True Blood: And They All Lived Heteronormatively Ever After

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Also bullshit: I did not have any damn lines!

Also bullshit: I did not have any damn lines!

 

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.

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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.

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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.

True Blood and its stupid Salome/Lillith plots

Hello, and I’ve hit the point where this Lillith thing is driving me so crazy that I’m going to start these reviews back up.

Firstly, the show is trying to take cheap shots at anti-religiousness by bringing in traditional Christian symbols of dangerous feminine sexuality. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to realize that they’re basically turning super-Christian. You see, ALL THE SUBVERSIVE WOMEN ARE VILLAINS.

They are not only villains, but the femme fatales of this show are bent on making Sookie seem chaste, because they are just throwing their vaginas open for any half-decent reason. Lillith wanders in and “God has beautiful tits.” How are Salome and Lillith turning Bill evil? Tits. Across the divide, how is Bud Dearborn turned evil? Tits.

Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. None of the women this season can both have sex and not be evil. Feminine sexuality is the demon, the enemy, and the big bad who will have to be defeated at the end of the year.

Oh, and it’s destructive to all the poor menfolk and innocent womenfolk who get caught up in it. In this episode alone, Hoyt, Sam, the entire Shreveport werewolf pack, Sookie, Mac (Don’t bother to tell me her real name—she’ll always be Mac to me) and Eric are threatened by what feminine sexuality is unleashing. Jason/Hoyt and Eric/Bill’s bromances are particularly targeted and threatened as well.

This, on top of an episode in which a sobbing Jessica ignores Kendra’s valid points and turns into a freaking abused girl. For everyone whose boyfriend has threatened her because he loved her, it is not your fault for making him love you.

So, next week we’ll probably have to watch Bill have more weird sex to fuel otherwise completely illogical character transitions (think about it—he has weird sex, he goes all evil—this seems to be his entire character arc for season 3 and 5), and I predict we’ll have at least one rape apology and one incredibly suicidal move from Sookie I-want-to-be-normal-so-I’ll-just-use-up-all-the-magic-standing-between-me-and-certain-death Stackhouse. And probably a threat to the innocent Emma’s sexuality from Salome.

Isn’t this fun?

True Blood’s Salome

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I can imagine the writer’s meeting: “Let’s have one of the new ancient vampires be an ancient Christian symbol of sex’s badness! Then we can subvert it and create religious controversy!”

So far, this has proved to be perhaps the dumbest True Blood gender idea this side of Lorena (if anyone gets me started I will never stop, so I’m moving on).

Salome has already managed to fuck her way through half the hot males on the show, and she’s had a name for three episodes. The explanation for her desire to seduce both the boys (other than threesome dreams—make it happen Alan!) is that she wanted to find out if they were Sanguinistas. Apparently, she found this out via her vagina.

Seriously, she could have just had a non-sex-ending conversation, which would probably have been a lot more reliable. All this woman is notable for is for sexing. THIS IS NOT HOW TO MODERNIZE AN ANCIENT SEX SYMBOL. Her idea of a weapon is a vagina, which is stupid because it’s an unreliable weapon at best.

And on top of all that, this dangerous symbol of ancient sexuality is clearly going to turn out to be a dangerous symbol of modern sexuality. She was promiscuous then, she’s promiscuous now: she was evil then, she’s evil now.

I mean, seriously, that scene with Nora? The woman practically confessed herself. Worst actor ever, for God’s sake. She’s seduced Meloni so she can gain his confidence—something you’d think he would be able to see through if he’s reached this level of power—and she’s manipulating everyone around her to follow her agenda. And her main way of doing this is via coitus.

The problem with this isn’t the sex itself—it’s the way it’s being used. This woman has no personality beyond her sexuality. It is all her character boils down to. She’s not a person—she a vagina with a person attached. That is the oldest dumb idea about women in the good book, and I find it really depressing that True Blood isn’t smart enough to see through it.

“Congratulations, you’re a grandfather”–True Blood review

Isn’t it odd that our main male characters both have daughters instead of sons? The relationship between a father and his male offspring, usually, is what fiction is all about. Men worry about their sons, about their lines being continued through paternity. Sons worry about how to become their fathers, how to live up to or away from them.

But on this show, both of the fathers have daughters. Neither of them deliberately chose the path of fatherhood, but both of them are faced with losing it and are rather freaked.

Eric chooses the path of full disclosure with Pam, just as he has from the beginning. He tells her everything, and tells her to carry on when he’s gone. The line will continue, and whether it’s going through a woman or a man doesn’t matter. Sex is irrelevant—the bond is about family. Eric talks like it’s an ancient ritual to an ex-madam in a pink track suit: it’s a whole new world.

