This Sunday, HBO's "True Blood," better known as the series that gave "Six Feet Under" creator Alan Ball an excuse to eroticize human/vampire sex on a level beyond Stephenie Meyers's sexiest dreams, begins its final season, to the sadness of some and the relief of others.
After all, some shows are cut short too soon, but some maybe outstay their welcome. In the case of "True Blood," the drama surrounding plucky psychic waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and her friends, family and vampire lovers stopped being a must-watch around Season 3, when the show's need for twists and sexual misconduct began to strain credibility, and most viewers dropped off.
Disclosure: That includes me. I watched "True Blood" on the regular for its first three seasons, then drifted away for a number of forgotten reasons. But I dug into HBO's screeners for Season 7 this week armed with friends who have kept up with the show, Wikipedia entries and an acceptance that I might not understand every reference or plot beat.
And watching the premiere of Season 7 was a fascinating, yet complicated experience. First off, it's pretty much essential to check out our post about what episodes of the show you should watch, if you've fallen behind.
But if you don't want to check in with pre-Season 7 events, here's the first thing to know: If you're looking to enjoy "True Blood"'s final season with no preparation, get ready for it to begin right away with blood and grief and regret.
The blood and grief and regret are immediately followed by a "Walking Dead"-esque early apocalypse narrative, thanks to the creation of villains worse than vampires. The simplest way to describe these new foes is "vampire zombies" -- officially, they're infected with a virus ("Hep-V") that causes "the true death" and makes their need to consume humans all-consuming, They're technically just vampires but worse, but that doesn't make the stakes any less dire.
(Or the need for stakes any less important -- look, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"'s been off the air for over 10 years, I miss vampire puns.)
The mythology of "True Blood," at this point, is too dense to penetrate if you haven't watched for a few seasons; the first two episodes made available for critics are full of characters you might not remember, new relationships that might confuse.
That said, there are touches of nostalgia added for the long-time fan -- references to events from earlier in the show's run, flashbacks to the first season. Also, the human-on-vampire-or-other-mystical-creature sex is reliably hot and weird, Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten)'s often-shirtless dumb bravado is reliably adorable, and the invasion of vampire zombies (which appears to be the season's primary plot element) not only gives the show real focus, but draws out some strong moments of drama.
Can a show still be satisfying if you're not fully up to date on the backstory? It depends on how much fondness remains for the characters and the world of the show. In the case of "True Blood," I found myself reconnecting with characters I'd thought I'd forgotten, but ended up excited to see again.
Under showrunner Brian Buckner (who took over for the final season) the series has a new drive, and relationships seem grounded in reality even when the actual plot gets weird. "True Blood" is still a show about vampires and werewolves and fairies and humans having sex and being mad at each other, but as the ending approaches, it now seems to know exactly what kind of story it's telling.
So you might have forgotten how to get to Bon Temps, Louisiana. But with the right map, you might yet find your way back.