Another season down and as I sort out my thoughts about the finale, I realise they are essentially the same thoughts I’ve had all season long—why are all these disconnected subplots shoving the main story line to the side? Alan Ball seems to have decided every character on the show is a main character and deserves a separate story line. I’ve been hoping against hope since the middle of the season that we’d see all the subplots twine together so we had at most two left going into the finale. Instead, we had around 10 and only one had any sort of closure.
Last season, Ball only ran two stories concurrently and even then, he had pacing issues. The Mary Ann plot, while well acted, sagged in the middle because it had to spin its wheels while some of its players were off in Dallas doing interesting things. This season, Ball apparently decided to address the saggy middle issue by splitting everyone up into different stories and telling them all simultaneously. The result is that we got sagginess mixed into every episode, because not every character can be a main character. Supporting characters need to support the main narrative. That’s their job. When the writers spend as much time on uninteresting side plots as on the main season arc, the writing becomes less nuanced and occasionally even difficult to follow.
I’ll start with my favourite plot: the Eric/Russell revenge plot which nicely drew in the Bill/Sookie romance story. Ball said in an interview that the first season of a show is a process of discovering what the show is going to be, and as that reveals itself, you get out of the way. Yet he doesn’t seem to have really figured out yet that his main characters are Eric, Bill, and Sookie, along with a good dose of the main villain. When the story focuses on their troubles and ever shifting relationships, the show hums. That is in part a benefit of consistently good acting, particularly from Denis O’Hare and Alexander Skarsgard (Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin are a bit more hit and miss, but hit enough to keep me invested in them). Another part of the success of that story line is that it focuses on what drew viewers to the series in the first place: the often funny and sometimes poignant question of whether vampires and humans can co-exist.
O’Hare’s vampire king decided the two species cannot exist as equals and the charmingly ferocious Edgington has stolen every scene he’s been in all season. The actor is just as compelling in the finale, despite having to act through 10 pounds of burn victim make up. He faces death with the same aplomb he did life, from threatening to come back from True Death if he has to in order to get revenge to trying to cut a deal with whomever is next to him at any given time. He conveys his grief just as believably when he reveals to Sookie who is in the jar, while trying to hide his hope for a way to resurrect his lover. Russell is still in the “magical thinking” stage of grief, which makes his eagerness to embrace Eric’s lure of faery blood believable. Russell’s deep grief makes Eric’s decision to entomb him rather than destroy him understandable—at least to Eric, if not to the other characters.
Eric’s arc this season has been admitting to himself he does care about humans and in fact still has what he considers human emotions. We’ve seen him struggle with feeling more for Sookie than he likes to admit and we’ve seen him follow a need for revenge that often puts him at odds with the people he cares about, from Sookie to Pam. In the finale, he adds Godric to the list of people he’s willing to push aside to get his perfect revenge.
It’s not entirely clear whether Godric is a manifestation of Eric’s conscience talking to him or an actual Ghost of Godric, but in either case, he represents a side of Eric the vampire doesn’t like to admit to, a side that cares about the ethics of his actions and the big picture of where he fits in the world. These are the very questions Godric struggled with and eventually decided to end his existence over. From Eric’s response to Godric this episode, it is clear that Eric is still in his own stage of grief over his Maker’s loss, because the idea of death being a route to peace makes him very angry.
I’m hoping Godric is Hallucination Godric, in much the same way Amber on House was a manifestation of a troubled mind. Plotwise, it would explain why Godric’s visit doesn’t seem to surprise Eric in the least, given that True Death is supposed to be it for vampires. And it also helps explain why Godric appears in such a saintly vision, when last season, he knew himself to be a flawed being like any other. If he represents to Eric the existential angst that led to Godric valuing a final peace over his relationship with Eric, the anger, rather than love, that surges up in Eric is understandable, as is his desire to remove the possibility of peace for Russell. His anger at Godric’s loss is bound up with the loss of his human father and all of those feelings are now aimed at Russell. Eric is more concerned at making sure Russell suffers appropriately than on removing him permanently as a threat, which lets us know he has a good deal of processing left to do for his own grief.
I loved this aspect of the story and therefore, this is one place I really chafed at the limited screen time these characters get. If the writers are going to bring a character like Godric back, then use him in a way that really resonates, rather than seeming a bit like fan service. We need to spend enough time with him and Eric to pick up on nuances such as how much of Eric’s anger at Russell is a result of how angry he is at Godric, and whether Eric is actually as grief-stricken and possibly unbalanced as the king is. We get tiny little hints, but all too quickly the show cuts away to one of the other much less interesting stories. This lack of screen time is even more irritating in Bill’s part of the plot.
Bill decides to piggyback on Eric’s scheme to bury Russell alive with one of his own to bury Eric alive in an adjacent hole. But the details of his plot are so skimpily given that a viewer could be excused for not fully following that Bill put a glove on his hand so he could put a silver handcuff on Eric and weaken him enough to push him into the cement. The final reveal that Pam took out the assassin Bill called, allowing her to jump in the concrete and save her Maker, would have been much better actually portrayed onscreen, both in terms of clarity and drama. We could have done with more of this plot and less of so many others. I care much more about the real natures of Eric, Bill, and Sookie than say, Arlene’s baby or Crystal.
