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Day of the Dead: Thoughts on the Season Finale of HBO's True Blood

"I'll always be with you."

I've been quiet about the last few episodes of True Blood, partly because I've had a massive amount of deadlines at work and am in the process of moving house (and taking time off as a result), but also because my enthusiasm for the series has waned considerably during the final few installments of Season Four. After a series of strong episodes, I felt the quality drop considerably out of the final third of the season.

I will say, however, that I did quite enjoy the season finale ("And When I Die"), written by Raelle Tucker and directed by Scott Winant, which is a head-scratcher as I typically don't love the True Blood season finales as a rule, as they tend to be more about setting up the next season than wrapping up storylines. (I tend to think of them more as epilogues or codas than anything else.) Given how little I've liked the rally massacre/standoff at Moon Goddess storylines, I was surprised by how much pleasure I was able to take in the final episode of the season, which paid homage to past relationships, past friends, and the ghosts of the past, and still managed to set up some intriguing twists for Season Five.

Perhaps it was the opening sequence, which gave us a Sookie-Tara scene that was laden with emotion for a change. Far too often, True Blood relishes in the rollercoaster ride of plot twists and shocking developments, but the series tends to become far too operatic and out there when it loses sight of the baseline of normalcy that has to exist in these characters' lives, given just how compact the timeline tends to be. Yes, life in Bon Temps is scary, brutish, and short, which is why we need to see our characters find pleasure when they can, whether that's in a romantic sense or just kicking back with friends. We need to feel that there's a reason people stay in this not-so-quiet burg, rather than running for the hills (or the big city). Sookie used to sunbath and eat ice cream with Tara and put on a movie every now and then, but she's been so consumed with issues of survival, of vampire-human relations, of massacre-hungry witches, maenads, shifters, werewolves, faeries, etc. that she--and the show, really--have lost focus on humanity in a way.

Which is why I was so glad to see Tara and Sookie just sit in the kitchen and have a heart-to-heart, and talk for a change about what they were feeling, to unburden themselves, and remind the audience that these two really are friends, though the writers seem to relish pitting them against one another time and time again. Of course, this being True Blood, I figured that the fact that Sookie and Tara grabbed a quiet moment together meant that it would likely signal the demise of one Tara Thornton...

It's fitting, really, that an episode about the lifting of the veil between life and death should feature so much death and despair. In just a single episode, we witnessed the demise of Jesus (which depresses me more than anything), Nan, Debbie, and possibly Tara. (As well as seeing the "return" of Adele, Rene, Steve Newlin, and Russell Edgington, but we'll discuss that in a bit.) I'm not at all convinced that Tara is dead, for several reasons: (1) It would be a piss-poor end to a character who hasn't really gotten much of a fair shot and has been--in my opinion--battered around far too much by the writers, (2) Sookie's cry for help at the end, given how many vampires she's shared blood with who are in the nearby vicinity, (3) the dangling plot thread with Sookie seeing faeries rushing at her when she's reunited with Tara earlier in the season, and (4) Alan Ball told me he has an incredible plotline for Tara in Season Five.

Of course that plotline could be that she's deader than a doornail (or Alan was just lying to me in order to conceal Tara's fate), but I think that we haven't seen the last of Tara: she'll either be saved by a vampire (and possibly turned in the process) or Sookie will be forced to bargain with the faeries in order to save the life of her best friend. It's the latter that's the most likely, I think, given that the faeries stayed largely off camera after the incident with Claudine and Eric (save for Andy's forest tryst) and Tara has some sort of connection to them, given Sookie's vision. But whatever happens, I hope it's a new beginning for Tara, who has largely been thrust into two roles: angry black woman or victim. And it's time that we see her moving forward and not back, both in terms of character and plot. More than any other character--even Sookie, really--she's been put through the ringer and had her insides scooped out and replaced by hate and rage. But I want to see Rutina Wesley get something more to do than play the victim. (And, if she is turned, I hope it's actually poor Pam who does the turning. I loved her scene with Ginger at Fangtasia as she cries and then is hugged by Ginger. Aw.)

If this is the end of Tara, however, she at least went out trying to save the life of her best friend in a moment of self-sacrifice, as she jumps in front of Sookie to protect her from Debbie's shotgun blast, taking a shot to the head in the process. It's an act of love and friendship that connects to that opening scene and to the bond that Tara has with Sookie. In those moments, it's not about the suffering she's experienced, the things she's lost, the places she's had to go, but it's about putting the life of someone she loves before her own, of risking death in order to ensure Sookie lives.

