'True Blood': This week in manufactured 'True Blood' controversy....
It seems like kind of a ridiculous question, honestly. The show's developer, Alan Ball, is an openly gay man, and the show is based around vampires, monsters well known for what one of my friends calls their "ambi-sexuality." The idea of the vampire's bite has been used by any number of writers as a kind of fill-in for sexuality, and the fact that vampires will bite pretty much anyone -- including animals -- to get the blood they so need to survive has been used to stand in for all manner of sexual behaviors and kinks over the years. (I mean, the other big vampire series of the moment -- "Twilight" -- is all about a vampire who won't use his bite to make his girlfriend a vampire until they're married, which is a metaphor so bald-faced it shouldn't even count as symbolism.) So, honestly, when the vampires on "True Blood" start making out with other guys, it doesn't strike me as terribly surprising. It's just the show making subtext into text. I get that some people find this offensive, but I always wonder just why they feel compelled to watch "True Blood" -- a show that takes perverse joy in all manner of sexual and violent behavior, from lewd to comparably chaste -- in the first place.
Anyway, the issue arises because a couple of weeks ago, Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans said the following on his Twitter account: "So... caught up on Trueblood las nite.. Not a fan of how they get u hooked with the 1st 2 seasons then bring on a barrage of homosexuality..." Herremans later deleted his Tweet and all subsequent responses to both fans and Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Gonzalez, who was good enough to preserve the Tweet for his readers and journalists everywhere. Herremans tried to walk back these comments in response to queries from Gonzalez, issuing statements that were essentially stating that gay people were free to exist, so long as Herremans didn't have to see them doing anything. (The gay people of America say, "Thanks, Todd!") Herremans later issued an apology, and hopefully, he'll no longer be asked to be an arbiter of taste for the American people.
The Last two weeks, then, have been filled with fans debating whether what Herremans said has any merit. Slate, in a fascinating column, thinks that the show hasn't suddenly developed gay themes out of nowhere (since they've always been present) but argues that the series has created a sense of "gay panic" this season. And over at entertainment site Zap2It, fans on both sides of the issue were invited to comment as to whether the show's gayness had become suddenly overwhelming. The debate is polite (at least in the edited blog post), but it's clear that there are heavy passions on both sides of the issue.
What do I think? I think it's Alan Ball's show, and I think anyone who's surprised at gay sex being depicted on screen (or even kisses between two men) has missed a whole mess of subtext -- and text -- over the years. It's one thing to be offended by the gay sex on "True Blood." That means it's probably just not your thing, and while I disagree that the depiction is disturbing or disgusting, you're certainly free to like different things. But to act as though the show suddenly and abruptly pulled a dirty trick on you for showing these things strikes me as disingenuous. The show has been dabbling in homosexual themes since Episode 1, and to act as though it hasn't either suggests you're not paying very good attention or willfully ignoring certain things because you enjoy the show so much. (And I'd like to thank Allen from last week's comments section for bringing this to my attention with his blog post.)
But this is probably a debate you guys would like to have in comments. So I invite you to discuss it there (politely, please), while I move on to just what you had to say about last week's divisive episode.
Gilda agrees with my general idea that by making everyone on the show supernatural, the show is losing some of its appeal:
"The Lafayette as baby voodoo king storyline is more than a bit much. It's like Bon Temps and the area around it are some hotbed of supernatural people and activities. It's like Ball feels that everyone's got to be 'special', and that's just plain stupid.
"At this rate, the only human they're going to have in Bon Temps is Tara, and she is only a peripheral character in the books. Alan Ball made the part much much bigger when he got hold of the story -- and turned her into the series train wreck."
To be fair, Jason is also likely to remain completely human (at least, I hope he is), but I think Gilda is right that giving Lafayette special powers is a bit much. It's not that I wouldn't like to see more of his character, but his role has usually been to stand off to the side of all of the supernatural craziness, raise an eyebrow and offer a withering comment or sarcastic crack about what's going on. Lafayette is one of the few characters on the show that the audience is almost always invited to sympathize with. It's one thing to sympathize with Sookie being in love with a guy she shouldn't be in love with, but it's a bit harder to make the leap toward realizing what it would be like to discover one was descended from fairies, since that pretty much never happens. Eventually, the supernatural metaphors could take over the show if it keeps going down this path, and the series needs a few characters who can stand back and step in for the audience when things get too messed up.
Antonia deBarros, meanwhile, thinks that this last episode was a great one for setting up plot lines to come. She writes:
"I enjoyed reading your review but I have to tell you that I completely disagree with you. The worst episode of the season? I thought it was the best one yet! Yes, it can feel a bit disjointed but I believe that is the feeling the writers are going with this season. Everything will pull back together in the end and perhaps we will get a more cohesive season next year but I don't mind the way things are this time around. As for the La La/Jesus scene... hmm, I think I agree with you when you say it was too long. But I did enjoy La La's acting in that scene, even if it was a bit silly. I believe they showed Sam's dark past to set up a new side of his character. I feel like Sam is a broken man now and that sweet/caring character that we've come to love is about to disappear for a long, long time. As for the were-panther thing, it felt like they just needed to get that out of the way already- and the same for the fairy thing. I could go on and on but over all I think this episode was great. They threw a lot of information at us and I caught it all. I loved it and am excited to see what they hit us with next week!"
Obviously, this episode could feel more cohesive once we know where everything is going, but one thing about television -- even heavily serialized television -- is that it should usually give us a sense that each hour could stand on its own to some degree. As much fun as some of the storylines have been this season, "True Blood" is not really giving off that sense at this point in its run. There's still plenty of time to pull all of this together, but there's so much going on that I wonder just whether or not the show can stick the landing. (This also goes for those of you who suggest that the series is a faithful-ish adaptation of the book series. What works on the page -- where you can always skip to the next chapter -- doesn't always work on the small screen, where each episode ostensibly can stand on its own.)
Finally, Susan E has some issues with just how the series has differed from the books and some praise as well:
"In the books Claudine is much more subtly and over the course of several books inserted into Sookie's life. I hope we're not seeing Alan Ball wrapping up his interest in the show with this reader's digest of plot points. I've been enjoying the show a lot, while sometimes liking the way he is taking it better (like not killing off Lafayette, the books have a tendency to keep killing off the most interesting secondary characters) and sometimes getting pretty frustrated. This week what flipped my lid was the bogus backstory for Sam, so out of character, very disappointed that Ball pulled that out of nowhere.
"I thought it was weird that the script had Tara saying Jason being there for her was the one thing left she could count on or some such, and THEN to relieve himself he just has to confess to her that he killed Eggs. I agree that it showed a deepening depth of character that we wouldn't have expected from season one or from the early books for that matter, but I guess I felt it was milked for as much pathos and turmoil as possible when what still feels like it should be logical would be for them to end up a couple."
And that's all for this week. I'll be back Sunday night with thoughts on the penultimate episode of the season, and if you have any thoughts, feel free to leave a comment or contact me via Twitter or e-mail.
-- Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: Eric (Alexander Sarsgard) is one of the vampires on "True Blood" who has engaged in gay sex this season.