Is “True Blood” about anything?

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?


11 thoughts on “Is “True Blood” about anything?

  1. Hahaha you got sucked in, i was hooked last season when Suki was prancing around in her bikini, sold! Vampires are cool too. I do like Jason and how simple he is, yeah first he is doing V with a slut then he is rolling around on a buss singing church songs about hating Vampires. Suki is smoking cool too. Bill is bad ass, and Eric is one bad mother trucker. Keep watching nerd!

  2. I finally caught up with Season Two. I think the series is about fucking and sucking. I like it a lot, but for the most part I find the subtext far less interesting than what Buffy offered. But then, Buffy didn’t have Amber Benson running around naked.

  3. I was never a Buffy fan, but I know of its narrative brilliance. I agree on your assessment of True Blood. I just started to see this one segment of the show begin to generate some coherent point, other than fucking ans sucking as you so eloquently say. I suspect it will return to its roots soon enough. Welcome back!

  4. The show has degenerated into a bad soap opera. Alan Ball doesn’t know where he’s headed, or if he does, he simply doesn’t know hot to get there in a coherent way, and ultimately if the show stays on this path, it really doesn’t look to be all that interesting of a destination anyway.
    Sad. It seems he isn’t confident enough in the rich vampire material that he laid out in season one. Its now a show structured by a series of people looking deeply into one another’s eyes and having romantic conversations. Not a problem, in and of itself, except its all the same fucking conversation. The intrigue and mythology is peppered in here-and-there, but only at the top and bottom of the show to keep you coming back the following week.
    What a disappointment.

  5. True enough. Season One was also a soap opera. The distinction, however, is that Season Two is a bad soap opera. At least in Season One they were able to balance the different aspects of the show. In fact, I found that to be a smart mix. This season the writing is not nearly as sharp, the story lines ramble on and on, and all sense of balance between the mulitiple scenes of pillow talk (and if you re-watch some of these past episodes, it is the same exact scene over and over again) with the vampire lore and action has been lost. As I mentioned in my last post, the writers wait to the last five minutes of the episode to introduce what used to be woven into entire episodes in season one. They’ve completely neglected the character of Lafayette. In the books he is killed. Because the actor brought such energy and freshness to the character, becoming a fan favorite, they decided to part from the books and bring him back. Why? They haven’t developed his character hardly at all. And Tara. Same thing. Character-wise, all that was interesting about her development in season one has been tossed aside. Now she’s one-dimensional and merely a prop for the MaryAnne story line (zzzzzz!).
    I was a big fan of Alan Ball and especially Six Feet Under. It is possible to be a soap opera (which SFU often was) and be smart. I’m hoping Ball tightens it up and there is a payoff, becuause as it looks now it pretty lowest denominator.

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