True Blood‘s sixth season, which ended last night in a big, sparkly puddle of bloody fairy dust, was a mixed bag typical of the second half of the show’s run: campy, fun pulp; mildly alarming attempts at social commentary; a compelling central vampire narrative; several extraneous subplots; and way too many characters. Complete with one tacked-on “WTF” moment to fuel Twitter freakouts, the finale essentially followed the format we’ve come to expect. But it still managed to charm me — albeit via one of the characters least likely to fuel today’s water-cooler chatter: Jason Stackhouse.
The best thing about last night’s episode, as far as I’m concerned, is the way it functioned as not only a reminder of how far Ryan Kwanten’s Jason has come in six seasons, but also an encapsulation of who he is now. In the same hour, we watched him both fully give himself over to Violet — a terrifyingly powerful 1000-year-old vampire who treats Jason like a chew toy and won’t have sex with him until she’s good and ready — and stake Warlow, the man who killed his parents and almost condemned Sookie to an eternity as his fairy-vampire bride. By juxtaposing his moment of heroism with the submissive role he’s evidently content to play in his romantic relationship, True Blood continues to use Jason’s development to defy and dissect standard tropes of masculinity.
On a show that has used vampires as stand-ins for LGBT people, religious zealots, ’60s civil rights activists, Jews during the Holocaust, and various other oppressed groups — causing more than a few moments of presumably unintended offense — it’s notable how thoughtful, consistent, and subversive Jason’s character arc has been. When we meet him in Season 1, he’s your typical good ol’ boy lothario, sleeping his way around Bon Temps on the strength of his hot body and football-hero cachet. But, like so many women in the horror stories that give True Blood its cast of supernatural humanoids, Jason’s promiscuity soon gets him in trouble. The women he’s bedded start turning up dead, and he’s the obvious suspect.
From there, Jason’s machismo sustains blow after blow. He suffers humiliating impotence, allows Lizzy Caplan’s Amy to suck him into a nasty vampire-blood addiction, and — not long after becoming a police officer — falls into his most complicated and controversial relationship, with Crystal Norris. A resident of the meth fiend/werepanther enclave Hotshot, she inspires Jason to play the hero and rescue her from an incestuous marriage to her half-brother, Felton. But for his trouble (not to mention his bravado), he ends up tied to a bed, raped by an endless parade of women who hope the town’s new “ghost daddy” will impregnate them. This experience is a turning point for Jason, who comes out of it not only reticent towards sex but also — in what may well be a metaphor for other victims’ fears of pregnancy or STDs — terrified that the women of Hotshot have turned him into a werepanther. At the time, bloggers debated whether True Blood had made it clear enough that he was raped, and if series creator Alan Ball was “victim-blaming” when he suggested that this was Jason’s “comeuppance” for the pride he took in his sexual prowess. With two seasons’ worth of distance on that episode, what does seem clear is that Ball was showing us what it looks like when a disturbing narrative traditionally reserved for women is imposed on a male character.
Jason’s identity as a “stud” grows more complicated after that. We see him meet his match in Jessica, a (literally) powerful female vampire whose promiscuity rivals his own. In fact, he picks up a young woman in an attempt to make her jealous and finds himself entirely incapable of using the girl for sex. His heterosexuality also begins to be challenged, first when Gay Vampire American Steve Newlin makes a pass at him in Season 4 and then again in this past season, when a blood bond fills his head with sexual fantasies about Warlow.
By midway through Season 6, Jason seems to have stopped fighting his state of simultaneous objectification and empowerment. One minute he’s letting Steve’s deranged ex-wife, Sarah, do unspeakable things to him in bed; the next, he’s using his connection to her to infiltrate the government’s vampire concentration camp in an attempt to free Jessica. There, he becomes (in prison parlance) Violet’s bitch before helping Eric and Bill liberate the other vampires in the season’s penultimate episode — when he also gets, and eventually resists, the opportunity to kill Sarah. The finale is the culmination of all this, allowing Jason to save his sister while settling down with a vampire who controls every aspect of their relationship. Once the quintessential womanizer, Jason Stackhouse has been transformed into a figure unique among male TV characters: equal parts sex object and hero, and ultimately True Blood‘s greatest creation.