Saturday, May 23, 2009

True Blood: That's a Dealbreaker, Ladies

I'm six episodes into the first season of True Blood, and if there's one word to describe how I feel about this series, it's disturbed.

While the plot is compelling and the characters are richly drawn, there are certain things I can't reconcile in my mind.

For starters, I just don't get this whole vampire thing.

Because it's definitely not the hotness of the guys that's a problem. (Even though I really don't see the hotness of pasty emo Vampire Bill.) But let's get serious. I spend about six hours a day talking about this guy:

And I will never be a Buffy fan.


Since Twilight hit the scene, this country has been obsessed with vampire stories. And it's all pretty much the same--vampire and virginal (but ass-kicking) girl. Forbidden love, sense of danger, blahdy blahdy blahdy blah.

True Blood is the story of Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic young woman who lives in modern day Bon Temps, Louisiana. But in this universe, the recent invention of synthetic blood has allowed vampires to "come out of the coffin" and live amongst humans. At least at night. And just because vampires don't have to feed on humans anymore doesn't necessarily mean they don't want to; it also doesn't mean that humans are 100% okay with having vampires in their midst. Sookie is an exception, an open-minded individual who thrives on the adventure of learning about and experiencing life with a vampire.

I just don't get it.

Maybe it's my inherent practicality, but it just doesn't make sense to me that any human woman in her right mind would want to be in a relationship with a vampire. Like, I get that whole danger thing, but I can't imagine wanting it to go beyond a one-time thing. You know what it's like? To me, being in love with a vampire is like being in love with Sawyer from Lost. Yeah, you might have a really hot makeout session while he's tied to a tree, but when the shit comes down, Sawyer's gonna expose your fugitive status to the whole group. Sawyer would've let Kate carry the dynamite through the jungle, unlike that other guy, who snuck it into his own pack. (Oh, snap, "Exodus." Guess we know what I'm doing when I'm done with this post.) A sensible woman would be trying to make it work with Sam, the bar owner who (I think?) is the True Blood version of an Animagus. He's loyal and trustworthy and honorable, and when Sookie's grandmother was viciously murdered, he just sat with her. He's protective of her without having to pull out his fangs every time someone acts suspiciously. But that's obviously going nowhere, so whatever.

So, yeah, I think these girls are dumb.

Beyond the massively effed-up ship, I have a couple other problems with True Blood.

Let's spend a moment talking about pay-cable. I did a blog last summer about the injustice of including premium cable series in Emmy competition, and I still maintain that argument. As I said then, these shows have shorter seasons, bigger budgets, and freedom from the FCC. Comparing, say, Sex and the City to Friends is just asking for an apples and oranges problem.

But what I find so reprehensible about premium cable is that they almost seem to flaunt their freedoms. Almost all of the series I've ever seen on pay cable are just absolutely rife with cursing, violence, and graphic, gratuitous sex. You know how I know it's gratuitous? Because it's never the main characters. Those guys get no-nudity clauses written into their contracts. It's always the secondary characters, the ones who aren't famous enough to be choosy. I think Jason Stackhouse has had sex in every single episode so far, and the only love scene they've shown so far between Sookie and Bill was, comparatively, pretty tame. (Oh, except for the part where he bit her. Yuck. More on that later.) Anyway, come on. This show isn't made any better by the fact that I've seen this many naked people.

Okay, so once we get those two (pretty big) problems out of the way, let's talk about what's good. Because despite these factors, I do really like the story.

First of all, it's a really interesting take on this vampire crap. The way the show depicts the in-fighting of the vampire community and the tension between vampires and humans is fascinating, and obviously a pretty thinly veiled analogy to the non-supernatural tensions that continue to exist in America today.

It's also very suspensful, and I like that. I want to watch the back six, because I'm intrigued to see how the story continues. (Especially this business about Sam's shape-shifting abilities. That's gonna come out soon, I'm sure, and is probably gonna cause some problems.)

Sookie Stackhouse is a really great character, despite her bad taste (hahahahaha get it?) in men. The telepathy thing is something I was unaware of going in, and it definitely gives her an edge that her predecessors don't have--it gives her a one-up on the vampires that the others don't have. I loved that she saved Bill's "life" before he got the ever chance to be sexy vampire rescuer. I just want her to start using her ability to start solving these crimes. I watched the episode where Sookie and Bill go to Fangtasia, and I really liked watching her try to get some answers. Obviously, she's been a little distracted in these last couple episodes, what with the deaths of her colleague and then her grandmother, but come on, Sookie, get to work!