As for Sookie, she uses Tara's sacrifice to get the jump on Debbie, wrest the shotgun from her, and then SHOT HER IN THE FACE AT POINT-BLANK RANGE. I don't think I ever expected that from lil' Sookie Stackhouse, who has grown up considerably in the last four seasons. I also think that the location of the attack--in her kitchen, where Adele died in a puddle of her own blood--played a role in her righteous vengeance upon Debbie Pelt. Throughout the episode, Sookie is haunted by flashbacks to discovering her gran's corpse in the kitchen, experiencing a sensation that Adele is nearby, hovering around her. While Adele wouldn't counsel murder, Sookie's gran is clearly on her mind, her kitchen once again turned into an abattoir, the body of a loved one pooling in crimson. In that precise moment, Sookie makes a break from her own humanity, her morality, and her sense of reason: she becomes as monstrous as Debbie or the vampires, pulling the trigger and relishing in the satisfaction that comes from destroying her enemy. It's brutal and nasty, bloody and personal.

Elsewhere, the body count ratcheted up in unexpected ways. While I was intrigued by Nan's rebellion against the AVL and the Authority (whom we'll learn more about next season), I was bloody shocked that Eric and Bill partnered up to turn Nan into a puddle of goo after she called them lovelorn puppy dogs. (They must really not like puppies.) In choosing neither Eric or Bill, Sookie seemed to bring the two of them closer together, each on the receiving end of an emotional evisceration from the faerie object of their affection. In killing Nan, the two are further bonded still, operating as a single entity in their efforts to contain the secret of Sookie's identity from other vampires. Once Nan let that gem fall from her lips, her fate was sealed in their eyes. No one is going to use Sookie for their own ends...

While I was shocked by Nan's death (and stunned by Debbie's), the one that I was most upset about was Jesus', especially as it came at the hand of the possessed Lafayette, who likely won't soon recover from dispatching his boyfriend, even if it was Marnie who pushed the blade into his chest. And, yes, we're given a glimpse of Jesus on the other side of the veil, having cast off his mortal coil, able to speak to Lafayette, and promising that he'll still see him, given that he's dead and Lafayette is a medium. Which is true, but all I could think about was that Kevin Alejandro left Southland so he could play a ghost that turns up every now and then? Sigh. Jesus and Lafayette were a fantastic couple, which in True Blood parlance meant that their happiness had to be short-lived. I'm curious whether Lafayette retained any of Jesus' brujo magic or whether that evaporated after Adele plucked Marnie out of him and she went off with the dead. But I'm sad to see Jesus go, really. Alejandro added a certain something to the series that will be missed.

I'm bored to tears with Sam and Luna and the predictability of that wolf turning up at Sam's place, just as he makes a pact to be happy with Luna. (Yawn.) I did like the scene with Sam and Sookie at the bar, with his confusion about "firing" Sookie and their embrace, and the sequence at Tommy's grave with Maxine, but I feel like Sam is getting short shrift these days; he needs an interesting storyline, preferably one with out Emma. (UGH.)

Matching bathrobes? Creepy. That should have been a sign to Sookie to run to Alcide...

I really loved all of the Jason/Jessica scenes. I thought their love scene was provocative and sensual and their interesting dynamic will gladly play out beyond this season, with Jason okay with Jessica looking elsewhere for sustenance, and Jessica gladly taking a walk on the dark side with the far more sexually experienced Jason Stackhouse. As for Hoyt, I think it will be a while before he's able to accept their relationship and not beat on Jason whenever he sees him. But I see why Jessica would need to experience something beyond the safety and predictability of Hoyt, why she would crave the taste of something different, something darker, and something that's not predictable or safe. (Plus, her Little Red Riding Hood costume? Woof.)

And just when Jason thought he had found the perfect woman, he opened up his door to discover... Reverend Steve Newlin. With fangs. This was a great--if expected twist--after a season of hints and subplots about the missing Fellowship of the Sun leader. Given that Jason hasn't invited him in, I don't think that Jason is in any danger, no matter how much tension they might try to create here. I am curious to see how Steve fits into the Russell Edgington plot, and whether it was Steve who helped release Russell from his concrete prison and glamoured the security guard. Is there to be a takeover of The Authority? A mutiny? A vampire rebellion? I'm very curious about all of this... and just who managed to turn the vampire-hating Newlin. Who is his maker? Hmmm...

Finally, there was the introduction of Patrick (Scott Foley), who brought with him some long-buried secrets involving Terry Bellefleur, which the spirit of Rene warns Arlene about. I'm curious just what experience(s) Terry has blocked from his memory and just how dangerous Patrick is. What did these two get up to during the war and how nasty was it? What has Terry forgotten and what memories has he repressed in order to function? Just how many people did Terry kill? "I've met the ghosts of his past," Rene told Arlene. "They ain't gonna rest forever." Looks like trouble will find Terry next year...

