‘True Blood’ Saturdays’: ‘We will eat you after we eat your children’

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The big “True Blood” story this week was the show ending up on the cover of Rolling Stone. Only it wasn’t a particularly chaste cover. The series’ three stars -- Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyers and Alexander Skarsgard -- appeared completely naked, with hands and legs covering the parts you can’t show on a newsstand and blood drenching everything else. If you want to look at it, you can see it here. It’s slightly not suitable for work, but, honestly, if your boss gets upset that you’re looking at a Rolling Stone cover that’s in the news, it may be time to find a new boss (and good luck with that).

Anyway, if you like your sex all mixed up with implied violence -- and this being “True Blood,” there’s a good chance you do -- then you probably love this cover. And, indeed, most of the fan reaction I’ve read online is really in favor of this. I guess I can see why. It essentially encompasses much of the show’s cheekily sexy and bloody aesthetic, and it doesn’t hurt that all three stars look good naked. But -- and maybe this is my former print media employee talking here -- I found it all kind of tawdry. The sex and violence on “True Blood” are so fun because they’re so over the top. Everybody’s getting naked, and everybody’s getting drenched with blood. To try to encompass all of that in one image that flirts with the edge of good taste is probably an impossible task, but this one is winking a little too hard. There’s basically no subtlety to it, and while I suppose that may be true of the show as well, much of the time, at least the show is rarely coy about anything. It’s all right there, out in the open.

Then again, my reaction seems to be in the minority. There are a few people out there who find the cover kind of gross and tacky, but it seems most fans really like it. It’s certainly good exposure for the show, and it reaffirms that this is one of the shows of the moment, regardless of what you think of the current season’s level of quality (a question that also seems to be dividing fans). The show has really landed right in the middle of American pop culture, and that’s something that’s hard for an HBO series to do. Really, HBO hasn’t had a show that’s been this big in the cultural world at large since the heyday of “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos.” (For more reading on “True Blood” from this week, check out this excellent column by Emily Nussbaum on how the series is the “porn ‘Buffy.’ ”)

But let’s talk about last week’s episode.

Quite a few of you wrote to me to express your general agreement with me that Denis O’Hare’s performance as Russell really hit a new high in the last episode, with his mourning of his dead lover, his carting around of a jar containing Talbot’s blood and guts and his taking over of a TV news broadcast by slaughtering the host and then telling all of America what the true face of vampirism was. It was a grandly over-the-top performance, and it pulled an episode that had felt sort of unfocused before that final scene all together. Unfortunately, since so many of you agreed with me, there’s less to talk about this week. Still, let’s see what happened down in comments, shall we?


Dina found that last scene concerning, from a storytelling perspective:

“I have to wonder how the writers are going to get themselves out of the corner they wrote themselves into. “Sure, Russell’s gleefully bloody rampage was fun, but it was ON-AIR. Very, very visible against the media milieu of the show’s ‘universe.’ How can any other vampire powers-that-be hope to convince the ‘American’ public that he was maybe just the ‘crazy old vampire uncle’ that happened to escape from his closet? Major disavowal coming, I assume.”

This is precisely what I love about the sequence. The battle for vampires to have equal rights has always been one of the things that I’ve liked least about the show. If Russell sets that battle back thousands of years, I think the show could potentially become more interesting. If vampires are again on the outs, with humanity turning against them in droves, then that makes life for the characters on the show more dramatic and potentially more compelling. Shows like this tend to thrive when their characters are backed against the wall, and what better way to put Bill and his vampire pals in constant danger than to have Russell intentionally tossing a bomb right into the middle of vampire and human relations? I certainly hope the show doesn’t just gloss this over with a mass-glamouring or anything; that’s for sure.

AJM likes this season a lot, but has some suggestions I think most fans (and myself) would agree with:

“Overall, I think this has been an outstanding season for ‘True Blood,’ and I believe Russell (O’Hare) has turned in one brilliant acting performance after another, with his newscaster-murder scene being one of the finest scenes the show has had. The entire cast, in my opinion, has been excellent this season. I do, however, have two suggestions. First, stop propagating new storylines as if they were amoebas in a lab dish – sharper focus is in order. Second, resolve issues, because right now the series is being slowed, and even rendered frustrating at points, by leaving issues dangling in the air without resolution.”

If there’s one lesson I hope “True Blood” learns from this season, it’s that there’s something to be said for narrative simplicity. I know it gets the show in the news more when it has 500 plots all zigzagging up against each other, but it necessarily means that some of those plots end up being just the slightest bit boring because they have little to no connection to the main story. It’s possible that the show will pull together all of these things in the finale and that we’ll realize all along where all of this will going. That could, conceivably, make the season play better on DVD, but even if it were the case, I don’t think it would excuse the long stall in, say, telling us just what’s up with Crystal. I’d be thrilled to be proved wrong, though.

And TrueBloodRules wants to declare some ‘shipper wars:

“Loved last night’s episode but please Bill and Sookie’s hot passion was NOT boring. It was hot and LOVED i!. I take you are an Eric fan and if the same scene was with Eric and Sookie we probably would never here the end of it from you. “Let’s stick to the facts this is ‘True Blood’ not the books and up to now Bill and Sookie love each other very deeply to the point Bill would sacrifice himself for her (proved it several times). Geesh what is boring about that! Many would love to have someone love us that much and so passionately.”

True love may be the sort of thing we all long to have, TBR, but it’s often dramatically uninteresting. I can count on one finger the number of truly interesting generally happy relationships on TV right now, and that’s Coach Taylor and Tami on “Friday Night Lights,” where the show is smaller-scale and, thus, can do interesting things with conflicts in the marriage that don’t really threaten the bedrock of the relationship. I don’t particularly care who Sookie ends up with (I’d actually like to see her single for a while). I wouldn’t call myself a fan of her with one guy or another. I just want what’s best for the story, and it sure looks to me as though the Sookie and Bill pairing has temporarily run its course. I’m sure they’ll get back together in the end, but I’d love to explore more what they’re like apart. The scenes where they’re separated this season have been among the most interesting of the season.

And that’s all for now. We’ll see you Sunday night with more thoughts on the next episode and whatever Russell’s up to next. Remember, you can always post a comment or get in touch with me via e-mail or Twitter.

-- Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)

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