True Blood: “Evil is Going On”

Dear Gran

True Blood
“Evil is Going On”
Sundays, HBO, 6
Written by Alan Ball
Directed by Anthony Hemingway

“Gran, I miss you.” —Sookie Stackhouse

Dear Gran: I’ve got a real dilemma here. On the one hand, there’s my first boyfriend ever, Bill the Vampire. He’s sexy, he loves me, and he’s a great dancer. But it turns out, he set me up on our first meeting, allowing two psychos to damn near beat me to death so I would survive only by drinking his blood, forging a sexual bond between us from the first moment. How do I know this? Because another vampire, who has never lied to me, always protected me, and actually rescued me once or twice, told me the truth. How can I trust Bill? How can I trust Eric? Which one should I choose? Oh, and there’s also this really hot werewolf named Alcide who wants to make me his bitch—in a nice way. What to do? —Signed, Sookie the Confused.

Dear Sookie: What was that phrase you used once? Oh, yes—you are crack for vampires. Your real problem is that, since your very blood is an intoxicant, you will never know if any of them love you for yourself, or for your hemoglobin. And you don’t even know if this thing with Alcide is the real thing—or puppy love. So what you need, granddaughter, is a weekend away. Far, far away. In fact, why not go all the way to Faerie, get acquainted with your newly discovered fairy godmother, Claudine, and find out who you really are. Because you’ve never really known, have you? You hid what you were for so long, you never took time to discover who you are. First you were that weird waitress who may or may not be telepathic, then you were the object of vampire lust, then you were a trophy to be fought over in some convoluted vampire politics. Now, it’s time for a time-out, girl. Get thee to Faerie.

Dear Gran: I just can’t figure this out. First I was in love with a girl who was a v-addict. Then I was in love with a minister’s wife who wanted to kill vampires. Now I’m in love with a girl from the bottom of the trash heap, who turns into a panther now and then. Her uncle/father wants her to marry her brother/cousin and have lots of kittens. And she wants me to look after her kin in Hotshot? Me? I’ve never looked after anyone but myself. What to do? —Signed, Jason the Bewildered

Dear Jason: Grandson, it’s not about who you are in love with; it’s about who you are becoming. All your life you were the adored golden boy, never asked for more than you were willing to give, never asked to sacrifice for anything. Now that something you really value is on the line—your future with Crystal—you’re going to have to man up. And grandson, you’re doing it beautifully. You’ve shown courage and fortitude, and if you’re not the sharpest tool in the shed, well, they say that in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In Hotshot, a village full of witless idiots, you’re the half-witted king. You’re going to have your hands full, but if you can do it, you’ll be the better man, maybe the best man in Bon Temps. In fact in some ways, yours is the most interesting story in that town. You go, boy.

Dear Gran: I just can’t take any more of this. I’ve lost everyone I loved, and everyone I loved has betrayed me. Jason shot my man, Sookie’s vamp boyfriend left me to die, and I got raped and terrorized by a psycho named Franklin. Now I just caught my mom, who has never been supportive or loving, macking with a married preacher. She’s off on another self-delusional, self-destructive spiral, and I just can’t handle this any more. I thought I could trust Sam, my sometimes-boyfriend, but it turns out he’s a shapechanger! Nobody is what I think they are! What to do? —Signed, Tara the Troubled

Dear Tara: Honey, see what I just wrote to Sookie above. You need a getaway, and I’m glad to see you took one. New hairdo, smokin’ car, new attitude—it’s just what you need. You think you’re all tough and independent, but in reality you are vulnerable and needy. What you keep ignoring—your needs, your weaknesses, your emotions—will ambush you every time. You need to learn to stand on your own feet, not in defiance but in confidence. So let’s hope you can find what you’re looking for out there. Just keep in mind what Sam, who is a wise man, told you—to keep ahead of your old self, you have to keep moving. Or, if you’re wiser than Sam, learn to let it catch up, deal with it, and move on as a new person. Either way, I see this departure as a healthy one. See ya soon.

Dear Gran: I went looking for my birth family, and got a whole lot more than I bargained for. My mother’s a depressed doormat (and good cook), my father is a drunken bully, and my little brother is an illiterate whiner with sociopathic tendencies. I used to be the guy who was “there” for everybody. Now I can’t even be there for myself, let alone my sometime-girlfriend Tara, who’s been through seven kinds of hell. I may have shot my own brother in a fit of anger. What to do? —Signed, Sam the Perplexed

Dear Sam: You got a pack of troubles, that’s for sure. What it boils down to is, you don’t know who you are. You defined yourself as “shapeshifter”—and then found out that can mean a lot worse than you ever imagined. You defined yourself as “friend”—and got used and damn near killed by the whole town, which doesn’t even know how much it owes you. The women you want keep running off with and being victimized by vampires, which can’t be good for your self-esteem. You’re still brooding over a long-ago murder, a con game you were pulled into and used in. You, my boy, have trust issues. But the trust you need to find is not in others, but in yourself. You’ve been questioning who you were from the day you first changed into an adorable little puppy. It’s time you went on a journey, too, although you don’t have to drive off in a fancy car like Tara, or step sideways into Faerie like Sookie. You need to stop looking to others—your family, lovers, friends—to tell you who you are. You’re a shapeshifter, yes, but you’re also a man, a bar owner, a soul, and many other things. Time you found out who they are, and how you can fit them together. Take some downtime, bro.

