True Blood: A Season Three Review
Posted by therebelprince on September 21, 2010
I’m not exactly the target audience for True Blood: I have no interest in vampires, I don’t particularly care for ‘relationship’ shows, and I don’t have a very high tolerance for camp. So I entered the show’s first season from a removed perspective and watched with relative indifference as a mysterious killer slew the town’s waitresses, and a toothy blonde fell for a soulful vampire. It wasn’t really until season two that I got invested: partly because of the expansion of the vampire/human politics side of things (a genuine goldmine that the series seems to treat only as a catalyst for further tragedy), and partly because of the rip-roaring performance of one of my favourite small-screen actresses, Michelle Forbes, who took the part of Maryann the Maenad and ran with it.
So we come to the third season: and for every element that Alan Ball has refined to perfection, there are a few where I’m afraid we can often see the strings. This season, True Blood churned out several plots in twelve-episodes that other shows would sow for years, and yet still left Lafayette and Sam stranded around the end of their story’s second act.
Well, let’s go step-by-step:
* Sookie and Bill: a love-story for the ages. Or, rather, what, six weeks now? Seriously, I spend half my time watching this show just wondering how long it has been since these two met. The biggest flaw with this show is also its greatest asset: events seem to just happen – bam bam bam – without a moment to catch your breath, or to catch the character motivation. Sookie and Bill have broken up and reconciled so many times that I struggle to care about their relationship. He’s certainly not good for her, so I’m not sure it matters that she may be the best thing that’s ever happened to him. I was sceptical of both Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin when we began this journey, but I’ve grown to admire both of their performances. When written well, the characters don’t need each other, but the best scenes this year, tellingly, were those in which they were content as a couple. I don’t know where the books are headed, but I damn sure hope that these two crazy kids either get together or stay apart. Bring back the drama in season six once we’ve forgotten about it.
* Russell Edgington. When the series first started, I recall everyone getting flustered about Eric before he even appeared. In fact, we barely saw Eric in season one, and yet he was the talk of every internet forum in sight. Alexander Skarsgard is smokin’, I agree, but it seemed as if – beyond fans who had read the books – we were mostly just geeking out about the idea of an ageless blonde Nordic vampire with a penchant for nakedness and human flesh. It was love for an idea, not necessarily for anything being represented on screen. Russell Edgington, on the other hand, earned every moment of praise. Somehow Denis O’Hare managed to transcend the B-Grade horror film dialogue and turn in a performance which bravely combined camp and genuine terror. Ripping the heart out of news anchors live on the air has never been more fun.
* The vampire/human politics: much much MUCH more interesting. I’m not sure I like the fact that behind each villainous authority there is another (the latest actually being called ‘The Authority’), but the idea that the world is actually on the brink of social change because of the petty motivations of these beings is lovely. It’s just a pity that the writers have chosen to focus on witches and were-panthers. Yes. Were-panthers.
* Were-panthers. Jason Stackhouse, the show’s most consistently entertaining character, spent twelve episodes pursuing a white trash ho who turned out to be a were-panther. She’s like a werewolf, except she’s a panther. Do I need to go on?
* Lafayette, meanwhile, got stuck in one giant holding pattern but managed to capture our attention more often because of the genuine chemistry between Nelsan Ellis and Kevin Alejandro, as his suitor Jesus. It wasn’t the waste of Alfre Woodard that got me, or the ridiculousness that another main character is going to have some kind of power. It was the fact that – like with Jason and his obviously-supernatural-from-the-first-time-they-had-sex girlfriend – Jesus was clearly hiding something big. And the series decided it was best to keep it from us for a whole season. When, in the finale, Jason became Mayor of Hotshot and Lafayette got a hint that he was a witch, the response was “so what now?”, not “what a climax!”. I adore the fact that – outside of the ‘big bad’ element of the series – True Blood has ignored the conventions of season-long storytelling (as 30 Rock‘s Jack says to an end-of-year-lamenting Liz Lemon, “What are you talking about? It’s May.”), but this just felt like it’s asking too much of us, to be honest.
* Sam. Well, Sam’s storyline was functional, really. I didn’t hate it as much as some – in fact I was moved by the pain of Sam’s mother, forced by poverty and a gift she detests to perform in bloodsports, and I really enjoyed the performance of Marshall Allman as Sam’s brother. Allman is an actor I’ve enjoyed since he first appeared on Prison Break, and I was glad to see him get to express his range. But the last minute retcon that Sam was a former jewel thief, and his subsequent confrontation with Tommy just seemed to hammer home the show’s main problem: it can’t sustain a storyline.
Everything this year felt as if we were running at breakneck speed, but getting nowhere. It was brilliant that Bill buried Eric in cement, but why not leave him there for a few episodes? Why resurrect him… in the next scene? There are a thousand other examples of this peripatetic plotting, but all they’ve done is rob each cliffhanger of its impact. (Particularly when that cliffhanger happens in the middle of an episode). I understand why the show is doing this: with a vast cast of characters, many of whom – cf Arlene and Terry – are already bordering on redundant, you need to keep your plates spinning. But once in a while, I’d like someone to just take a rest.
* As Tara did. After three seasons of being fodder for vampires, maenads and werewolves, Tara managed to have one quiet episode, and to have a realistic reaction to the situation. (If “realistic” can be applied here.) Since I don’t assume the show will skip ahead in time, I hope we follow Tara on the road for a few episodes. I’d hate for season four to start the very next week, and for poor old Tara to turn around at the first road marker she comes to.
Well, enough from me, I think. It didn’t really come through in my post, but – since about the final third of season one – I’ve always enjoyed this show. Every episode is by turns funny, shocking, disturbing and beautifully presented. I’ve accepted True Blood as glorious camp, but I just hope it can find its centre a bit next year. Just because the book’s plotlines are so scattered – and from what I hear, Eric has a true stinker of a storyline coming up – doesn’t mean the series has to be.
* I didn’t mention Jessica and Hoyt’s relationship. Suffice it to say: I love them. The confrontation between Hoyt and his family was a bit cartoonish (even for this show), but I’m truly glad these two are working out. For how long is another question.
* Arlene is pregnant from a sexual encounter she presumably had before the first season, and she’s still not showing. Isn’t that incredible?
* Such a tragedy to see the Magister go, since Zeljko Ivanek had infinitely more presence than Miss Evan Rachel Wood.
* If William Sanderson’s Sheriff Dearborne is truly gone – my hopes were buoyed by the fact that he remained in the opening credits all season – I’ll lament his loss, but Chris Bauer has done wonderfully with his role also.
* The last thing I want is for this show to become X-Men, but I really hope that we can explore the interactions between the species some more, as we did with the werewolf/vampire coalition this year. Some of these interactions must go back centuries or even millennia; let’s get this series some definitive mythology.
* Also didn’t mention Alcide. Joe Manganiello is doing fine in the part – it’s kind of a perfunctory role but he has the body and the look – so I’m holding off comment until I know if he serves any larger purpose.
* Props to Ryan Kwanten. He’s taken a character who could so easily have been irritating, redundant or just plain idiotic, and imbued him with so many redeeming features that he’s now one of the most enjoyable characters on television. Amazingly enough considering…
* There are were-panthers.