I stopped trying to read the subtext of HBO’s “True Blood” sometime around the middle part of the first season. It wasn’t for lack of finding anything. The vampire trope and the situations which compelled the story forward spoke to issues of race, sexuality, health and infection, as well as US history. But, despite all the potential, there didn’t seem to be a particular focus to the whole thing, other than being a juicy and sometimes suspenseful soap opera, that is.
Tonight’s episode, however, had me thinking that there’s quite of bit of interesting coalescence around the religion text and subtext.
Jason Stackhouse, who is well-played by actor Ryan Kwanten–and miraculously wearing a shirt in the picture above–has been in a story arc stretching from the end of Season 1 into 2. He is being recruited by the Church of the Fellowship of the Sun, a vampire-hating group of Christian Bible-thumpers. Not too covertly, since the first season they have represented the collection of religious-Conservative movements in the United States who advocate for anything intolerant, from stances against “race-mixing” to actively deplorable positions on same-sex rights and AIDS.
Tonight, we saw two instances of Jason being re-energized in his commitment to the fictional church and its (as yet unknown) “purpose” for him. In the first scene, Sarah Newlin–wife of the church founder Steve Newlin–tries to stop Jason from leaving. She does this by convincing him that she knows him and that they are alike. She then shares how she is vengeful, seeking retribution for the pain vampires have inflicted upon her loved ones and, by extension, herself. Jason, already seeing himself and Sarah as “alike,” is nudged back into line and in some level of conformity to her chosen direction.
In the second scene, church founder and leader Steve Newlin has dinner with Jason as he explains his theological reasoning behind hate–equating hate of the sinner with the love of “Christ”–while sharing his wife’s banana pudding.
In both scenes, one is drawn in by the calculated and rhetorically careful tactics employed to keep Jason “involved” and moving on the right track. I suspect Alan Ball is offering us his version of how these kinds of organizations (ones seemingly devoted to love and “Christian fellowship” but, in practical terms, the vanguard of a hate movement directed against any number of “Christ’s children”) function and recruit.
On the surface, we might see this as an accusation against these efforts that they prey on the dumb and weak-minded. Certainly, Jason isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. But tonight we also see Jason as less the baffoon than as the struggling and questioning young man seeking answers. When left to his own inclination, and rooted in what he knows to be fact through experience, Jason tends toward tolerance and pragmatism. However, he is also clearly hindered by his lack of formal education, often deferring to those that “know” more than him as they feed the hungry young lad egg McMuffins posing as health.
Far from an indictment of the recruitment targets of these religious movements, this is a subtle communication of empathy with them. The knowing leaders of these causes shoulder the blame, not the hapless recruits they convince to do their bidding.
The season has only just begun, and my analysis could fall apart in two weeks when the next episode premieres, but, so far, “True Blood: Season Two” has me hooked. Or is it glamoured?