I also do enjoy the logistics of vampire lore. Most notably, how come all of these women (including, now, Sookie) get bitten by vampires and don't become vampires themselves? I thought that was the whole point?

And I really, really love Sam Merlotte. What a charming little canine bastard. Favorite scene so far:

7 Responses to “True Blood: That's a Dealbreaker, Ladies”

As a Buffy fan, I feel the need to comment. I haven't watched True Blood, and my experience with Twilight is limited to seeing the first movie (with potent cocktail in hand) and reading very sarcastic synopses. I'll try to be as spoiler-free as possible, on the off-chance I sell someone on the win that is most things Whedon.

First off, there's a hell of a lot more going on in Buffy than girl-meets-vampire. That's a thing during the first three seasons, to be sure, but it's not the only thing. And unlike Twilight, at least, it's not just for kicks. The whole notion of the series (or at least the first three seasons when Angel is a regular) is its metaphor for high school and Angel (the David Boreanaz character, for the uninitiated) hits several bases in that thread.

As the good-guy vampire, he's her first love, a person she can always rely on, while also the 'tall, dark, and handsome' type with the bad-boy vibe thrown in for good measure. When his bad side comes out in Season 2, it's the extremes of a bad breakup, the ill-advised teenage sex, the creepy ways mean high schoolers can get into your mind. And in Season 3, it's the realization that maybe she still has growing to do toward adulthood and that their relationship may not be the healthiest thing for anyone that inform parts of the conversation.

Moreover, I think it gets made pretty clear that their relationship is very much in spite of his being a vampire and her being human: he's a one-of-a-kind vampire in Buffy universe, in that he's a legit good guy because he has a human soul (something all other vampires lack, except for Spike in the last season). She's a one-of-a-kind girl (the Slayer is designated as "one girl in all the world, and even when that becomes technically not true, she still ends up very much alone in her fate). I think that's a major way in which they relate--both being the big damn heroes, her because she was chosen and he because he chooses, but each determined to quite literally save the world, even if it's very occasionally at the expense of the other. Plus, she's very much into him (albeit in a more superficial way) even before learning he's a vampire. And she saves his ass just as many times as vice versa, if not more, and also skewers him the once. Suck on that, Bella Swan.

They both initially back off from a relationship because the human/vampire thing is problematic (and there's her gig as the titular Slayer). But feelings overcome logic, yadda yadda yadda. He only feeds on her once, against his will (with her instigating it) for unlife-saving purposes. Those closest to Buffy (except for Willow, mostly) uniformly disapprove of their relationship most of the time, and she herself clearly knows what she's getting into (and the potential problems galore therein) and even says as much at various points. And most of the problems people worry about seem to come to pass, too.

After Angel spins off into his own show, they interact much more sporadically (particularly after Buffy ended up on UPN while Angel was still on the WB before they merged). But when they do see each other, the vampire/human thing is hardly touched as an issue. Instead, he appears on her show when she needs the human part of him, more or less--she can and does fight her own battles, and even gets annoyed at his involvement once or twice. What continues to be an issue is the doomedness of their coupling: Angel's precarious situation as a vampire is basically what keeps them apart, not what draws her to him. She even makes a comment once about "fantasiz[ing] about you [Angel] turning human only about 10 zillion times."



Meanwhile, Buffy's later relationship with Spike is totally different, even though he too is a vampire. It's abusive, troubled, ill-advised, and difficult to watch in places, and it's clear she's not coming from a place of affection. It's not entirely clear, at least to me, that the whole mess happens because he's a vampire, but it's certainly not a good idea, and she spends half of Season 6 keeping it secret and quelling overwhelming self-disgust. Even once Spike has a soul and becomes a more legit good guy, she doesn't implicitly trust him the way she does Angel, and despite a season of developments even Spike doesn't believe she loves him. With Angel, the implications and motivations are very different.

