I’ve been an unapologetic fan of True Blood from the start. Hell, I even flew transatlantic to deliver a paper on the series at an academic conference on vampires and the undead. I’ve mixed my share of True Blood drinks. For me, season 5 is shaping up to be one of the most interesting ones yet. Who knew even vampires debate Biblical inerrancy?
I’ve enjoyed the series so much because it’s always been so over-the-top…from the violence to the southern setting. I like how Alan Ball et al have drawn from mythology (horror or traditional) to add new elements/characters/creatures each season. Of course, that’s had its drawbacks too…someone needs to open up a fire hydrant on this season’s Fire Monster! I also appreciate the fundamental role religion (even religious caricatures) have played in the series. From the religious/sexual images in the opening credits to the Fellowship of the Sun, the creators and writers of the series draw from both historical and contemporary themes in the American religious experience. Yet, I think, this season, the writers are, while not at their most subtle (and would True Blood fans ever really want that?!), they are definitely at their most pointed (forgive the pun). They are tackling what I consider to be one of the most fundamental issues of our day, the interpretation of scripture and how how we interpret these texts shape our day-to-day existence.
From the start, viewers have seen the human/vampire conflict as a mirror for the struggle for gay rights, and while Ball has shied away from a direct correlation when asked about it, it’s hard to escape the evidence in the series. I’ve argued that perhaps he does so because while it might seem like a potentially fruitful discussion on the surface, it does more harm than good. The introduction of the Fellowship of the Sun in season 2 was a fun, satirical take on religious hypocrisy that has been resurrected (in a way) in the most recent season. Here’s hoping the recently-turned Rev. Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian) gets more screen time. I imagine somewhere some viewers are upset about the series’ portrayal of religion, but it often hits closer to home than we dare imagine. We’re all frequently as nosy as Maxine Fortenberry (Dale Raoul), Hoyt’s mom, and as self-righteous as Lettie Mae Thornton (Adina Porter), Tara’s mother. But this season, the writers are nailing it…sorry.
This season, the series is tackling biblical inerrancy, but from a vampire perspective, and the poisonous mixture of religion and politics. For the latter, check out this article by Bill Keveney. While The Authority, lead by Roman Zimojic (Christopher Meloni), has always been a veiled power structure behind the more local vampire goings on in Bontemps and elsewhere, it has been brought to the forefront this season. Roman, surrounded by a handful of council members, is at a crucial crossroads in its eternal existence: to mainstream or not to mainstream? Can vampires co-exist peacefully with humans, or should the latter simply be farmed sustenance for the former? Those who, like Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), feel that co-existence is possible are beginning to fight an uphill battle against the Sanguinistas, those vampires who believe that they are superior to humans. Drawing from the Christian tradition of Lilith, the Sanguinistas argue that she was a vampire, created in God’s image no less, from whom humans descended. As such, humans should serve the powers greater than them. The core question for the vampire community, or at least those vampires in power, is how to interpret their sacred text, the Vampire Bible. Literalists, or literalism, will inevitably lead to violence. Those with a more contextual interpretation might be better able to facilitate peaceful co-existence.
Blood-sucking aside, this disagreement animates most, if not all, of the major religious discussions (and violence) taking place in our world today from gay marriage debates to suicide bombers. Yet, to me, part of the appeal of True Blood is that it’s not a direct correlation. Vampires and humans don’t represent one respective side of the discussion, nor do the vampires and humans simply divide into two groups among themselves. Each species (and the myriad others in the series) covers the spectrum. At the same time, what the series makes clear, and in so doing reveals yet another real-world parallel, is that the institutional debates about questions such as these often take place far removed from the experiences of the masses, many of whom are going about their lives in peaceful co-existence…except for when they’re not. In the most recent episode, in which the remaining Authority council members partake of the blood of Lilith (a brilliant, trippy communion to be sure), the gathered vampires represent various responses to oppressive religious power structures: stand up to them and be beheaded, submit unthinkingly, make your own power play, or attempt to weather the storm untouched.
And there is a storm brewing, as J. D. (Louis Herthum), the would-be werewolf pack master, tells his followers. A war is coming between vampires and humans, and woe to any of those who get caught in between. Again, this theme of being caught in between or existing in in between spaces comes up in True Blood and continues to be one of its primary strengths. Human identity exists on a spectrum in True Blood and seems to be always changing. We’re all a bit “monstrous,” or at least have the potential to be, which is another way of arguing that we should rein in our tendencies to judge. This season, however, a particular “in-between-ness” seems likely to get you killed. Once again, events in True Blood find another real world parallel. I don’t think I’m too far off base here, but there seem to be many people both within and outside contemporary religious and political discourse who feel like they are getting caught in the crossfire. At the same time, there are members in each “camp,” I would imagine, who are wondering if all the in-fighting and threats are worth it. Although it was a bit typically heavy-handed, Sam Merlotte’s (Sam Trammell) discussion with Sookie (Anna Paquin) in the most recent episode about change and being an agent for it, was an important voice of reason in the chaotic violence swirling around Bontemps. And the violence is certainly building…from humans who shoot at anything that looks different to vampires ready to devour an entire bar on Bourbon Street…all because their Bible told them so.