‘True Blood’ Open Thread: Change Clothes And Go

This post contains spoilers through the July 31 episode of True Blood.

While I’ve spent much of this season of True Blood thinking about the newly spiky triangle of Sookie, Bill, and Eric, tonight the minor characters stepped forward, and the show took a look at what happens when you swap identities. Because gosh was there a lot of that going on, as Jason prepared for his first change; Pam contemplated Bill’s personality now that he’s king of Louisiana; Lafayette got shamanistic; Tara explained her secret life to her lover; Marnie finally gave up her body to a medieval witch who was tortured and murdered by vampires; V is turning Andy into the man he wishes he was; and Tommy is actually taking on Sam’s skin — perhaps with disastrous consequences.

In the most touching examination of what happens when your identity changes, Jason and Jessica stay up all night, waiting to see if he’ll change into a werepanther for the first time. It’s a change Jason’s been dreading: “What I like being better is a regular old American human,” he tells Sookie earlier in the episode. But sitting on the grass outside Merlotte’s with Jessica, who’s found herself summoned to him by the blood connection they forged after his escape from Hotshot, Jason finds himself wondering if his impending transformation might not be that bad. “The night I got made was the scariest night of my life,” Jessica tells him, explaining that no matter how difficult it’s been, she doesn’t regret that terror given what she’s gained. “My old world was about that big. And now it’s endless.”

I also liked the juxtaposition between Lafayette’s storyline and Tara’s. Lafayette doesn’t necessarily want to be different, but Jesus seems to value his power as much as himself, and he’s being dragged off to strange lands, and I don’t only mean Mexico. I’ll be curious to see what happens if Lafayette channels his power on his own, rather than acting as a vessel. By contrast, Tara very deliberately became something else, explaining to her angry girlfriend that everyone in Bon Temps thought she’d inevitably become like her mother, “Drunk. Crazy. Alone…It was building up inside me.” And now that she’s come clean to her girlfriend, it turns out her girlfriend might like Bon Temps Tara better, the girl who doesn’t smoke, and who tended bar at the place she once called a dump. Change doesn’t always accomplish what you want it to, especially when it’s unsustainable.

Some of these other transformations were less compelling — and less attractive. As Bill got himself legal permission to submit Eric to the True Death, ostensibly because he’s a magical amnesiac, but really because he can’t stand the thought of Eric under Sookie’s permission and in her bed, Pam sparks Eric’s survival instincts by telling him that as king, Bill is “a self-loathing, power-hungry, pompous little dork, and you hate his guts.” Andy’s treatment of Sam is verging on police harassment as he calls Sam a slumlord and tells him he’ll call animal control on him after Baby Mikey sets Terry and Arlene’s house on fire, then uses his V-induced strength to woo a member of the coven who’s been burned out of her home, telling her “fighting crime, it’s one hell of a workout.” Marnie, after weeks of magical flirtation, finally seemed to seal the deal with the medieval witch she’s been communing with, and is marching out of her cell. It’s really disappointing how dull and stock this particular storyline feels, even for a nerd like me who’s written papers about religious disputations in medieval Spain, perhaps because Marnie was never really a character in her own right before she started getting the heebie jeebies. And Tommy, who as my friend Sharmin says is permanently “actively ain’t shit,” accidentally turns himself into Sam, fires Sookie, sleeps with the shifter Sam’s been courting — and apparently chokes to death on his own vomit.

I think it’s a real weakness of True Blood that this outcome feels as satisfying as it is. HBO is the network perhaps most responsible for setting as a standard that conflicts should be richly shaded on both sides, that we should have a sense of both sides’ motivations, and that we should have to decide who we side with. True Blood removes that work from the equation, setting up positively cartoonish clashes. It’s a particularly disappointing failure for a show that’s all about making darkness compelling.