There’s a certain pathos to watching a show you used to like and is now limping toward the finish line — the titles are the same, the actors are (mostly) the same, but everything’s long since lost its luster. So it’s gone with HBO’s True Blood, which… look, OK, no, it’s never been exactly high art. But for a couple of seasons, at least, was an enjoyably risqué Southern romp whose appeal was based around a somewhat intriguing premise (the integration of vampires into human society), a couple of memorable characters (mainly Alexander Skarsgård’s Eric Northman)… and nudity. Lots of nudity. For at least the last couple of seasons, though, it’s been on a slide, and it’s probably to everyone’s benefit that this seventh season is the last. But is it any good?
On the strength of last night’s episode: no. The series might still get better, of course, but this season opener was a pretty auspicious start. It seems Rutina Wesley wanted no part of it, because her character — the perpetually put-upon and yet always engaging Tara — is killed off within the show’s first five minutes, a victim of the almighty shitfight that begins the episode. (Although who knows, because there’s a hint of a plot involving Tara’s “spirit,” and Wesley is still listed as a regular cast member.)
Anyway, Tara is the most prominent victim of this season’s antagonists: zombies “Hep V Vampires,” i.e. the victims of the vampire-killing virus spread by intolerant humans last season in an attempt to wipe out vampirekind. Turns out this wasn’t such a great idea, because while the disease does kill vampires in the end, it also turns them from potentially dangerous predators into predators that are hungry, deranged, dying and give not a single fuck about making any pretense of seeing humanity as anything apart from dinner. As the season commences, they descend upon a town meeting, murdering a bunch of people, taking more as captives to be eaten in due course (including major-ish characters Arlene and Holly.)
The irony that humanity’s attempt at genocide may have in fact doomed it instead isn’t really explored — instead, the show’s human contingent divide down the middle between people who think vampires have been awful all along and those who don’t, a schism made all the more apparent by the need for every human to be assigned a goodie vampire to protect them from the baddie vampires.
There are some fairly heavy-handed attempts at real-world allegory — Jason, for instance, finds that a bunch of townsfolk are going vigilante (including the dude who lost to Sam for the mayorship, who seems to also be one of this season’s pains in the arse and general antagonists), and lectures them on the evils of intolerance and etc. The vigilante posse make a nuisance of themselves later in the episode, threatening to thwart Bill and Andy’s attempts to find the missing townsfolk. As it turns out, Andy sticks up for Bill, despite his loathing for the everyone’s least favorite Nice Guy of Vampire OK Cupid — the sheriff makes it clear that his hatred remains undiminished, but as the two appear to have been thrown together in a sort of True Detective season two odd couple type scenario, for now, it’s a truce.
The one person everyone seems to hate, though, is poor old Sookie Stackhouse, who pretty much the entire town blames for landing them on the wrong side of the vampire cannibal holocaust. (Quite why this is doesn’t really get explained — as I recall she’s no more to blame than anyone else, but hey.) In any case, her telepathic abilities make it very clear to her that everyone has it in for her, and thus she retreats to the comfort of bed and a suitably gratuitous nude scene with Adonis-esque werewolf bro Alcide.
Fan favorite Pam, meanwhile, seems to be on something of a quest to find Eric, who we last saw immolating on the mountain top somewhere after getting caught out in the sun. Turns out he is indeed still alive, except no-one knows exactly where. As the season commences, she’s in Morocco, playing vampire Russian roulette and being as pleasantly bitchy as ever in search of clues as to his whereabouts. This mystery has the unfortunate consequences of a) seeming somewhat contrived and b) denying us the show’s most appealing character — Skarsgård, perhaps, has also decided it’s time to concentrate on bigger and better things.
None of these plotlines are hugely compelling, to be honest — the Hep V Vampires are the sort of one-dimensional villains that could have walked straight out of a b-movie slasher flick, and the vigilante wannabe mayor doesn’t really strike fear into anyone’s heart. This is a shame, because villains are one thing this show has always done reasonably well, most memorably with Denis O’Hare’s exuberantly deranged Russell Edgington from a couple of seasons back. Hopefully Pam finds Eric sooner rather than later, or at least gets more screentime, because Kristin Bauer van Straten’s portrayal of her character remains one of the show’s great pleasures.
The will-she-or-won’t-she question of Sookie becoming a vampire seems to have been settled once and for all (spoiler: she won’t, unless something changes drastically), as does the who’s-she-gonna-end-up-with question (spoiler: Alcide, unless something changes drastically), which means that… well, there’s just nothing particularly interesting or engaging about her any more.
All in all, then, a… well, a slow start, let’s say that. Fingers crossed it gets better. We’ll see.