3: True Blood, Vampire Culture and the Logistics of Television Romance

Here’s something I’ve always wondered. You’re going to laugh, because pretty much everybody does, but I’m totally serious.

So you’re a Sookie, or a Buffy or an Elena, and Bill/Eric/Damon/Stefan/Dracula/Angel is staring out at you with his deep, soulful eyes, his hundreds of years old dick straining in his just-this-side-of-unfashionable jeans. You’re overcome by the scent of jasmine in the air. The stars are twinkling in the surprisingly free of smog night, he takes you into his arms, you kiss and — what?

First: Isn’t he really fucking cold?

Second: What about the smell?

I admit, I haven’t spent a considerable amount of time around the dead, so I have no frame of reference, but come on. You can’t watch a single episode of CSI: Whatever without getting an eyeful of David Caruso making a face and plugging his nose. Decomp happens pretty quick, I would imagine, and even if all your internal organs stop working (speaking of — penii need serious blood flow to get hard. Is that typically why they like a little suck and nibble before going at it? The blood has to flow from somewhere, right?), does undeath cause your body to freeze in some sort of stasis? Excuse me for the crassness of this subject matter, but I’m genuinely curious.

Last night, as we are wont to do on our summertime Sundays, my sister and I sat around the ol’ idiot box to take in the penultimate episode of the sixth season of True Blood. There are other authors out there that can blog about it better than me, but that’s not what I’m interested in.  What I really want to talk about is character motivation, if that’s even a thing that can be considered at this late date.

It basically boils down to this: When the series started, six long summers ago, we were introduced to the world of Bon Temps, where vamps had been “Out of the Coffin” for two years and attempting to integrate into polite society. Fine. A different spin on an old classic. Our plucky telepath heroine Sookie Stackhouse, she of the “town freak” moniker and perky blonde ponytail immediately imprinted on shady, Southern-accent-impaired Vampire!Bill and thus spawned a love story that spanned almost four seasons and roughly twenty-five minutes in show years, max. (I kid because I love, True Blood! You know, sort of.) After Vampire!Bill, there’s “dumb!Eric”, as my friend Nikki calls him, a drunken, almost!tryst with the extremely wooden (in more ways than one. Am I right, ladies?) Alcide, and currently, the handsome, properly accented, a billion and half year old, stalkery!Warlow. Macklin Warlow, actually, not that his first name is really divulged anywhere but on imDb.

The question, for me, is not, what’s the point? Because clearly, the point is that it’s a soapy, vampire drama with sexy leads and smoldering Swedes. The point is pure fun and campy entertainment. You can’t be a religious viewer of this show without getting your rocks off at least a little bit at Sarah Newlin bashing someone’s brain in with their own stiletto and proclaiming thanks to The Big Guy afterward. It’s a popcorn show, and a popcorn genre on a network that built itself around the idea that audacity is what sells. Clearly, they were not incorrect.

Putting Sookie aside for a moment, let’s talk about another tiny, blonde drink of water. Buffy Summers and the titularly titled Buffy the Vampire Slayer was definitely my first taste of the vampire genre. I missed the Ann Rice craze, and though I’ve seen Interview, it was a long time ago, and I found Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia much more compelling than Lestat. I saw the Christy Swanson version first, I’m not sure how, because I was 5 in ‘92, but we had a poster from the movie up in our laundry room for years, and I rented it at least twelve times during the summer I was 9. What can I say? I was a fan of Luke Perry, even though he whisper-speaks through almost every role I’ve been fortunate enough to witness him in, and has not aged particularly well.

Buffy was a turning point for me, televisionally. It was scarier than what I watched on a regular basis, but Buffy was just like me. Or at least the me I wanted to be. She was smart, and she was strong, and she was a cheerleader (!), sort of. She had a gang of scoobies, and a cool library to hang out in, and sometimes, she even got to wear cute, 90s halter tops. As a vampire slayer, she dealt with death on a regular basis. She knew the perils of getting involved, saw what it could do to her nearest and dearest (to this day, remembering Angel’s transformation into the soulless Angelus knocks me a little flat), and yet still, she held a torch. She fucked with Spike. She — well. The less the UPN years of the show are discussed, the better.

Why would an otherwise intelligent girl get involved with a murderous bloodsucker? Sookie’s and Buffy’s trajectories are different, of course. Sookie is older. Vampires are known entity in the world of True Blood, but the fact remains that will all the knowledge and brains they possess, they still forge forward into the world of vampire lovin’ and don’t look back.

…or do they? At the start of season six [spoiler], when Eric grants Sookie ownership of her house, she banishes him to the only storyline of season that held any interest whatsoever. (I go where Pam goes. Sorry, internet.) She wants to get her life back together. She wants to be that girl in the white dress again. Points for imagery, but the less we have to remember her pajama gown from season one, the better. She doesn’t do that, though. After a series of worse and worse decisions (except that fuck off speech to her parents’ graves a few weeks ago. That was Anna Paquin at her melodramatic, monologue-y best, and should garner some sort of nomination, because she was transcendent), she eventually decides to tie herself to Mr. MW forever, and that’s that. (Obviously, it’s not what’s what. This is True Blood. I’m still expecting Nan Flanagan to make another appearance.) [end spoiler]

Buffy sends Angel to a 5 year deal on what eventually became a rival network, but she still yearns for him. Even Elena eventually picks a vamp, although season one!Matt remains one of my favorite television portrayals of a jilted ex-boyfriend.

