True Blood jumped the shark.
There's no denying it. When slick vampire Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) defied gravity and flew up, up, and away just like Superman in this season's penultimate episode "Frenzy"… well, I'd put that right up there with Fonzie strapping on his water skis, wouldn't you? Not only did it look ridiculous — as this show's vampire effects unfortunately often do — but there was absolutely no precedence. When one of Arlene's stunned kids shouted, "He can fly?!" I was right there with her. I've been watching this show for two seasons now and I had no idea that vampires could fly.
I was prepared to call it quits. The show's second season started off very strong, but the plot involving bitchtastic maenad Maryann (Michelle Forbes) paled greatly in comparison with the goings-on at the vampire-phobic Fellowship of the Sun Church. By time they got to the fourth or fifth straight episode where Maryann drove the residents of Bon Temps into fits of orgiastic sex and violence, the storyline had basically lost whatever steam it had started with.
And yet here I am, a couple days after the season finale, looking forward to the next batch of episodes (set to air summer 2010). The finale, "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," might not be an example of great television, but it is an example of great True Blood. Which brings me to the conclusion that True Blood succeeds by explicitly not being great television. To be sure, it's had its share of heavy emotional moments. I won't soon forget the aftermath of Sookie's grandmother's death, or the beautiful way in which they did away with Amy (Lizzy Caplan). Not to mention the fact that repressed road worker Hoyt (Jim Parrack) and teenage vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) have one of the best relationships on TV.
It's also undeniable that it might just be the most inconsistent show on the air right now. When True Blood started in September 2008, it was not, how you say, "good." Coming from Alan Ball, the man behind Six Feet Under, it was a major disappointment. Its pilot episode was okay, and it chugged along for a few episodes before reaching its nadir with the horrible "Escape from Dragon House," in which Jason's (Ryan Kwanten) dick almost exploded from ingesting too much vampire blood. Yet the following episode, "Sparks Fly Out," showed such a tremendous leap in quality and maturity that it was impossible to tune out.
What to make of the series? It was too extreme and campy to take as straight drama, yet too human and grounded to dismiss as kitsch. Ball was really letting loose, getting his ya-yas out after years of doing the somber, profound Six Feet Under (not to mention serious-minded films such as American Beauty and Towelhead). When he finds the perfect balance between effective character drama and batshit insanity, the show works like gangbusters, so much so that you ache for it to keep walking that tightrope. There was a time when I thought it would be a seriously great show, in the second half of the first season and the first half of the second, but that time has passed.
Instead, "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'" has finally allowed me to understand what makes the show tick. It's got a bunch of crazy supernatural stuff, with Maryann's impending marriage to the god Dionysus leading to a sort of awe-inspiring death scene in which shifter Sam (Sam Trammell) appears as a bull, gores her with his horn, then reverts to human form and yanks her heart out with his bare hand. This takes up the first half of the episode, and allows the rest to deal with the emotional fallout. Sam knows that, despite almost sacrificing himself to save Sookie (Anna Paquin), her heart belongs to vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer). There's a very sad scene where he looks at a deer and cries. I'm not entirely sure what that's supposed to mean, but then he goes to find his real parents and there's a lot of intrigue.
Hoyt goes to apologize to Jessica for over-reacting after she sunk her fangs into his possessed mom (only on True Blood, folks), but Jessica is off feeding her depression by devouring sleazy old truckers. Then we see Bill and Sookie dancing at a French restaurant, very romantic, before he proposes to her. She freaks out, goes to the bathroom to make up her mind, and when she comes back, Bill has been dragged off by an unseen assailant. Who is probably the Sookie-obsessed, vengeance-seeking Eric. Yeah, it's definitely Eric.
That's a lot of insanity, right? Now realize that every single episode of True Blood is exactly like this and you'll begin to understand why it's one of the most frustrating, exhausting shows on the air. I've lowered my expectations, wrapped my head around where the show is going. The reason that I am able to enjoy True Blood despite all of its many flaws is simply that it doesn't ask to be taken as anything more than the pulpy, addictive nonsense it is.
The second season was an exciting and at times disappointing experience, but with its unevenness comes the realization that no matter what it does, True Blood is jump-the-shark-proof. Why? Because it's jumped so far over the shark that it's hit the water again and is on the look-out for more dorsal fins. If Sookie takes to the skies next year, I won't be surprised. But I'll be back for the next go-round.