I know I’m not the only one who has worried that True Blood might not recover from last season. Something about the vampire Authority blowing up all the True Blood factories in season six’s episode nine felt eerily appropriate, an accidental epitaph for a program that appeared bent on self-destruction.
In a few hours, viewers will get the third installment of season six and with that, I’m hoping, a clearer sense of whether new show runner Brian Buckner is finding traction for his vision to resuscitate the humanity (and let’s hope the charming quirkiness along with it) that author Charlaine Harris so deeply built into the True Blood universe.
Their bringing on more Stackhouse family in the form of grandfather Niall the fairy king gives me hope. Though I’m not one to insist on a strictly-faithful-to-the-books version, the arrival of Niall bodes well because in addition to some fidelity to the novels, he may also signal that we’re going to get back to the simpler and more Sookie-anchored world that Harris’ versions represent.
If you aren’t a reader of the novels, you might not know exactly how far off the rails the HBO adaptation has gone–especially the last two seasons. No doubt, some of Alan Ball’s and HBO’s additions to the True Blood world have been useful. The Authority, perhaps the most obvious example, arguably added a consistently conspiratorial force into the vampire world that provided narrative glue from season to season and made the story feel more present-tense in our technology-, surveillance-, and media-driven age.
But there have been subtractions as well as additions–like the subtraction of a lot of the rules that govern Harris’ supernatural world and, along with them, a sense of consistency and restraint. TV’s True Blood follows different rules for becoming a shifter, changes what powers fairies possess, alters the reason for Sookie’s mind reading, even changes who killed her parents. It has made sense to add complexity to Harris’ first-person-narrator stories–sometimes melding plots from two books into one season–but by the time that HBO oriented an entire year around a fiction of their own–The Authority–trouble was clearly on the horizon.
That’s because however you mess with the laws of the supernatural realm or the pacing and complexity of the storytelling, it’s important that True Blood not lose its humanity. A whole season about vampires we just met and exploring a supernatural religion and a supernatural political force that is totally new, that was also the most overtly political and least cheekily self-aware… Season 6 was an extension of True Blood in the mode of Rocky V: more a near reboot that you wish you could undo than an exciting adaptation.
When True Blood really works–on TV or in print–it is not simply as a series about vampires. Or even a series about a telepathic, part-fairy waitress. So much of its appeal is about how “supes” and Sookie manage their humanity and even strive for something like working class Southern “normalcy.” The humor comes from seeing the peculiarities of Southern working class “normal” in light of the peculiarities of supernatural creatures and their customs.
As of the wrap of last week’s episode, I felt I’d seen a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m hoping its a glimmer of hope, rather than another fit of the HBO-invented, lame-o “microwave fingers.” There was Sookie back in her house. Back in her shorts. Back with Jason. Back in her home. Back with her family and her own problems center stage. Back with characters conceived by Charlaine.
Fingers-crossed that the series’ sense of fun is back, too.