I was just talking to some folks about How We View Television. A lofty goal, I know, but also something I’m genuinely interested in. At first glance, the relationship between Logan and Veronica on Veronica Mars was a startling one. Their chemistry was so off the charts that seeing them on screen was almost watching a car-wreck in progress. I got completely caught up in it at the time, and in later seasons, when obstacles were thrown in their path, I continued to support them. Logan and Veronica 5eva! It was me with that giant neon sign, I admit it.

It’s been years since that show was canceled, but with the movie coming out, and all the new speculation about the characters since the finale, I’ve been forced to reconsider my previous position. Veronica’s a smart girl on a difficult path. Do we really want her with the manic depressive, abused and abusive guy that’s made the last year of her life hell? Shouldn’t Piz, a guy that’s maybe boring but who’ll never publically humiliate her, be a better fit? Why is it that we’re so willing to condemn our heroines to choosing the least suitable guy because that’s what her heart is telling her today?

I don’t have the answers, but I thought the questions were a step in the right direction. If Sookie or Buffy or Veronica were my friends, I would tell them to steer clear of the famous, the dead or the shape shifting. Find a nice guy, ladies! One that doesn’t want to suck your fairy blood or take nudie shots of your boobs. It’s not a mandate, but it is a suggestion.

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4 thoughts on “3: True Blood, Vampire Culture and the Logistics of Television Romance

  1. I think it’s largely the whole, “road less traveled,” bit as translated to making relationship choices that we probably wouldn’t want to deal with in real life. Would most actually want to deal with the day in and day out of being with someone like Angel, who cries so very prettily but is still crying ninety percent of the time, or Eric, who is a very dangerous and sexy vampire but is still a vampire? Meh, I’d argue probably not. I don’t like dealing with people who don’t take out the trash on a day to day basis, much less require at least an hour of staring broodily into the middle distance. But there is a part of us that is curious and kind of wants to make that choice. It’s like when someone sets a hot plate down in front of you at a restaurant — you know you’re going to get burned, but you still kind of want to touch it just to see if it’s really hot.

    Television is voyeurism, in a lot of ways. And these relationships that might not be so much smart as wild and destructive, are also more interesting to watch. If Sookie was a friend, I would be telling her to give anything and everything supernatural a nice wide berth. But the show about Sookie working her eight hours at Merlottes, then going home and watching TV and going to bed again and again doesn’t answer that ‘what if?’ question.

    • I definitely WOULD watch at least an episode of Sookie working a full day at Merlotte’s (lol, it’s going to be called Bellefluer’s now. Can’t see that going over very well) and then going home to veg in front of the TV. I think there’s something to be said about imagery and beauty and stylistic merit, but I’d also be interested in seeing a more pared down version of the show. Wouldn’t be a soap opera anymore, though, and that’s what people signed on for.

      Actually, the new showrunner just did an interview with Vulture where he talked about how they’re shaking things up a bit, but they still want to make “popcorn for smart people”, and that’s the point, I guess. Asking for anything else would be asking for a different show.

  2. I’m a fail wretch who has watched neither Buffy (in entirety, though I’ve seen the movie and the TV show pilot + the ep “Hush”) nor True Blood, but in general I feel like I’m okay with characters choosing the crazy life as long as there’s another character that’s like, “Yo, bro. You know this is insanity and he’s the worst, right?” The problem I’ve seen, though, is that then those characters get shunned (whether on the show or by the audience) for being Debbie Downers. For instance, lots of people hated Bonnie on The Vampire Diaries in early seasons for being anti-vamp, but let’s be real — BONNIE WAS RIGHT. So many people have been brutalized or killed because of these supernatural creatures who no longer have to worry about something like being alive or ordinary.

    I mean, obviously these shows wouldn’t exist if the main characters chose the sensible romantic path, so do what you do, I guess. I’m all for shows where female characters get to make missteps and take risks, but I do also wish sometimes there was more variety in the kind of risk. Or, at the very least, that all these shows maintain characters who aren’t blind to/automatically down with the sickness, so the speak.

    • Here’s a thing I think about all the time: what about folks that do make the sensible romantic choice? Or even — let’s take romance out of it, because even on a show like True Blood, the romance is important, but at times, it’s almost secondary to the rest of the insanity that’s going on on screen. I wonder all the time about what would happen if folks stuck together in the kitchen during a power outage instead of going downstairs to check it out and getting filleted to death. Does the killer come to them, or do they manage to get a call out and get that dude apprehended?

      I know that would seem like the ‘boring’ choice, but I still think there’s a story there, somewhere. We were just watching His Girl Friday the other day, because my sister hadn’t seen it, and it was great, even though the mystery aspect of the story is much more convoluted than I remembered, and Carey Grant is sparkling with wit, and Rosalind Russell is gorgeous and smart — and my sister, god love her, was like: “This dude is a dick. Why does she go back to him?” and the answer is… because she was overcome with passion, I guess? Because Carey Grant was a bigger star than Ralph Bellamy? I don’t know! But I’m fascinated by the concept of trying something different. Reveling in the boredom, almost, and making that interesting.

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