This post contains spoilers through the fourth season finale of True Blood. And lots of rage.
I should talk about the events of the season finale of True Blood, but before I do, I think it’s important to discuss something that didn’t happen. The most important — and most emotionally grounded — event that began this season was the brutal and repeated physical and sexual assault of Jason Stackhouse by the female werepanthers of Hotshot. The assaults themselves were tremendously uncomfortable to watch in a way I thought was powerful. The women involved, who are genetically and by means of acculturation effectively part of a patriarchal cult, were almost uniformly unaware that they were committing assault, with the exception of a young panther who helped him escape. The assault was set up to provide an interesting and useful gender-reversed set of issues, raising questions about Jason’s prior sexual reputation, the fact that men can respond physically even when they aren’t consenting to sex. And rather than dealing with it in any systemic way, the show essentially brushed it off with a scene where Jason decides God’s punishing him for sleeping around. Last night, rather than considering the lingering effects of the attack after Hoyt tells Jason there’s something fundamentally broken in him, the show just punted. Jason’s not a panther, so apparently, the lack of magical significance to his assault means it doesn’t have much emotional or human significance either.
You want a gratuitous and cheap treatment of rape in pop culture? To me, this certainly seems to qualify. The sight of Jason’s ravaged body is presented for our uncomfortable entertainment without any sustained consideration of what the attacks meant for his mind and soul. Or if it doesn’t mean anything, for the fact that his soul is either damageable or non-existent. There are ample opportunities for a discussion here, as Jason reckons with the fact that he’s been attacked, does some serious thinking about whether this is punishment — and then tries to begin a monogamous sexual relationship with a woman who doesn’t necessarily want to get serious. And now that he’s a lawman, something that’s supposed to be a major change in character for him that’s due in part to Sookie’s disappearance, shouldn’t Jason want some kind of justice, some sense of safety for his community? But the show just punted, junking up the season with wayward brothers and jaunts down Mexico way, rather than focusing on making any emotional arc coherent, particularly this one.
My vast issues with True Blood’s civil rights metaphors are well-documented, so in a way it was a relief that vampire politics didn’t play a major issue in the finale — at least not until Nan Flanagan got True Deathed into a pulp after breaking with her own organization and with The Authority, which apparently will be the Big Bad of next season but in which I have next to no investment. And there were some nice, nasty little digs, whether it was Arlene’s daughter announcing that she’s “Jenelle from Teen Mom 2,” or Pam, cast out from Eric’s orbit, shrieking that “I am so over Sookie and her precious fairy vagina and her unbelievably stupid name.” The problem with that last complaint is that by this point, I’m kind of sick of Sookie too, sick of her inexplicable magic powers and her dorky vampire threesomes with Eric and Bill in matching robes they clearly bought sometime in 1959. And I’ll admit I’m intrigued by the prospect that Terry was someone else, before the trauma and the crazy and the stability he’s found with Arlene.
But I’m less excited about the fact that instead of moving the story forward, the show’s looped backwards, bringing back Steve Newlin with fangs as jaunty as his pastel sweaters, breaking Russell Edgington out of concrete. And I think it’s a real problem for the show’s ability to develop characters that my main reaction to Tara’s violent end tonight was relief, then irritated assumption that it wasn’t really the end. I fully expect that Tara will be back, whether as a vampire or as something else, because as Arlene put it, “Zombies are the new vampires,” and just as incapable of making good decisions or avoiding being victimized as she was when she was human. A vamped and empowered Tara would be a lot of fun, but I don’t don’t trust that True Blood‘s writers understand that they’ve created a whipping post and that it would be rewarding for viewers to comment on that and move beyond it.
And finally, the endless departure of Marnie was just exhausting. There were glimmers of interest in that character, someone who we know from a line or two was mocked for her powers, someone who got a taste of power and wanted to keep it, but in a way that was so opaque to us as to feel simply asserted. For magic to be more than cheap-looking special effects, it needs to have real meaning. True Blood is brimming over with magical concepts. But they’ve never meant less.