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TV Review: True Blood – “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'”

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Well, the finale finally arrived, after two very long, impatiently finger-tapping weeks. And … I was underwhelmed, unfortunately. There were enough good moments that the hour was not a waste of time, but it was far from the kind of spine-tingling, emotionally engaging story I was expecting. So what went right and what went wrong?

I love the show, so I’ll start with what went right for me. And that was most decidedly Sam. I’ve always liked the actor in the role — it’s not the easiest task to play the non-alpha male in a cast of sexy vampires and make him interesting through the nuances you bring to his character. Sam stepped forward and really came into his own as he trusted Bill enough to take a place on Mary Ann’s revolting sacrificial altar, knowing everything could go very wrong. The whole maenad storyline had a lot of issues this season, dragging on too long, and the finale offered a couple of logical inconsistencies to the mix: why didn’t Sookie read Sam’s mind immediately, given the danger he was in, and where did Sam get to see a white Brahmin bull on his way to Sookie’s grandmother’s house? But Sam Trammell made me brush aside these niggling doubts and embrace the end of Mary Ann, because he so clearly conveyed Sam’s quiet bravery and equally quiet heartbreak. The scene where he watches the graceful doe in the trees beautifully showed what this lonely man has lost, leading very naturally to his search for his real — and apparently not so nice — parents. I’m very interested to know where this storyline is going next season.

Michelle Forbes also came through, making a rather anti-climactic resolution — an odd choice given how slow the build up to this storyline was — work as the maenad finally grasps her god is not coming this time or any other and accepts the loss of faith and immortality. True Blood is at its most successful when the colourful characters and shenanigans offer a perceptive look at a recognisable issue, and Mary Ann’s embodiment of the search for the divine had a certain dignity at the end.

I also loved Hoyt and Jessica’s mutual loss of innocence, as both embraced their anger — Hoyt at his mama and Jessica at her own vampirism — and missed the support they’ve offered each other in the past. I think we’ve seen the last of mama’s boy Hoyt as he reassesses everything he thought he knew about himself and his life.

In addition to these highlights, there were, of course, many very funny True Blood moments — the two women at Merlotte’s who blessed Sam’s jeans made me laugh out loud and I could only nod along sagely with the sheriff when he hired Andy back because at least he was wearing pants. Vintage True Blood, good to the last drop.

So, yes, I enjoyed some of the episode. But there were also many eyebrow-raising moments for all the wrong reasons, and the end of the finale left me with more fears as to where this series is going than heated anticipation for season three. That really surprises me, because I count down the days for True Blood.

To start with, what’s up with Bill? I like the character and I like the actor portraying him. I don’t like the ever increasing blandness enveloping him as Alan Ball removes any darkness from this vampire and leaves him looking soulfully over at Sookie far too many times. I don’t see the dramatic advantage to taking away Bill’s own nature as something causing difficulties between him and Sookie, nor in making anything suggesting shading to his character as not his fault and caused by outside forces. Bill as heroic knight beleaguered by the forces of badness as he tries to rescue his damsel in distress is a whole lot less interesting than Bill the vampire trying to understand and wrestle with his own nature as he tries to reclaim a humanity he’s buried.

I also fail to see the advantage to giving Eric every conceivable troubling attribute, which the excellent Alexander Skarsgard nevertheless turns to his advantage as he finds and plays the ambiguities in his character to create a wonderfully complex vampire, only to pull his teeth in the finale in the two minutes of screen time he gets by removing him from the action so he can dance attendance on an underwhelming vampire queen. As Sophie Ann noted, he’s the oldest and strongest vampire in her area, and as we know, he’s a political animal who nevertheless goes his own way and has something of Godric’s independence of mind and spirit, albeit with way more interest in his sphere of influence. Why does he not know more about maenads than the queen? He’s over a thousand years old and his Maker was another thousand years older yet. I would think he’d come across at least maenad lore somewhere in his past. And why does the queen so disparagingly tell him to leave the events at Bon Temps alone and stick to what he does best, which apparently is lying and back room underhanded deals rather than being a stand up guy when he’s called upon. We just watched Eric stand up for Godric and at this point, I would expect him to stand up for anyone he cares about. Where does Sophie Ann’s attitude come from? She should be hoping Eric has no political ambitions of his own, not dismissing him as some kind of lightweight.

