After a frenzied penultimate episode characterized by poorly motivated character decisions, poorly hatched plotting, poorly staged revelations and cheaply discarded allegory, Sunday (Sept. 12) night's "True Blood" leaves Alan Ball and company with an almost insurmountable task in next week's third season finale. Somehow, the writers have one week to find a way to make us believe that this season wasn't all a random assortment of things that happened over the course of a few days in Bon Temps, a random assortment of things with barely any connection to each other and with almost not through-lines uniting characters. And speaking of characters, the writers have only one week to service a broad swath of beloved returning and new faces, some of whom were perplexingly dropped from the storytelling this season without any rhyme or reason.
That'll be a lot to pack into one episode, but there are talented people involved with "True Blood" and I'm sure they'll pull it off.
*This* week's episode was the third season finale of "True Blood"? This week's episode was the last fans are going to see of "True Blood" for 9 months?
[More rambling thoughts, obviously with spoilers, about the "True Blood" finale after the break...]
A finale is not six or seven cliffhangers that you hastily tossed together because it became clear that you weren't telling any stories that you'd be capable of resolving in any marginally satisfactory way.
Oh, don't get my wrong. I love a good cliffhanger. Heck, I love a good multitude of cliffhangers. That's good serialized storytelling. But for all of the dozens of balls tossed into the air this season, Ball and company couldn't set any of them to rest. And for all of the separation of characters this season and all of the disparate plotlines, they couldn't bring any of them together in the end. None.
If a season of a TV show is like a chapter of a book, or like a book in a series, I'm really not sure it's possibly to have done a worse job of contained, arced storytelling than "True Blood" did this season. Having characters come to abrupt and poorly motivated climactic decisions isn't the same as plotting.
Let me take a step back from my utter annoyance.
Denis O'Hare was already a national treasure before he made his first appearance on "True Blood" this season. He's got the theater pedigree to prove it.
Now, O'Hare deserves an Emmy nomination as well. His performance as Russell Edgington was a scenery chewing aria of operatic excess. He played the character for malevolent comedy and swooning romanticism and he was the embodiment of the kind of nutso excess that "True Blood" often aspires to, before settling for buckets of goo and frantic humping. Denis O'Hare is so good that he even maintained his dignity in the finale when he was coated in inches of faux cinders, made to look like a fang-y version of Jim Carrey's old Fire Marshall Bill character.
Much respect to Denis O'Hare.
A little respect to Rutina Wesley.
Not a lot. But a little. And if you've read my thoughts on "True Blood" before, you know that even begrudging respect is difficult on my end. Tara is one of TV's worst characters, basically a whipping girl for all manner of supernatural forces, a font of utterly empty attitude made into yet another portrait of female victimization. Tara's a bad character and Wesley generally hasn't played her well. But over the past couple episodes, Tara began to realize her place in the "True Blood" universe and Wesley played that recognition with a subtlety that far outstripped any of her histrionics earlier in the season. Leaving aside that most of the abuse Tara took this season was unnecessary and poorly integrated to the rest of the plot and that a delightfully hammy James Frain was wasted in a doubly-truncated subplot that played as little more than reheated Tennessee Williams, Wesley made her decision to hop in a car and depart Bon Temps seem plausible.
A tiny bit of respect to Anna Paquin.
Sookie had several moments this season where she looked to be growing a spine, but in the finale she was telling everybody off left and right. She also looked to be expressing a preference for Joe Manganiello's Alcide over her two cold-blooded paramours, something every single person on my Twitter feed has been advocating for for months. I know it was traumatic for Sookie to discover that the whole basis of her relationship with Bill was build on a lie and a predatory mission from the Vampire Queen, but in this moment of possible self-actualization and empowerment, I wish Sookie hadn't gone off to fairyland in a closing scene that looked like something out of a cheap TV version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
If we fairies have offended, indeed.
Sookie's initial reaction to learning she was part fairy was mockery, with the writers attempting to take audience backlash out at the knees. They then had four episodes to convince us that Sookie being a fairy wasn't as lame as we initially feared. So far? No dice.
Faced with Alcide, Eric and Bill, Sookie doesn't do a full "I choose me" at the end, but she does a "I choose silly fairy lights and a newly introduced beefcake fairy" in a climax that looked all too much like the maenad-y toga-wearing antics of Maryann last season.
