Finally, I Have Watched True Blood Season Two

Just in time for season three to come out! And just in time to assiduously avoid spoilers all summer, since HBO is apparently not interested in exploring alternative methods of release for people who are not HBO subscribers. I’d be willing to pay, but no. Evidently, they just want to taunt people. At the very least, they could bump up the DVD release so that I don’t have to wait almost a year to watch season three? No? Ok.

So, season two is loosely based on Living Dead in Dallas, and certainly integrated the key plots of the book, but a lot of stuff changed.

Usually, when people adapt books into films and television shows, I am singularly unimpressed with the changes they make. But with True Blood, it actually worked really well. I think that they changed all of the right things, and that the things they added helped things tie together more. Getting Jason involved with the Fellowship of the Sun, for example, allowed us to really get inside the way they think. In the books, we see them only through Sookie’s eyes, and the story has lots of time to unfold. When you’re working with 12 TV episodes, though, that’s not really an option, and you have to find a way to connect viewers with the action quickly. Throwing Jason into the thick of it also, I think, played into a theme we see in the books, that Jason gets caught up in things he doesn’t understand and lets the attitudes and beliefs of others shape how he thinks.

I also love the addition of Jessica. In Season One, I was kind of like ‘eh, do we really need this?’ But she’s turning out to be a breakout character, and I adore her. Yes, she adds levity to the show, but she also adds depth, complexity, and the occasional biting commentary. I especially love the dynamic with Hoyt, where she is initially presented like someone out on the prowl, and the show subverts that, confronting assumptions made by the viewers. There’s an interesting parallel here with the initial turning being akin to adolescence, and seeing a new vampire struggling with it provides a lot of context for the formative experiences of the older vamp characters. I think there’s a possibility that she could become a little bit sidekicky, and I really hope that the show manages to resist that.

Having read the book, Maryann’s secret identity didn’t come as much of a surprise to me, but I did like seeing it spin out slowly over the course of the series, with characters being slowly sucked into her sphere. It was decidedly creepy and it helped create a lot more tension in Bon Temps. There are, however, some definite problems with creating a female character like Maryann. I’m not completely stoked about seeing a woman lead people into sin, so to speak, forcing people to lose control, use drugs, blackout, and commit acts of violence. Her depiction is rooted in an old myth[1. Literally, the mythology surrounding the maenads is ancient and quite detailed.] about ‘crazy’ frenzied women, and the question is, did the show challenge that, or reinforce it, with her presentation?

In contrast, I thought that the show handled PTSD rather well with Lafayette. Nelsan Ellis is a superb actor and he’s really brought some great stuff to that character. That scene with him and Terry in the kitchen was, well, it was fucking amazing. It may have been one of the standout scenes of the season for me, actually. There was a fierce tenderness to it, a deep connection and understanding to the characters. Alan Ball isn’t shy about incorporating mental illness into his shows, and I think it’s very telling that he manages to do it better with male characters than he does with the women.

Another female character who pops up is Lorena, ahead of schedule in terms of the storyline in the books, but I think it was good to integrate her. It established more of the mythology, showing viewers the control that makers have over their ‘children.’ I could have done without, however, the implication that she was obsessed with Bill and was spending the rest of her undeath mooning over him. As she rightly points out, men have killed to spend a single night with her. And we’re supposed to believe that she’s been longing for Bill for 70 years? I read this as a reinforcement of a really hateful trope about how women are irrational and fixated and their lust will destroy everything. I’ll be interested to see how they handle her in season three, when she plays a more prominent role.

It was also very intriguing to see the way they changed Godfrey’s characterisation. In the books, Godfrey is a bad vampire. He is seeking the light because he has reformed, but he makes no bones about the fact that he tortured and abused children, and liked it. The book creates a lot of tension as we (and Sookie) are simultaneously repelled by Godfrey and sympathetic towards him. The show obviously made a calculated decision to cut that out of his backstory, instead making him a wise and compassionate vampire interested in improving vampire-human relations.

I suspect that even Ball didn’t want to try and humanise a child molester. That might have been a wise move.

This show’s embedded commentary is very much related to LGBQTAI issues, from Bill’s proposal to go to Vermont to get married because it’s one of the few places it is legal to the clear comparisons drawn between hatred of vampires and homophobia. Since I watch everything through a social justice lens, I am simultaneously delighted about the challenges True Blood presents to viewers when it comes to homophobia and some forms of gender stereotyping, and really disappointed in the way the show handles race.

Set in the South, the show makes occasional references to racism, but it fails to recognise the racism in itself. There are relatively few characters of colour (especially vampires), and those that are present are living tropes. Miss Jeanette, Tara’s mother, and Tara herself are all like caricatures of Black women. The Sookie Stackhouse novels feature a lot of nonwhite characters, including a number of nonwhite vampires, some of whom defy stereotypes, while others reinforce them, and I’m sad to see that this didn’t carry over more into the series. Meanwhile, on True Blood, the Jezebel stereotype is present, front and centre.

This is something that I really hope improves in the third season. I think that creators of television have the capacity to learn, and that True Blood could really turn itself around when it comes to race. It would be awfully nice to see more colour among the vampires, and to see the show bringing on nonwhite folks who are not walking stereotypes. There are a lot of opportunities for the show to get with the program, so to speak, and break out of the box when it comes to depicting nonwhite characters.

Is True Blood going to do that? I guess we’ll find out. I assume much of the third season, which is about ‘identity’ according to Ball, is in the can already. I’m hoping that the creative team took the criticisms of the show from anti-racist activists seriously and that we see some shifts in the way race is depicted.