How the Sexual Progressivism of ‘True Blood’ Imploded on Itself

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I knew True Blood‘s series finale was bound to be terrible when there was no nudity warning on HBO Go. Three seasons past its deserved expiration date, True Blood had long held my attention on the strength of Ryan Kwanten’s abs and little else, so what was the point of watching last night’s final installment without the promise of another Eric/Jason scene (or some other form of blatant fan service)? “Thank You” wasn’t a godawful conclusion for its simple lack of sex, though. For a show that made its name on sexual liberation, True Blood‘s finale felt retrograde, conservative, and bizarrely off-tone.

From the very start, preternaturally hot people were as much a part of True Blood‘s premise as vampires. Yet the quality of True Blood‘s hookups mattered just as much as their quantity, starting with the unsubtle parallels between bloodsuckers and IRL sexual minorities. Though neither consistent nor exact, the vampires-as-LGBT-people allegory presented viewers with a world where narrow-minded humans — “God Hates Fangs!” — were contrasted with the more enlightened/tolerant/etc. among us. The not-too-subtle moral of the story was that people, be they fangbangers on screen or queer people off, should be able to marry, and more importantly have sex with, whoever they damn well please.

And while True Blood wasn’t a groundbreaking show in most respects, it did a damn good job of representing actual sexual diversity instead of letting vampirism serve as a stand-in for it. Not only were characters like Lafayette and Pam present from the start; Tara had a serious relationship with a woman, Eric got naked with Russell Edgington’s boyfriend to get his guard down, and both were treated more or less as non-events, as well they should have been. Orange Is the New Black made a statement out of its protagonists’ sexual fluidity. True Blood made the same statement by not making a statement at all, years earlier.

True Blood‘s sexual politics didn’t stop at queer representation, either. Despite the maker-as-parent setup, the show didn’t think much of vampire “incest” (Pam and Tara 4eva!!! Eric and Nora, let’s pretend you guys never happened). And when Hoyt and Jessica broke up in part because Jessica didn’t really want to settle down as an eighteen-year-old, it’s Hoyt who’s the unsympathetic one.

So what the hell happened last night?

For one, there was the out-of-nowhere marriage of Jessica and Hoyt, which followed a conversation where Jessica basically says she’s got her sexual ya-yas out and is now totally ready to settle down for the rest of Hoyt’s life and the next few decades of hers. It was instigated by her maker/surrogate dad’s insistence on giving his daughter away (…to another man, so he’ll know she’s “spoken for,” what does that even mean) before he commits suicide. As Flavorwire’s Tom Hawking pointed out in his recap this morning, this all but torches Jessica’s well-established character arc: becoming her own person after a sheltered, claustrophobic childhood. A person who’s supposedly a radical departure from the evangelical good girl her evangelical parents homeschooled her to be. Except for the whole vampire thing, doesn’t getting hitched to her first love sound pretty much like exactly what said parents wanted?

Far more heinous, though, was the other stupid subplot initiated by Bill Compton, a character who’s been The Worst ever since he found Vampire Jesus. After contracting Hepatitis V, Bill decided that he found the whole idea of death pretty appealing — not because he’s always been a self-hating vampire, a long-running theme that got some play in the finale, though not nearly enough. Nope, Bill wants out because he decided it’d be better for his ex-girlfriend that way! Sookie rightly suggests that a) if Bill’s gonna die on her account, he should maybe take the fact that she doesn’t want him to do so into consideration and b) there are better ways to break up with someone than committing suicide. But she eventually comes around. Who could argue with Bill’s flawless logic?

To add insult to incredibly patronizing injury, though, Bill doesn’t just commit suicide “for Sookie.” (The scarequotes aren’t actually fair since we know he’s sincere; Sookie literally overhears him think “I’m doing this for you, Sookie!”) He decides to inflict maximum emotional damage on the way by asking Sookie to assist him with the last of her fairy powers. That way, no vampires will find her sexually desirable ever again, and she can fulfill her dream of having babies! Never mind that Sookie already had this internal debate two seasons ago, complete with the dramatic hurling of light bombs, and decided she liked being a fairy just fine. To her credit, Sookie opts out and stakes Bill instead, but the damage was done: giving serious consideration to sacrificing her identity for a sad-sack dude just showed how far True Blood had fallen.

And that’s why True Blood‘s finale wasn’t just a disappointment, but a betrayal of what made the show great, or at least above-average. True Blood started as a glorious sexual free-for-all; it ended as a celebration of (ill-advised) monogamy, condescending romantic martyrdom, and the joys of having a bunch of kids with your faceless husband. At least we’ll always have Eric Northman, smirking on his throne.