Season Finale — True Blood, “Evil is Going On”

My lord, what in the heck happened to True Blood?

All season, I’ve flipped and flopped in my opinion of the series, mostly because I’ve seen the series start strong and completely run out of gas by the time the season is over. I was also concerned about how in the world the series was going to take an otherworldly amount of separate stories and pull them together to make some sort of coherent narrative point.

As the season three finale, “Evil is Going On,” proved, the writers never had any intention in absolving my second concern and instead went ahead and proved my first concern valid yet again. I don’t mean to be hyperbolic, but this episode is certainly one of the series’ worst and definitely one of the least accomplished season finales I have seen in a long time. It feels like a penultimate episode, and a mediocre one at best. We could sort of see this coming in the aftermath of King Russell’s nationally televised destruction, but it’s now apparent that the writers realized around episode 9 or 10 that they were going to be unable to pull any of these stories together so instead of doing so, they were just going to milk each individual one for some makeshift cliffhangers that no one with critical thinking skills should care about.

We wondered all season what the point of Sam and his family’s story was, or what Jason was really going to have to do or why Tara was being treated like a doormat yet again and after “Evil,” there’s really no answer to those questions and the episode didn’t even attempt to do so. Instead, after spending an inordinate amount of time on these tertiary and lower stories throughout the episode as if the series is absolutely required to do so, all those things are left vague or in a stupid place that couldn’t even be considered a cliffhanger. Tara finally realizes she should leave, Jason loses his weirdo werepanther trash girlfriend and becomes the surrogate father for her low-class crew and Sam may or may not have shot his brother Tommy after spending the whole episode acting like the smart, loving Sam we actually like. If we didn’t care about these stories for 12 episodes (or Tara’s case, 36 episodes), I can’t imagine we’re going to care over the summer or into next season.

Moreover, the main dramatic arc with Bill, Eric, Sookie and King Russell completely falls victim to the series’ season one syndrome of two steps forward, one step back with its narrative. Eric and Russell are burning alive outside, until Sookie wants to bring them inside. But after she saves Eric, she doesn’t ever want to talk to him. Then Eric starts seeing the ghostly visage of Godric and decides that Russell should live. Until he doesn’t, and instead leaves him in a vat of concrete. After Bill apologizes for everything (more on him in a second), Sookie takes him back. Then doesn’t again once Eric reveals that Bill not only came to Bon Temps for her via a directive from the queen, but also let her get her ass kicked in the pilot so she could then have to drink his blood. Then she scampers off with her new fairy buddies at the end of the episode. The series is so set on pulling the rug out from underneath both the characters and us as viewers than major moments rarely stick and thus have no relevance. Bill and Sookie’s 263rd fight (their 181st about Eric) isn’t exciting anymore and Sookie’s faux independence isn’t believable when all Bill has to do is say something along the lines that he was doing it to protect her and boom, they’re back together.

And Bill, oh Bill. He spent nearly the entire season being a bad ass and even acts with some intelligence here by trying to get rid of Russell, Eric and Pam and later the Queen, but his inability to decipher between possible manipulation and love is insufferable at this point. Bill may damn well love Sookie and is certainly sorry for what he did by lying, but the series is doing him no favors by constantly pulling out wild cards that make him look bad. I know the idea is to make the Bill-Sookie relationship more complicated so we’re tricked into thinking that she has other mates in Eric or Alcide (which just makes so much sense it will never work), but my lord, the writers have systematically made Bill into a pretty shady individual in the last few episodes, despite his bad-assery. He’ll surely come back next season, apologize and Sookie will run right back to him, but that points out the biggest flaw in the series’ treatment of relationships.

The same could be said of Jessica, who spent the whole season trying to find her footing as a vampire and ultimately just decides that she doesn’t need to worry about controlling her hunger, defending herself, etc. because she just needs a domesticated lifestyle complete with a new home with Hoyt. I really like the Jessica and Hoyt pairing, but this episode’s conclusion suggests to me that the writers pulled them apart just to pull them apart instead of actually accomplishing anything interesting with either of them separately.

