'True Blood,' a truly incendiary supernatural romp

By Tatiana Craine

Sookie. It looks like a rather unassuming, if not odd, name. However, Sookie Stackhouse is one Southern-fried girl you don’t want to mess with.For those who have lived under a rock (or perhaps in a coffin) for the last year, the Sookie Stackhouse phenomenon began in 2008 with the beginning of Alan Ball’s HBO show, “True Blood,” based off of a series of novels by Charlaine Harris. The show follows young, telepathic Sookie (Anna Paquin) as she navigates the still waters of her sleepy little town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Sookie ain’t alone in little old Bon Temps. She’s got her best friend Tara, her brother Jason, her boss Sam Merlotte (he can be a real dog sometimes-literally) and a whole host of other insane characters living with her. With the emergence of supernatural beings in the world, Bon Temps starts to wake up and things get weird. Vampires have come out of the coffin after thousands of years with the invention of a nutritional, synthetic blood. They face discrimination left and right, but manage to live side by side with humans. Not only does Sookie deal with blood-suckers, but shape-shifters and even more menacing creatures. But it’s not all fear and loathing in Louisiana. Sookie has been shacking up with none other than the nearly two-century-old William Compton (Stephen Moyers), not-so-affectionately known by the townspeople as Vampire Bill.

Enough back-story. This musing is for the die-hard fans that get their vampire fix with real sex and blood, not angst-ridden, teenaged melodrama. (Cough, “Twilight,” cough.) What really sets “True Blood” apart from the other facets of the currently popular vampire genre is that for all the weird stuff that happens, it still seems pretty real. Well, about as real as things can get when vampires sleep (and suck) around while drinking O-positive out of a warm glass bottle. The world in “True Blood” doesn’t automatically change with the materialization of the supernatural. The people question their surroundings all the time, and that’s what makes their reality more believable-the fact that they don’t even believe what’s going on surprisingly lends itself to an air of authenticity.

To tell the truth, I didn’t hop on the blood-wagon until earlier this summer. I was quite reluctant to give into the vampire fad, especially after seeing smoldering-bordering-on-disturbing Robert Pattinson pasted onto every teen-zine in the grocery store. I thought “True Blood” might be more of the same boy-crazed mush, but after following the advice of several trusted viewers, I finally discovered the best new television treasure trove since “Weeds.” I confess, I watched the first season (12 glorious hour-long episodes) in less than two days. I caught up with the rest of the series with similar timing, waiting ravenously for Sunday nights when new episodes came out.

I immediately fell in love with all the characters on “True Blood.” Usually, it’s hard for me to connect with everyone on screen, especially on television, but mysterious folks with Louisianan charm hold a special space in my heart. (Think the equally Southern, enigmatic, definitely imaginary, card-flinging Gambit from “X-Men.”) The citizens of Bon Temps are endearing and engaging, infuriating and hilarious all at once. Since “True Blood” is on HBO, the characters aren’t bound to network censorship and can curse and be as kinky as they want. Imagine it’s prohibition and two vampires have sex while slathered in the blood of their latest victims. Yeah, that happened.

Sure, I admit “True Blood” is a little trashy. But looking at the bigger picture, I feel like there are some actual issues addressed on the show. There is unbridled prejudice, rampant sexism and issues involving morality and ethics. There isn’t a clear-cut good and bad side, everyone fits into various shades of gray-even the most well-intentioned people don’t always do the “right” thing.

The first season of the show relied mainly on the surfacing of a vampire subculture in the modern world and how both humans and vampires dealt with the subsequent socio-political issues. Bill growled Sookie’s name at least five times an episode. “Horn-dog” Jason Stackhouse had crazy sex all the time. Sookie’s gran gave sage advice. Tara and Sam staved off loneliness together. Tara’s cousin Lafayette wore fabulous makeup and did ridiculous drugs. The townspeople were quirky as anything. And mysterious older vampire Eric worked his Scandinavian smolder.

The second season, stuff took off at an outrageous pace. Legitimately, shit went down. There were church retreats with vampire-burning platforms. The dawn came. People ate each other people’s hearts. Brainwashing aplenty. Kidnapping. The vampire queen of Louisiana was actually just a cross between a tweenage-girl and a high-class snob. There were also lots of orgies and sacrificial offerings. Lots.

The final episode this season could have been a lot more climactic, and I found myself slightly disappointed when it came to an end. (Maybe it was because the vampire queen acted like she was twelve.) I won’t give away anything else, in case there are fans of the show still waiting to taste the last blood of the season. Loose ends were wrapped up well (almost to a fault) while new plot lines were born as teasers for the now highly-awaited third season.

The end of the season got me thinking about a lot of things. Really important things. Like really. Like how I would like Sookie, Eric and Lafayette to get it on, ménage a trois style. Or how I’d like Jason to find himself another crazy girl to capture his heart. Or maybe how I almost can’t remember what Anna Paquin looked like as a brunette. I also realized, for the umpteenth time, how much I love scruffy, conflicted Sam Merlotte. (I became conscious of this again when, in the final episode of season two, a woman commented on Sam, “God bless him in those jeans. I’m serious, I’d wear him like a scrunchie.” I concur.) And finally, Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyers are happily engaged in real life, which makes me wonder if Moyers says, “Anna,” with the same ridiculous fervor he says “Sookie.” I certainly hope so.

The third season of “True Blood” will air summer 2010 and be loosely based on the third novel in Harris’ “The Southern Vampire Series.