"True Blood" Is Back, and It's More Overcrowded and Chaotic Than Ever Before

As "True Blood's" final season begins, the concept of "less is more" remains foreign to the show's creative team

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A major portion of True Blood’s seventh season’s premiere episode, ”Jesus Gonna Be Here,” takes place in Lafayette’s (Nelsan Ellis) backwoods cabin home, and features a new face, pretty-boy vampire James (Nathan Parsons), giving a monologue about how he was a draft dodger during the Vietnam War. Like a lot of True Blood’s extended speeches, it’s melodramatic and feels mostly pointless. But also like everything else in True Blood, it’s totally watchable, spiced with just enough superficial flair that it lures you into submission. Because, now that HBO’s giddily sleazy vampire drama series is seven-years-strong, longtime viewers have been conditioned to always anticipate something batty. There’s no telling if James, in mid-sentence, will suddenly attack Lafayette for no good reason, or if the scene will cut to a flashback of James sucking blood in the Vietcong.

Either way, who cares? We don’t know James. At this point in True Blood’s run, there’s no reason to know James. Him being Jessica’s (Deborah Ann Woll) nondescript boyfriend is enough. It’s not worth wondering why he looks so different from last season (the reason: original actor Luke Grimes dropped out and Parsons filled in). It’s silly to dedicate that much of time to him when Lafayette, a fan-favorite character, is inches away doing nothing. No matter what’s being set up by James’ Vietnam recollection, whether thematically or plot wise, it’s inconsequential. It won’t be long until James, like so many True Blood B- and C-squad members before him, turns into a hindrance.

People love to poke fun at Game of Thrones for how overstuffed it is, an influx of primary characters that leaves some viewers overwhelmed. Game of Thrones overcomes those qualms, though, because its creators, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, have a firm command on George R.R. Martin’s already well-told and richly developed world, via his A Song of Fire and Ice source material, and all of its myriad participants. Even when the rarely seen Bran Stark or Ramsay Snow is taking screen-time away from Tyrion, the seemingly D-plot storyline carries a distinct weight, always feeling like an important, if not somewhat distracting, thread in the show’s overall narrative. That’s never the case on True Blood, an ever-cluttered show with as many characters as Game of Thrones but hardly a shred of that other HBO property’s refinement.

Ostensibly, True Blood’s main character has been Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a beautiful human/fairy whose scent and blood are catnip for vampires, particularly Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), with his poor-man’s-Elvis cadence, and Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård), the icy bad boy whose toughness becomes putty around “Sook.” Sookie’s brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten), is the show’s buffoonish but studly comic-relief source, while good-guy Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), is Bon Temps, Louisiana’s conscience, even though he’s a shapeshifter able to morph into whatever animal he desires.

Those are the True Blood characters who’ve fared the best since season one premiered back in September 2008. The show’s other dozen-or-so regulars, however, haven’t been treated so kindly by the writers and producers. Sookie’s best friend, Tara (Rutina Wesley), has erratically gone from “one-note tough gal” to “lesbian cage fighter” to “lesbian vampire” and now, after last night’s episode, “dead-for-the-second-time ghost haunting her druggie mother’s nightmares.” Lafayette, True Blood’s other joke machine outside of Jason Stackhouse, mostly disappears after the producers waste a season’s earlier episodes trying to give him some sort of supernatural arc (He’s a demon! He’s possessed by the spirit of ghost baby! He’s a shaman!). And then there’s Alcide (Joe Manganiello), the ridiculously muscular werewolf who also loves Sookie but will forever be a nuisance since True Blood’s handling of lycanthropic mythology makes Blood and Chocolate seem as good as An American Werewolf in London.

When it was announced that True Blood new season would be its last, it was tough to complain. Though its unabashed campiness, unbridled insanity, and HBO’s cable-issued freedom give True Blood a unique identity within TV’s current landscape, the show has been inconsistent since its apex of a third season, in which Denis O’Hare’s flamboyant vampire king Russell Edgington dominated and the stakes felt legitimately high. The subsequent seasons exemplify True Blood’s opposition to the old “less is more” adage, throwing witches, wartime PTSD, werewolf packs, political corruption, and an underused Christopher Meloni in the way of anything resembling coherence. Seasons four through six certainly weren’t boring, but they also never flirted with more than “True Blood’s a silly way to spend an hour every Sunday night” acclaim. It’s HBO’s summertime, viscera-tinged palate cleaner in between the spring’s first-class Game of Thrones and the fall’s perennially underrated Boardwalk Empire.

“Jesus Gonna Be Here,” a typically supercharged, breathless True Blood hour, begins right where last season finale left off: in the midst of a humans-and-vampires mixer in Bon Temps under attack from homicidal vampires infected with Hep-V. Those sickly undead killers are season seven’s central baddies, meaning viewers will get to know plenty of them, in addition to a new group of vigilante humans who’ve formed a mob and want to eradicate all vampires from Bon Temps, from the Hep-V ones to the well-meaning Bill’s and Jessica’s of the community. The approach to True Blood’s final season is designed to bring about a small-town Armageddon, with angry humans versus Hep-V vamps versus the show’s main characters—which is as discouraging as it is ill-advised.

You’d think that, considering this is True Blood’s last go-round, the season would focus on Sookie, Bill, Jason, and the other characters whom fans have loved and followed throughout the last seven years. You know, to properly give each of them a fitting end-game and reward longtime viewers with more of their beloved Bon Temps survivors and less of the show’s usual bloody, T&A filler. To, for once, instead of relegating him to wisecracker infrequency, provide Lafayette with a purpose, or to go out on an unexpectedly streamlined and intimate note and bring Sookie’s world full circle.

Based on “Jesus Gonna Be Here,” that circle’s about to stretch into an oval that’s disappointingly bigger than ever. Expect principle characters’ stories to reach rushed conclusions as Hep-V and gun-toting mobs all interfere. And, who knows, maybe even an unnecessary closing soliloquy from James.

Matt Barone is a Complex senior staff writer who, oddly enough, misses Eggs (or at least what True Blood was like when he was around). He tweets here.

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