Maybe it’s fitting that a show about immortality just couldn’t find the right way to die.
True Blood’s last episode was the most disappointing series finale I’ve seen in a long time. And I say “disappointing” because I’ve seen worse; the final hour of Dexter comes to mind. But something about the blandness of True Blood’s finale felt almost offensive. Jessica and Hoyt got hitched, because it was Bill’s greatest wish to see his progeny married off? Bill just had to lecture Sookie about how having children makes life worth living? Sookie needed to chat with the Reverend about God’s plan? For a show that once skewered Ted Cruz and other self-proclaimed defenders of “family values,” this was pretty conservative stuff.
What happened to the transgressive fun of True Blood? It’s hard to remember now, but when the series first premiered, its campy, hedonistic vibe felt somewhat revolutionary—or, anyway, as revolutionary as a show that would later feature werepanther rape can get.
Back then, in 2008, the vampire myth had been completely defanged by the Twilight books and their pale hero, Edward Cullen—who could conquer his desire for sex or blood or sleep or anything beyond gazing deeply into his girlfriend’s eyes. By contrast, True Blood opened with gratuitously explicit sex scenes, then segued into one of the most ricidulously gory bloodbaths in TV history later that season. The characters were all gloriously weird, whether they were vampires, werewolves, faeries, or shapeshifters—never mind whether they were straight, gay, or bisexual. This show didn’t just want you to watch its freak flag fly. It wanted to stake that freak flag through your heart.
Sure, the storyline about Maryann—the Maenad who made people lick ostrich eggs—made no sense at all. But, hey, there was a storyline about a Maenad who made people lick ostrich eggs!True Blood deserves respect just for daring to be totally nuts. And for sticking with the show through all its mounting insanity, I think we deserved a totally insane grand finale—not some sentimental Jane Austen ending culminating in a wedding. Don’t get me wrong—I love Jane Austen! I just don’t thing she belongs in Bon Temps.
Over time, the show’s over-the-top legacy has helped pave the way for other crazy-brilliant dramas, such as American Horror Story. But cheap thrills weren’t True Blood’s only draw. The first season drew some pretty poignant parallels between the vampires’ struggle for equal rights (they had just “come out of the coffin”) and the LGBT community’s real-life struggle for equal rights. Because True Blood premiered around the time that California was fighting over Proposition 8, those “God hates fangs!” signs didn’t just feel like an empty joke.
True Blood’s creator, Alan Ball, acknowledged that the metaphor became a little more complicated over time: “To look at these vampires on the show as metaphors for gays and lesbians is so simple and so easy, that it’s kind of lazy,” he said at a press conference in 2009. “If you get really serious about it, well, then the show could be seen to be very homophobic because vampires are dangerous: They kill, they’re amoral.” But simply by offering a diverse array of gay, straight, and bi characters—the good and the bad, the monogamous and the promiscuous, the bloodthirsty and the vegetarian—it felt progressive to me. Fiction has a way of opening minds that might otherwise stay closed. Anyone who came to the show believing that queer folks could be defined by any one thing might find their viewpoints challenged, especially on a show that counted a gay man who wore lovely makeup among its most beloved characters.
For me, one of the most affecting moments of the final season was when Bill, knowing that he was dying of Hep V, tried to leave his estate to Jessica—but was told by his lawyer that the state “doesn’t recognize progeny as children.” Granted, the scene ends with him sucking the lawyer dry. But as a furious satire on the rights of the marginalized and the dying, it’s a gravely serious scene. If a viewer were anti-gay-rights before watching it, it might make her think a little more about that issue.
Of course, all the focus on marriage and children during the final season also felt like a cop-out. The idea that vamps and humans alike could be happily slutty forever disappeared as nearly everyone in Bon Temps paired off. Hep V-positive Arlene even entered a sexless relationship with a vampire (surely there are condoms in Bon Temps?) and Jason, the town strumpet, ended up just snuggling Hoyt’s ex-girlfriend with his undergarments intact. Worse yet, Bill suggested that his life literally wouldn’t be worth leading if he couldn’t give Sookie children. “We have children,” he says. “Maybe we get to meet our children’s children, but then we pass on, and that, that is a life.”
Aren’t there other ways to define a meaningful existence? Obviously, plenty of people don’t want to have kids, or simply can’t. Some gay and bisexual people believe the very idea of entering into a monogamous relationship is antithetical to the whole idea of queerness. So it’s slightly insulting that the romantic hero of this proudly live-and-let-live show should be so fiercely heteronormative. Both refer to Bill’s death as the only way she can live “a normal life.” How did two of Bon Temps’ proudest outsiders end up wanting so badly to be “normal”? Since when did True Blood develop such a fixed definition of what “normal” is?
Besides, asking your true love to kill you isn’t romantic at all. He’s forcing Sookie to do something she doesn’t want to do, just to satisfy his concept of what her life should be like. If Bill were actually romantic, he would ask her how she views her own future. Then they’d come up with a plan together. In the end, it’s disappointing to find Bill transformed into just another old-fashioned Southern patriarch, down to the way he deemed that Jessica should get married right now, just so that he can “give her away.”
Once upon a time, True Blood played with gender roles in pretty subversive ways. Women largely run Bon Temps: Maryann once had the power to control the whole town. Lillith once had the power to control Bill. Pam has just as much sway over Eric as he does over her—you could say they have a pretty equal relationship, if only because they’re equally into dominating other people. So it’s a little sad that, in the end, Hoyt brought Jessica home to Daddy, uttering “Yessir!” the whole way, and Jessica admitted that she’s been dreaming about her wedding since she was little. “I may be a vampire, Bill,” she says, “but I am also a girl.” As if the urge to plan a wedding were etched in one’s chromosomes.
Granted, there were so many other problems with the finale. We didn’t get enough time with the best characters: Eric, Pam, and Lafayette. (Though maybe getting to see a blood-spattered Eric bopping his head to the car stereo was good enough.) The fact that Bill’s death looked like an outtake from a schlocky horror movie robbed it of any real emotion. And the biggest problem? It just wasn’t any fun.
I might be overthinking the show’s politics. Violet once told Jason that all she ever wanted from him was to live in a world “with no wit, no intellect.” When the show was really working as an orgiastic, soapy spectacle, that’s all I wanted from True Blood as well. But I can’t help watching that final scene—when Sarah Newlin, now a sex slave, admits that she has “nothing” to be thankful for this Thanksgiving—and realizing that it feels kind of prescient.
“Nothing” was the final word spoken in True Blood’s final episode. Maybe it was fitting: What did this deeply radical show ultimately stand for? Nothing. What did we spend seven seasons watching this show for? Nothing.
Perhaps it’s better to live in a world without intellect; there, your expectations would be lower. But in the end, I’m still mad that the finale left the universe with nothing better than this admittedly amazing GIF.