Dear Gran: Yo, got good news and bad. On the good side, I got me a fine man in my life now. He’s a nurse, and a witch, and a dude. The bad news is, I may be a witch, too. Jesus and I did some v, and while the experience itself was a trip, as they say, he says it may have “opened up” something in myself. Something I don’t want to see. Worse, something I don’t want to be. But I want to be with Jesus, who’s a fine guy and sexy as hell. I’m very scared. Am I turning schizo, like my mama? What to do? —Signed, Lafayette the Lost

Dear La-la: What you’re really scared of “opening up” is your heart. You’ve been on the defensive from Day One. Oh, I know, you’re all macho and defiant, and you’ve got that sexy swagger down. But it’s clear that on the inside, you’re as soft as butter. You need a real connection with someone who values you for yourself. And that’s scary, isn’t it? Maybe the scariest thing that has ever happened to you, even scarier than being locked up in a vampire dungeon and watching Eric Northman unleash the crazy. But this time, the risks are worth the reward. You’ve got a strong man there to support you on this journey, to guide and love you. I say take the risk. And while you’re at it, help Sookie figure out a better wardrobe, will you?

Dear Gran: I started out adapting a popular set of novels to a TV series, and now I have a real monster on my hands. I’ve distorted some of the original storylines, invented characters, and stretched out some events over an entire season. I listened to fans who wanted their favorite minor characters brought to the fore, and wrote long, angst-heavy arcs for them. Now the whole series is out of balance—my leading stars have less screen time than the third-level actors, minor characters are now taking over their storylines, and everything feels out of control. I’ve painted myself into so many corners! What to do? —Signed, Alan the Ambitious

Dear Alan: I see good news and bad news. The good news is that you ran out of season. The bad news is that you ran out of season. It didn’t come to a natural-feeling end. It didn’t sizzle, it fizzled. You’re right, it’s a tangled mess, and you never had a prayer of untangling it in the 55 minutes you had left in Season Three. You gave everyone an ending that felt like you were taking a time out, rather than coming to a conclusion. Instead of bringing it all together in a satisfying closure, you sent all your characters away, perhaps as an unconscious reflection of your own lack of direction. To the audience, it feels manipulative and lazy.

The adorable, vulnerable waitress we met in Season One has become a vindictive vixen, grinding the remains of Talbot before his lover’s eyes, cackling in delight, howling at Eric and Bill, snarling at Russell, and completely failing to notice that Tara is in a very dark place right now. Why should your viewers care about Sookie any longer? Now that we know she’s a supernatural being, she’s no longer the character we can identify with. It’s one thing to be a naïve but perky waitress with a mind-reading quirk—it’s something else to be the target of every vampire on the planet, with enough power at your fingertips to throw a three-thousand year old vampire across a parking lot. The vampires that looked so glamorous once are now dirt-streaked, charred, or covered in cement grit; even Pam looks drab. The werewolves turned out to be more or less rabid animals, and the werepanthers have barely been onscreen except in their trailer-trash personas. This is not only confusing, it’s dull.

The flaws of the books are now becoming the flaws of the series—there is too much going on, and too much changing without good reason. You set us up for Bill and Sookie—like Charlaine Harris did in the books. Now you’re pulling them apart—like Charlaine Harris is doing in the books. Eric is more than just a cockblocker for Bill, he’s actively competing with him for Sookie. And frankly, he looks like the better deal.

There just increasingly is no reason for Sookie Stackhouse to love a man, er, vampire like Bill, who has repeatedly betrayed her, lied to her, abused her trust. Eric has been more honest and more useful to her than Bill. So where is the structure of your entire series now? It is coming apart at the seams. Your viewers are rabid enough, hooked enough, to stick through to Season Four now to see how it comes out. But they don’t have the patience of an immortal. They won’t wait for resolution forever, and they won’t sit still for the constant distractions posed by five or six equally weighted stories. Alan, you need to pick and choose. Discard some characters. Discard some motifs. Discard or end some stories (do we really need Terry and Arlene?). Simplify, simplify, simplify. And bring us something tastier, more powerful, and with more monkey sex in Season Four. Until then, I’ll be here, reading the mail.