True Blood – Retrospective

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HBO’s ratings winner True Blood met the true death last week in a finale that divided fan opinion. Some loved it, others loathed it. But then again, most finales divide the fans – there is always somebody unsatisfied.

So was ending True Blood the right decision? In its seventh year the show had admittedly lagged behind in terms of viewing figures and creative input. Some of the storylines were dire. That said, the show’s final run of episodes drew in large audiences for a cable show that had been on air for that long, and it was still attracting more viewers than most of HBO’s other shows.

HBO’s programming director Michael Lombardo recently said: ‘This season, True Blood is one of the highest rated shows across the board. It gets over 10 million views an episode. But the minute you feel you’re airing it for the numbers we start questioning it.’ There is no denying that, story-wise, the show had lost its way in recent years, and the general consensus of the fans was that the showrunners had simply run out of ideas.

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Originally airing in 2008, True Blood’s first season was a creative success. It drew upon The Southern Vampire Mysteries‘ first novel Dead Until Dark, written by Charlene Harris, but developed a lot of the peripheral characters. The novels are told from the first person, and therefore the only character who the readers are privy to is that of Sookie Stackhouse, telepath-come-fairy. Amongst its grand roster of characters, True Blood expanded the roles of lovable Jason Stackhouse, brooding Eric Northman and sassy Lafayette Reynolds. The first season was incredibly true to its source material and as such pleased fans old and new alike.

It is generally accepted amongst the fans that the show reached its peak in season three. Once the fantastic Russell Edgington departed and was replaced by Marnie Stonebrook the show faltered somewhat. The fourth season implemented a time-jump to take the show a year into the future. This paid off substantially in terms of storytelling, but as such it drew Sookie away from her vampire beaus, Bill and Eric, as the viewers knew them.

The fourth book, Dead to the World, features a sex scene between an amnesiac Eric and recently-single Sookie in a shower. The relationship between Sookie and Eric really begins in the fourth book, and it’s one which fans of the book (and later the shows) embraced. This relationship didn’t transfer well to the show. In the novels their relationship unfolds over 10 books. In the show their relationship begins and ends in just one season. And that wasn’t enough for the fans, even though there was ample Eric on show. Apparently three sex scenes in as many episodes weren’t enough to appease the Sookie/Eric shippers and it is here that the viewers began to jump ship.

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The fifth season was bad. There isn’t really a single good storyline amongst the 12 episodes. Due to Anna Paquin’s real-life pregnancy, Sookie’s role is reduced noticeably to a blundering plot about an ageless vampire who is after her fairy blood. Bill and Eric grow tedious of the Vampire Authority presence, as do the viewers. Lala becomes depressive, the weres made for hard viewing and Russell’s return was nowhere near as brilliant as it should have been. The season started off promising with Tara being turned into a vampire by Pam, but that storyline stalled sometime after the third episode. As such this season can be skipped entirely. Bill turns into a god – that’s pretty much all you need to know.

The sixth and penultimate season saw show creator Alan Ball step down and Brian Buckner take his place. Broad in scope and genuinely impressive, the sixth season somewhat managed to recapture the magic of the show’s initial years. The numerous plots became more grounded and focussed upon only two narratives rather than twenty: Sookie and Warlow’s blossoming-but-doomed romance, and the Vamp Camp. Warlow was thankfully offed after only a season on the show. It is the Vamp Camp which is what season six is remembered for. All of the vampire characters are incarcerated, Sarah Newlin returns and becomes deliciously unhinged, and Pam has a few counselling sessions. What’s not to like? Oh, and the were-plot finally came to an end, even if there was no redeeming Alcide or Sam. Perhaps the only fault of the sixth season is the reduced presence of Lala (for some bizarre reason) but this season is amongst True Blood’s greatest. The ninth episode entitled ‘Life Matters’ is stunning.

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And so we reach the final season, in which True Blood became uncannily reminiscent of The Walking Dead. Thankfully the Hep-V plot is wrapped up after the fourth episode. Once it is, the final season settles down to tell the conclusion of our beloved characters, most of whom end up rather happy. Apart from Bill, of course. The Lettie Mae story, whilst confusing and drawn out, wraps both her and Tara up beautifully, even if Tara shouldn’t have died at all. Lala finally finds happiness, though his story peaks and ends at episode six. Everybody ends up with new lovers or babies, Eric and Pam both survive, and Sookie ends up happily married expecting a baby.

Lombardo stated, ‘I think in the case of True Blood it just felt like we had reached a place where the storytelling was hitting a wall,’ and this is a just assessment of the show’s final few seasons. It’s always nice to see favourite characters survive, but the final season didn’t feature the humour, sex and gore that the show was renowned for. As a whole, the final season didn’t really satisfyingly end the show.

That said, all I cared about was Lala surviving. So for that alone True Blood will be remembered. It started as a guilty pleasure, became a fan-favourite in season three, and ended a season or two after it probably should have. But it will be missed. Oh boy, will it be missed.

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