At least she didn't reconcile with Bill. What a lamewad. What an irredeemable lamewad. The character had grown increasingly insufferable for several seasons, but on any show without a vampire-themed, destiny-defined romance, Bill's behavior in tonight's episode would have ended his chances to be a viable romantic prospect ever again. Instead, despite the ill-hatched plan to off Eric -- Did Bill really think that enlisting an off-screen non-character (Eric's assassin, whoever that was) to ensure the deaths of two major characters was a good idea? -- and the revelation of his dealings with the Vampire Queen, Bill will still be broody and dreamy to a certain portion of the "True Blood" audience if he returns with proper remorse next year. That assume he's going to survive the shoddy wire-work that saw Bill and the Vampire Queen getting ready to brawl in one of those myriad cliffhangers. Whatever.
I also say "Whatever" to Sam maybe shooting his deadbeat brother, but maybe not. Absolutely nothing good and nothing enlightening came from Sam meeting his family this season and if he decided to shoot Tommy? Well that's fine. And was that supposed to be Sam tapping into the same rage as we saw in the flashbacks a couple episodes ago? That would have been more convincing if Sam hadn't been all relaxed and repentant with everybody, especially Terry, played by the genuinely excellent Todd Lowe, one of many characters who never quite was on-screen enough this season.
[Don't get me started on Deborah Ann Woll's Jessica. Y'all know I love both Woll and this character. And I'm not the only one. Everybody loves Jessica. If you don't? We really can't be friends anymore. So how can you have a season that ends with an episode in which Jessica has exactly one scene, where after all of that nonsense about self-actualization and independence earlier in the season, she gets giddy over the chance to co-habitate with Hoyt and... that's it. Hoyt situating Jessica in an environment of human domesticity as a way of combatting her uncontainable other-ness is amazingly retrograde and material for a totally different essay. It turns out that Jessica didn't need to be trained in fighting. She didn't need to learn how to quench her desire for human blood. All she actually needed was a house with "a tricked out hidey hole." And there was Hoyt's momma kicking up a gun and getting loaded for vampire in yet another cliffhanger that probably would have been better suited to a penultimate episode.]
The finale was just full of big moments that weren't developed well enough for me to react with anything other than, "Yeah? So? Oh right. I guess I'll have to be interested in that next year."
So Lafayette's boyfriend Jesus is a Brujo? A Manwich? Or a Manwitch? Or something?
I liked Lafayette's "Free to Be You and Me" response, "You's a witch who's a nurse who's a dude."
My dog is a plumber. So he must be a boy...
Wait. But so what? And wasn't that something he might have mentioned at any number of previous points? Also, did "True Blood" really hire Afre Woodard as Lafayette's mother and get so little use out of her? Sigh. Why must everybody -- "Tres Rios," "Memphis Beat," "True Blood" -- waste Alfre Woodard?
Witches are coming next year. We get that. But couldn't better writers have found a way to integrate Lafayette and his Manwitch into any of the main storylines this year, perhaps? Apparently lot.
And speaking of poor plot integration? Jason Stackhouse dreams of becoming a cop and then throws away his dream of becoming a cop because he fell in love with a werepanther who he lets get abducted by her psychotic impregnator-to-be because she tells him that his responsibility is to raise the pool, malnourished, dispossessed children of Hot Shot.
Huh? There's a difference between the latest incarnation of the "Jason Stackhouse finds his life's purpose" meme and Jason Stackhouse arbitrarily taking on the Michael Caine role in "Cider House Rules" because a werepanther told him to. And that connects in what way, exactly, with the other primary actions of the season?
Good night, you princes of Hot Shot, you kings of the Bayou.
The "True Blood" finale was definitely about characters coming to realizations about themselves. Tara realized she was a victim and left. Sookie realized she was a victim and a fairy and left. Jason realized that he's attracted to victims and adopted a crystal meth trailer park. Sam realized that the problem with trying to help victims is that sometimes they steal your stuff, so you might as well shoot them. And all of that had what, exactly, to do with illicit historical alliances between werewolves and vampires? Or with Godrick showing up in shimmery ghostly form to preach forgiveness? Or with any of the allegory that the show has become content to spoon out in conversations between Nan Flanagan and the Reverend Steve Newlin?
Does this column feel disjointed? It was that kind of season on "True Blood." Plenty of blood was spilled, but the only coagulation was Talbot's gooey remains, now flushed down a garbage disposal, along with much of my good faith.
But yes, Denis O'Hare was great this season, wasn't he? And there was lots of nudity and viscera! So we can pretty much ignore everything else, right?