A key problem with the queen storyline is that anyone who emasculates Eric had better emanate power, whatever her apparent age and projected demeanor. I simply don’t feel that innate power or wisdom from this character. I get that the actress is attempting a gay and glam 1940’s era veneer over a ruthless and powerful inner core, but it isn’t coming across. I find the line readings to be painted washes of generalised feeling rather than specific characterisation and that is deadly in a show like True Blood, where suspension of disbelief in order to enter into this world is essential. I don’t believe in Sophie Ann, therefore I find it difficult to see why Eric does. I’m really hoping next season’s story arc does not centre on the queen’s plots. The maenad storyline this season suffered from spinning its wheels too long, but at least the character and actress were solid.

Looking back at the season, I think Alan Ball made a few wrong turns which I hope doesn’t lead to the show getting lost. The Dallas storyline was brilliant, delivering on every level, and I connected with Godric’s character immediately. He would have been a welcome addition to the cast. So far, Sophie Ann falls far short, so I feel a distinct lack of anticipation at what she’ll bring to season three. And I’ve felt that Bill and Eric have had a fascinating mirror image of a vampire’s journey, with Bill so desperately looking to suppress his baser impulses he finds lies easier than truth, while Eric is very comfortable in his vampire skin, but reluctant to admit how much of his human nature is still present.

I also love that human nature on this show has a lot of similarities to vampire nature and Godric’s realization that he no longer thought as a vampire hinted that perhaps the two natures are not diametrically opposed and all creatures are on a usually painful path to self-knowledge. Taking that sense of ambiguity away from Bill and Eric, as the season increasingly did as Dallas faded into the distance, doesn’t serve anyone’s storyline well, including Sookie’s. I need to see her struggling with how to define her relationships and having it not be easy.

I even had issues with Jason, who emerged as a delight for most of this season. Jason’s journey at the Fellowship of the Sun was both moving and funny, and I believed him as he struggled with how to define good and evil. I did not believe his little speech to Andy in the finale on what a hero really is — Jason may have painfully learned about what real strength is during the season, but we didn’t actually see him applying at the end, and his little recap of his emotional journey did not feel genuine. On top of that, I find it difficult to muster a lot of anticipation about another storyline involving Jason being suspected of murder. We’ve been there and done that, quite successfully, and inverting the set up doesn’t make it feel all shiny and new.

So there we have it. Some very good moments but I feel let down by the finale and have a surprising lack of anticipation about the set up for season three. I will still tune in, because I have loved this show from the opening episode, but I wouldn’t mind Alan Ball taking a good hard look at what worked and what didn’t this season. Because what did work, really did, and what didn’t work really fell flat.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • http://www.ericnorthman.net DeeDee

    “I’ve felt that Bill and Eric have had a fascinating mirror image of a vampire’s journey, with Bill so desperately looking to suppress his baser impulses he finds lies easier than truth, while Eric is very comfortable in his vampire skin, but reluctant to admit how much of his human nature is still present.”

    Right on the money – with both characters. Excellent review.

  • Conny

    Sookie can´t read shifters minds like humn minds, that why Sam had to sent hid thoughts to her, so she could red them properly and sort them out of the crowd.

    I really loved the stuff going on in Dallas and I think the show really slowed down on action tha last 3 episodes. To much Maryann, to less Eric.

    And Bill is annoying beyond explanation. Always the hero who saves the day… Totaly against the books. I don´t like it.

    Hope season 3 will show us more Eric/Sookie power and I hope they get a good cast together for the Weres!

  • onetrackmind

    nice review. i agree especially with the queen. she just appears to be a spoiled brat, you just can’t sense any power from her. a terrible actress.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Ah, but see the queen emanates power not through some direct consequence of her power but through the sheer boredom and apathy she expresses with her lifestyle. In essence, she’s been queen so long and been that this for such a long time that there’s no reason to act powerfully any longer. What’s the use? Everyone knows what she can do and who she is, so why would she relegate herself to ridiculous posturing if she doesn’t have to?

    What True Blood does so well is ditch the conventional vampire narratives. A queen emanating power would’ve been too obvious. We don’t need to know why Eric respects her or fears her or whatever; we only need to know that he does. Period. And the actress, who is most decidedly NOT terrible by the way, does the job nicely. There’s almost a gleeful boredom to her decadence, which is brought forth brilliantly by Evan Rachel Wood (again, NOT terrible by any extent of the imagination).