Not having actually seen True Blood I can't compare, but, again, there's a lot more going on with Buffy than just girl-meets-vampire. Whole episodes go by with hardly a mention of Angel (even in parts of the two seasons when he's a regular) and plenty of the terrors Buffy & co. face have nothing to do with vampires, even as they're still effective (to varying degrees) metaphors. Not to mention four seasons after the core group graduates from high school in which Angel shows up maybe a half-dozen times and Buffy dates a human. There's also plenty of interplay (and perhaps even more so in the Angel spinoff) about what separates humans and demons, how an ensouled Angel fits into that, whether a bona fide superhero like Buffy is somehow better than the people around her, and so forth. Some issues are dealt with better than others, but overall I find the Buffyverse and the Buffy/Angel pairing compelling as heck.

Also, because there are 7 seasons of Buffy and 5 of Angel, you get to see some serious character evolution in both of them, a bit in their relationship (hard once they're in separate shows, albeit in the same universe), and in everyone around them. And as anyone who's seen a Whedon production (well, Dollhouse is still debatable...) knows, the well-drawn, wonderfully relatable characters beyond just the lead(s) are at least if not more than half the reason you watch.

As for logistics, I don't know what the hell goes on in Twilight, and I haven't watched True Blood. But the Buffy lore has it that the vampire has to feed off the human to a fatal point and the human has to drink at least a bit of blood from the vampire before properly dying and then rising as a bloodsucking fiend of the underworld, etc. Perhaps once I graduate (tomorrow what??) I'll catch up on True Blood while I job-hunt and get back to you with more comparisons.

Also, great picture of DB.

Mae Vaughan said...

Very insightful and helpful comments, Alli. I don't watch True Blood, have zero interest at all in Buffy (sorry), and the episodes I've seen of Angel make me cringe at how cheesy and ridiculous they are (sorry again). But I do know my Twilight lore, and that's the area of the vampire world that I happen to really enjoy. You've seen the movie, so you get the gist, but Twilight isn't even "bad boy vampire meets virginal girl." Edward Cullen is the quiet, isolated, broody guy who keeps to himself (other than hanging out with his other vampire coven members) solely because the Cullens have a pact NOT to prey on humans. Being around them all day at school and in the city (the cloudy, rainy weather of Forks allows them to be out during the daytime) makes it more difficult to avoid the temptation of human blood, so they kind of keep to themselves.

But in walks Bella, and he's instantly drawn to her because the scent of her blood is intoxicating to him. Unfortunately, all he wants to do it protect her and NOT harm her despite this overwhelming attraction to her/her blood, so the push and pull comes out of that. He's horrible to her at first, attempting to make her hate him so she'll stay away and he can't physically hurt her. But she's fascinated by him, and really Edward is just about the cheesiest and most romantic character ever created - you can't help but swoon. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I swoon over him endlessly in the books.

As for how it works with the biting, Caroline's assumptions are correct at least in Twilight lore - once you're bitten, you'll become a vampire unless the poison of their bite can be removed in time. Bella is bitten by an enemy vampire near the very end of the first book, and Edward struggles to save her by sucking the poison out of the wound without himself biting her again due to the powerful taste of her blood.

Of course, in Twilight world it makes no sense for her NOT to get bit, because otherwise she goes on living - growing older and older until she eventually dies - whilst Edward remains 17 forever. You kind of end up hating him for a while because she *wants* him to turn her into a vampire, so that they can stay together forever, but he consistently refuses to do it for her.

I don't know, I think vampire stories are successful based on how they're presented. I could never get into Buffy/Angel (believe me, I tried), but I am ridiculously in love with Edward Cullen. Other people feel the opposite, while still even more people hate the entire genre altogether. Would I like True Blood? Possibly. It doesn't sound that far-off from the lore of Twilight, but then again that's precisely why I never wanted to watch it at all in the first place - seems like a blatant copy of the Twilight premise to me.

I can understand not getting into Buffy/Angel as TV shows or as a pairing, that's a question of taste. I don't really care for Twilight, myself, but I'm going to try my hardest to continue this conversation as a quasi-intellectual discussion and not as an insult to you. There are plenty of ridiculous aspects to Buffy and Angel (particularly the latter's TV show; after about mid-Season 3 it all goes to hell for me, but you still gotta love the characters), which I freely admit, and I appreciate that people have different tastes and preferences. As they say, some of my best friends are Twilight fans (really, one is named Jen).

Anyway, I can appreciate your point about Edward as a high-school-boy metaphor, but I just don't see it, at least based on the movie. As you said, he keeps to himself because he's a vampire. It's never explained (again, in the movie) WHY she's so particularly special/immune to his mind-reading/his brand of heroin, and as an audience member I find that kind of basis (or rather, lack thereof) for a relationship unsatisfying.

