True Blood: Addiction and Abandonment

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True Blood S05E02: "Authority Always Wins"

You and me, my dears, are in a pretty pickle. Here we are, or at least I am, still in love with a show after five years, and kind of embarrassed about it (no, not because it’s a “guilty pleasure,” whatever that means, or because some critics think it’s awful—they are wrong, bless their hearts), but because I’m still addicted to a show whose own showrunner is personally sick of it. Plus the author who conceived the world of True Blood has flat-out refused to write another book about it. So when I sit bolt upright during an episode and sneer, “Oh, Pam was a MADAM in San Francisco? So Eric taught her the Swedish they used to speak in Season 1 all the time!?” I then sit back and realize my anger is actually an indictment against myself for caring so much about these characters. Characters disowned by their creators.

Which is kind of Tara’s position for now, because Pam has better things to do than teach her vampire manners. Though at least she has constrained Tara with some maker’s commands: Do not bite Sookie or Lafayette or leave the house. Which, yes, means Tara trashed Sookie’s house AGAIN, but hey, at least no swamp vines or giant egg in the bed this time. Significantly, this is a reversal of Tara’s dynamic with her real mom; Tara was the caregiver, never able to act out because her mom was drunk on Jack Daniels or evangelism. Now Tara has a proper maternal figure who (based on Pam’s Lifetime-movie snippets later in the episode) is no stranger to exploitation and sexual abuse, and who can out-sass Tara by a country mile. Tara finally gets to act out like a big spoiled child against a hard maternal boundary. She may have turned into the thing she hates most but now she finally has something she always needed: a mom. It’s actually super touching and it makes me swoon.

We also at last got into the the Authority’s inner sanctum and it’s more like an inner-SNOREtum. Instead of being bad-ass to the highest, the Authority is just a bunch of Lillith Faire-goers determined to get info on the “Sanguinista” movement (sigh) via the most boring method possible: torture.

Torture in real life: DISTURBING and TERRIBLE! Torture on TV: almost unbearably boring. I am a grown-up and I know that even if an actor shakes his face extra hard and clenches his arm muscles and goes “AAAARRRRRR!” he’s not actually in pain, he’s actually in a chair, and the other actor across from him is worried about keeping his face straight. Plus, if we MUST watch 15 solid minutes of Bill and Eric alternately writhing in pain and proving their undying love and loyalty to each other, like, make it colorful. Why not spice things up with an impish vampire Lynndie England type, toying with them psychologically while posing for pictures with a thumbs-up, and using humiliation, not pain, as her weapon?

Fake pain makes my stomach turn and my brain turn off, and anyway, we’ve seen these two buddy cops roll their eyes while being burned at the stake and just last week they exploded a car around themselves as a matter of convenience. They’re indestructible AND main characters and worrying about their well-being makes as much sense as fretting about Tom & Jerry’s injuries. So torture is just a lazy way to provide motivation for these characters. God forbid they maybe just WANTED to kill Russell Edgington, or that we see a plot line informed by their own personalities. Instead, this season will be dictated by the ridiculous ambitions of a thousand thousand maniacs...as usual.

I miss when Bill and Eric did things because they wanted to. When Bill would talk about redecorating his house with Sookie or Eric would have Pam put his hair in foils. I look back on these small moments now, when Tango and Cash have sworn to go wrangle up a real Count Dracula, and I wonder where that sense of fun and intimacy went. Also: Bill offering to “trade their lives” for turning over Russell, a risky venture that he himself admits will probably mean the true death “either way,” is the vampire equivalent of squealing, “Teacher, you forgot to assign us homework!” Like, learn to negotiate!

Chris Meloni was great, but I’m sorry, the Authority is just a vampire FOTS and sigh to that. And if you’re going to have a child vampire in the Authority, make sure the child actor can sell me on the one line you give him. What was this kid so angry about? Did someone push him and not his push pop?

And then there’s Terry and his Call of Duty flashbacks and Secretsy Secrets OH SO MANY SECRETS except I think we’ve all guessed what he’s hiding and it's BORING. Even Arlene seems more annoyed than scared by Terry’s dainty refusal to admit he pissed off a firestarter. Just spit it out, bro. Exactly who in this town are you trying to impress? Look out the window: Everybody you see has gotten naked and drank blood beside a Maenad at this point. No one is going to judge you.

