Archive for August, 2014

True Blood Series Finale

August 26, 2014

The True Blood series finale was the most disappointing, grossly inappropriate series finale since Dexter.

This will take a little bit of explanation, and some spoilers will follow.

I’m a fan of a good, happy ending ending. But there are many deeply bittersweet stories that are some of my most cherished. Seven Samurai ends on a hollow note, with the samurai facing defeat even as the peasants will emerge victorious. (It becomes even darker if you realize how bad the lives of the peasants are likely to be, even without bandits). Terminator 2 sees a young child lose the one father figure he ever truly had. The fantastic Super Nintendo game Terranigma is as bleak as one can get. Final Fantasy VI ends with the world still in ruins, even if the madman responsible for a global holocaust has been defeated. Even Prison Break, far from stellar television, had an ending with a fairly heady mix of emotion. I can go down the line like this.

It seems that in the post-Breaking Bad era, networks are confusing “memorable” with “good”.

Breaking Bad itself deserves commentary. The final season is dark. Jesse is in a dungeon, eventually freed by the man who has repeatedly ruined his life. Walt faces death or prison.

But the entire show had been logically building to this conclusion. It couldn’t end any other way. Walt’s obsessions were going to catch up to him. He couldn’t walk away, not really.

Breaking Bad‘s ending is bleak and tragic, but it is the conclusion that the show deserved. Moreover, given the show’s arc, it actually ended roughly as well as one could expect. Walt managed to finally be honest to Skyler, releasing her from the doubts she likely would have felt. He provided for his family. Jesse was free, hopefully to pick up the pieces of his life. And even Walt conjured up a last bit of peace as he stared at a meth lab that had become a final place where he could do the chemistry he loved.

True Blood had some great seasons. It had some not-so-great seasons. It had a soap opera plot with endless romantic false leads and changes. But the show in total was about love and acceptance even in darkness. Sookie Stackhouse, aside from having an absurd name, was often a maddeningly simplistic and inconsistent character, but she still faced life with tremendous courage. She retained faith in God that allowed her to say to an ancient vampire that forgiveness would come to him. As a series, it should have ended on a note that had tones of darkness but was ultimately hopeful.

“Hep V”, the fictional virus that weakened and eventually killed vampires, was a modestly interesting plot point. While the name is laughable, it played to the show’s mythology (which effectively placed vampires as effectively a metaphor for homosexuality) by serving as an analog for AIDS.

Yet every part of the finale failed to pay off. Hoyt and Jessica’s wedding, as pleasant as it was for fans of the show, took seemingly-innumerable precious minutes off of a narrative that needed to be wrapped up. While Eric and Pam are possibly my favorite characters in the show, their last-minute decision to finally kill the Yakuza immediately begged the question, “Why in God’s name didn’t they do that sooner?” The writers set up a meaningless threat to Bill and Sookie and immediately resolved it. And Sookie’s mercy killing of Bill failed to have the pathos that such a moment truly deserved. While Stephen Moyer’s presentation of a man facing his fate with nobility and self-sacrifice was golden, it was wasted on an ultimately meaningless and trite conclusion.

What was perhaps most sickening, however, was the fate of Sarah Newlin. She was effectively a sex slave, condemned to madness. True Blood as a series has its dark components, and Sarah was a thoroughly horrible character, but making light of a woman trapped in a dungeon forced to wear revealing clothing so men could take blood from her is grotesque. Moreover, it makes Eric and Pam seem like hideously vile monsters, undoing seasons worth of character development on their part.

I struggled afterwards to think of a series that had a more disappointing season finale (aside from ones that were simply canceled too soon, such as Firefly or Jericho). Lost, for example, left many threads resolved, but it at least left us with a reasonable understanding of what the Island was and an unambiguous understanding of many of the characters’ fates. The only analogy that came to mind for a comparably bad series finale was Dexter.

But True Blood’s finale is actually much worse, even though I personally hated it much less.

Dexter’s finale was needlessly bleak. It threw away the seasons of development the character had gone through, and left Dexter’s son in the hands of a killer with serious psychological issues. It was a cop-out. Deb’s death wasn’t just tragic and needless; it also didn’t match the arc of the show. Yet it was at least arguably a conclusion to the character.

True Blood simply ignores the most important parts of the show. It gives a few crumbs of fanservice, namely the unspeakably horrific fate of Sarah and Jessica and Hoyt’s wedding, to compensate for the fact that the protagonist of the show, Sookie, ends up pregnant with someone we don’t know. Bill did manage to free Sookie… or did he? That’s the implication, but we as an audience don’t know. We don’t get to see the main character actually find what she’s seeking. The entire point of the show, its genesis, was Sookie and her relationships.

The amount of plot threads that this finale effectively makes meaningless is immense. Sookie’s final attack against a vampire, her light, is not used against Bill, making that entire concept a colossal red herring. Sam leaving Bon Temps has no payoff. Alcide’s death simply served to allow the Bill thread to be resolved. Jason gets forced into a last-minute relationship (which at least resolved the problem that his character had of relationships defined by sex and not love).

While seeing Eric and Pam smarmily lie about the genesis of New Blood was tremendously amusing (putting aside the dark implications of Sarah’s true fate), the finale was grossly disappointing by and large. It was a finale so bad that it retroactively reduced my opinion of the entire series. True Blood had high enough highs and low enough lows that I was waiting for the series finale to justify the show’s existence, to explain what everything had been building to. The answer was apparently fan service, sex slavery and a dead end.

Television thus far in 2014 has felt rather like being told one would get a steak dinner then arriving to a cheesesteak sandwich. While very few shows have actually been bad per se, there is nothing I am looking forward to the way I was waiting with bated breath for the resolution of Breaking Bad. I hope that we start seeing some really engaging shows soon. As good as television has gotten, we still don’t have enough True Detectives: Stories with a closed, clear arc that leaves one thinking. I am excited for the Constantine adaptation in October, but that is as roughly it as far as that elusive “hype”. Rush, Satisfaction… I’ve consumed many shows recently that I enjoyed and yet never felt compelled to watch again.

I suspect that the writers for True Blood faced the challenge of trying to take a traditional soap opera narrative with vampires and finding a way of giving it the Breaking Bad treatment. It seems that we are now condemned to endings for the social media age, the kinds of endings that will get bloggers aflutter and arguments brewing instead of simply being effective ends to the series. I bet this finale will sell DVDs precisely because it is what will be called “controversial”. And that sucks the proverbial horse’s ass.

So, in retrospect: If you intend to get into True Blood, go as far as the arc with Marianne and then stop if you are disappointed. The ending was a piss-poor capstone to years of often pointless drama. I hope to God that other shows concluding their runs soon, like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, try for a satisfactory conclusion to a narrative instead of a social media stunt.