It’s not you, “True Blood,” it’s me … (OK, maybe it’s you)

By Stacey Harrison

There comes a time for every show (except maybe The Wire … yeah, I’m one of those people) when you stop watching because you’re genuinely interested in seeing what happens next and it becomes a matter of simply seeing something through to the end. I’m pretty sure I’ve reached that point in Season 4 with True Blood.

I watched entertained but disappointingly uninvolved this season as the episodes progressed, and wondered each week if it was me who had changed, or if the show had suddenly left me behind. It was still as sexy and outrageous as ever, with a helpfully playful attitude toward its supernatural soap opera storylines. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the writers and actors had been spending a bit too much time trawling adoring fan forums or just felt somewhere inside that they had to go out of their way to live up to their reputation. You can practically feel the actors struggling not to look right into the camera and wink as they deliver lines like, “Oh great, now I have to deal with witches?” and “Vampires suck!” This is not the kind of dialogue you hear in a show that’s ascending. It’s what you hear when the show knows it’s hot stuff and wants to revel in its glory.

Of course, it’s possible this is a temporary fog that will pass next season, which by virtue of the bloodbath showcased on last night’s finale will have to see major changes. This might get me back in the fold, because plotwise I was pretty pleased with much of what happened in Season 4. Here’s a rundown of the good, the bad and the sucky, which of course contains spoilers the size of Mama Fortenberry’s derriere.

The Good

Forwarding the timeline: Believe it or not, the first three seasons of True Blood had taken up only a few weeks on the calendar. While this adds to the immediacy of the drama, it’s pretty ludicrous when we’re dealing with characters who have been alive for hundreds of years. How can Bill say that Sookie is “the love of his life,” which he seemed to say every episode for a while there, when he’s going on 200 years old and has known her just a few weeks? When Sookie came back in Season 4 after having been in fairy land for more than a year, it was a welcome bit of Rip Van Winkle.

King Bill: When I spoke with Stephen Moyer before the season started, he talked about big changes being in store for his character. They all suited him just fine, transforming him from Sookie’s emo bitch into the shrewd, calculating vamp we knew he could be. Plus, what a kick getting to hear Moyer speak in his native Brit accent during Bill’s London punk days.

Cutting some dead weight: RIP (and don’t let the door hit you on the way out) Ma and Pa Mickens,  Claudine the fairy, Tommy Mickens, Debbie Pelt and Nan Flanagan. Each of these characters had their moments, but had mostly played themselves out. I’ll go ahead and risk some serious scorn here and say I hope to add Tara to this list as well. She’s tired of being pushed around by supernatural creatures, and frankly, I’m tired of watching it.

Deepening the bench: Lots of minor characters really got a chance to shine this season, especially Bellefleur cousins Andy and Terry. They could so easily be one-note jokes, but Chris Bauer and Todd Lowe lend each of their scenes, especially ones they share, with far more gravity than they sometimes deserve. You really feel Andy’s lifelong pain at being the black sheep, and Terry’s war-ravaged psyche. The only true sense of dread I feel for any of the characters going into next season is the premonition about Terry’s past coming back to haunt him and Arlene.

The Bad

Sookie’s love life: Don’t care. Whichever vampire she chooses or doesn’t choose, Sookie really inspires no sympathy whatsoever. Thank goodness the show has such a deep bench that she can only be considered the main character by default now. Whether she takes up with Bill or with Eric, you get the idea she’s going to change her mind next week anyway. How invested can you be in a woman who sits with her best friend (as she did in last night’s episode) saying how she dreams of herself growing old and having “grandbabies,” but persists in only having sex with beings that can’t reproduce? And I know there’s been a push to get her with Alcide, but there is just no heat from that relationship.

Jessica and Jason: So she realizes she isn’t happy with a nice guy like Hoyt, favoring instead the freedom to go out and indulge her inner fanger, only to take up with his best friend? Yes, she finally gets around to telling Jason that she’d like to keep it casual, but their relationship doesn’t seem to hold any more promise than Jessica and Hoyt’s did. And what does this mean for Hoyt now? Has he become the least essential character on prime time?

Killing Jesus: I talked about cutting dead weight up above, but this character certainly didn’t qualify. Kevin Alejandro gave the performance of the season as Jesus, who showed that he would go to any lengths to do the right thing and protect the people he loves. Yes, his demon-head manifestation looked more like a reject from the Lucha Libre circuit than anything remotely scary, but Alejandro seemed to be the only one taking all of this seriously, and the show was better for it. I realize that because Lafayette is a medium that Jesus can visit him anytime, but it’s hard to think their scenes will go much beyond exposition for whatever current crisis the writers cook up, or that they’ll have anything close to the same sense of urgency and panic they did this season. Which brings me to …

Lafayette the Medium: Does everyone in Bon Temps have to have some sort of supernatural gift? There really was no rhyme or reason to making Lafayette easily susceptible to possession other than it was his turn to do something freaky. But he was a perfectly fine freaky character as he was. Nelsan Ellis was fantastic in the possession scenes, but I wonder if this is just a short-term gain.

Resurrecting old enemies: So apparently Russell Edgington and Rev. Steve Newlin are going to be making trouble next season. Yeah, they were great characters, but bringing them back is undeniably a desperate move.

The Sucky

Werepanthers: Really? Seriously, after all was said and done, what purpose did that storyline serve, other than to get Jason and Jessica to share a tender moment in the woods? I’m sure we could have accomplished that without having to see Jason almost be raped by an underage inbred girl.

Dying for Sookie: The award for least convincing moment of the entire season — and maybe any season, on any show, ever — is when Bill and Eric are apparently willing to undergo the true death so that Marnie will release Sookie. Not only is this ridiculous given the previous history of all these characters, but it makes little logistical sense. They didn’t ask Marnie to stop her quest of killing all vampires. They didn’t even require her to leave town. Just let Sookie go and we’ll kill ourselves. Hey, we even trust you to do it after we’re dead. It was enough to make any True Blood fan to want to head to the writers room, silver in hand.

Photo: Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO