Tonight’s meh True Blood was proof double-O positive of the Law of Fives. Seriously, if physicists applied themselves, I trust they’d find the Law of Fives almost as immutable as the Law of Gravity, and not nearly as funny.
As much as tonight’s episode sort of amused us it was also reminding us that it was, in this final Alan Ball-written episode of this final Ball-supervised season, one over-repeated riff, theme or trope away from self parody, accidental camp or worse.
What I mean: a troop of rednecks in Obama masks yelling, “Yes we can!” as they blow up a vampire . . . . Well, can’t speak for you, but that’s pretty much what “trying too hard” looks like in True Blood terms.
But back to the Law of Fives: from The Wire to Alias to that other great vamp show, Angel, five seasons is just the perfect amount. Under, say, four seasons, is cruel undernourishment (Deadwood, Firefly, Terriers) and over five seasons, just wears a show down, out or beyond its strengths, even for titans (much of Lost and Buffy’s respective six and seventh seasons, sadly.)
The issues of time and termination are raised right off after Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård) lead the forces of the Authority to the insane asylum where the batty nihilist Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare) is getting ready to wreck havoc on everything he can find.
“Maybe you’re just bored after one thousand years but you not not make that decision for me,” says Bill to Eric, for not playing along/kissing ass with the Authority.
Eric, alas, is being pulled under by some deep seas of ennui now that he’s separated from Pam, the social context of Fangtasia, the love of Sookie (Anna Paquin and hey, remember her?), and now he learns that his sister Nora (Lucy Griffiths) is a crazed member of the blood cult fundamentalist Sanguinista movement. Skarsgård is such a terrific actor—who knew there were so many colorations of “disinterested because of multi-centennial pain”?
Jason, meanwhile, is pulled in the direction of ultimate discovery: a dream brings the vision of his lost father and a possible truth of his death.
Terry (Todd Lowe) is, as psych professionals might say, totally fucked.
He confronts Arlene with getting wasted in Iraq and his unit killing a family and his killing an old woman after she cursed him. “Now I’m being hunted by an evil smoke monster,” he complains, which when we saw them in a flashback looked just like the fire god from Wrath of the Titans but way smaller. We’ll see what redemption looks like; I’m leery.
The show’s other problematic male, Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), did poorly this week as well. He visited his crazy mom at the convalescent home where Jesus used to work, which meant lots of zany sentences where the name “Jesus” was inappropriately placed in sentences. Please.
At one point in this very randomly structured episode—I find myself writing about it out of sequence to try and enforce a shape on it which the writers didn't supply—Eric and Bill must glamor Sookie—hey, remember her?—lest The Authority have them killed for seeing something they shouldn’t have seen.
Bill goes gallant. He tells her that not only will she not remember this night, she will not recall ever knowing him and furthermore, she will only love those who live in the sun. Oh, Bill.
Eric, meanwhile, tells Alcide (Joe Manganiello and his freakishly well-defined upper body) to forget as well, and to take care of Sookie—and to develop a deep loathing of any physical contact with her forever.
But ten minutes later, Sookie reads Alcide’s mind and undoes all of this glamoring. Back in the day (last season) not remembering important things could power an entire season.
Now, I guess that the only reason the glamor scenes existed was to remind newer viewers what separates Bill (romantic!) from Eric (scamp!).
By the time Russell makes his appearance—"silvered" and bound—for an execution in the Council’s chambers, there’s an electric friction between the forced civil behavior of the council and Russell’s Southern gentleman nihilist nutjob. The performances come alive, but director Daniel Attias’s staging is clumsy.
Russell finds Roman’s notions of “mainstreaming,” of humans living with vampires in peace, to be nonsense. “Peace is for pussies!” he quips, a born politician yelling his first campaign button catch phrase.
Roman pushes the button on his killer I-Stake app but Russell doesn’t die—treachery!—and the episode flames out with Russell stabbing Roman in the chest: cue scratchy old blues record (a favorite, but tired True Blood trick).
Look, this is a not prime rub Blood. Or rather, the show Ball’s presided over for five years is getting some more parts together for the grand finales.
It’s just that Attias, an extremely experienced TV and film director, doesn’t display the needed élan or post-Hammer sleaze panache that Michael Lehmann or Romeo Tirone bring to knottier scripts.
And I worry this problem will leak into next week’s episode. Until then, we have the relationship between newly turned vamp Tara (Rutina Wesley) and maker Pam (Kristin Bauer) continue to complicate. And Hoyt continuing to debase himself to impress Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) or because he really is a skeezy perv in the making while Jessica continues to solidify as the show’s most essentially decent person—whoddathunk?—and poor Sam the shifter (Sam Trammell) finally gets a family together for reals (if the Obama-faced crew doesn’t kill him.)
And Sookie (remember her?) goes with Jason to the fairy nightclub to learn more about their family/vampire issues. Sookie is actually kind of awesome in this episode: she’s discovered the rich world of grown-up self-loathing and Paquin's having hell’s own time not fluttering around that butter-colored set being all distressed and girly. She’s not angry, or sad either, she’s just over this vampire and fairy shit and her part in it. We forget, sometimes, that Paquin is a superlative, not just good, actor.
And that True Blood is, at heart, an incredibly lively, romantic, old school production. The queer hatred it poked fun at way back in 2008 feels way different now after the real Obama’s monumental legal changes, the elegance of Cooper and the acid of Savage changing the lenses but not the disease.
But the times are right, unfortunately, for the desperate, knowing self-gay-hate and pitiful monsters of desperate abjection and real fear of the terribly beautiful Teen Wolf. Even when it’s working, even when it’s delightful, True Blood already has the feel of a relic. I’m just not sure yet of what.
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.