I mean, look at this trampled jockey, slinking away with his life after watching werewolves eat a man he just helped Alcide track down! I DEFY you to shock Sam, Terry.

The Winter’s Bone woman showed up at Luna’s home (having left, no doubt, a ghastly trail of corpse-scented farts in her wake) and Luna shifted into a straight-up bitch, telling her to stay the hell away from Ella. Sam weirdly showed empathy for Winter’s Bone Lady, which means whoever's in charge of his storyline didn’t read the attached continuity notes because he spent last episode getting tortured under the grizzled gaze of this grammaw. Also, he comes from a family that was like if the Mansons got mashed up with Dr. Dolittle (“If I could walk and talk and squawk like the annnimaaals!”).

His ensuing fight with Luna was kind of hilariously anti-climatic, I got the sense that Sam just wanted to go back home to his trailer and do his push-up. He left without making up with Luna, which is fine with me. I’d rather see Jessica floss her teeth than see Luna and Sam penetrate each other with lubed-up gemstones.

Hoyt fans? HOOOOOYYYYT FAAANS?!?! Yeah, there are no Hoyt fans, but Hoyt and his Momma appeared this episode for the sole purpose of dispensing F-bombs to make up for the unprecedented lack of nudity this episode. (Even Jason kept his shirt on! Did Ryan Kwanten finally cave and eat some brown rice?)

Now, to leave behind my grumbling about Eric and Bill as buddy cops and Terry and Sam and Hoyt wasting the precious hours of my life by mopily groping through their issues: Let’s talk about Steve Newlin, possibly my new favorite character. Look at him go!

Nerds getting their swerve on is my favorite thing ever. Look how happy he is to be at a party! Steve is baby-faced and completely dazzled by a couple himboes playing Quarters, and yet still piquantly amoral, trying to buy Jason Stackhouse as a plaything. His jazzy combo of human awkwardness and vampire hedonism is what’s been missing from Bill and Eric these last two seasons, and it's nice to see the writers still know how to create personalities and not just one-liners. Steve is also the only character holding aloft the once-proud banner of Social Commentary that TB used to hoist on the reg: He happily admitted to being a vampire on TV and yet still pretended to be straight—telling! I can’t wait to see where else Steve goes this season, what his relationship is with Russell, and how he reacts to having a whole new set of fundamentalists to deal with. Actor Michael McMillian is TOTALLY invoking Showgirls-era Kyle Maclachlan. There IS no higher compliment.

Aside from Steve Newlin, the other highlight of the episode was Sookie walking through that weird vampire Army Surplus store. The location felt like it had been operating for decades, cluttered authentically with dusty signs and dubious weaponry. I love that Sookie is taking practical measures to defend her house against Russell while living independently of the muscled monsters who’ve ruled her life so long. Moments like this—when characters make personally motivated choices that send them out into new parts of this beloved and carefully drawn world—are the reason I watch the show. Even after four seasons, I am still excited to see a new store in Bon Temps. I would put real money down to go explore Shreveport and see Sookie’s house in real life. Is that embarrassing? If so, it’s probably the least embarrassing of my obsessions.

We are counting down to a possible Season 6, when we’ll have to face the existential paradox of whether or not a character, once rejected by his or her creator, is somehow less authentic. In this last season with Ball at the helm, I feel like an abandoned baby vampire myself, left with an overpowering addiction to a vein of imagery and themes whose pulse may be weakening, but still feeds this show. Even if True Blood’s characters are cut loose by their creators, they will always have a home in the recesses of my brain and the sprawling plains of my imagination. I’ll consume them in every form available, and if their heartbeats still, I’ll put on my sweatsuit and lay beside them in the ground until they rise again.

QUESTIONS:

1. Tara’s brain works! So she was just being rude all this time?

2. Where is Alcide headed now? Will he forcibly kidnap Sookie for her own protection?

3. Pam: madam or just a ho in Old San Francisky?

4. What did you think of the Authority?