This post contains spoilers through the Aug. 14 episode of True Blood.
One of the things I find increasingly irritating about True Blood is the way the show invokes social issues without actually reckoning with them in any meaningful way, shape, or form. When Hoyt and Jessica break up, he parrots his mother’s “God hates fangs” rhetoric, but with muted impact — though they’ve struggled with his feelings about her being a vampire, in this instance, she’s dumping him after having cheated on him with his best friend, rather than them breaking up because of internalized self-loathing. When Bill tells a newscaster that “Many vampires feel alone and confused, programmed to despise themselves,” there are direct parallels to the suicides of gay teenagers and the It Gets Better project, but it seems crass. There’s no real evidence that lots of vampires are killing themselves, and in this case, the death the vampires are trying to cover up isn’t a suicide at all.
Ditto with the class politics that are there for a minute when Bill meets up with Antonia, and after he calls her a lady as a gesture of respect, she declares, “I am no lady. I am peasant and proud of it.” There’s a really interesting story to be told about the way that vampires successfully insert themselves at the top of the class hierarchy: they’re not at the top of the magical heap (at least that’s what Marcus’s lecture to the pack tonight suggests), they’re at the top of the class heap in whatever era they’re living in. It would be interesting to see the show actually draw out some of those implications, the way power in both the visible and invisible world works to reinforce the hierarchies that exist in both, but there’s very little there.
And that political incoherence gets at something that’s really bothering me this season: the flashbacks. True Blood‘s cast is already enormous, and the flashbacks bring in a whole entire other case of character and set of contexts that we’re supposed to keep track of. And honestly, the portrayal of the ghostly woman turning Baby Mikey into a pyromaniac and taking advantage of Lafayette’s newly-discovered powers as a medium deeply bothers me. Until now, she’s been silent and enigmatic, a literal magical negro. And now that we’re getting her story, she’s speaking in faked dialect that would make critics of The Help apoplectic, saying things like the fact that her lover killed their child is “better for you because I am Negress.” These stories are busy, and they’re just tremendously trope-y, and I think they’re distracting from the good work that is happening, bit by bit, in these episodes.
And there is some. The idea that dating within the shifter community can disrupt some complicated power arrangements, especially if you end up dating a packmaster’s ex, who has a parole officer and some custody issues, is much more interesting than three-quarters of what happened in this episode. I really hope Tommy reaches some moral reckoning this season, because he’s irritating rather than really revealing, and an example of how cluttered Alan Ball’s let the show’s magic get, but I thought his appropriation of Maxine’s clothes was nicely shot. I’d be really curious to see the show spend a bit more time on the oil leases question. True Blood‘s most interesting when magic is telling us something about Southernness, not when it’s getting us the world’s stupidest Where The Wild Things Are transforming bedroom crossed with a porn studio.