True Blood, “If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin’?”

I tweeted earlier tonight that I’m now fairly convinced that I was just an idiot when I thought True Blood was kind of a good television program. But what I am realizing is that I think I only thought these things for like six weeks, sometime near the middle part of season two. Those glorious feelings were extremely fleeting. Season one of True Blood was pretty boring, season two had its moments and season three was a muddled, overstimulated mess. Unfortunately, this season is off to a weird combination of both. Multiple times during tonight’s episode “If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin?” I looked at the clock on my cell phone with the hopes it was almost over.

Look, I get that the Eric’ amnesia plot comes from whatever book this season is based on, as a few people pointed out to me in the comments and on Twitter last week. But just because it’s lifted from the book storyline doesn’t mean it is good. I don’t care what is taken from the book and what isn’t. The point is, Eric having amnesia doesn’t appeal to me because it feels very much like a cop-out and although it does open up Alexander Skarsgård to have some fun with his performance, nothing in this episode really changed my mind. Worse off, even though this episode was almost entirely about Eric’s amnesia and his showdown with the witch coven, nothing actually happened in regards to that. We didn’t really learn why Eric lost his memory, what that totally entails other than him being more endearing, pleasant and honest and there was a lot of movement without much of it being purposeful. I’m not an expert on television writing, but it seems problematic to have your third episode of the season to be a chess-piece kind of episode.

Since its inception, there has been discussion about True Blood‘s soap opera influences and I don’t inherently disagree with the argument that the series is basically a high soap opera where it isn’t necessarily interested in kind of narrative progression and flow that we might be used to from HBO programs. Like soaps, True Blood often feels like a series where one insane/stupid thing happens and then all 392 characters have to react to and talk about that one thing for an episode until something else insane/stupid happens. But there is a way to balance that kind of storytelling while still advancing plot momentum and character beats (see: Vampire Diaries, The). I’ve said this a few times already in just a few episodes, but there is really no reason why True Blood should be boring. It can be stupid, loud, vulgar, insane, fun, etc., but I cannot fathom how the series just fell into this rut of monotonous storytelling. It’s not like this episode is slower-paced because it’s trying REALLY HARD to develop characters.

I know it’s early, but I think what is plaguing True Blood right now (and has for an extended period of time) is that it lacks a clear center. In theory, Sookie should be the center of the series, but she’s become repetitively (and stupidly) written and the one big anchor given to her is so ridiculous that the series’ writers seem to be afraid to really embrace it but they also don’t want to totally discard it since it comes from the books. But even though she disappeared for a year, the series doesn’t seem too interested in exploring what that could have meant for this world or these characters.

Outside of a sexual preference swap for Tara and Bill’s new position, very little appears to have changed for most of the characters. So the series is just back to its usual tricks, spreading everyone out disparately, leaving the audience to hope that they’ll connect or pass one another eventually. At least in season two, whatever the hell was going on with Maryann actually came to something of a head and included most of the main characters. Over the last season and change, each character or a small group of characters have been trapped in barely related, separate series from the others.

And for a series that has such an interesting tapestry to play with, True Blood often relies too much on the boring and poorly-written lives of these people. Four years in, this series still has no scope or breadth of storytelling whatsoever. It doesn’t feel like the world has expanded at all, no matter how many secretly powerful witches come into town. Stuff just…happens. I’m not an idiot, I know that there is an intended purpose for all these stories. But when it seems like there isn’t at all, we have a problem. One would think that bringing in witches might create the kind of threat that Maryann provided in season two, but in three episodes, they’ve basically served as plot devices to get Sookie and Eric closer together without much time dedicated to a purpose. I know, it’s only episode three but come on.

If you notice, I haven’t really spoken of specific events of this episode and that’s because I’m not really sure any of them matter. People have conversations. About stuff. Beats are repeatedly hammered home again and again (Tommy is bad! Sam doesn’t trust him! Sookie can’t trust Eric! Tara sucks! [Maybe I made that one up]) and apart from the solid, but ultimately sort of stupid cliffhanger* that Eric killed Sookie’s fairy godmother, there was very little to discuss about this episode. I’m not hopeful that True Blood will turn it around and I guess am just willing to embrace the fact that I was an idiot. Sigh.

*Killing the fairy godmother COULD provide some interesting consequences but this isn’t a series interested in exploring consequences. Moreover, killing her feels like an implicit acknowledgement that the story and the character suck to begin with.

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