True Blood: It Hurts Me Too

Content warning: This post contains discussions about True Blood through season three, episode three, ‘It Hurts Me Too.’ It also discusses violent sexuality that occurred in said episode. If you’d like to skip it, you can read ‘Glee and the Great Dichotomy,’ today’s feature post.

I don’t think I want to do a True Blood writeup every week, but two things happened this week that I want to touch upon: The direction that they are taking Tara Thornton, and That Scene at the end of the episode with Bill and Lorena. For the benefit of those who don’t want to read about/discuss That Scene, that will be the second half of this post so that you can read about Tara and then move on.

So, Tara. Let’s talk about Tara, because I am not at all happy with the way that they are shaping her character. She was introduced as a kind of troped character with a streak of potential, and I had inklings of hopes for her. Let’s not forget that we are introduced to her reading a book on the job and that in the first few episodes of the show, she often carried books, after all. She seemed like a character who could potentially grow and develop in interesting directions, breaking out of the double-trope box that a lot of Black women on television find themselves in.

I started getting more and more uneasy last season, and this season, that unease is settling in more deeply. Tara appears to be turning into the best friend who always has inappropriate boyfriends and needs rescuing. Franklin is clearly Bad News Bears, no matter what his deal is, and I’m deeply troubled by the way that Tara seems to be headed.

I liked the initial depiction of grief and distress over Eggs. I thought it was honest, and a nice departure from conventional depictions of grief where a character is sad for an episode and then gets over it. Alan Ball does have some experience here, what with Six Feet Under. Even the decision to turn to Franklin for casual sex didn’t trouble me that much, because, well, that is one response to grief. It is valid. It does happen. But I feel like Tara is being turned completely helpless, in need of rescuing and shepherding by other characters, and I am not liking this at all. I feel like this is a common trap that female characters end up in, the sidekicky best friends, and it feels untrue to Tara, who seems like a strong, resourceful character.

I also see a lot of Tara-hate going on, with people calling her character ‘needy’ and ‘whiny’ and I assume that this is going to escalate this season. Whatever is going on with her and Franklin, I think it is going to end in tears and recriminations, and I can’t wait for people to start referring to her as whiny over it.

Now, for That Scene. My reading on this scene appears to be pretty different from that I’m seeing in other discussions of this episode. I agree that it’s gratuitously violent and horrifically misogynist and disgusting. It really does, as I was telling Annaham last night, put a whole new level on ‘hatefuck.’

But, I think it’s pretty obvious that Lorena put the whammy on Bill in that scene. Are we forgetting that Makers have total control over their children? That she can literally order Bill to have sex with her, ‘release’ from last season or no? Who wants to bet she had her fingers crossed on that one? I’d agree it’s a rape, but not of Lorena—of Bill. He is not consenting in that scene and it’s pretty clear to me that the violence is the expression of his lack of consent. I personally would have preferred, uhm, a less misogynistic way of expressing that. He could have been wooden and toneless, he could have cried through the scene, he could have been as passive as possible, there were lots of ways to depict that. That would have conveyed both that he is being forced, and that he is really, really unhappy about it. It also would have allowed the show to retain his humanity, which seems to be what they are trying to do, given that it is an overarching theme of the show. Having him do what he did was completely alienating and disgusting. I don’t really see how the show, or Bill, is supposed to come back from that.

Lorena is a character who is stripping Bill of his humanity, and maybe that’s what they were trying to enforce with that scene, that the dynamic between the characters is so toxic that it can only express in violence and dehumanisation. The scene made me deeply, viscerally uncomfortable, though. There would have been other, healthier ways to depict that. Bill is, when you get down to it, an increasingly dislikable character for his actions on the show, and if the series plans on including one of the scenes from the book this season is based on, he’s going to become even more unlikeable, real fast, in a couple of episodes. True Blood would not be the first show to have a character who is fundamentally wrong as the lead, but is it a good move? Will the show be able to walk the line, or will we end up with a fetishisation of the character instead of a condemnation?

Speaking of hating on female characters, I also see a lot of people hating on Lorena. I personally love her. Not the character herself, but how she is played. In the books, she’s not really a very active character. She is just sort of on the sidelines as a cartoon villain. The decision to turn her into a real character that plays a role, an ugly sickening one, is, I think, a really good one. People say that she’s ‘flat,’ but she’s not flat, she’s cold. She is inhuman. She is evil. That’s the whole point. Lorena gives me the heebie jeebies every time she is on screen and she is supposed to do that. She is supposed to provoke revulsion. It would be preferable if that expulsion didn’t have to express itself on screen in the form of horrific violence against women, and I’m pretty unimpressed with Alan Ball for that particular decision.

Related reading: The Feministe True Blood roundtable and the Racialicious True Blood roundtable.