  • Ray

    With Godric, you truly felt his age. The years had brought about a natural apathy towards life. He had no interest in “shiny” things, games or childish antics.

    With Sophie, she didn’t need to be glaring, menacing or intimidating in a very overt way to bring across her power. The Sophie of the books was more regal, she didn’t need to look like a poodle or prance around to show the world who she was. She had been there, done that, and saw how worthless that really is in the bigger picture. Hence why, in my opinion, Sophie on True Blood fell short of portraying the character to the full potential.

    I just want to say that the review was bang on with my thoughts. Will read this page for future reviews as well in the future.

  • Gerry

    Nice to hear from all of you! Thanks for reading and responding.

    To Jordan: it’s great to hear your perspective on Sophie, and I’ll try to explain further what I mean by power, as I think we are using it two different ways.

    You wrote:
    “Ah, but see the queen emanates power not through some direct consequence of her power but through the sheer boredom and apathy she expresses with her lifestyle. In essence, she’s been queen so long and been that this for such a long time that there’s no reason to act powerfully any longer. What’s the use? Everyone knows what she can do and who she is, so why would she relegate herself to ridiculous posturing if she doesn’t have to?”

    My issue with this performance is that I do not feel Sophie Ann emanating power from any source. Acting is always as much about reacting as acting, and for Eric to be humiliated and pushed around, he must be reacting to something from the queen which is making him accept that. The actress must make Eric’s actions a natural and believable consequence of Sophie’s. That sense of power has nothing to do with regal trappings. It comes from her internally.

    And I as a viewer do not take it for granted that this character can do anything–why should I? She is younger by far than Eric and has gained her position through political maneuvering. She can be removed and in fact Eric said that Godric could have been king of Louisianna anytime he chose. So she needs to convey a sense of power in some fashion and to me the actress seemed to rely on over-arch line readings that did little to convey the inner workings of her character. If there was one thing this performance had in spades, it was posturing.

    In contrast, Godric established his power and depth of feeling from his opening scene. Everything that followed flowed very believably, because the performance was powerful. Eric also does not show his power through posturing. The posturing he does when he’s on display in Fangtasia is clearly something he does for the tourists and has fun with, with Pam. The real sense of power and menace come when he is offstage, dressed in a tracksuit and often fussing with his hair. It has nothing to do with outward trappings; it’s what the actor projects.

    I know Evan Rachel Wood has done some fine acting in other roles. My review is only of this performance.

  • CharmCityBloodFan

    I don’t think I could possibly agree with you more. Excellent review. Just excellent.

  • Gerry

    Thank you so much, I appreciate the feedback.

    Thanks to everyone who commented. This is a great show to talk about! Despite my reservations about the finale and season three set up, I love True Blood.

  • http://askarsgard.blogspot.com/ BoringLittleTit

    Gerry,

    Great review. I have put a link in my blog to this, matches my thoughts exactly.

  • Excelsior

    Loved your blog. Well said on all counts. I am a huge Eric fan (and not a bookie). Although I like Jason, Sam and Lafayette too, I find the promise of Eric finding his humanity to be the most entertaining thing on the show. Maybe it is the talent of Alexander Skarsgard who drains every drop (pun intended) of nuance out of the limited dialogue he is getting, but I just LOVE this character. Skarsgard is wonderfully charasmatic on screen. Something different in a business of same old same old.

    I can not believe this is the same Alan Ball everyone raves about being such a genius. All I am seeing is a comic book black and white retread of the good guy and the bad guy scenario. What is so original about that? Give us the layers of character of both Bill and Eric. Bill might now be the most boring vampire in history and is the butt of many jokes. Not a good sign. BTW Moyer just won the Tubey Award for “Worst American Accent by a Foreign Actor.” Coulda seen that one coming.

    In an interview with Ausiello yesterday the last thing Alan Ball said was, “I am surprised no one didnt ask who kidnapped Bill.” Well lots of us know the answer Alan…. “No one really cares.” At least I know one thing for sure… I will not be waiting with baited breath to see what happens next season.

    Poorly played Alan.

  • Gerry

    I’m a huge fan of Eric, too, but I also enjoy Bill–I think both their journeys are interesting. Hopefully, we’ll see more of a nuanced Bill next season! I do think Alan Ball is a very talented man, so I have lots of hope we’ll see a more complex portrayal of Bill, Sookie and Eric’s relationships. I don’t mind who Sookie chooses, I just want to enjoy the ride. My main interest is seeing each character realise they have both good and evil inside them, and the evil is not confined to the vampires, nor the good to humans with apparently Bill as a quasi-human. I like the blurring of the lines, so brilliantly embodied by Godric.

