True Blood, HBO's supernatural orgy of ridiculousness, ends its seven-season run this summer. It's a sad day for fans, of course, but we'd like to think that somewhere supporters of Charlaine Harris (who penned The Southern Vampire Mysteries, or The Sookie Stackhouse Novel, which the show's based on), are feeling somewhat vindicated. For Harris' more pedantic fans, the show has been nothing but sacrilege, especially since the second season began.
You see, the first season of the show remained fairly true to the first book. There were differences, of course, because you really can't bring a book to life on the screen without making some sacrifices, but with the Southern Vampire Mysteries, we're not really talking about something as challenging as trying to bring, for example, a Don DeLillo (Great Jones Street, Ratner's Star, and White Noise) book to life. These books were written about as simply as one can write while still being pretty darn entertaining -- at least for the first seven. They can be read easily over the course of several hours, especially once you get used to Harris' style and storytelling pace.
Note: This post contains spoilers.
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In season one of the TV show, we got to meet Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress at Merlotte's in fictional Bon Temps, Louisiana. We find out later on that Sookie is also part faerie, which explains some of her (borderline) super powers. Anna Paquin, who won on Oscar at age 11 for her supporting role in The Piano, was easy to root for in season one as the perky social outcast who decides to hook up with vampire Bill Compton (Paquin's real life hubby, Steven Moyer). All hell breaks loose, of course, and folks start (screwing and) dying right and left.
The main storyline followed the murders happening in Bon Temps, as it did in the first book (Dead Until Dark, 2001) but several characters were either created for TV or had their roles expanded on the show. Tara, for example, is merely a bit character in the first book and has very little presence at all until book three, and even that is only, again, a small part. The TV show needed another strong female character, so Tara (played by Rutina Wesley) was transformed into a major player as Sookie's best friend. The baby vamp, Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) was not in the books at all, but I'm guessing HBO must have wanted another attractive young lady in the cast, so poof, let's make a vampire. Book purists be damned.
After a slow start, momentum picked up for the show, and quickly True Blood was on its way to being one of the more popular HBO series. It was bloody, it was sexy, and it had vampires and shape shifters and tits. It also had a fantastic opening sequence that was hard to take your eyes off of, at least until the 10th time or so that you saw it. It spawned a whole new genre of supernatural TV shows that have followed in its path, but as the seasons wore on, it started to become almost a parody of itself.
With season two, though, the television show started its major shift away from the books. Spoiler alert: In the books, the character Lafayette (portrayed by Nelsan Ellis) is killed off in the beginning of book two and as a reader, you never really miss him, however the role of Lafayette is central to many of the plots in subsequent TV seasons, so his campy character is kept and, as you would have probably guessed (if you haven't been following the show), he too, is given some supernatural powers of his own.
The fun and message of season two is the danger of excess. Maenad Maryanne (awesomely portrayed by Michelle Forbes) is brought on board as the major baddie, whose odd form of magic makes everyone want to party and have gratuitous sex. We're quite sure HBO was probably not opposed to that, and even though it was similar in the books, it wasn't nearly as graphic. The other main season two plot, because in True Blood there are always several, had to do with finding the maker of Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård), the Viking vampire who was always present to make Sookie and Bill's love life uncomfortable. This journey took the crew to Dallas where they came in contact with the almost comical Fellowship of the Sun, an anti-vamp hate group under the guise of a Christian church. As season two wraps up, vampire Bill proposes marriage to Sookie and is promptly abducted before Sookie can come back from the bathroom and say yes. Shouldn't a clairvoyant have sensed something was up? This type of cliffhanger has been used in all of the True Blood seasons and set the stage for season three.
Season three introduces us the viewer to the werewolves, which are (sort of) led by potential Sookie love interest, Alcide Herveaux (Joe Manganiello), who is enlisted by Eric the vampire to help her find Bill. This search leads the gang into the clutches of Russell Edgington, the Vampire King of Mississippi. Edgington is played Denis O'Hare and is possibly the best character ever in the show, maybe any HBO show. For us, True Blood had taken a slight turn for the worse in season two as it had begun to tip the scales toward cheesiness but O'Hare's portrayal of Edgington took the cheesiness over the top and made it fun again for a while as the rest of the plot lines meandered along.
By this time in the show, things were quite settled. Some folks were crazy, some folks like Sookie's brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) are just comic relief and/or eye candy, and some, well, are vampires who can't seem to quite understand why they keep doing nice things for Sookie. The introductions of the werewolves was a great twist, but truthfully, this was done way more effectively in the books, especially as the other shifter types were introduced. At the end of season three, Sookie decides to embrace her faerie heritage and disappears into fae land while Bill starts a duel to the death with a Vampire queen.
