Sunday, August 3, 2014

One Long AIDS P.S.A.: True Blood Works For “Karma!”

The Good: Decent message, Moments of plot/character
The Bad: No stellar performances, Thematically heavy-handed, Continuity issues
The Basics: In “Karma,” True Blood devotes an hour to pounding viewers with the AIDS-analogous Hep-V . . . and makes for an obvious and tormented experience for the characters in Bon Temps.

Fans of True Blood are familiar with their show utilizing metaphor in addition to being a literal narrative. The entire premise of True Blood is steeped in metaphor; vampires in True Blood are analogous to homosexuals in American society, whatwith the entire premise of the show being that vampires have recently “come out of the coffin.” The fifth season of True Blood (reviewed here!) was an entire unsubtle mapping of how a political organization can be overcome by a religious fringe group, cleverly mirroring how U.S. politics have been hijacked by the evangelical Christians. So, as the series nears its end, it is not surprising that some of the episodes would work much better with the metaphoric story the writers are telling than as a literal story. Such is what happens with “Karma.”

“Karma” is an episode that beats viewers over the head with the way that the season’s viral adversary, Hepatitis V is an analogy to AIDS. While prior episodes have featured vampires who are infected with Hep-V being treated as maniacal adversaries, “Karma” is a slower, more contemplative episode that looks at the human aspect of the Hep-V infection. “Karma” picks up seconds after “Lost Cause” (reviewed here!) and it is important to note that there is no way to discuss “Karma” without revealing spoiler-ish aspects of the prior episode. Because “Karma” is so saturated with moody scenes that chart characters reacting to Hep-V and its spread, it cannot be evaluated without revealing how the prior episode ended.

Captured by the Yakuza, Pam and Eric are silvered and stuck in a room where they await dawn and their true death. When Jessica returns home, she overhears Bill talking on the phone, where he admits that he is Hep-V positive. James takes refuge at LaFayette’s house while LaFayette keeps an eye on Lettie Mae. Both humans are surprised when James offers to give them his blood to “elevate their consciousness,” with Lettie Mae using the excuse that Tara has a message for her from beyond the grave. Jason returns home where Violet seduces him (knowing full well he just cheated with Jessica). While Bill waits in his lawyer’s office, Pam and Eric meet the head of Yakonomo North America (the makers of Tru Blood in the U.S.). As the sun rises, they strike a deal with “Gus Jr.” over how to find and kill Sarah Newlin.

Sookie and Jessica meet and when Jessica reveals that Bill is infected with Hep-V, Sookie fears she might have infected Bill. As Bill deteriorates at an accelerated rate while waiting at the lawyer’s office, Sookie waits on pins and needles for the results of her Hep-V test. As Sam’s relationship with Nicole falls apart and Andy and Holly fight over Adilyn and Wade hooking up, LaFayette comes to believe that Lettie Mae might actually be right about Tara reaching out from beyond the grave when the two share a vampire-blood inspired vision. As it looks like Hep-V might be the end of vampire life on Earth, Sarah Newlin reveals to her sister how she might be the only hope for vampires!

The bulk of “Karma” focuses on the internal conflicts of Bill and Sookie as they struggle with how they relate to the spread of Hep-V. Sookie’s angst while waiting for the Hep-V test is a not at all veiled embodiment of what people go through while waiting for an HIV test. Sookie fears that she is inadvertently responsible for infecting Bill and that fear comes from her belief that she conveyed the disease to him through (analogously) a transfusion. “Karma” captures her angst, along with the frustration Bill feels as a new victim who has an accelerated version of the disease, perfectly.

Unfortunately, continuity is not a top priority for writer-director Angela Robinson. From the fact that Pam and Eric are not nearly as scarred by silver as vampires have been the entire rest of the series to how the analogy of Hep-V plays poorly comparatively, “Karma” is something of a mess in-context. While “Karma” takes a sympathetic look at the spread of the infection and makes it into an AIDS analogy without any subtlety or veil, the idea that the Hep-V infected vampires until now have been craven lunatics makes the analogy a poor one. “Karma” reframes the Hep-V vampires as demoralized instead of violent and desperate. As a result, the nature of the infection seems radically changed and that works less-well for the series than for the individual episode.

While I am always thrilled to see Kathleen York in projects, her brief role as the lawyer Madeline Kapneck is overshadowed by the performance Deborah Ann Woll delivers as Jessica. While Anna Paquin is good as Sookie, Woll’s silent emoting of Jessica in angst realizing that her maker is infected plays much more powerfully. Robinson captures her facial expressions wonderfully to sell the internal conflict Jessica feels and that emotionally lands the episode.

The rest of “Karma” is not a wash, but is in no way extraordinary. Anna Camp’s Sarah Newlin seems emotionally flat (especially for a character whose family was just decimated) and Pam and Eric seem to be going through the motions more than being truly motivated by vengeance. The result is that “Karma” is more average than bad or good and the viewer is left feeling browbeaten as opposed to entertained.

For other works with Gregg Daniel, please check out my reviews of:
Spider-Man 3
”Live Fast And Prosper” - Star Trek: Voyager

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into True Blood - The Complete Sevent Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the final season of the supernatural show here!


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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