  • Buni

    Wow, you managed to say everything I was feeling about the finale. Disappointed and confused. So much did fall flat. What worries me, is that AB said that he’s already gotten the first few scripts out for S3 and that he knows exactly what’s going to happen in S3. You’d think he’d want to take a bit of time to analyze the first two season to, as you say… see what works and didn’t work. Guess he plowed right into S3 without even bothering. You can bet that if the ratings drop though, he’ll be wishing he had.

  • OcherVelvet

    Hello.

    Really enjoyed your review — you took the time to look in depth and think about the characters’ motivations.

    I’m with you on the lack of ambiguity in Bill and Eric. I hate to whine about the tv series differing from the books, but I must say that Charlaine Harris wrote these two as real, complex individuals, not cartoons.

    Bill is not a knight in shining armor, although he desperately wants to be, and while Eric is certainly crafty and political, he’s not devoid of emotion, he’s not evil — per se.

    And yes, it’s ridiculous that tv Eric doesn’t know anything about maenads. In the book, he certainly does know about them, has direct experience of them, and knows what they want — tribute. He even brings Callisto (“Maryann” in the tv show) a live bull and a case of vintage wine. (Which leads to a charming phone conversation between him and Sookie. She wants to know if delivering the bull was fun, and he says — surprising even himself — yes, it was. Noting her interest, he offers to bring her along the next time he has to deliver livestock, and she says, “Thank you, that would be lovely.”)

    I love how you described Sam: “… Sam’s quiet bravery and equally quiet heartbreak. The scene where he watches the graceful doe in the trees beautifully showed what this lonely man has lost … ” The single tear trickling down his cheek nearly undid me. I read somewhere that creating a compelling character who is not the alpha male is very difficult; I think Sam has done it. He’s so humble, yet fascinating, able, and seriously attractive. In any other show, he’d be the star. If tv Tara could get her s**t together, I wouldn’t mind seeing them try for a relationship again.

    Yes, I hated seeing Sophie Ann emasculate Eric like that. In the books (here I go again), while she is every bit as powerful as the tv version, she leaves the nastiness to her 2nd in command — Andre, “the world’s most dangerous teenager.” Kind of like good cop/bad cop. I hope Alan Ball introduces him next season. He’s an interesting character, absolutely deadly (kind of a psychopath, really), but packaged in the body of a 16-year old with a baby face. Who has plans for Sookie.

    As for the season finale, I’d give it a B-. I was so grateful to see the maenad plot finally come to a close. At the same time, I wish we could have seen Maryann’s humanity sooner in the story arc. She’s not the only one who has been blinded and driven to extremes by religion and love, and if we had known her motivations earlier in the season, we might not have been so anxious to see her leave. I think it would have made for more interesting tv if they had focused on the tragedy of her endless wait for the god, rather than all those dumb orgies. We might have begun to care for her, and then, in the finale, her demise would have driven a different kind of punch. More complicated.

    Still, I look forward to season 3. If they even touch on the book’s plot lines, it will be fun. If you haven’t read the books, I strongly recommend them. Even though Ball has diverged, they do inform the show, and on their own, they’re just plain fun reading. Alan Ball was hooked!

    -OcherVelvet

  • Gerry

    OcherVelvet, thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment! I agree with your assessment of Sam and also that it would have been nice to have gotten to know Mary Ann better since we spent so much time with her.

    Thanks for the recommendation to read the books. I’ve made a deal with myself–since I started with the TV series, not the books, I’m waiting until a season ends and then reading the book that season was based on. So, I’ve read the first two books now and I’ll wait until next fall to read book three. I don’t want to know too many plot details, both because I don’t want to be overly spoiled and because Ball is creating his own alternate universe and that’s not going to change.

    As I read the books, I see where he’s changing some things and while the increasing lack of ambiguity with Bill annoys me as it is so unnecessary and actually flattens the character instead of deepening him, I’ve loved others, such as keeping Lafayette and making Godric a deeper character and Eric’s maker. I love the way Charlaine Harris proposed fans accept the two incarnations as two different experiences, and for me, it helps to separate the book experience from the TV experience. I enjoyed the books, by the way! And it was nice to find out what all those innuendos about pink spandex are about.