Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Season Of Stumbles: True Blood - Season Six Reveals An Underwhelming Adversary.

The Good: Moments of character, Moments of performance, Moments of menace
The Bad: Entirely bloated cast, Unimpressive villain, Short, Underdeveloped plots
The Basics: The sixth season of True Blood illustrates the problem of continuing a show with an expanding cast as it loses resonance and presents a much built-up enemy in a lackluster way.

I like long stories when it comes to television shows. I like long arcs and character development that takes its time reaching an organic position that shows real growth. In the case of True Blood, the show has had some long arcs, but has largely been plot-based with storylines jerking characters all around the map. Instead of being moved forward by the main characters, far too often, the villains throw up roadblocks or create the movement that pulls the protagonists toward action. In the fifth season of True Blood (reviewed here!), it was the rise of the Authority and a fundamentalist sect within it that pulled Eric and Bill into a conflict that they struggled to escape from.

The sixth season of True Blood returns the focus of the show to Sookie, but it has two fundamental problems with keeping the Sookie storyline engaging and truly compelling. The first is that, as the fifth season heavily alluded to his coming, the murderer of the Stackhouse parents, Warlow, rears his head . . . and it is anything but ugly or murderous. After exceptional build-up as an ethereal, creepy, badass, Warlow pops up as a too-cute romantic interest for Sookie and his arc in the season is nauseating.

The other fundamental issue with the sixth season of True Blood is that at this point there are so many diverging storylines going on that almost none of them are actually developed well. Given that the sixth season of True Blood has only ten episodes, the plotlines spreading the characters out in multiple different directions does not allow any of them to get the attention they deserve. The season moves fast, but at this point, True Blood is mostly pulp and it lacks the resonance of the deeper themes from the earlier seasons.

The sixth season picks up immediately where the fifth season ended as Eric Northman and Sookie Stackhouse run out of the Authority headquarters. They are pursued by Bill, who has been possessed by the spirit of Lilith. As the bloodbath follows the pair, Bill begins to regain control. As he retreats to his estate, where Jessica ministers to him, Bill has a vision of a white room in which most of the vampires he knows will see the sun and be destroyed. To prevent that calamity, he kidnaps the inventor of TruBlood in an attempt to make a fairy blood equivalent of TruBlood that will protect his friends. The white room Bill saw in his vision is quickly revealed as Eric, Pam, and Tara are captured by the Governor, who has set up a vampire concentration camp where his people perform perverse experiments on vampires.

While the Governor is imposing his curfew and setting up a biological plague that will wipe out the vampire population, Sookie is on the outside . . . with Warlow. After the appearance of her fairy grandfather, Sookie falls in with Warlow, who romances her and explains his complicated existence as a vampire fairy to her. In attempting to aid Bill, Jessica inadvertently slaughters three of Sheriff Bellefleur’s half-fairy daughters before she, too, is captured by the Governor’s forces. Struggling with the way he saved Arlene’s life in the prior season, Terry once more becomes twitchy and he organizes a way to free himself from the pain of wrestling with the consequences of his actions. Outside Bon Temps, Sam falls for a young woman who wants to help the supernatural creatures who have not made their existence known to the world when she is attacked by werewolves in Alcide’s pack. Alcide, for his part, shows up to take over his pack and learn pretty quickly that being pack master is not what he truly wants.

After all of the hype and prophecy surrounding Warlow, his revelation in the sixth season as a man who can come to claim Sookie is underwhelming when Warlow appears and starts to romance Sookie. The romance in the season is thin and cheap; starting with Sookie picking up a wounded stranger at the side of the road, the revelation that he is Warlow comes quick. The thin ploy mirrors the simplistic romance that follows and Warlow lacks the gravitas that he was rumored to have before appearing.

In fact, it is not until late in the season, when Warlow resists the idea of dating Sookie that there is any real menace. But that’s the problem with so much in this penultimate season of True Blood; the positive developments for the season come too late and the payoffs are disappointing. From prophecies that strangely do not include the methods needed to make them come true (Bill is absent from his own vision so that when the events in the white room come to a head, they do not match his vision at all) to an overall plot that troublingly mirrors the prior season (the Governor is dispatched and replaced at virtually the same position in the season as the head of the Authority was last season!), the sixth season of True Blood feels much more formulaic than fresh.

On the performance front, True Blood Season Six is a mediocre use of decent talent. Anna Paquin and her new co-star, Robert Kazinsky (Warlow), have absolutely no on-screen chemistry, which guts the viability of their relationship. While Robert Patrick is added to the main cast as Jackson Herveaux, Jackson barely appears in the season and does not have a truly substantive role until the final episode where he predictably acts as an accessory to Joe Manganiello’s Alcide.

Some of the season’s best moments come from the second string performers. Anna Camp illustrates a truly incredible ability to play the villain as Sarah Newlin takes charge of the enemies of the vampires. Todd Lowe shows yet again just how powerful he can play loss and confusion as Terry Bellefleur. Similarly, Carrie Preston is given the chance to play grief as Arlene in a remarkable way that she has not been given the opportunity to previously.

Still, the moments of decency are not enough to outweigh the plodding plot and lack of payoff for the season’s few big moments. Beloved characters (like Lafayette and even Sam) are largely neglected, previously added cast members, like Lauren Bowles as Holly, are not given the chance to grow and develop and the season is a poor payout to those who have invested a lot in the show leading up to it.

For more information on the specific episodes contained in the sixth season of True Blood, be sure to check out my reviews of each of the episodes in the boxed set. They are:
"Who Are You, Really?"
"The Sun"
"You're No Good"
"At Last"
"Fuck The Pain Away"
"Don't You Feel Me"
"In The Evening"
"Dead Meat"
"Life Matters"


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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