There’s a moment early in the seventh and final season of True Blood when Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten) looks at the writing on the wall—literally words written on a wall, spray-painted to the side of a building in a neighboring town which has been all but abandoned. The camera lingers on the words, allowing the audience to read them, all before Jason reads the text aloud for good measure. True Blood has always worn its metaphors on its sleeve, right from the “God hates fangs!” sign in the opening credits: This is a series that wants you to know what it’s talking about, and if it seems at first like you might not understand, everything will be explained to you again.
When the series began, vampires were just starting to come out of the closet, thanks to an artificial blood substitute, Tru Blood, that allowed them to survive without feeding on humans. And the series has followed through with that corollary to civil rights—and more specifically gay rights, with a smattering of werewolves, mind readers, shape-shifters, fairies, and witches to keep things interesting—all the way to this final season, which features humans and vampires valiantly trying to get over their differences to defeat a common enemy.
That enemy takes the form of a band of bloodthirsty vamps infected with Hepatitis-V, a deadly strain of Hepatitis-D created by humans that’s aggressively terminal for vampires, and also highly contagious. This new threat casts little ol’ Bon Temps, Louisiana in a strangely vulnerable light. Until now, the city—like other vamp-infested television towns such as Mystic Falls (The Vampire Diaries) and Sunnydale (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)—has been perpetually hermetic, populated almost entirely by people we know. But now, after an attack at an event intended to pair local humans with an uninfected vampire protector (who, in exchange for protection, gets to feed on that resident, a necessary evil after the factories producing Tru Blood have been mysteriously destroyed), the residents of Bon Temps seem aghast less about the vampire attack than the fact that they don’t recognize the vampires attacking them.
Sookie (Anna Paquin), too, discovers a blood-drained corpse on the side of the road, and her first instinct—rather than worry about the implications of the presence of a dead girl so close to home—is to be alarmed that she doesn’t recognize the body. The effect is one of True Blood being usurped by the outside—by those who don’t understand the delicate balance the town (read: series) has achieved since the introduction of vampires into the public consciousness. It’s like slowly getting used to, and even starting to appreciate, the annoying girl at work who talks too loudly and laughs too easily, but then running into her with a group of her friends and recognizing her faults all too acutely because of their heightened intensity.
Everything is manageable in small doses, but sometimes it’s that one last cocktail that means the difference between a headache the next morning and a night with your face hanging over a toilet. With the final season of True Blood, it’s easy to sympathize with Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) when he makes it home with his assigned vampire protector after the first attack by the band of the invading Infected: He walks inside and immediately reaches for a gigantic bong, saying to his protector, “I know you gotta eat. But it is motherfucking mandatory that I get my brain out of this plane of existence right the fuck now. So give me a second while I get altered, and then I’ll get you lunch.” Perhaps the series has conditioned its audience into a perpetually altered state in which we blithely accept the crazy twists and turns it’s has taken throughout its substantial run. There’s definitely something to be said for raising the stakes (I couldn’t resist) so consistently while still maintaining a sense of internal logic; this isn’t a series that often forgets the past, and Bon Temps now has a sense of its own history, its residents having been through so much together.
But sometimes we have to recognize our own limits. Nothing lasts forever without repeating itself, and now, with vampires once again the primary threat to the town’s safety, True Blood seems to have exhausted its stores of surprises. The feeling as we enter the final season can be summed up in a moment during which Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard)—not burnt to death after all!— shakes a cocktail mixer for a few beats too long, as if he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next. Any number of things could come pouring out of that mixer, but by now—equal parts impressively and exhaustingly—it’s not likely to be something we haven’t seen before.