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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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#TrueToTheEnd

HBO

By Alec Stern, Senior Arts Editor
Published September 1, 2014

Spoiler Alert: if you don’t want to know how “True Blood” ends, do not continue reading.

On Sunday, August 24th at 10:10 p.m., “True Blood” met the True Death. After seven years, the HBO series finally resolved the Sookie Stackhouse saga, and with it, the love story at its center. And it was one hell of a ride.

Based on Charlaine Harris’ 13-book “Southern Vampire Mysteries” series, “True Blood” premiered quietly in the fall of 2008. But before long, the Anna Paquin-led drama became HBO’s most popular series since “The Sopranos.” (It now sits comfortably as the third most watched program in the premium cable network’s history, behind the mafia drama and fantasy behemoth “Game of Thrones.”) Capitalizing on the late 2000s vampire craze — and our obsession with supernatural love triangles — “True Blood” ushered in a new era of genre series in this “golden age of television” we are living in. While the series might never have earned any recognition from a particular Academy (other than some technical awards and love for its unrivaled opening credits), “True Blood” built on previous hits like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and paved the way for countless shows. There are traces of “True Blood” all over television — in wonderful series like “Hannibal” and “American Horror Story,” and not-so-wonderful ones like “Hemlock Grove.”

“True Blood” was hatched from the mind of Oscar winner Alan Ball (“American Beauty”), but like a portion of the show’s audience, the series’ maker ditched it after season five — an admittedly too-over-the-top religious and political allegory which introduced Roman and Lillith, and reintroduced Russell Edgington and Steve Newlin. By and large, it was shaky at best. But over the last few years, final season included, Ball’s replacement Brian Buckner was able to bring “Blood” back. (Maybe not to the soaring heights of seasons one or three, but to a place where it certainly finished its run on the upswing.)

Years in the future, “True Blood” might still be remembered for its oft-fluctuating quality, and its series finale interestingly followed a trajectory similar to that of its seven seasons: a strong start, followed by a confusing midsection, capped off with a satisfying closer. Particularly, Jessica and Hoyt’s impromptu marriage — which consumed a healthy portion of the episode — was the clear misfire. For a series known for consistently subverting the ideas of traditionalism, “True Blood” ’s finale was, well, rather traditional.

“I might be a vampire, but I’m also a girl,” explained Jessica in the episode’s most head-scratching scene in which it’s revealed that Bill’s baby vamp has always dreamed of her wedding day, and that Bill himself has always wanted to walk his daughter down the aisle. Really, “True Blood?” As the finale’s running time clicked away, instead of celebrating the craziness or the sexiness or, most notably, its refusal to submit to the notions of what it means to be “normal,” the out-of-nowhere nuptials constructed a narrative reminiscent of any show other than “True Blood” — that a man’s only worth is in fathering children and that girls sit around all day gushing about veils and bouquets and honeymoons.

But like seasons six and seven, the finale’s final act delivered. In the end, when Sookie chooses to remain a faerie, she chooses to finally accept who she is. She chooses herself. And just like that, “True Blood” roared back. Like “Six Feet Under,” Alan Ball’s other HBO series, “True Blood” wisely chose satisfaction over spectacle, as we were given a peek into the futures of every character — Eric and Pam running both a successful corporation and Fangtasia, Sarah Newlin suffering at their hands and just about everybody else coupled and happy, with Sookie pregnant and married. (To whom we will never know, but that isn’t really the point.)

In its final hour, “True Blood” was something it never was — safe. But while “safe” would have been a deal-breaker for a season finale, it made for a surprisingly sweet series ender.

Of course, many will remember the final scene between Sookie and Bill, in which together the pair stake Bill, dousing Sookie one last time in vampire guts. The scene is classically “True Blood,” and incited the reel of similarly classic scenes that is currently playing through my mind like a greatest hits album — its fantastic series premiere, Sookie running through the cemetery for the first time, Godric’s death, Pam turning Tara, Jason and Jessica’s first love scene accompanied by the music of Taylor Swift. That Sookie-Bill-Eric fever dream threesome.

Was “True Blood” perfect? Of course not. It never quite knew what to do with Lafayette, it spent an excessive amount of time focused on werewolf culture and there was a season five Iraq war/smoke monster storyline that is just as bad as it sounds. But all told, I will always have a special place in my heart for “True Blood.” As the finale fast-forwarded through years of the character’s lives, I couldn’t help but think about my own — about how fast time goes, about the past seven years and about the people I’ve experienced “True Blood” with. If it sounds like I’m giving too much weight to a series that at one point had a secret faerie nightclub storyline, I probably am. Or maybe it was the episode’s Thanksgiving-set ending. Or its title, simply “Thank You.” But in those closing moments, I was thankful. I was thankful for this silly, scary, quirky, sometimes-poignant, always-entertaining comic book of a show that didn’t give a shit about what it was or who it was. It was just itself.

So with that, I raise a glass of O Positive to you. To the vampires and the faeries (and the shifters, werewolves, werepanthers, maenads, ifrits, witches, Lillith, Billith, demon babies, Hep-V vamps and everything and everyone else). Thank you, “True Blood.”


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