Ultimately, I thought that "And When I Die" managed to capture the poignancy and humanity that True Blood can excel at when it tries, as well as the unexpected and shocking reveals that the show loves to throw at the audience. I'm also happy that it has me intrigued enough to want to watch Season Five, as my loyalty to the show was severely tested earlier this season. But it's safe to say that I'll be back next summer, though I do wish the writers would try to better plot out the season-long arcs, keep an eye on tonal consistency, and try to be as organic as possible with the numerous, sprawling subplots.

But I'm curious to know: what did you think of the season finale? And Season Four as a whole? Was I too harsh with my evaluation? Was your patience tested as mine was? Will you be watching next season? Head to the comments section to discuss.

Season Five of True Blood will air next summer on HBO.

Comments

Thanks for this thoughtful summary. I enjoyed reading it.
Ally said…
While I didn't love the finale, I definitely liked it a) more than the several episodes that preceded it and b) more than the usual TB finale. Yesterday, I made almost the same comment you did about the history of TB finales, and that at least things (many things) happened in this one.
Anonymous said…
I loved the way Sookie fixed Tara's coffee while they spoke, as well as the way they just spoke & didn't end the scene screaming at something or at each other.

I would enjoy seeing Tara as a vampire, Lafayette dating while learning to cope with being a medium & his dearly departed Jesus offering otherworldly advice.

I am so looking forward to Russell Edgington & hoping it is he that responds to Sookies call for help, requiring her to become his in exchange for Tara being saved.

Among the things I liked about this season I have to include the repairs made to the Stackhouse home, and the addition of the Scandinavian light tight vampire bedroom. I guess I may not have enjoyed this season as much as I thought I did, if set design is on this list.

Thanks for writing,
Amie
Anonymous said…
I have just come across your site and really enjoy your interesting and insightful reviews and thank you thank you for taking me to Game of Thrones.
It was the excellence of Season One that keeps me with True Blood, when it was character driven and with a tighter story line and great acting, however, like you, it was Lets Get Out of Here that may have finally torn it for me. I felt it was one of the worst of the entire four seasons, however, TB can sometime return to form after a train wreck. Not this time however, as far as I am concerned there was no recovery from that point on. I found the final ep dull, nowhere near as bad as the previous ep’s, just slow and the final showdown with Grandma deep throating Laffy with her fist an extremely boring and anticlimactic finish to that arc. There were some cliff hangers that I am definitely interested in and because I am a masochist I will be back next season. Unfortunately it will be with the same amount of trepidation as this one. They were going so well! What happened? TB is so consistently inconsistent. I watched GOT concurrently with this season and its awesomeness only highlighted just how much of a shamozzle TB has become. They are very different creatures but being a premium cable show on the same network TB should still be of the same quality as GOT, and it just doesn’t hold a candle. I find it baffling as they only have to focus on 12 eps, how do they end up making such of mess of it? And SFX wise - Atrocious, for a supernatural show it’s quite unforgivable for them to be as cringe worthy as they are. Fingers crossed for next season, although I do believe I have said that for the last three now.
I will be back for your reviews next year!
Anonymous said…
To be honest I just assumed the last episode was the season finale so I was shocked to find this on my DVR. I like the concept of a coda setting up the next season but it shouldn't be a full hour - that really takes the steam out of a show and can leave you on a low note.

I have high hopes for next year but this show hasn't really intrigued me in quite a while. Season 2 and about halfway through Season 3 really had me hooked.

This year was pretty uneven to me. Monster-of-the-week/Xena Warrior Princess/Hercules type atmosphere crept in at some points that forced the audience to pull back from being engrossed in the story.

Since the novelty of the concept has worn off Ball must really struggle with keeping it fresh. But we can't just keep adding in random sci-fi horror creatures without it feeling contrived. He has to go back to telling compelling stories about people.

That all being said, the concept of Halloween in Bon Temps is something I love.

And a Steve Newlin / Russell Edgerington possible storyline would be great.

As someone who has never seen or read Twilight, I assume the foppish adoration by Bill and Eric for Sookie stems from the popularity of the juvenile lit. series. It does nothing for me and I was thankful to have them at least kill something instead of walk around obsessing about Sookie like a couple of awkward adolescent boys.
Alexa said…
This was the first time I've read your reviews, and being a fellow writer, I was impressed with it for sure. I tend to shun reviews because I see many that show the person writing neither knows the show, nor cares for it, yet your review put both fears to bed.

With that said, I too want a Bon Temp Halloween.

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