Not to draw too many comparisons to Buffy, but she dealt with way more than just vampires: Angel was part of a much broader intent, this idea that high school is hell and someone surviving it has to be a superhero of sorts. So just the one figure doesn't really do it for me. And you can compare him to the wallflower (normal) boy, but what's his purpose as such? What does their relationship do to them as people, in terms of their evolution (or lack thereof)? Even Harry Potter gained something from kissing Ginny Weasley a bit in the sixth book--but that's another thread.

Furthermore, it's still unclear to me why he doesn't just turn Bella. In the Twilight universe, there don't seem to be any consequences to being a vampire. You live forever, are generally impervious, are way more superpowered than at least the Buffyverse vamps are (they're fast and strong, but no one reads minds, and the only one getting visions has that as a carryover from her human supernaturalness), and you can walk outside (as long as you don't mind sparkling, which, I'm sorry, is just plain silly) and not seem to worry about stakes or garlic or crosses.

The movie didn't really get into the human soul/good-versus-evil questions that I'm used to with Buffy, but it seems pretty clear that being a vampire in Twilight doesn't automatically make you a bad guy. Which is cool if you're, say, Bella or someone else living in that world, but frustrating if you're a viewer looking for more than a romance with supernatural flares.

I think those are the two things that bother me about the Twilight premise, really--the baselessness of their relationship and the lack of consequences for vampirism. It just seems, in storytelling terms, much more two-dimensional than the vampire genre can be, and I think it does lack the skillful metaphors that, yes, people besides Joss Whedon writing about vampires have created.

On a sidenote, I also find David Boreanaz (now and particularly when he was about 28 or 30 in Buffy Season 2-3 and Angel Season 1) waaaaaaay more drool-worthy than Robert Pattinson, who's nice to look at but not in a nearly so lustful way.

Unknown said...


First of all, I hope that my original comments didn't come off as an insult to you and other people who appreciate Buffy. 'Cause that was never my intention.

I know that to the people who watch/read/etc. these shows/books/etc., there are so many distinctions to be made between them that a post like mine is basically irrelevant. And I know that Buffy was about a lot more than vampires, and, having seen some Dollhouse and reading about six pages of Twilight, I would never want to compare Stephenie Meyer to Joss Whedon. It's the vampire motif, whether that's a large or secondary part of the plot, that hangs me up.

I am just way more fond of David as Booth than David as Angel (and way more fond of Pattinson as Cedric Diggory than Pattinson as Edward). Hard to explain.

PS Do you still want to write? I couldn't find your email address anywhere. Send me an email and we'll talk!

Oh, I wasn't insulted, don't worry--there's plenty to criticize and even mock about Buffy that I do it myself. The Buffy/Angel relationship is just one aspect that I think is mostly done well (and even gently mocked once or twice in both shows). Mostly I like to go 'round in discussion--there are reasons to like and dislike any of the fandoms we're throwing around, and I think getting beyond the surface stuff is just fun. (And my one real-life friend who's into Buffy with me already went home for the summer!)

It's been also driving me nuts with all this Twilight stuff how people keep doing one-note overviews of the vampire genre, just because there is SO much more to most of these stories. As you suggested with True Blood, the vampire aspect lets you sensationalize in unusual ways, but when it's done well it's not just monsters and things. And as Mae pointed out, part of the draw is how the story is presented--I mostly think Twilight is ridiculous, but I can see what fans see in it. Just don't compare Bella to Buffy, because Buffy will kick your ass!

I do think DB inhabits Booth much better than he did Angel by the end--some of that is probably just more acting experience, plus Booth is, you know, a mostly-normal human, which is probably way more relatable than a 240-something-year-old reformed monster who occasionally has an Irish accent (and trust me, he can't do an Irish accent). He also has better chemistry with Emily Deschanel than with most of the potential "Angel" love interests (Julie Benz as Darla and of course Buffy excepted in my book). But it's interesting watching him try and mostly succeed (especially earlier on). And, whatever, that man age 27-31 or so is just want to take a bite out of him or something. Pun not intended.

I'd still love to blog Dollhouse and other things, for sure! (I also watch How I Met Your Mother, Bones, the Office, 30 Rock, and Glee just now, but y'all seem to have those covered.) Email me at allison.ehrich.bernstein AT gmail and we'll chat.

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