Bill decides her prefers the more disconnected route, fuzzing the truth with Jessica even as he leaves her for what may be the last time. Jessica completely fails to grasp the gravity of the situation and goes on and on about Sookie (even while I screamed at her to shut up—Bill’s been doing so well!). Bill is the “cool dad,” who can wisecrack about weed but has serious trouble broaching the shit that actually matters. And Jessica is as isolated as she has ever been.

But enough of the gender dynamics of fatherhood—let’s talk about choices again! In the last episode some people had agency and some didn’t, and we watched them pitted against each other. In this episode, everyone got a little bit of agency to use in a bad situation someone else put them into.

Alcide was caught deciding whether to lie about Debbie, whether to forgive Sookie for killing the woman he had loved for most of his life. Lafayette kept reacting to his inner demon’s actions without talking to anyone. Terry and his friend drove up to confront a guy who had been screwing over everyone (A word about the Iraq flashbacks: I know that it was very complicated over there, that good people made bad choices. But I expect it was a whole lot more complicated than it appears to have been here. This is a fucking vampire show—someone else will do a lot better job reflecting on our misadventure in the Middle East).

Bill, Tara, Pam, Eric: they were all put in difficult situations and looked for the best way to make a good choice. None of them were happy with the results, but better to have a little bit of choice than no choice at all.

And now for Stupid Sookie, whose mental breakdown gets her own paragraph. In the last recap I wrote about how Sookie’s choices shape the lives of everyone around her. She’s avoided this obvious truth by sheer thick-headedness, but after hearing about Alcide Lafayette cracks and spills out what everyone’s been thinking for the last few years. Sookie makes the choices in this wacky network of relationships centering around her, and people fucking die.

Sookie immediately switches so deeply into self-hate mode that she completely misses the point. Rather than reflecting on her choices and how they affect others, she gets upset about Alcide no longer wanting to bang her and tries to turn herself into her little brother, not even thinking about what he’ll think. Her actions have set off chains of events, and now Tara, Alcide, Bill, Jessica, Jason, and Lafayette have all become complicit in a murder cover-up that Sookie was dumb to have even started in the first place.

Instead of mulling things like consequences over in her head, Sookie gets drunk. At that point, a romantic set of cause-and-effects kicks off and she ends up screwing with the feelings of all three of her inexplicable paramours. Sookie may be full of self-doubt, full of fear at her own power, but what will be a real plot twist is if she tries to stop. That’s all I want from you, Alan Ball: a scrap of self-awareness from your ego-obsessed protagonist. Is that really too much to ask?

Gaywatch:

Rather depressingly low this week, as the bromance took the episode off for the sire plots. Can’t think of anything else, sorry.

Did you not ask for a man’s head on a platter?

Did you not ask for a man’s head on a platter?

So, episode 3. This is late, but I swear it’s my best yet.

Pam’s coolness continued, and we find out that rather than ritually consenting to her sire-ing she actually forced it. Most people, when they were turned into vampires, did it because they were given little to no choice (Bill, Jessica, Tara) or through some sort of consensual acceptance (Eric and Talbot). Pam brought up the issue, made a decision, and forcefully acted as the writer of her own story.

This episode was just full of women making choices about their stories, from Salome’s double seduction (she gets her own post), to Jessica’s insistence that she and Jason can be friends, to Sookie’s desperate and totally unsuccessful attempts to continue her cover-up. In contrast, other characters like Bill, Eric, Tara, Nora, and Jason are becoming largely defined by their lack of ability to act.

Bill, Eric, and Tara are locked up in cages by people with both good and bad things in mind. Nora is tortured until she breaks (because everyone is honest under torture). Jason’s life, it turns out, was defined when he was raped by a teacher, an act he whose brutal significance he does not even recognize until this point in his life.

Salome’s story about her manipulation by powerful forces into become a symbol she both embraces and rejects can be seen in everyone’s stories this year. The manipulators and the manipulated: the line between them is blurring. Sookie has manipulated everyone around her, looking to shape her world however she wants it to look. Everyone else is ruled by the choices she makes, by her decision to dump them or screw them, by her decision to fire a gun and then hide a body, by her decision to lie or tell the truth, to let others lie to her or force the truth out of them.

The other characters circle around her at a distance, many of them never even talking to or about her. Their lives are shaped by her influence, but other foces are at work. Pam’s act of defiance against Eric has been followed by lifetimes of unswaying devotion. Eric and Bill, once the most powerful vampires on the show, are now at the mercy of an iphone app.

No one can really control their own lives anymore on this show. The decisions they make are not always their own, and the lives they destroy could as easily belong to a loved one as to themselves. How the hell everyone’s going to get out of this in one piece is anyone’s guess.

