Taking stock of True Blood at the midseason mark.

Obsessive analysis of True Blood.
July 26 2010 3:25 PM

Of Werewolves, Dog Fighting, and Lady Gaga

Taking stock of True Blood at the midseason mark.

Could Sookie Stackhouse be an alien? Is Jesus Satan? Is it proper etiquette for football players to pat each other on the rear end even when one is humping a girl in the back seat of a car? Some questions about True Blood do not have simple answers. But since it's the midway point of Season 3, it's a good time to take stock and see what we do know.

Will werewolves finally get more respect?
No way. So far, they appear to be, for the most part, easily manipulated, flannel-loving thugs. Vampires quote Dorothy Parker ("And I am Marie of Romania") and listen to Billie Holliday, while werewolves look like the kind of rabid mob you might find at a Soundgarden concert. The mountainous Alcide has the most potential as a character, but considering how little the forever shirtless Joe Manganiello has been allowed to do this season, the actor might as well have studied acting at Gold's Gym. It's not just that the werewolves lack charisma. On a show where every vampire brings weighty metaphorical baggage, the lycanthropes still seem thin on allegory. Recalling the ideas of that "preening fool Adolf," Russell suggests that vampires are the real master race, but what does that make the werewolves? They don't look like Jews to me.

You could tell that this was not going to be a fair fight right away, from the pitifully crude special effects accompanying their metamorphoses, traditionally the most exciting part of any werewolf story. Here they transform from man to beast in an instant, almost matter-of-factly—there's no attempt to show a hand turning into a claw, or a foot sprouting hair. This cannot be merely a question of money, since Being Human, a more modest supernatural show which began its new season on BBC America this week, shows the evolution in graphic detail—and also digs deeper into werewolf psychology. True Blood doesn't seem to care.

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Who's winning: Eric or Bill?
The future of mankind and a historic union between werewolves and vampires may be at stake, but these are minor concerns compared to the rivalry between Eric and Bill over Sookie. Early on in the season, Eric gained ground after letting Sookie watch him feast on a werewolf. He also developed a sad back story that made him seem less like the unshakably serious Beowolf of Bon Temps. Bill, meanwhile, has been mostly absent, cold, and ineffectual. But the dynamic between struggling suitors may have shifted recently, since Eric is becoming increasingly preoccupied with avenging his parents' death. That he has abandoned his smoldering deadpan glare for the most disingenuous grin since John McCain's in the 2008 election does not help his chances, either.

Was that a Lady Gaga reference?
I refer of course to Lorena's colorful line: "I would love to rip you open and wear your rib cage as a hat." If there's anyone on the show who should be a huge fan of "Bad Romance," it's this perfectly perverse temptress, played with a weird mix of operatic emotions and sultry elegance by Mariana Klaveno, the breakout star of the year. But while Gaga surely favors skeletal headgear, I don't think Lorena was referring to the Monster Ball tour costume design—at least not directly. Her quip was more likely inspired by H.R. Giger's designs for Alien, which are referenced minutes later by Sookie, right after she suggests that she might be an alien herself. Whatever Lorena meant, it's impressive that this was not her best threat of the hour. While standing above a table full of scalpels, saws, and other tools of the fine art of torture porn, she delivers this classic vampire-scorned warning to Bill: "I may not be able to make you feel anything for me, but I will make you feel."

Does True Blood have a political agenda?
This season has featured an implied attack on the drug war and the usual proud portraits of out Southern gay Americans. But critics who want to read right-wing politics into this show, and they do exist, got something to work with last night, as the vampire king came out as an environmentalist. This is not exactly the kind of ally Al Gore wants. And what are we to make of Lorena, a masochist at heart, sticking her blood inside Bill's torso against his will? Is this rape? And is the violent forced marriage of the vampire queen of Louisiana another example of the show delighting in punishing women or a comment on how the vampire patriarchy is just as brutal and controlling as the human one? My conclusion: Pinning down the politics of a show where anything goes is a fool's game.

Can anything save this dog-fighting plotline?
The Sam Merlotte story has been slow and tedious for a few episodes now, so the revelation that his parents are pimping out his shape-shifting brother as a battling pit bull at least ends the long tease. But isn't dog fighting a little, well, 2007? I wonder if this drama will help explain what's really going on with the minor and mysteriously unexplored rivalry between high school quarterbacks. After twisting his throwing arm against a car, Jason tells the new star that he doesn't like him and is going to figure out why. Might he be the next Michael Vick? Could the former Falcon make a cameo as a shape-shifter? We can dream.

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Jason Zinoman writes about theater for the New York Times. He is the author of Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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