Sunday night’s HBO lineup included both the series finale of Entourage and the season 4 finale of True Blood—two vastly different shows, herein considered together not only because they play back-to-back on the same network, but because, somehow, women have come to serve the same purpose on both (even though one is set in affluent, glamorous Hollywood and the other in working class, quotidian Bon Temps, Louisiana). Magical agents and magical witches aside, somehow, these two shows have created a narrative economy wherein women serve as motivating agents for men… ciphers largely devoid of their own desires and goals, or as a friend put it “Sookie Stackhouse is the MacGuffin of Bon Temps. She could easily just be replaced by a magical vase that everyone really likes.”
In fairness, Entourage was never going to be a feminist vehicle, but at its best (this season particularly), the show displayed some awareness of the utter ineligibility of its male characters. Vincent Chase is a mostly shallow womanizer who uses his good (ok, great) looks and charm as a shield against intimacy. Ari Gold, for all his last-minute, grandstanding mea culpas, does sell out his wife and kids at every given opportunity. And Eric! Oh, Eric… the only kinda, mostly good guy. You did totally sleep with your ex-fiancé’s (ex) stepmother and lie about it. When the ladies on the show finally seemed to (pardon the expression) grow a pair and reject these louts, I was (perhaps naively) heartened. Until last night.
The smart, no-nonsense journalist (Alice Eve) who accurately eviscerates Vince for his inability to connect with women on a deep level pulls a 180 and decides to marry him after one epic date and a few “c’mon, he’s a great guy” speeches from his friends and exes. Mrs. Ari (a character who until this season did not have a first name, but was only known by her husband’s… wow) retracted her fully justified demand for a divorce after years of neglect and humiliation and is last seen in a bathing suit and heels, bending over her husband, with her “assets” squarely to the camera. And the girl Eric betrayed and impregnated… well, she’s ok with all that now and they can totally live happily ever after. Ouch.
Entourage doesn’t exactly get a pass for this level of absurd misogyny, but at least the show always presented itself as a “boys’ club.” True Blood, however… True Blood—the brainchild of a female author… the series centered on a strong, magical female protagonist… the show that gave us Pam, the best female vampire ever on television. I’m disappointed.
Sookie’s character arc is hinged on which centuries-old vampire she’s currently sleeping with, how she can use her magic to save him (or how her magic-ness has rendered her a target in desperate need of his saving), and occasionally, how many excuses for skimpy sundresses she can cram into one episode. Her best friend (and perpetual victim) Tara has gone from a righteously pissed-off hellcat to an ineffective, inconsistent whiner. And even Jessica, the new vampire on the block, has to sublimate her strength and appetites so the human men who lust after her can work out their issues with each other.
I applaud True Blood’s creators for branching out creatively and not sticking strictly to the plot lines laid out in the book series upon which it’s based. But would it kill them to remember that in the books, women (and Sookie especially) were the focus, not the set-dressing? I’m guardedly optimistic for Season 5.
Emilie Spiegel is a grad student, studying the effects of Media Cultures on young women. She lives in Brooklyn.