What began as the premium cable version of your typical Southern Gothic vampire drama—a genre established by the likes of New Orleans native and writer Anne Rice—ended last month not with a bang, but an anticlimactic whisper. HBO’s hit series “True Blood,” for all of its campy, at times sensational, plot points completely lost sight of itself in its seventh and final season—and more importantly, buried the relatable tale of leading lady Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) underneath a motley mix of the “Bill factor” and extraneous, poorly executed plot lines.
In Season 1 of the series, adapted from Charlaine Harris’ “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” novels, we’re introduced to Sookie, a Louisiana waitress residing in the fictional small town of Bon Temps. Her social relationships, including her love life, suffer due to the fact that she is a telepath. (You can imagine how much more difficult dating becomes when burdened with the ability to read your partner’s every thought — from the good to the downright nasty.)
Then entered vampire Bill, played by Stephen Moyer—Paquin’s now-real life spouse. He’s a fine order of tall, pale and brooding; he also provides Sookie the silence she’s always craved—seeing as how she’s unable to read the thoughts of the undead. She finds comfort in feeling normal, for once, and the iconic moment of Sookie running across a cemetery on a warm summer’s eve in a billowing white dress to make love to Bill (“Cold Ground”) established that the show —at its core—was centered around their romance, on terms dictated by our female lead.
Fast-forward to Season 7 — burned in the aftermath of the Billith fiasco and turned off to charms of Viking sexpot Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård), Sookie settled down with relatively less damning werewolf Alcide Herveaux (Joe Manganiello).
Maybe because Alcide wasn’t Sookie’s one true love, he dies an unremarkable (though naked) death (“Fire in the Hole”), leaving room for Sookie and the soaperatic Hep-V stricken Bill to reconcile before his overdue true death. Never mind delivering solid closure to what Sookie and Eric once shared, never mind delivering lukewarm closure at best for the unnecessarily tortured Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley).
We’re denied such reconciliation and instead get an arguably sexist spiel from Bill, as part of his argument for his voluntary suicide is insisting that he needs to be out of the picture in order for Sookie to lead a normal life — “normal” apparently defined here as settling down with children. Granted, Bill hails from an older time, but if he’s hip enough to write his own book, then surely he’s hip enough to be aware of modern-day feminist conversations. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with a woman wanting to start a family, the manner in which her choice was made was ultimately not supported, but sullied by Bill’s dying sentiments.
But more interesting than Bill’s man-angst during his final scene was Sookie’s enlightenment — her self-acceptance as a human-fairy hybrid in the form of deciding to keep her light, rather than squandering it on her vampire first love. It’s a metaphor we can relate to, and a running theme within the “True Blood” series—hiding one true’s self, wanting to fit standards of the mainstream, wishing to be different and wanting to escape. Sookie graced our screens as an innocent alienated by her ability and almost came full circle as a slightly hardened, but still hopeful independent, in control of her fate.
“True Blood” should have always been about Sookie—even when sharing screen time with her romantic interests—but that was never the case. Her personal journey was bogged down by useless supernatural lore (the werepanthers of season four, Ifrit of season five), flamboyant fan favorites (the return of Russell Edgington also in season five) and the abrupt prominence of minor characters in the final season, with memorable performances that shone far too late (such as Lettie Mae Thornton, as portrayed by Adina Porter).
This brewing of diverting material was what ultimately robbed Sookie of her light—warping what could have been a decent ending into one seemingly concocted at the last minute, removing most of her agency as a protagonist. The perverse popularity of “True Blood” will make it a cult classic as enduring as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” However, the underutilization of Sookie will remain as unfortunate as her PG-13 silver screen counterpart—Bella Swan.