While it’s true that vampires don’t age, the same can’t be said for shows about vampires. True Blood, once a fleet-footed and hot-blooded gothic drama, hasn’t aged gracefully. Ever since the first season, the show has been gradually shifting focus away from the relationship between the naïve, mind-reading half-fairy Sookie (Anna Paquin) and her two vampire suitors, gentlemanly Bill (Stephen Moyer) and rash ex-Viking Eric (Alexander Skarsgård), and to the affairs of a wide variety of other supernatural, often bland, entities. Sookie still pines for Bill, despite his villainous ascension to godhood in the show’s sixth season, but she no longer anchors the series.
What should be this season’s primary point of focus—the semi-official war on vampires that’s been declared by Louisiana’s new fascistic governor, Truman Burrell (Arliss Howard)—too often takes a backseat to the further misadventures of characters like Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), who, after trying to save his girlfriend’s werewolf daughter from vampires last season, is now…trying to save the little girl from an unruly clan of werewolves, tentatively led by Alcide (Joe Manganiello). The only real connection these two characters have to Sookie is that Sam’s her boss—though even Arlene (Carrie Preston) notes that she never shows up for work anymore—and that she once had a brief fling with Alcide. But because True Blood is both afraid to kill off main characters and unable to stop checking in on everybody, we get a kaleidoscopic series of scenes that are only vaguely related in theme.
Even the more interesting material is bogged down by the writing’s inert pacing: Bill spends an episode almost entirely in a coma, internally processing his newfound powers, and Sookie, under the direction of her kooky fairy grandfather, Niall (Rutger Hauer), channels balls of light as if she’s auditioning for a part in The Last Airbender. Rather than strike back against the humans who’ve raided her bar, Eric’s second-in-command, Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten), and her recently sired lover, Tara (Rutina Wesley), spend their time drinking and weeping bloody tears, without a hint of their former menace and charm.
The first few episodes of the season barely cover more than a day’s worth of plot, and it’s not because the series is drawing out the rich essences of each character, but because there are too many stories, none of which are likely to be resolved before the end of the season. Furthermore, because so much supernatural lore has already been explained, nothing seems fresh; the human armed forces’ UV-emitting silver bullets are similar to those used by last season’s vampire Authority, and though this season’s evil vampire, Warlow, has yet to reveal himself, it becomes clear he’s after the same thing every other Big Bad on the series has sought: Sookie. Even the future that Bill is now able to see—in which all of his friends are immolated—is more of the same.
What little subtlety there was to the portrayal of vampires as stand-ins for minority groups in the early seasons of True Blood has been lost, particularly now that Alan Ball has stepped down as showrunner (and it says something that his replacement, Mark Hudis, stepped down in the middle of this season). Supernatural sympathizer Nicole (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) spends two episodes comparing the governor’s new violent and discriminatory anti-vampire policies to those of Southern racists and the Nazi party as she attempts to convince Sam and Alcide to “out” themselves before it’s too late to fight back (she all but quotes the famous poem “First They Came…”), and a religious zealot (Anna Camp) explains, just before giddily torturing a vampire, that “If you really want to do God’s work, you’ve got to be in politics.”
Even the visuals have lost much of their appeal: The show’s authentic Louisiana vibe has long been replaced by generic interiors and whatever’s-in-the-closet costuming, and the once-suspenseful cliffhangers are now just feeble fades to black. Even when the series manages to remain steamy, with a long finger-sucking sequence between Eric and his human captive (Amelia Rose-Blaire), who’s trying to seduce him, it’s hard not to be distracted by the fact that the coffin they’re sharing looks like something out of a discount Halloween store. The sight of naked women covered in blood was once simultaneously shocking and titillating, but it’s now become routine. The freshest thing in Bon Temps is Niall’s eccentric behavior and outfits, but even that’s far from original, since it feels as if it’s been lifted straight out of The Addams Family.
Skin-deep romance and violence are easy; that’s what network soaps and crime shows are all about. True Blood, which once sank its teeth into the costs of vampirism—regenerating hymens, religious persecution, the in-some-cases thin line between having a maker and a master—has now grown long in the tooth, content to simply glamour its audience with cheap and bloody theatrics, a lot of drawn-out posturing from its over-the-top villains and copious shirtless supernaturals. Unwilling to really shake things up, the writers have instead drained the life out of their own series, and what’s left is merely a desiccated reminder of something that was once entertaining.