood is drawing you in without relying on cheap laughs from characters like Jason and Lafayette.
So, where does True Blood have to take us in this sixth season for us to feel any better about it? The unfortunate reality of that answer is that there’s probably nowhere this version of this show can go to “win back” fans. With Alan Ball off the team, this show doesn’t have much life left. The writers have to be aware of that, though – that this could very well be the last season or, at best, the penultimate season. With that in mind, they’ve written themselves into a good position. The stakes don’t get much higher than this: the reality of war is at hand, the vampire god has entered into the picture and one of that god’s subordinates has found a way to leave the shadow realm he was banished into after killing Sookie and Jason’s parents. As far as super-villains go, that’s as good as it’s going to get. Wars always mean casualties, too, so now is the time to kill off characters when the moments arise. There are still a lot of interesting relationships left, including Pam/Tara and now Sookie/Ben. And there are still peripheral storylines that can be redeemed (Alice had a great moment towards the end of last season in which he earned his place as pack leader and set his fellow wolves straight about things changing, so I’m hopeful that he doesn’t just descend into more nonsense than has already been set up). I think there’s little to no chance that True Blood can bookend itself with a Billith/Sookie story since Billith is off in a world of his own, but there’s a chance for him to go back to the “generous” kind of vampire Sookie called him in the season five finale and go down in martyrdom that gives some closure for that relationship.
At the same time, some things feel like lost causes. Sam has been put into what should be an interesting position, but I just don’t care whenever he pops up on screen. It’s looking like they’re really putting effort into him becoming a spokesperson as a shifter and to holding onto Emma now that Luna has died (and at the expense of making Alcide into a “bad guy”), but neither of those things really fit well into everything else that’s happening with the other characters. Sam has never really been a major player as far as the great moments of this series are concerned, so it’s really frustrating when – like Game of Thrones – too much time is given to him and other supporting characters who end up feeling like distractions from the various other things going on. I’m sad to say, but Lafayette, too, has become uninteresting since Jesus got killed off, so pairing him with Sam right now is making those scenes aggravating.
But at the end of the day, there’s always something that makes me smile in an episode of True Blood. That picture at the top of Eric in disguise is just one example. The show knows how to have fun, and we got very used to having fun with it. It has lost its way quite a bit since the fairly simple first season (of all the concepts introduced since then, the fairy aspect has been the most tiresome), but there’s still a possibility of eliciting those fun moments more often. When Warlow came into the picture, for example, I was immediately reminded of the monster in the Jeepers Creepers film series. That first film was a film that also knew how to have fun. It wasn’t aspiring to anything much further than that. It had no way of going down as one of the best horror films of its time. It just had a story to tell and thought that it might be able to entertain some people along the way. That’s all I’m asking of True Blood at this point. I know it’s never going to be a great show. But I don’t think I’m going too far when I ask: please just entertain me once more.