Which brings us to season four. For those who stuck it out this far, much like you dear reader, you may have started to wonder why you stayed with it. We remember seriously thinking about watching something else on Sunday nights, but vampires, werewolves, and waitresses. . . How can you resist? Sex and violence has been winning the ratings on Sundays in America for years, so why not have some of that with a side of the supernatural? Season four was, according to Wikipedia, "loosely based" on Harris' fourth book in the series, Dead to the World. Truthfully, this would have been an excellent time for the production staff on this show to look to the books for an idea of how to make it entertaining again, as Dead to the World was, at that point, the best book in the series with the most satisfying and tense conclusion.
While both the show and the book focused their fourth installment on the inclusion of witches, the TV version fell painfully flat. True Blood went from having the best villain to the most milquetoast one as it introduced Marnie the witch (Fiona Shaw) who could have just as effectively been played by a cardboard cutout, although we are certain that was not Shaw's fault. At this point in True Blood's history, the writing pretty much had become awful, and showrunner Alan Ball had clearly checked out. The performances of Paquin, Moyer, Kwanten, and Skarsgård had leveled out considerably, and only two actors (Kristin Bauer van Straten as Vampire Pam, sidekick to Viking vamp Eric, and Sam Trammell as bar owning shape shifter Sam Merlotte) showed any consistent growth.
Season five picked up where season four left off, at least in terms of proving that True Blood was rapidly becoming a parody of its former self. There was a ridiculous story line involving "the Authority," a supergroup of vampires that control how almost all of the vamp world operates. Actor Christopher Meloni, who was awesome as the psychopath Chris "Killer" Keller in HBO's underrated prison drama OZ, played Roman, the leader of the Authority for several episodes until he was done away with way too easily -- especially considering that he was supposed to be some sort of super-old, and therefore powerful, vampire.
There was some sort of ancient blood that all the vampires wanted to drink, supposedly belonging to Lilith, the original vampire. In addition to the drama surrounding the Authority and who was the true vampire leader which would be decided by who could truly handle ingesting the super powerful blood, there was also werewolf drama relating to Sookie killing a werewolf at the end of season four. Everything sort of turned out okay, as it always does in Bon Temps, even though people/creatures always die, too.
One cool thing about season five was the return of Russell Edgington, masterfully played by Denis O'Hare. He really died, though, the "true death" this time, as Eric was able to kill him as he attempted to murder all the faeries. Vampire Bill ends up being the uber-vamp and drinks the Lilith blood, which is the big cliffhanger at the end of season five, with the new Bill rising from the blood pool like a Phoenix. After the snooze fest that was season four, season five showed a little promise but the over the top ending left a lot to be desired.
Season six was the story of Super Bill, vampire overlord. Moyer hammed it up plenty in the first few episodes and if you were willing to laugh with it, True Blood got some of its entertainment factor back. Sookie was stalked, then courted, by the faerie vampire combo platter that was Warlow, who killed Sookie's parents. Warlow, played by Rob Kazinsky, was an abusive dickhead who charmed Sookie at first, but showed his true colors quickly when she refused to become his faerie vampire queen. One of the fun little subplots had to do with Louisiana Governor Burrell, played by Ron Howard's brother Arliss, setting up a plan to put a virus in Tru Blood so that all vampires that drank it would get sick and eventually die.
Hep-V, as the virus was called, turned the vampires into pseudo-zombies (did that make them undead or maybe just redundants? We don't know. . .) and another horror genre was brought into the already crowded fold. The thrilling cliffhanger was two-fold. A naked Eric Northman was caught sunbathing on top of a snowy mountain as his faerie blood wore off, making him susceptible to sunlight again as a crowd of vamp-zombies surrounded some of our heroes at Merlotte's bar, which is now called Bellefleur's. Confused? Us, too.
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So now we are caught up.
What's going to happen to our favorite waitress who knows our order before we do? Will she end up with Eric or Bill or Alcide or Sam? Why didn't we ever get to see Quinn, the were-tiger that Sookie dated in the books and why was there no Vampire summit? We'll see how it all comes to a close starting Sunday, June 22, when True Blood begins its seventh and final season. We hope that Sookie is revealed to be a patient in a mental ward in Shreveport, Louisiana, and all her boy toys are just orderlies that give her sponge baths. Either way, True Blood will be one of the most talked about TV shows of the summer.
Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version.