Dear TB fans and NSA operatives, we did it! We watched an Alan Ball-less True Blood Season 6 premiere, and it was fine! It felt like a return to a beloved childhood summer camp, full of so many blessedly familiar elements that I lost any vague sense I’d outgrown it. "Who Are You, Really?" was like reuniting with a beloved group of friends I was worried I’d never see again, because the characters I’d been missing were not only intact, they were like exponential versions of themselves. The show had the wisdom to play up the fan-favorite character elements, pulling us right back into a familiar world at its best. (Except perhaps for Pam. Gone were the pitch perfect one-liners we love Pam for, she instead oozed sex appeal and desperation, as self-defeating a party mix as Chex and bubble gum.)
Still, after multiple seasons of becoming more and more of an
asshole, Bill of all people was finally recognizable... and likable?! Maybe the writers were just
buying a little time, or reminding us of why we ever cared about Bill in the first
place, but the premiere’s Billith was a hot reboot of Bill Compton S:1, back in
that signature white thermal that hugs his torso just so and casting bedroom eyes
at Sookie, yet filled with regret and unfathomable darkness. The final scene of the premiere seemed to
suggest this might be the only glimpse we'll get of Classic Bill 2.0, and that would
be a shame. If the show were to build on Bill’s renewed duality of danger and
kindness and make Bill the romantic hero he was, playing with Sookie’s head and
ours as we try to figure out alongside her how sincere he might be in his
intentions, that could be really compelling.
Jason was full of comic relief and jock-redneck outrage, Sookie was back to making infuriatingly bad decisions every five minutes with as much screeching as possible (like wasting her fairy powers to make her fist into a flashlight... to help a vampire see in the dark? Isn’t that what they do best?), Tara was effortlessly brusque and insightful, and Jessica managed to make circumstances that none of us can lay claim to somehow relatable.
Eric, meanwhile, was at the top of his game in his heroic knight-in-shining-armor mode, his old-world chivalry so intense it triggered the swirling cellos and violas that start creeping into the background music when Real Romance happens. And Alcide was butt-naked, so that character lived up to his full potential as well.
Lafayette made a cameo that was as skillful a character sketch as I've seen in under two minutes, but ultimately the scene was just enough
to remind me how badly I still miss him. Please, lure Nelsan Ellis back onto the set and give him some powerful scenes, Season 6.
Still, as well as these actors can play the characters they've inhabited for six years, there were moments that felt weirdly wooden and inexplicably placed. Fleeing an apocalyptic Bill and looking very much like the blue team after a crushing defeat in paintball, our heroes inexplicably stopped by the beach for a thorough story check-in with almost every character. This set of scenes felt like the sixteenth retake of a rewrite that everyone had been called back to do long after principal filming had ended. There was a certain flatness to the emotional exposition. “Lovin’ him is in mah blood.” “Mine too!” Okay, but why are you getting your jeans wet? Doesn’t that suck? And then when Sookie told Jessica just to let Bill go, I felt they could have easily swapped in “Ball” and made the same points.
The start of Season 6 also introduced a new and intriguing character, Stanley Tucci lookalike Governor Burrell. Despite a speech with pro-gun and bigot-y undertones against vampires, Burrell volunteered a bottling facility for TruBlood Beverage Corp. to hasten the return of public safety betwixt vampires and humans. He even outright underlined his own ambiguous turn while offering the property, by saying verbatim, “I am not the new big bad.” Okay, let’s see where you go sir, I’m intrigued by the portrayal of a southern politician who acts diplomatically and strategically instead of like Yosemite Sam.
There was also the introduction of actual big bad Warlo, chugging along in a hoopty, dressed up like Colonel Sanders got his hand on a Tesla coil. After Jason thumbed a ride (something a former kidnapping victim probably would not actually do?), he ended up unbosoming all his troubles to Warlo, who then cackled and disappeared. Pretty middle-of-the-road horror story stuff.
The premiere answered a lot of our prayers by cauterizing two unpromising storylines: Luna died with all the tragic farewell of someone who hops out of a car and races off to find a toilet. (“It’s dead” felt like a summation of the audience’s dispassionate reaction to the Luna-Sam relationship finally getting excised from our screens.) And Andy Bellefleur’s stint as Mr. Mom may be mercifully brief, what with his little pumpkins turning five years old overnight and swarming Andy in a charming cutaway scene. Thank goodness, because the ol' “a MAN changing DIAPERS?!” shtick gets on my last damn nerve.
Obviously Mark Hudis—True Blood's new showrunner, but not for long—is no clearer on werewolf mythology than Ball ever was. Every time we cut back to the werewolves, someone was explaining some new clause in their wolf constitution (which I assume is carved into a chrome panel at a Waffle House in Ed Hardy lettering). Now Packmaster has to “inherit the flesh” by eating a chunk of arm? It all felt a little pulled-out-of-thin-ass, although I appreciated the Lena Dunham homage.
Also “I’m your number one bitch”—the term is “bottom bitch,” ma’am. And don’t think because you creep on Alcide getting freaky in the bushes you’re going to be orchestrating all his sexual encounters like Manson at Spahn ranch. You have to sleep sometime, and when you do, he’ll do as he damn well pleases.
In a premiere that ultimately set a great stage for the season, there were two elements that were sort of dissatisfying—one because it felt so dissonant to the characters, the other because it was so clearly more of the same. The more of the same was Sookie just making emotionally improbable decisions. Why would she rescind Eric’s invitation from her house after making the rather revealing choice to save his life at the cost of Bill’s? She may want to be the “girl in the white dress" again, but the dress had a red pattern, if I remember correctly, an appropriately muddy symbolism for a virgin going to a strip club on a date with a vampire. Sookie has ALWAYS been all about the fang-banging lifestyle. How many years now has her life been 99 percent just up in vampire’s beeze? She marched with Jessica to find Bill, knowing Jessica is faster, stronger, and far more deadly than she could ever be…why? Because she loves sticking her nose into the undead’s business. When’s the last time we saw her hoist a tray at Merlotte’s or do anything not related to the supernatural? If I remember correctly, she’s half crazy being around regular humans because she can hear their thoughts and only (relatively) sane around vampires so… who are you trying to fool, Sookie?
But for me the most dissonance came from seeing Pam so incredibly weak. It hurts to see Pam on her knees or sobbing at the beach like sorority girl. Not only was her sass sadly depleted, but not even when her face was melting like cheese under a crème brulee torch did Pam act as helpless as she did when the vamp-bustin’ squad came into Fangtasia. And also, while I suspect Rutina Wesley and Kristen Bauer’s nudity clauses are what kept their sex scene so incredibly discreet—a-blink-and-you’d-miss-it zip of the pants by Tara—you’d think the show’s first serious lesbian relationship would get a little more heat on a show known to push sexual boundaries.
Still, overall, I really enjoyed the premiere. In fact, in my post-viewing stupor of mild joy, listening along to the delightful credit song, I had the following conversation with myself:
impression: I can’t wait to see the next one!
Sinking feeling: Because nothing really happened or was answered by this episode?
Counterargument: It’s still
a great show! We can do this! It’s still True Blood! We don’t need Ball to
Rationalization: But after the first three episodes, everything will be in the hands of a whole new showrunner, so…
… Billith: Will he vacillate between normal and deity, or was him getting bumrushed by full-bushed Lillith’s the end of normal Bill?
… Do you find Sookie rescinding Eric’s invitation beyond baffling?
… Governor Burrell: What are your first impressions?
… Would you consent to being Alcide’s (or anyone’s) “#1 set o’ buns” in an open relationship?
… What will Warlo want with Sookie?
… What did you think of the premiere?