A word before we begin: The following is a comprehensive overview of the fifth broadcast season of the HBO series True Blood. It is primarily intended for those who have already watched the entire season. Plot details and surprises will be indiscriminately discussed with the aim of analyzing the narrative and thematic elements of the show. That said, this is not meant as an exhaustive synopsis either. There will be gaps, but hopefully those who have seen all or most of Season 5 will read and enjoy, and in some cases take violent issue with the opinions herein. I welcome dissent and debate, but dread spoiling the fun for unwitting souls who have stumbled in accidentally. If you do not yet wish to know crucial things that happen in this season of True Blood, please refrain from reading until such time as you have viewed the show to your satisfaction. Thanks to all. – DLF
The grand summer of The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises went by with astonishing speed. True Blood Season 5 seemed to go doubly quick. After a year of agonizing suspense, we found Tara Thornton languishing in her own lifeblood, Bill Compton and Eric Northman in the hands of the menacing vampire Authority, Sam Merlotte and Alcide Herveaux on the fighting side of some bad werewolves, Pam Swynford De Beaufort trying to hold down a foundering business, Russell Edgington missing and presumed not dead, Lafayette running out of people to cook for… oh, plus a restless demon on his back… and Sookie Stackhouse sprawled in the middle of one big mess.
The series has tightened up considerably since the meandering adventures of Season 4. None of the subplots wander nearly as far afield, and the writers seemed to have gathered their thoughts and gotten back to the main thrust of the story. Remember how the show used to be about vampires? That is happily the case once more.
In fact, the vampire Authority – plotting the world’s future from a hidden compound in New Orleans – is the main focus of the show throughout the season. Guardian Roman Zimojic is leading an inquisition in reverse, attempting to smoke out the most dangerously orthodox vampires and settle them down for the mutual good of both humans and vampires. “Mainstreaming,” the pact struck by living and undead governments guaranteeing peaceful coexistence, is in jeopardy thanks to the Sanguinistas, a cabal of vampire fundamentalists with themselves in mind as the dominant species. They follow their own testament, which states that the one true deity is Lilith, a mythic figure popularly associated with succubi (sexy vampire ladies). Lilith wants her children to enjoy pure human blood in limitless quantities, no substitutes. Tru Blood, the synthetic hemo-brew allowing vampires to survive without victimizing humans, becomes a key target of the Sanguinist agenda.
In his efforts to rein in destructive influences, Roman enlists Bill and Eric to hunt down the escaped maniac Russell Edgington and bring his murderous ways to an end. Russell was officially supposed to be dead long ago, but personal feelings and vengeful scores have clouded everyone’s judgment. The successful capture merely gives Russell a chance to stage his own Authority coup. Bill and Eric join up first to save their skins, and second to be in positions of power when whatever promises to go down actually goes down. Double crosses and conflicting interests eventually place Sanguinists in charge of the Authority, rather than under its heel, with Russell playing blissful blasphemous deacon. Never content without a happy catamite, Russell takes former anti-vampire zealot turned gay vampire advocate Steve Newlin under his fangs. Eric plays every trick in the book to extricate himself, his adoptive sister Nora, and Bill from the Authority’s clutches, only to find that Bill is becoming quite the zealot himself. The corruption of spirit that began when he became king of Louisiana reaches new heights as Lilith, in drug-induced visions, pits him against his fellow vampire chancellors in a bid to become the Sanguinist messiah.
Incredibly, all this happened in twelve weeks, and that was only the vampire part. There was much, much more, and true to form they managed a wrenching cliffhanger at the end of just about every episode.
Narratively speaking, True Blood is going as strong as ever, despite the fact that its protagonist is becoming a background character. Sookie Stackhouse, the telepathic waitress whose forbidden romance with a vampire sparked some very weird times in Bon Temps, Louisiana, has gradually been sidelined into almost complete passivity. Anna Paquin’s wounded looks and smokin’ bod are no longer distracting from the fact that Sookie mainly just sits around waiting to be either killed or rescued (so far, rescued). Her gallows humor falls increasingly flat, and while everyone else rages and battles for the future of humankind, she mainly registers annoyance at how freakily supernatural her life has been for the past five years. That was sort of cute for the first three years or so. It would be nice to see Sookie kick off Season 6 with a bold, dynamic act.
Season 5 does imply rather glibly why Sookie never does much. She is of fairy ancestry, and the main new thing we learned this year is that the fairies of this universe are categorically lame. Lacking both the will and the power to combat vampire threats, they cower like rabbits in disco-burrows and while away their time with sex and dancing. Mainly dancing. They are too cheesy to be elegant and not campy enough to be lovable comic relief. As the supernatural critters of True Blood go, they do not seem adapted for lasting greatness, let alone survival. They do render the dubious service of informing Sookie that her ancestor sold her down the river to a vampire named Warlow, who murdered Sookie’s parents in quite a Harry Potter-some twist. Warlow remains a promised antagonist for a future battle. Unless he is somebody we have already met, in rather a Phantom Menace-ful twist. Hopefully not.
