If you recall, I was not a fan of True Blood‘s fourth season. In my review of the S4 finale (which discussed the season as a whole), I hoped aloud that Tara’s death would be permanent and that the series would be able to clean the slate a little bit for season five.
Of course, Tara’s death was not permanent and the season five approached stories in more or less the same way that True Blood has forever: some carry over stories, mostly new stories. In theory, then, I should have hated watching this season, just I have the last few seasons. And yet, for the most part, this season of True Blood has been enjoyable. Not good, probably barely mediocre, but a nice return to the slightly-more focused and emotionally-centered antics of the series’ early seasons.
To be fair, part of the reason I like this season more than last is that S5 isn’t full of terrible witch characters and stories. That thread never, ever worked me so it was difficult to set through 12 hours of television dedicated and obviously, that was made more difficult by those stories being terrible. But last season was also the culmination of the series’ biggest issues: too many storylines, too many characters and a weak central character who lacked the right amount of strength and self-awareness to be compelling.
This summer, True Blood has ditched the witches, a big plus, but more importantly, has done a lot of fine work in solving those big problem areas I just mentioned. The main arc of the season with The Authority and Lilith has worked for a number of reasons. First, it’s mostly an extension of pre-constituted foundation that the series has explored before, which means there wasn’t a need to introduce 15 new characters with unfamiliar traits. Sure, there have been new characters, but they’re just older vampires with silly and basic traits like young kid, token minority and Christopher Meloni.
Secondly, True Blood has always sort of secretly been good at telling vampire mythology stories and this is really the first time the series actually committed to it full-stop. I don’t care about Lilith or any of the new characters, but the story has been a fine tension device for Bill and Eric, and has spurred on fun stories about vampire-human relations (another thing the series did well in the early years). Thirdly, the focus on the Authority/Lilith story has left Sookie pushed to the side and allowed Eric and Bill to be more interesting characters on their own.
On that note, Sookie’s role in these episodes has been refreshing. After four years of her “woe is me” attitude and flimsy choices (my favorite Sookie thing is when she says that she will never talk to/see/love some man again, and then immediately run to that man within 20 minutes of screen-time), Sookie has finally given in and recognized that her life is freaking ridiculous and there’s no real better way to live it but to roll with the punches (maybe with some alcohol involved). She’s more self-aware and less weighed down by all the dumb things that have happened to her, which is maybe a little glib, but works better for the series’ silly nature. While the exploration of her parents’ death in recent episodes has been less satisfying, anytime that Soookie isn’t tugged in six different directions based on who she wants to sex up, the series is doing right by her.
Speaking of doing right: I will say this here, just as I did on Twitter the other day, Tara has gone from literally the worst character on television to one of the series’ biggest assets. There’s a working theory with supernatural-tinged series like these that if there is ever a character who stops working or becomes boring, the easiest thing to do is simply “turn them” into whatever creature/race/ability that particular series has. That theory sometimes advocates for taking the easy way out but there is no question that turning Tara into a vampire has worked wonders for her and the series. She’s never been more likable or interesting than in this season and it’s not just because she’s a vampire, it’s what being a vampire allows her to do or say. Tara is similar to Sookie in that she has been freed from all the drama that piled up over the first four seasons and with all that behind her, the character has been stripped to her essential qualities: tough, sarcastic and probably a little crazy. Rutina Wesley has clearly been having a ball and her chemistry with Kristin Bauer van Straten is one of the season’s strongest elements.
And really, all around the series, the writers have been doing right by characters and stories. Don’t get me wrong, this season has been full of typical True Blood antics and stupidity, but most of the stories have been more concerned with character instead of throwing as many CRAZY twists and turns at the audience. Terry’s sojourn with Scott Foley’s Patrick is a great example. The story tried too hard to make some poignant statement about the Iraq War and obviously failed (because it’s True Blood) and probably went on far too long. However, it was great to finally learn about Terry’s time overseas and the story created some nice tension between Patrick and Terry, who clearly didn’t want to harm one another but ultimately had to try. Similar praise can be heaped on the messy Jason-Jessica-Hoyt triangle, which didn’t have that great of a through-line but kept mostly working because all three actors are good together and the characters are basically the only ones that the show seems dedicated to treating with respect (except for that time Jason got gang-raped by were-panthers). Hoyt’s departure for Alaska and the circumstances surrounding it led to some of the most emotionally-wrenching moments in the series’ history.
Generally speaking, the series feels more streamlined. There are less stories and certainly less awful stories – which makes all the difference. It’s easier to set through dumb stuff about Alcide’s former pack when I know that there are six other decent-to-good stories coming in the next 20 minutes. At this point, it’s a numbers game with a series like this one. There are always going to be 8-12 stories happening at once and the hope is that the majority of them are bearable. In the last two seasons, the majority of them have been awful. But the breakdown has swung back to the positive. That’s really the best that we can ask for from True Blood.