(SPOILERS) The longer True Blood continues, the more it seems as if it was only ever a deeply average show wrapped in very sexy gore. Which is sufficient. It’s rarely less than entertaining. The performances are dependable and, if it’s never reached the heights, neither has it succumbed to the lows of its family-friendly progenitor Buffy. But by this point it’s quite clear the show is coasting. For every inspired idea decently executed (Vamp Camp) there’s one that is muddled and tepid (Warlow). This is a season that has a good thing (Rutger Hauer), then forgets to use him, and makes a stunningly misshapen misstep by showing solidarity with a character no one cares about enough to get on board with a whole episode mourning and eulogising him. True Blood Season 6 is an HBO series on its last legs, one that should have probably ended two seasons before it will.
As ever, the show tirelessly sledgehammers commentary on religious hypocrisy and prejudice. Complaining about the lack of subtlety at this stage is pointless; it’s part of the series’ DNA. Governor Burrell’s plan to destroy vampire kind is nothing terribly original, and Vamp Camp is an expectedly variable mix of good ideas and lesser ones. For example, Pruitt Taylor Vince (who seems to be in every other show at the moment) as a vamp psychologist never strays from the predictable. But the voyeuristic aspects and twisted experimentation are effective in so much as they sport a sadistic sense of covert government programmes and conspiracies. The best element is Arliss Howard’s performance as Burrell, which makes it a shame he gets written out as early as Don’t You Feel Me. Still, his demise is effectively OTT and surprisingly the never-very-interesting-previously Howard Deutch handles the episode with something approaching panache. Anna Camp’s Sarah Newlin just can’t hold the stage in the same way; it’s clear the writers love her, but as a character she’s middling. Howard’s scene opposite Skarsgard in The Sun, where Eric poses as a campaigner for the preservation of the whooping crane, is enormous fun, and one wishes there was more dialogue of this quality elsewhere.
True Blood pick ups and drop ideas carelessly, whenever it suits; it gives the impression of a team who hope glossy production values will paper over the cracks. The contact lenses that prevent glamouring don’t appear to be worn by guards in the facility all the time, which is handy. Bill’s Lilith-enhanced superpowers in the first episode fluctuate throughout the season. It’s difficult to see why he vacillates so much with regard to rescuing his friends in the camp when he could probably break in and slay all the guards with barely a pause for (lack of) breath. In the end, it’s Eric who pretty much does that, and he’s your common or garden vampire, not an uber-deity. The “quest for fairy blood” plotline is patchy in the extreme, a means to create a love triangle with Sookie as much as anything. Why is it Bill can’t give Nora any of Warlow’s blood he has stored away; doesn’t Eric find it a bit suspect that Bill swans off in the day to try to procure Warlow (and his blood) which entails consuming the very blood that might save his sister?
That episode, In the Evening, is one of the best of the season, and the loss of Nora is much more affecting than Terry. There’s also includes a strong flashback, telling us how she came to be a vampire. Less weighty are the flashbacks involving Warlow’s fairy origins. Robert Kazinsky, the main Big Bad-or-is-he of this run, certainly the main Sookie love interest (Bill and Eric have other things on their minds), is only so-so. You can see the joins where the writers decided to turn the menacing Warlow of the previous seasons into the ruggedly handsome Warlow who turns Sookie’s head. The writers play with the “Is he really bad or isn’t he?” theme and when they decide he is, it’s too late for him to be an effective menace. Sookie’s dilemmas have little impact, as we don’t really swallow that she’d even consider his offer to make her a vampire-fairy thing. It probably wasn’t such a smart move to have him hiding out in the fairy realm for two or three episodes either. In series’ this short it makes it look as if the writers are in a holding pattern.
Most damaging in the Sookie stakes is the turn of events in Fuck the Pain Away, when Lafayette (Nelson Ellis has zero to do this season, but attempting to throw him a bone this unappetising is hardly a favour) contacts Sookie’s dead parents only for her dad to possess him. It’s a series nadir when he bundles her in the back of his car and takes her off to drown her. The revelation that dead dad would rather Sookie than allow Warlow to be with her is difficult enough to swallow, but the forced drama with Lafayette is risible.
Tara is very much in the background too, but those with screen time are often ill served too. The Sam Merlotte arc, as he vies with Alcide and his werewolf pack for protection of Emma, is banal as is his relationship with Nicole. Alcide’s problems with his pack are barely more compelling. Then there’s Andy and his faerie brood, Terry and Arlene. There are more misses than hits in the plot threads this season, so it should be little surprise that it finishes so tentatively.
It isn’t just the underwhelming “cliffhanger” as vampires with infected with Hep-V advance on Bellefleur’s; there’s also the unlikely “What happened next” summary. Sookie is suddenly back with Alcide, Sam has become Mayor and introduced the pairing programme (Tara’s mother offering her services; I mean, good grief!) and Andy gotten over losing three of his kids very easily. There are those who have been dealt with reasonably; Jason is as idiotic as ever (and Karolina Wydra as Violet is a promising addition, although her interest in Jason isn’t convincing), Holly as sarcastic and bitchy, Jessica is ever-sympathetic, and Bill has his moments (although after the end of Season Five, pretty much everything we see of him this season has been a damp squib). I don’t expect True Blood to end with a whimper, but little about the set up for Seven has been especially promising. One good thing; it seems Rutger’s back.