I Wanna Do Bad Things to You: Let’s Argue the Awesome (and the Awful) about True Blood

True Blood on HBOI love True Blood. As I describe in Chapter 7, “Undead Americans,” of Monsters in America (which you can download for free all day Monday), it has been a much-needed expansion and reinvention of the vampire mythos. Although a superior show on almost all counts, Buffy The Vampire Slayer mainly used the vampire as a metaphor. Twilight, as you can also read about in Monsters, redefined the vampire out of existence and attempted to use the fangless creature Meyer created for ideological purposes.

True Blood, as the title implicitly suggests, brought the monster back, eyes hungry, fangs out, both scary and hot as hell. The Monsters are real monsters and yet placed within a matrix of human relationships and social issues that allows for both satire and pathos.

Best of all, the show is part of a cultural tidal wave helping to redefine how we think about complex topics like human sexuality, particularly same-sex partnership. Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) has become a favorite for most fans of the show and, while the fact that he is gay is integral to the character, he is in no sense simply “the gay character.” Next season, we need more Lafayette.

And yet, there are some tiresome aspects to this undead dramedy. In fact, since I mostly sing the show’s praises in the book, let me take this opportunity to criticize some of its missteps. Let’s see if you agree with me – praise or damn my insights (or lack thereof) in the comments section below.

I’m glad the Bill/Sookie relationship we are supposed to be fascinated with has been less a focus this season. However, I’m not sure the triangle with Eric Northman is much of an improvement. Stories of vampire/human romance have had so many iterations that I simply cannot follow another. Joss Whedon did this better with Buffy and Angel and knew how to dispose of the relationship once it threatened to take over the narrative. Alan Ball seems to be milking Sookie the Fairy’s romantic life for all its worth.

Mingling romance with monstrosity produced at least one major flaw this season. Marnie’s necromancy allowed her to turn Eric into her puppet and then to become a gelded version of himself. He walked around for a good part of the season all doe-eyed and such.

What was the narrative point of this? Obviously to give Team Eric the chance to watch him moon over Sookie, stare deeply into her eyes and generally be a weird nuisance with lots of feelings to share. I genuinely feared that this meant the Twilight of the series.

In fact, only in the final episodes did Northman get his badassery back – with some remaining residue of whininess. This feels like an incredible waste of a character. You’ve got a thousand-year-old Viking vampire. He’s played by Alexander Skarsgard who can amp up the ice-cold cruelty and the murderous rage. And it’s a good idea to make him suffer from necromancer-induced puppy love?

Maybe Sookie herself is a big part of the problem. I love Anna Paquin and find her literally perfect for the role. But I think the actor may also be bigger than the role. For much of the series, Sookie has been primarily a victim of love and circumstance. We’ve watched her be treated as if she were property. We’ve seen her mostly acquiesce to all of this. She shows off some occasional endearing spunkiness but that doesn’t seem to count for much since she’s ultimately a victim of her vampires, the ultimate fang-banger.

In the meantime, Tara has emerged as one of the most interesting characters as has scary Pam with her complex relationship with Eric. Allowing Jessica to come into her own this season has placed Sookie even more into the shadows. I think that’s ok. This is just not Sookie’s show anymore.

Where can the show go now? The good news is literally anywhere. The writers not only have vampires to play with but also can investigate the world of werewolves, shifters, magic and ghosts. Grounded in the rich and textured mythology of southern regionalism, True Blood will likely continue to be the premier American Monster Show. By turns terrifying, hilarious, shocking, sexy and deeply moving, it’s perhaps the definitive horror narrative of our time.

What I’m Watching: The Season finale of True Blood of course. Also, hoping to finally see Duncan Jones’ Source Code on Blu-Ray in the next day or so. Moon was one of my favorite films in 2009 so I’m sorry I missed Jones’ second effort when it was in theatres.

What I’m listening to: Yazoo does a great job on their reissues and “Blind Willie McTell: The Early Years” is no exception. Some essential performances from the late 20s, early 30s. “Brake Down Engine Blues” is a particular favorite, as is “Georgia Rag.” Also, anybody else listening to Titus Andronicus? You should be.

What I’m reading: My students are reading Carol Karlsen’s The Devil in the Shape of a Woman this week so I am too. This is a great study of witchcraft and gender in colonial America. Still on my Ligotti kick as well.

What I’m playing: Dead Island was disappointing for the first hour. Now I can’t get enough. More on this in a future post.

Later this week, we’ll be running part 2 of my feminism and horror reflection. But, up next. “Star Wars as a Monster Movie” to celebrate (?) the release of the saga on Blu-Ray.

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