Sookie Stackhouse has been officially dethroned as the lead in her own show. That’s been clear to anyone watching for quite a while, but last night we saw that, forever after, this was the story of Bill Compton’s return to humanity. But not just any humanity–a specific type of heteronormative, nuclear-family oriented masculinity.
When this show kicked off, it was about a gay couple in the Deep South. That was it: everything was linked to that metaphor, from catchphrases like “God hates fangs” to the way people reacted around Bill and Sookie. It was thus about a subversion of the norm, of a young woman who broke out of her cultural blinders and chose a man with whom she would never able to have a “normal” life.
This entailed rejecting the idea of “normal.” It meant she had to face a world full of crazy. It actually put her life in danger, but she stood by her decision. As she dug deeper and deeper into the world of vampires, she was changed until she herself could never be considered “normal.”
But at the beginning of season 3, this stopped being Sookie Stackhouse’s story. It became Bill’s. For the entire year, all Sookie did was react to Bill, to his dumb ass decisions, his actions, his lies and his love. And from the next year onward, Sookie was only tangentially related to the plot, more likely to get in the way of it than to steer it–the main actor, the one to whom everyone reacted, was Bill.
But in this past year, as True Blood has become more (frankly) self-indulgently soapy, it looked like Sookie might have regained her position as lead. Bill was barely in the first few episodes, and he spent his time reacting to Sookie, rather than forcing her to react to him. But Sookie’s story ended when she was accepted by the town at the Stackhouse House Party–everyone embracing her in spite of being a “freak.” So, on an individual level, the abnormal had been accepted. But the show wasn’t really about telepaths–it was about freaking vampires.
Once that vein bloomed on Bill, he became the lead again. Sure, Sookie gave it to him, and she jumped his bones, but Bill refused the antidote in spite of her.
So it’s Bill Compton’s story. Who is Bill, really? He’s a heteronormative white male patriarch. He never figured out how to grow and change, never learned how to put his family and the life he didn’t get to lead to rest. He never believed he could be anything but Death, because he embraced basic divisions like man-woman, life-death, good-evil.
In this vision, there are two paths: the normal, “right” path, and the subversive “wrong” one. To engage as closely as possible in a basic heteronormative vision of family is “right.” That’s what Jessica did, marrying Hoyt so that Bill could give her away. It’s what Jason did, giving up his randy ways to have a passel of children (whom he probably can barely support with his salary, incidentally, but that’s another thing).
Bill believed he could not, must not be with Sookie because then he would be denying her the “best parts” of a life. By that, he meant she would not be able to follow the script, to adhere to a centuries old patriarchal notion of what is “normal.” He could not open his eyes to the world, to the reality of the thousand different breeds of normal that exist now. He could not change, could not even understand what change meant, and so he died rather than continue trying to deal with a world he’d never understood.
And, as I said, “they all lived heteronormatively ever after.” The final scene sees most of our characters neatly paired off, some with kids, others apparently happy without. Sure, there are some vampires at the table–but they’re not subversive any more. They’ve been assimilated, just as Lafayette and James have been. They are as close to “normal” as possible, and they are present at a feast that is the definition of American “normality.”
Sookie’s happy ending is some random brunette guy with sideburns, and her baby. She sits not at the head of the table, but at her husband’s left hand–just as women have done for all time. This isn’t something she chose, not really: Bill forced her choice, literally forced her hand. What he gave her, what he died for, was so that she could have this idealistic, “normal” life.
And this is bullshit.
The story of Bill Compton is of a man whose tragedy was that the only way back to his humanity was not love–it was death for that love. But to accept that, to make that the ending of True Blood, undermines the years of subversive storytelling. Yeah, sure, True Blood was always a show about hot vampires having sex and blowing up in fountains of blood. But it was also about people who, by choice or by necessity, were different, and how they functioned in that difference.
It’s pretty common for supernatural/sci-fi shows like this to place family as the central value, to place love and reproduction as the most important things in life. But because they are so wacky, include so many ways of being human, they usually send a progressive message about family. People build family out of the strangest situations, pull together different forms of “normal” that are good, and true, and happy–but bear little or no resemblance to what Bill had in mind, or what we saw in that final image.
Because the story was ultimately Bill’s journey to death, it sent a regressive message. He should absolutely not have killed himself: he should have manned-up, promised both himself and Sookie that he would do better this time, and set about creating a life. It may have taken a more unusual form than the life he returned to by being buried with his family, but that wouldn’t have made it any less true.
That story, there, was what True Blood promised us at the beginning. Creating, by will and by love, a life that was not obligated to an ancient cultural script for its foundation. Instead, Bill so took over the show, he had so much trouble looking past the idea of himself and the world as static (in sharp contrast to Eric, always changing with the times in his quest to pursue “life”), that the show ended up being a backwards step, a story about accepting change only in palatable doses, accepting people only when they agree to pretend as much as they can that they are exactly like you–and that all anyone wants is to be exactly like you.