True Blood: Vampires Are Our New American Heroes

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Pardon me while I get serious for a second.

Vampires are my crack, and I'm not alone. Between Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries, nationally we're enthralled by stories that revolve around undead heroes. Last night's episode of True Blood was as vivid and haunting as a fever dream, but its dialogues also stirred the deep, unused recesses of my brain and kindled something of a revelation: Sympathizing with vampires is part of an emerging American identity.

Our current vampire franchises all portray the b'fanged beings in contemporary times, struggling to deny themselves their most primal thirsts. This mirrors a modern existential guilt that's entered the national consciousness in the last fifty years. We worry about the erosion of the environment, the oil we use and the imbalance it creates in the economy, the debt we wrack up, the smartphones we can't put down. Yet we also recognize our need to build homes, to drive to work and provide for our families, to answer that call from our boss or spouse or friend. We know we're supposed to feel guilty for our appetites and excesses, but we can't contradict our own survival. We, like the vampires, need to do "bad things" too. And those bad things can fuel strengths and abilities that ultimately make us heroic.

Not that anyone is calling this a bad thing:

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GOOD LORD that was some hot lovin'. You know things have gotten real when someone can smell you having sex in a swamp.

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Do you think Anna Paquin was forcing herself to concentrate on her acting, or do you think her head was ringing with the song "Rumpshaker"? Stephen Moyer is having no problem portraying a jealous Bill...

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...though in this episode he struck me less as an uptight math teacher and more as a pretty competent leader. All of the show's vampires reached a kind of zenith last night; even Pam's unprecedented frailty deepened her character.

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(If you are looking for more reasons to love Pam and/or seeking relief for your eyes after seeing that image, you should check out Kristin Bauer's very amazing paintings.)

But the humans—to give them their due—were also especially endearing last night. Tara sending her girlfriend packing was the smartest thing I've seen a human do on this show. It was like watching a character in a horror movie turn around, look into the camera and state, "Actually, I'm not going to go up those dark stairs in this mysterious house. I'm going to go home and lay down and you can all tell me how this played out tomorrow."

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There's something about the way the Wiccans are a small niche group trying to punish a large population of seemingly invulnerable vampires they detest on principle that made me see parallels to terrorism. True Blood may be a fairy tale for grown-ups , but the conversation between King Bill and Jessica after they were "silvered" felt like a serious discussion in that vein. Jessica's reacted to the prejudice of a witch who's hated her since 400 years before she was born with a survival reflex: If she's going to kill me I have to kill her first. Meanwhile, Bill's sense of desperation at having to restrain Jessica, and his promises to make the most of his life and to work toward ending a cycle of violence, are echoes of a culture where safety is no longer a given.

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I can't assign that intention to Alan Ball, and I have smelled a lot of paint in my time, but to me the situation was another example of vampires being an analog version of our modern selves, by displaying overwhelming strength in a moment of vulnerability. And damn it, True Blood, how dare you make me care all hard about a vampire father-daughter heart-to-heart while little puffs of smoke rise into the frame! It's this kind of ridiculous detail that makes me scream at my TV, "THIS IS A FANTASY SERIES! WHY IS IT THE MOST REAL THING IN MY DAY?!"

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The scenes in which vampires were at their most humane came right before Antonia went off on how humanity will trump vampires every time, walking around shouting like a a robot dressed up in Chicos' "Southwestern flair" line.

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Which was exactly the right acting decision by Fiona Shaw—the more weird and powerful Antonia seems, the better. Also: Louisiana is 937 miles from Mexico. Are you telling me that Lafayette had time to drive down there, channel a spirit, recognize he was a medium, stop for lunch, drive back, take out his braids, and put together this hot look in under twelve hours?

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That must be a fast car. It's cool that Lafayette is a medium, though I do wish there had been a little Season 1/Season 2 foreshadowing beyond the time that he and Jesus dropped acid. (Commenters, can you think of any?)

And I'm so glad the writers had Sam immediately find out about Tommy's skin-walking. I was worried that two Sams would turn the Merlotte trailer into a regular French farce, but hopefully Sam will manage to kick Tommy out for at least one entire episode.

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Eric and Sookie's dialogue was as sweet as a juicy cantaloupe rubbed against my ear. Their conversation gave more intimacy to their new relationship than any montage of hot nasty love ever could. Also: Thematic musings aside, there's no denying that last night's episode was as close as TV can get to cinema. Jessica's slow-motion run up the stairs and into the sunlight was as emotionally wrought as it was devastatingly beautiful.

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The gunshot before she walked into the light was this season's second stunning cliffhanger. (Except… Jason's going to save her. Obviously. There would be rioting in the streets if the show killed off Deborah Ann Woll. ) True Blood's fourth season is, yes, a story about witches versus vampires, but it's a story that cuts to the bone emotionally and psychologically for its viewers. And oh yeah, there's also this lady:

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Questions:

… Gunshot: Jason maiming the guard, right?

… Is Alcide and Debbie's relationship "working"?

… Spanish-speakers! How about Fiona Shaw's spanish? Was it antique- or English-accented?

… Would you set Sookie and Eric love-making to "Rumpshaker," or a different song?

… Will Sam regret letting Tommy live another day?