Buried underneath the VMAs, something else important also took place on TV last night. True Blood, HBO's long-running series about sexy vampires and the people who love them, wound to a close.
The series finale wasn't "important" in the same sense that ending of Breaking Bad was, or The Sopranos, or how Game of Thrones will most likely be some day. Even diehard fans of True Blood have been forced to admit that the show slowly but surely slouched to obsolescence long before the seventh and final season began earlier this summer. The very tagline HBO made for True Blood's last hurrah, #TrueToTheEnd, signalled this shift. It's a slogan and a bit of social media #branding that fits with the show's vocabulary ("true blood" is the synthetic beverage vampires can drink, the "true death" is the only way vampires can actually die in the show, etc.), sure. But when True Blood posted it last night on its Facebook page, something else also became clear. #TrueToTheEnd was a message thanking the show's last holdouts for loyally seeing the story through to its conclusion.
It was a nice message. But as an admission of the show's diminished place in the new golden age of television, it also sounded a little too grateful. It only became clear to me in the peculiar series finale just how desperate a note this was. A warning before I go any further: I'm going to include some major spoilers for the final season and the last two episodes.
Even stubborn fans -- like yours truly -- recognise that True Blood has been going downhill for years now. That was disappointing, but also sort of fun. Because the show has always been unapologetically campy and over-the-top in the way it handled sex, violence, and all many of supernatural entities. The last few seasons have continued to raise the stakes for the conflicts between the warring factions in the True Blood universe -- the vampires, werewolves, humans, and fairies. By the beginning of the seventh season, the show's drama had risen to an uncontrollable fever pitch.
The season began with Bon Temps, the fictional quaint Southern town all the drama centres around, being beset by vampires who were infected with an incurable disease known as "Hepatitis V." Vampires driven mad by the disease banded together into roving gangs that terrorized every town they passed through. Hep-V was a not-so-subtle reference to the AIDS crisis, but it was also something far more apocalyptic than that: Bon Temps was, quite literally, under siege. Sookie and her compatriots traveled to other neighbouring towns and found them deserted or littered with rotting corpses. Any semblance of human authority quickly collapsed, and average citizens banded together into an anti-vampire militia to take on the threat. Tara and Alcide, two of the show's main characters, were killed off in the first three episodes. Fans knew that the show's melodrama was heading towards a breaking point -- and fast.
But then nothing really happened. The apocalypse-level conflict of the first half of the season slowly gave way to something else. Something far more...benign, for lack of a better word. Eric and Pam discovered that their antagonist Sarah Newlin actually had a cure for Hep-V running through her veins. Bill refused to accept the cure, instead asking Sookie to kill him using the last of her fairy powers -- thus ridding her of the traits that made her irresistible to vampires and his romantic temptation in one fell swoop. And for no particular reason, Hoyt Fortenberry showed up.
Actually, there was a reason for Hoyt to show up: so he could have sex with Jessica again and finally bring the love triangle the two shared with Jason to a close. He even brought a blonde bombshell back from Alaska with him, then promptly forgot about her the minute he laid eyes on Jessica. To the point where he decided to marry Jessica, turning the final episode into a surprise shotgun wedding. Conveniently, this left Jason with an attractive woman to couple up with in the final moments of the show.
This last minute partner-swapping could have been silly and fun, like the show's always been. But even by True Blood standards, it made absolutely no sense. The whole reason Hoyt left town was because he was so broken up over the fact that Jason and Jessica slept together -- to the point where he asked the latter to use her vampire powers to erase any memory of her. Suddenly having him show up and get married to her a few days later didn't ring true for either of the characters considering how much hemming and hawing they'd both done for entire seasons prior to that about the state of their relationship. It felt rushed. It felt forced. It was fan service gone awry.
All of True Blood's final moments felt like attempts to appease fans -- either by quickly resolving or destroying relationships between characters to offer a sense of closure, no matter how arbitrary that closure was. Eric and Pam kidnapped Sarah Newlin and used her blood to manufacture a new curative type of synthetic blood, and make a fortune in the process. Sookie didn't give up her fairy powers, but she still agreed to kill Bill. Sam Merlotte skipped town, after insisting for seven seasons that Bon Temps was his only real home and he would never abandon it.
The problem with fan service is that it can only go so far before it ventures into the realm of outright ridiculousness. True Blood is a show about sexy vampires sleeping around with one another and pretty much anything else that moves -- it's already been soaked in fan service for years. All of these final moments of resolution, like Hoyt and Jessica's shotgun wedding, happened too quickly to have any true staying power.
All of the many people who gave up on True Blood years ago are probably thinking to themselves: "Well, what did you expect?" That's a valid question, considering the show has always been campy and self-aware in its appreciation of its own silliness. But True Blood still remained fun for its last loyal fans not just because it was so ridiculous, but because that ridiculousness was still tempered by something. Maybe it was just the overarching need for narrative continuity that kept the show somewhat intelligible before its conclusion. But what made the ending uniquely disappointing was that it felt like the show itself had given up, conceded to the many lapsed fans who felt it wasn't even trying anymore, and resigned itself to piling on one last heaping pile of misguided relationships and graphic sex scenes. Those were two of the main ingredients that made True Blood such a fun show from the very beginning. But if the last few episodes proved anything, they showed that there was, at one point, something greater that held True Blood together. Whatever that secret ingredient was, it's gone now. And we won't have another chance to try to find the inner magic that once made True Blood a great show.
So: so long, True Blood. Thanks for the great times you gave people like me over the past seven years. But forgive me for doing my best to glamour myself, much like Hoyt did, to try and forget what I witnessed this past Sunday night.