Apart from the fairy doldrums, there are only a few weak spots in the fifth season. Once again, the Arlene/Terry Bellefleur subplot leaves much to be desired. They are wonderful supporting characters, but not so much when saddled with their own tangential stories. The “Mavis and Lafayette” tale in Season 4 seemed to be going nowhere, but ultimately it put Lafayette in touch with the supernatural gifts that have stayed consistently relevant to his character arc. Terry and Arlene’s new adventure, though boasting a satisfactory payoff, had to wade through several distasteful moments. Terry and Arlene, like Jason, work best in an upbeat context. When things get maudlin for them, discomfort and boredom are the likely results. When his former military squad leader shows up in town, Terry must come to grips with his secret guilt over an ill-judged act of cruelty they committed as soldiers in Iraq. They were cursed as a result of this, and are being stalked by a malevolent force of Middle Eastern lore known as the ifrit. Leading up to the monster’s actual appearance, Terry succumbs to several bouts of carelessly rendered, TV-movie-grade post-traumatic stress. Before, his ambiguous shell shock was a minor quirk good for a nervous chuckle now and then. Watching him go melodramatic and abusive on his loving wife leaves a bad taste. It seems a disservice to the character to imply that this horrific act is the sum total of the experiences he took away from military service. Fortunately, Terry comes around before suicide or the curse overtake him. He chooses life and love, appeasing the fiery ifrit by giving it the cowardly, amoral sergeant who issued the offending order in the first place. As it takes several episodes the resolve, the subplot bears mentioning. However, it seems gratuitous and contrived within the larger story.
In contrast, Sam Merlotte’s ongoing saga of shapeshifter woe is at its most interesting, enough to dovetail into the main plot over the last few episodes. As Alcide shoulders the burden of Marcus Bozeman’s death, Sam is free to start fresh with Luna and her daughter Emma – until a truck full of local yahoos begins taking drive-by shots at shapeshifters. Working with Jason Stackhouse and Andy Bellefleur, Sam and Luna uncover a Klan-esque organization of “human supremacists” based in Bon Temps. Serving an unknown leader called “The Dragon” and tearing around the county in Barack Obama masks, they are taking an all-out, if poorly organized, stand against supernatural beings. This blind genocidal spree is a grim omen of the coming storm that the Sanguinistas are doing their best to engineer on a global scale. Jason and Andy get the opportunity to do some good old-fashioned police work in bringing the Dragon down. In a poignant twist, Andy must sacrifice his former mentor Bud Dearborn, who is complicit at the top level of the movement, to save Sam and the other good guys.
The recurring theme of True Blood‘s fifth season is choosing one’s friends, and ultimately the right path, over the things and people to which one feels bound by honor, but not by conscience. Andy becomes the right kind of sheriff by eliminating the evil that the former sheriff allowed into the community. Terry decides to live for his family’s sake, rather than die for a man he once called “sir.” Jason and Jessica choose to help Hoyt go his own way, rather than cling to him and cause him further suffering. In becoming one of the things she feared and hated most of all – a vampire – Tara comes rather reluctantly to the realization that Pam is a better mother and maker to her than her own mother could ever be. What Tara needs in a parent is strength, and Pam is one of the toughest cookies around. Woe betide human or vampire who challenges her maternal instinct. Eric has always seemed like the kind of guy who would look out for himself first, but ultimately he goes to the greatest lengths to save those who matter most – Nora, Pam, and yes, even Sookie.
Alcide realizes that turning his back on corruption in the pack is different and inferior to standing against it. Having spent the season being kicked around and playing the martyr, he swallows all his pride and finds curious strength in it. After reconciling with his derelict dad (Hooray, Robert Patrick!) he returns to his pack to show them that their nihilistic dependence on vampires is a disgrace to the name of werewolf. We leave him ready and eligible to lead a tough, clean, badass pack of wolves into battle.
As all this unfolds, a gradual conspiracy of happenstance and destiny draws Sookie and Bill back together, despite their mutual reluctance to embrace that destiny. Enlisted by Eric to help save Bill from the doctrine poisoning his mind, Sookie arrives at the Authority stronghold just in time to find him drinking Lilith’s essence down to the last drop. In small doses, this unholy communion gave vampires incredible hallucinogenic trips and fueled days-long blood orgies. Drinking it all is a new prospect, and in the final seconds of the last show, Bill appears decidedly transformed. It is hard to foresee any return to his former relationship with Sookie, or indeed with anyone. On the other hand, True Blood usually finds a way, and the writers get a year to brainstorm.
It was a pity to see Russell Edgington go, presumably for good (but who the hell ever knows in True Blood?). His absence from Season 4 gave us a chance to miss his signature malevolence, and he absolutely stole the show in Season 5. He is everything a classic supervillain ought to be, and a wanton seducer besides. Within the satire of religious extremism acted out in the Sanguinistas, Russell embodies the equally crucial concept of those who adopt the trappings of religious piety for dark, self-serving, and generally wicked purposes. He chews his way right through the Authority, mocking their principles by leaving them in blood-soaked chaos. His last stand involves hunting down the fairy hideout and nearly devouring them one and all, until a lone stake in the night brings him low. Ultimately Russell had to go, because gluttony made him careless, and also because Eric deserved an heroic deus ex machina moment. If the Dragon stood for the worst in human potential, Russell represented the worst possible vampire scenario. Interestingly, we have seen how both sides can self-destruct on a microcosmic level.
What did Sookie learn from all this? Hopefully she learned that the ancillary figures in her life have all cultivated far more interesting lives than her own. The very end of the season placed her in a unique position for drastic and decisive action. Go get ‘em, Sook.
Meanwhile, what of Bill Compton, anointed servant of Lilith and possibly the new god of vampires? Why children, we shall just have to wait and see.