After this week’s episode, I’ve put together a little theory about why ‘True Blood’ seems so scattered and poorly structured this season (or in general, really; but the problem seems worse this season). I could be totally off-base about this, but bear with me as I hash this out.
I don’t think that the show’s writers actually script “episodes,” per se. It seems to me like executive producer Alan Ball has assigned separate teams of writers to each character, and instructed them to find things for those characters to do. The characters’ storylines are all written independently of one another, with no particular regard for integrating with each other. The writers don’t turn in episode scripts. They turn in individual scenes, which are then filmed and left in the hands of the show’s editors to somehow piece together like a puzzle as best they can.
This would explain why most episodes lack a clear beginning, middle or end. Episodes often start or stop at completely arbitrary points. This issue is especially bad during season premieres and finales, which are generally the show’s worst episodes. It would also explain why seemingly important storylines like the fairies and were-panthers, both of which were set up to be season-long story arcs, have completely disappeared from recent episodes with little to no explanation.
As I said, this is just a theory. I have no insider knowledge of the show’s production. But this theory really makes a lot of sense to me.
Anyway, episode ‘Spellbound’ picks up with the aftermath of Antonia’s spell that was supposed to drag all the vampires out into the sunlight. As expected, Jason saves Jessica from walking out to her doom. Antonia is quite mad that her spell only resulted in the death of a single vampire (Maxine Fortenberry’s neighbor).
After nightfall, once all the vampires have emerged from their silver restraints, Bill calls Antonia offering to broker a peace settlement. They meet at the Bon Temps cemetery at midnight. Although both sides promise to come alone, they both bring plenty of reinforcements anyway. Antonia casts a spell that covers the entire cemetery in fog. A major battle ensues that results in Sookie being shot, Bill being silvered, and Eric falling under the power of Antonia’s control.
Other Notable Developments:
- Jason and Jessica kiss, but Jason feels really guilty about it afterwards and tries to resist Jessica further. Jess has a dream that she breaks up with Hoyt, who cries like a pathetic little bitch until she just kills him and then fucks Jason senseless in his truck. But the reality isn’t quite so romantic. When Jess tells Hoyt that they need to break up, he says some really hateful things and ejects her from the house.
- Werewolf Marcus orders his pack to stay out of the witch/vampire war. He seems like a pretty good leader and a level-headed guy, until…
- Sam and Luna patch things up. As previously suspected, we learn that Marcus is Luna’s baby-daddy. When he shows up at her house and sees Luna consorting with a Shifter, Marcus loses his shit and picks a fight with Sam. This mostly amounts to a bunch of macho posturing between the two men, as well as one of the episode’s best lines of dialogue: “You just pissed on the wrong pooch, friend.”
- Sookie lets Eric feed on her to regain his strength after being silvered. He likewise lets her drink his blood. They both get totally blissed out and screw like bunnies (again) for most of the rest of the episode. Both actors are very generous in the amount of nudity they’re willing to expose. This leads me to wonder how long it will be before Anna Paquin divorces Stephen Moyer and runs off with Eric Skarsgard.
- Bill covers up the death of Maxine’s neighbor by making a statement on the news claiming that it was a suicide prompted by the anti-vampire hate groups.
- Tommy shifts into the form of Maxine Fortenberry and sells her house to the gas company exec for a measly $5,700. Why is Tommy still on the show? Who cares about this?
- We get a little backstory on the black lady ghost who’s haunting Arlene and Terry. She and her baby were murdered back in the 1920s or ’30s. When she figures out that Lafayette is a medium, she forcibly possesses his body and kidnaps Arlene’s baby. I guess she’s not so benevolent after all.
- Bill orders Pam not to hurt Tara.
- Sookie and Eric join Team Bill for the big confrontation with Antonia. When the battle starts, Eric seems overcome with bloodlust. He gleefully rips out the throat of one of the Wiccans.
- Debbie makes Alcide promise to stay away from Sookie and all vampires. He agrees, but sneaks out anyway when he fears that Sookie is in trouble. He rescues and runs off with her when she gets shot, but Debbie follows him and looks pretty mad.
All things considered, ‘Spellbound’ is actually a pretty good episode. I think that last week’s was better, but both are big improvements over much of the season. Nonetheless, I still feel that the show is very unfocused. With only four episodes left, I just don’t see all the storylines converging in a satisfying manner, and I dread how the inevitable return of the fairies will muck things up further.
[Banner image screen cap from Skarsgardfans.com.]
Alan Ball’s writing process for ‘True Blood’ is rigid yet flexible.
Every season is based on the main plot of one book. He has a small team of writers, most are women. They put the broad structure, of all twelve episodes, on a big white board.
Ball and the team break down each episode into beats, then a single writer gets two weeks to crank out a draft. Then the room gives notes.
Major plot decisions are made by groupthink. If it’s a tie, Alan has final say. Random deviations from the books are encouraged, as long as they’re “interesting.”
The non-traditional (and often less-than-dramatic) episode structures are related to three things.
(1) Alan Ball is a political writer, with a dislike for the laws of classic drama, who loves to dabble with episodic or absurdist structures.
(2) Character “deepening” is valued more highly than story advancement. They are fully embracing the meat grinder effect.
(3) Female writers tend to craft stories with less plot-to-plot rigidity, favoring instead unique / disjointed emotional journeys.
I also think they sacrifice the individual episode experience, in order to fulfill their vision of the whole season on blu-ray experience.
I might be inclined to believe all of that, Jane, except that this season in particular doesn’t match your description much at all. There have been several episodes, most prominently the premiere, that were nothing but plot-point advancement with little to no character development.
And the show’s season-arcs aren’t put together any better than the individual episodes are. They begin and end arbirtarily. There’s no “whole season experience” or emotional journey. Instead, it feels like the show ends its episodes or seasons whenever the crew happens to run out of footage.
I’m guessing you haven’t seen much experimental theater, Mr. Zyber.
How many ‘True Blood’ recaps have you written?
Make a list of all the episodes. Give each one a score. Jot down whether it’s plot heavy or character heavy. And note the writer’s name.
I bet you can connect your complaints to particular writers, and that each writer has a consistent story structure style.
Sorry, still not buying it. Absolutely nothing about the series feels “experimental” or “absurdist.” It just feels like the writers don’t have any clear idea of what they want or where they expect the story to go.
So, your theory is that Alan Ball and his writers are hacks, cranking out random-quality entertainment on accident, and HBO is only keeping ‘True Blood’ on the air because it’s making sexy money?
I think the series would be a lot stronger if the writers were more disciplined and gave more thought to the fundamentals of story structure, instead of just throwing a bunch of ideas at a wall and hoping that something interesting sticks.
If HBO is hands-off, and Alan Ball is incapable of imposing discipline, what’s the magic solution?
That we make your critical recaps available to the writers, so they can get some real-world feedback and elevate their craftsmanship?
The show has been a total mess this season. Do you deny that, Jane?
The only magic solution here is that when the show’s ratings slip due to viewer disinterest, either the writers will have to step up their game, or find the show canceled.
I only watch ‘True Blood’ on blu-ray. Every year, a three-day netflix marathon. Is season 4 worse than season 2?
Since the ratings and sales are still going strong, I bet Alan Ball quits the show before there’s a decline in profit.
Maybe if Ball leaves after season 5, HBO could bring in a new showrunner, and there could be a creative rebirth.
If you haven’t been watching this season, then you have no idea what a mess the show is now. Yes, although there have been a few decent episodes, Season 4 is much worse than Season 2.