Gaywatch:

Bromance, bromance, blah blah blah. Less fun this week than other weeks, although the elevator scene made the episode for me. Also, the eye fucking in that flashback was highly enjoyable.

Lala’s trying to be his “fabulous self” and turning into a weird trippy demon instead, so no help from that quarter.

Stupid Sookie:

And that was the shortest cover-up in the history of completely unnecessary and stupid cover-ups. She practically told Andy she knew everything (you’d think she’d know how to lie convincingly by now) and then she dropped the bomb on Alcide. I hate to tell you Sookie, but not everything is about the feelings you have in your heart about killing people and stuff.

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A Lady’s True Blood Episode 2

And we’re off to the super-crazy shit! Damn, Meloni is having fun as a wacko vampire kinglike-dude, and we’re having fun watching him. The Authority may be the coolest subculture this show has ever constructed, what with their staid lobbies and intercom systems. Office culture meets politics meets vampires—very cool.

The ladies are certainly getting the better half of the deal in this episode, as each one except Nora seizes power. It’s revealed that the vampiric origin story involves a female as progenitor of their race, and two thirds of the Authority are women as well.

Pam’s backstory is being given (finally), and we see that she was indeed a hooker, and that her accent is affected. Pam was the cool kind of prostitute though, one with a nice brothel and pretty dresses, as well as an impressive backbone. She’s moved a long way from victim to victimizer, and she’s desperate to get back into her position of power, or her relationships with Eric.

Tara turns out to be a completely wild vampire, making Jessica’s early days look stable. She’s under Pam’s control, but no one else can even get near her. Personally, I like her a lot better when she doesn’t have any lines.

Jessica is having fun flaunting her power, throwing keggers and showing off her vampire skills. She kicks Steve Newlin’s ass in more ways than one, in a lovely bit of anti-conservative Christian sentiment. Remember, Jessica’s father was a tyrannical conservative white guy too, and she really enjoys kicking the crap out of anyone like him.

Gaywatch:

And the bromance continues, as Bill and Eric quite impressively stick their necks out for each other. I sincerely doubt this’ll go totally gay on us, but hey, last time I thought that the season 3 kickoff made me eat my words. Remember that scene? Sam’s porno dream?

Also, Steve Newlin proves to be a lot more comfortable with his vampirism than with his homosexuality. That’s a funny one, isn’t it?

Stupid Sookie:

Surprisingly restrained this episode, Sookie did act bitchy to a guy with a big gun and stake collection. Unwise, but coming from Sookie it was positively sensible.

A Lady’s True Blood

A Lady’s True Blood

As a rule, guilty pleasure shows shouldn’t be subjected to analysis. I’m going to break that rule and rip True Blood up and down for all its insanity and periodic stupidity, and then I’m going to stop screaming at the TV and blog about True Blood and its gender dynamics. I’ll also do a gaywatch, just for fun.

Not to let Game of Thrones monopolize the taboos, we found out who the vampire chick in the promos is—Eric’s sister/girlfriend. Yeah, apparently Eric’s in love with this woman no one’s ever heard of because she works directly for the authority. So, we’ve got a cool, gorgeous, kick-ass girl taking care of and ordering around our male leads. Good one, True Blood.

All the girls were in full fellowship/caretaker mode thisy episode, with Sookie taking care of Tara and Lafayette, Nora taking care of Eric and Bill, and Pam going to ground with Tara. The women of True Blood are numerous but often stupid, and Arlene and Holly fulfilled the episode’s clueless/stupid quota with some help from Andy.

The only interesting part of the episode was its contrast between solitude and partnership. Pam, Sookie, Lafayette, Eric, and Bill all drew strength from strange bedfellows, while Andy, Jason, Sam, and Terry all suffered in their loneliness. Television today is angling towards a “feminine” group-focused dynamic, and True Blood is along for the ride.

Gaywatch:

Big damn gayness with Steve Newlin’s “I’m a gay vampire American” confession to Jason, who was very nice about rejecting him. Steve then went psycho and had to get his ass kicked by Jessica, but somehow I doubt he’ll stay away for long.

Eric and Bill had some serious gay vibes this week: cleaning together, spooning in the trunk, and then Eric grabbing Bill’s hand and saying he won’t leave him (are the writers competing to see how many fanfics they can make canon without actually going all gay?) The vibes ended with Nora’s arrival, which is okay because she’s pretty damn cool, even if her plan blew up in her face.

Other than that, just the normal homoerotic vibes around male confrontation, and despite a good showing from Pam no lesbianness at all L.

Stupid Sookie!

Yes, Sookie, please, tell Alcide about how you deliberately murdered his girlfriend out of vengeance, because being too honest with large violent men is a good plan!