Last season, Bill was far too one note and there never seemed to be any consequences for his actions. Ball appeared to be painting him as The Good Guy, which left Eric as The Bad Guy. This season, there has been welcome shading in both characters, so that they are now simply Bill and Eric, both with flaws and virtues. Bill’s willingness to lie about anything he knows that Sookie will find unpalatable has grown increasingly evident, as has his attraction to violence. We watched him deliberately use sexual violence to express his anger at Lorena, which made his denials of his own complicity in their violent history very suspect. In the finale, we watch him gleefully mock Russell as he’s helping bury the king alive. Eric’s personal history makes his anger understandable while Bill’s joy in twisting the knife seems more like a bursting through of something he tries hard to bury, but never quite can. And that something makes his attempt to murder Eric and Pam much more problematic than he admits to Sookie.
Sookie spends the episode finally admitting she is very angry at Bill and doesn’t trust any of the vampires in her life. It’s long overdue and unfortunately still doesn’t quite ring true. The scene where Sookie taunts Russell with the loss of Talbot seems a little too cruel for what we’ve seen of this character, unless we get some hints in the near future that her faery heritage is not all sweetness and light. I was also puzzled about her reaction to Bill confessing that he’s just taken out Eric and plans to kill anyone he deems a threat to her in the future. Sookie is surprised at Bill’s action, but is easily swayed into thinking Bill’s murderous plans are a testament to his love for her rather than showing her he’s a less fun version of Franklin. Given that she pushed Bill aside to rescue Eric just hours earlier, I would expect her to be more upset at his death at Bill’s hands, and given that she no longer trusts Bill implicitly, I would expect his murderous plans to look less romantic to her and more frightening.
Instead, it takes Eric revealing the true reason Bill went to Bon Temps to really get the scales to drop from Sookie’s eyes. I wasn’t surprised to find out Bill was sent by Sophie Ann to nab Sookie for her, but I was shocked that he deliberately set the Rattrays to beat her almost to death so he could feed her his blood. Shading is always welcome for a character, but this kind of shading is so dark, I’m not sure how Sookie could ever entertain the idea of being involved with Bill again. Ever. Bill may be fighting to salvage what he can of his humanity, but it remains to be seen what his humanity actually looks like.
Bill’s and Eric’s journeys this season have had the opposite trajectory. Bill’s exterior projects the desire to protect and love so he can define himself as a “good guy,” as Alcide puts it. But the deeper in you go, the more you realise his dishonesty and capability to be cruel. Eric’s exterior is that of an unrepentant vampire who revels in his power and owns all his ruthless tendencies. But the deeper you go, the more you realise he values his relationships deeply, cares about his responsibilities, and is in more touch with his human feelings than he would like anyone to know. Neither has been honest with Sookie, but it’s hard to see how Eric’s hiding of his better self won’t shake out better than Bill’s hiding of his worse self. Hopefully, we’ll get more of this exploration next season.
Unfortunately, other than Jessica and Hoyt’s story line, the rest of the subplots are more about next season at the expense of this one. We had 12 episodes of set up, almost no resolution, and far too little time to get invested in any one of them. The writers realised they hadn’t been using Sam effectively, but their solution was to turn him, without any build up, into a homicidal maniac on the run. I question this strategy, because there does need to be someone on the show to represent “every man” and Sam was actually doing a fine job of that. Now, I don’t see much contrast between Merlotte’s and Fangtasia on where they occupy the moral landscape and I certainly don’t see Sam as a viable love interest for any one. Alcide appears to now occupy the space Sam used to—the “good guy” who offers a contrast to the complicated vampire relationships. Too bad Alcide has not yet demonstrated any purpose on the show other than this. At least Sam is connected to Merlotte’s.
Tara took up a good deal of time in “Evil Is Going On,” and I resented almost every minute of it. We’ve been over this ground so many times, I do not find anything moving about her visions of her past victimhood. Like Tara, I’m hoping for a reboot for the character or that she takes a very very long road trip.
The wrap up of Jason’s story line was as terrible as the execution of it. I don’t care about Crystal or the residents of Hotshot, so the rather fine acting Ryan Kwanten did as Jason accepts the responsibility of caring for his girlfriend’s village was wasted. Why is it a better choice for Jason to try to be the leader of this troubled village than have the authorities get involved? What can he do about the endemic poverty, the inbreeding, the lack of life choices? He’s had little enough luck sorting out his own life and at least that’s usually amusing. I’d rather see more of Kwanten with the criminally underused Chris Bauer than anyone in Hotshot.
Lafayette and Jesus’s plot line continues to somehow miss the mark, perhaps because they are so unconnected to anyone else. If next season we see how the witches tie into a bunch of stories I have no objection to seeing how Lafayette is drawn in, but it would have been so much nicer to see that tie in this season. I am doubtful about the value of making Lafayette supernatural, because at the moment there are almost no human characters left on the show. It’s difficult to explore the effects of the supernatural and human worlds colliding if we only see the supers. Lafayette seems poised to take over Sookie’s position of seeing more than she can handle due to a supernatural sense, and I think it may have been best left in Sookie’s court, rather than making Sookie so completely part of the supernatural realm that she no longer seems human. And I seriously question Faery Land, in every way possible.
Fortunately, Jessica and Hoyt’s story continues to charm, probably because they occupy that interesting space between worlds. I was genuinely chilled to see the doll ominously lying on the floor as the two love birds discuss marriage and house renovation. Besides our knowledge that Hoyt hates dolls, while Summer loves them, dolls have so far stood for disquieting magic on the show. I am very curious to see where this plot goes next season.
The finale was a mixed bag, perhaps mostly because Alan Ball was determined this season to introduce a bunch of new characters and plots to play out over the next few seasons. I hope we get a more concentrated fourth season with very few new characters. The finale came and went without offing enough of the too crowded cast and that’s with Holly not appearing and Alcide doing very little. Someone’s murderous side is going to have to come out in season four, because the show needs to trim characters and plots.