I could really go on longer about certain characters, but the point has been made. True Blood has yet to prove that it can tell a complete story that has a satisfying beginning, middle and end that is even moderately well-paced. The writers know how to pull these characters apart and screw up their lives in gross-out, shocking ways, but they have absolutely no idea how to put them back together. Last season the series attempted to spend its final episode dealing with the aftermath of a major event and it didn’t quite work and this season there was never any attempt to have the characters deal with anything. It’s all experience, all drama, no aftershocks or evaluation of decisions. And at this point, that’s all getting old and frustrating to watch (though Denis O’Hare was so epically awesome all season and couldn’t leave this post without mentioning said awesomeness).


One response to “Season Finale — True Blood, “Evil is Going On””

  1. Actually, the series does have a plan. The problem is that there are bigger stories playing out (ones that cross seasons) and the writers aren’t always doing a good job fitting them into the seasonal arcs. However, they are very satisfying if you’ve been watching since season 1 for some of these details to pan out. For example, the Bill reveal has been a setup since season 1 (there have been hints dropped for the last thirty-plus episodes). Bill isn’t the hero–nor is his relationship with Sookie the be-all and end-all for her (or even him). Things are changing–they’re just taking time to do so, and this is hard to squeeze into a 12-episode season that has to have a major plot, and a villain, etc., etc. I agree that Sookie and Bill have been annoyingly back and forth all season, but given that it’s been about 10 days in the show’s timeline, this isn’t THAT drawn-out. A relationship takes a while to die.

    I wish they would give more attention to longer arcs with the secondary characters as well (that would make them less boring). I get some of your criticisms (why Eric changed his mind about Russell’s fate still bugs me), but also think you aren’t watching very closely if you think Sookie’s taking Bill back again, or that Jess’s relationship with Hoyt is a domestic cop-out. You are totally spot-on that Bill’s been pushed much darker this season–but that isn’t to add false drama. He really is getting darker and having more trouble distinguishing between love and obsession in his relationship with Sookie.

    That said, the season finales of this series are usually a major disappointment. They don’t tend to tie up neatly and cleanly. Season 1 was the best for that, but it was the least accomplished, least ambitious of the seasons, so that makes sense. They tried to do less (it’s pretty much a murder mystery with vampire trappings) and so were able to wrap everything up more satisfyingly at the end. Season 2’s finale was much more anti-climactic than this one (though less disjointed, as the storylines all intersected). The villain got killed in the first half of the episode, and then they spent the rest recovering and setting up for season 3. I actually appreciated it more on the second viewing, as I enjoyed seeing the hints for season three and the well-written dialogue.

    So I agree with a lot of your criticisms, but would also caution you against getting sucked into the “what have you done for me lately” attitude that seems to pervade TV viewing these days. Viewers seem to be lazy and impatient, wanting each storyline to always have a pay-off every episode, instead of paying a bit more attention and realizing that some storylines may be reaching dramatic heights while others are still working toward their final destinations. It would be great if the season finales could coincide with when each storyline reaches its apex, but that can’t always happen without distorting the larger plot. As the cast of characters and their stories have gotten larger, this has also grown more difficult for this show. The writers for “True Blood” need to tie more of the storylines together if they aren’t willing to kill off characters.

    There is one consolation to this lack of cohesion–the series is a lot of fun to rewatch across seasons. Since each season isn’t just making a major narrative point, it actually holds up better for re-viewing. You can watch an episode in season 1, and then another in season 2 or season 3 and see foreshadowing across the seasons. Plot points become more clear, often several episodes after the fact. So the series sometimes sacrifices dramatic impact in the moment for longer-term pleasures.

    In a way, it reminds me of the difference between serial novels and self-contained books. Serial novels were popular in the 19th century, and were written in installments to be published in magazines. Because each installment was self-contained, it needed to have cliffhangers to “hook” readers and get them to buy the next installment. This cliff-hanger fixation, however, often made the novels read strangely as a whole (once the whole thing was finished) because it was filled with these artificial cliff-hangers. Dickens was one of the best serial novelists, and even he couldn’t always overcome the format. In contrast, novels written as a cohesive whole can avoid that artificiality. TV resembles those serials a lot–the episodic format, the need for cliff-hangers to keep viewers tuning in, the way those immediate needs sometimes distort the larger story. I look at it as “True Blood” has decided to ignore some of the demands of the episodic format in favor of telling the larger story better. Since this makes the series stand up better long-term, I approve. I know, however, that it can be frustrating in the short-term. I’d just urge you not to give up on the series because it sometimes breaks those TV conventions.


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