"‘True Blood’ Open Thread: Try a Little Tenderness"
Last night’s True Blood was an illustration of how unsettling tenderness can be when it’s unexpected, and all the unnerving places love can take us when we treat it as a higher power.
Sookie found herself on the receiving end on a lot of surprising—and not necessarily wanted—attraction last night. First, there’s Eric, who murmurs that she smells “Like wheat, and honey, and sunlight. What are you?” She assumes he plans to assert his old power over her, and to assert it forcefully, showing his true nature as what Lafayette describes him: “Eric Northman is a thousand years old. Ain’t no police can touch him…The best thing we can do is forget this ever happened.” Instead, he’s a large and unintentionally dangerous kitten, vulnerable enough to apologize for tracking mud on Sookie’s carpet, playful enough to notice that the water she washes his feet with tickles, mild enough to stammer “Sorry. Sorry, that was rude. Sorry,” to Sookie after pushing Pam away from her. That vulnerability and gratitude could be the basis of a different dynamic between Eric and Sookie, but it raises important questions. Is Eric the the majestic owner of Fangtasia, an ancient and powerful amoral being? Or is he a gentle and protective man who happens to be a vampire? And does Sookie like him better neutralized or majestic? Do humans really want the excitement of contact with vampires? Or do we want the Twilight-ized fantasy, a very limited amount of danger injected into sex and day-to-day life?
In a way, the second person who is taking a sudden interest in Sookie is even more disconcerting. In Sookie’s year-long absence, Debbie Pelt has returned, and she tells Sookie, “I got the program, and I got Jesus on the side.” Eric, at least, has been changed by magic. But Debbie’s claiming to have changed on her own, to want Sookie’s forgiveness and a more generalized chance to do right. Being a good person requires Sookie to give her the benefit of the doubt, but prudence and history suggests that she might be better off being a bad person, and staying suspicious.
But at least all Eric and Debbie appear to want from Sookie is a chance at a normalized relationship with her, whether it’s magic or deceit that’s leading them to make those claims. Affection’s leading other people down much darker paths. Jessica, after biting a man other than Hoyt, comes to Bill for comfort. He encourages her to confess, but when she does, Hoyt reacts badly enough that Jessica glamours him, begging “I’ll never do it again. Let’s just be happy together.” Later, seeking a human connection of his own, and even though he warns Portia that he’ll never love her because, “My heart, like every other part of me, is no longer young,” Bill takes Portia to bed. Tommy, seeking a route back into Sam’s good graces, concocts a scheme to sell Maxine’s natural gas rights out from under her, telling Sam that Maxine will just spend the money on dolls (which are playing an increasingly worrisome role in both Jessica and Arlene’s lives — when Jessica’s doll reappears after Hoyt threw it in the dump and Jessica tossed it in the lake, Jessica passes it on to Arlene’s unnerving baby son). And after Sookie’s terrifying experience in Faerie, her fairy godmother shows up to take her to a back Sookie hates and fears — only to end up as a snack for a hungry and confused Eric.
And Crystal, convinced it’s the only way to keep Jason with her forever, hasn’t just helped turn him into a werepanther. She’s set him up to be gang raped in the name of propagating her pack, convinced he’s the reincarnation of the panthers’ Ghost Daddy who will bring new blood into the line, impregnating all the women in Hotshot with babies they won’t miscarry and who will live beyond the early days after their birth. It’s a striking turn of events for a man who used to be able to have every woman he wanted voluntarily; now, all the women who want him are having him, on their terms and without his consent. It reminds me of what happens to Alisha in Misfits, another person who finds their sexual powers turned against them, and not just turned against them but magnified back on them with terrifying power. There’s a real moralism in there, and I feel a level of discomfort about the decision to use rape as a means of Jason’s erotic moral education. That said, I do think that even though I don’t think this depiction of Hotshot works as well as the one in the novels, the show’s doing a decent job of building up the mythology of an isolated little community, and demonstrating how the dedication to that myth leads characters down a frightening path.
There’s something nihilistic about this season of True Blood. Whether bound by vampire law to execute your fellows who find themselves caught in by new technology; bound by the laws of genetics and the seasons, especially when “Nature ain’t need to be smart. Nature is nature,” and it can lead you into dark places; or simply trying to play by the rules of being a decent human being, there seems to be no way to find yourself to a decent life in the world of the show. There’s no sweetness to the bitterness, fewer thrills along with the fear. It must be awful to live. And so far, it’s not proving very much fun to watch either.