Sunday, February 7, 2016

'True Blood' finale: TV's true death can't redeem HBO drama (SPOILERS)

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - What a strange trip it was for "True Blood," a series that began with enormous promise, began to drunkenly stagger as if it was imbibing something more mood-altering than blood, and finally lurched back toward a measure of sobriety in the home stretch of its seventh season.

'True Blood' finale: TV's true death can't redeem HBO drama (SPOILERS)

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HBO.
HBO.

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - What a strange trip it was for "True Blood," a series that began with enormous promise, began to drunkenly stagger as if it was imbibing something more mood-altering than blood, and finally lurched back toward a measure of sobriety in the home stretch of its seventh season. Still, Sunday's series finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven't watched) -- despite some poignant moments -- was simply too little, too late to redeem a show that frequently managed to feel absurd even for those who once happily believed in a world filled with vampires, werewolves, shape shifters, faeries and demons. 

Before settling into a focus on wrapping things up where the program began -- with the telepathic Sookie (Anna Paquin) and her seriously complicated relationship with vampire beau Bill (Stephen Moyer) -- "True Blood" spent too much time throughout the season dealing with peripheral characters, occasionally killing one here or there, without yielding much of an emotional payday. Nor did it really make sense to elevate Anna Camp's Sarah to become such a centerpiece of the plot, with her blood representing the salvation to a vampire plague.

Credit Brian Buckner and Scott Winant -- who wrote and directed the finale, respectively -- for deftly flipping "happily ever after" on its head, with Bill having chosen to die rather than condemn Sookie to a dead-end life with a vampire. The producers built to that in previous episodes with flashbacks about Bill, setting the stage for his noble sacrifice.

Coming back to them felt right, in a way the series hadn't in quite some time. They always represented the show's center, even with Sookie's veritable smorgasbord of supernatural suitors along the way and Bill's detour into something resembling vampire godhood.

That said, the closing coda was a bit too cheeky for its own good, with even Sookie's brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) having rather improbably discovered the blessings of domesticity. And in terms of logic, it didn't make much sense for Bill to so eagerly marry off his vampire progeny Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) to a human when they, too, would face much the same scenario he feared for Sookie.

At its core, the series always contained a clever metaphor for exploring wider issues, particularly gay acceptance, starting with vampires being free to come out of the coffin once synthetic blood became available. Even with that, though -- and graceful touches, like noting the state wouldn't recognize Sunday's vampire-human marriage -- the fact the show veered out of its lane, as it were, to stage a collision with conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz earlier this season only reinforced the sense subtlety was no longer part of the plan. 

Author Charlaine Harris (who appeared near the end in a fleeting cameo) already ran afoul of some fans with her decision to end the book series, and the passion such projects engender virtually ensure that the 70-minute finale will unleash a gamut of emotions and reactions. 

Nevertheless, the bottom line is except perhaps for the most loyal keepers of the "True" faith, it's hard to say TV's version of the true death came a moment too soon.

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