Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:
While it’s true that HBO’s vampire drama True Blood was never going to be for everyone, it’s hard to deny that the show was a great time, one that arrived precisely when the pop culture zeitgeist needed it. A blood-soaked Southern Gothic romp with a bite both literal and metaphorical, True Blood was everything the Twilight franchise wasn’t, in all the best ways.
From its diverse array of supernatural beings—not content to just be a story about vampires, True Blood also featured telepaths, witches, shapeshifters, faeries, and an assortment of were-creatures—to its insistence on casting its blood-drinkers as stand-ins for various sociological metaphors (“God Hates Fangs!”), this was a show that delighted in pushing boundaries and embracing its campiest tendencies. And that’s before you got to all the excessive gore and plentiful sex. Throw in a cast of extremely attractive people, a lot of gratuitous nudity, and some genuinely shocking—and often extremely violent—twists, and… well. It’s not exactly a surprise that its first few seasons were both critical and cultural hits.
Loosely based on Charlaine Harris’s popular Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels, True Blood follows the story of Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a telepathic waitress in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. She falls in love with a two-hundred-year-old vampire named Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and is drawn into the darker side of the supernatural, from grisly murders to the bizarre world of vampire politics. Over the course of its seven seasons, we meet a variety of other colorful characters, including vampire sheriff Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård), werewolf packmaster Alcide Herveaux (Joseph Manganiello), the uber-campy vampire king of Mississippi, Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare), and spiritual medium Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis). There’s also Sookie’s best friend Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley), her dumb but hot brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), and her boss, the shape-shifter Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell).
Most of these people (with blood relatives, gay men, and 3,000-year-old vampire royalty excepted) eventually express some sort of sexual interest in Sookie because that’s just the kind of show this is. And that complete soapy ridiculousness is part of the reason True Blood was such entertaining television, and why the dull slog of its final season was so darn disappointing. It’s doubtful that any viewer that stuck around thought it was going to be high art. But it’s equally unlikely that anyone could have predicted just how utterly bland and unambitious it would be.
Maybe True Blood’s spiral into abject awfulness was inevitable. Few series make it to seven seasons at all, and fewer still are worth watching when they get there. But no matter how you feel about the show—whether you loved it, hated it, or simply abandoned ship back when one of the series’ main characters was resurrected as a vampire god (I wish I was kidding!!)—I think we can all agree that it deserved better than its ending. Because True Blood’s finale (“Thank You”) not only gleefully spat on most of the things the viewers who were still around cared about, but committed the cardinal sin of not even being fun to watch in the process.
Even at its worst, True Blood always had a swing for the fences mentality to its storytelling, often seeming as though it made narrative choices just to see what might happen. From the vampire blood-induced fantasies that let us see virtually every character hook up with one another onscreen at various points—the series’ main love triangle had a threesome in one of them!—to the fact that it was willing to kill off major characters and big-name guest stars with both abandon and style, it was always a show that was just willing to go there, and then some. (Remember when Russell Edgington ripped that newscaster’s spine out and waved it around while doing a speech on live television? The Vampire Diaries, as much as I genuinely enjoyed it, could never.) But the finale left all that camp, craziness, and gusto behind, opting for a weirdly unimaginative and conventional wrap-up to one of television’s most unconventional series.
It’s difficult to believe that a show with mass hypnotism orgies ended its run by pairing everyone off into relative heterosexual normality, complete with an impromptu wedding and a surprise pregnancy, but that’s exactly what happened. There wasn’t even any nudity in this episode, which if you’ve ever seen True Blood before, you know is basically admitting upfront that the finale is the televisual equivalent of a pod person. Most of our favorite supporting characters were almost completely absent: Pam and Eric’s story feels like it’s happening on a different show entirely, Lafayette didn’t get a single line, and others like Arlene and Jason served as little more than various flavors of wallpaper.
So much of this show’s story (and popularity, if we’re honest) revolved around the Bill/Sookie/Eric love triangle, but the show chose to end with Sookie picking neither of them. Narratively, this isn’t that strange—Beverly Hills 90210 was out here forever ago with Kelly Taylor choosing herself—but the way that True Blood handled it was beyond awkward. Eric is a weird nonentity in the final few episodes, and though it initially seems Bill and Sookie are headed for a reconciliation, what happens is that he asks her to kill him instead. (There are several dumb reasons for this, but it mainly involves him mansplaining to her about her own future and declaring the entire reason for living is to procreate. Very fun!!)
Elsewhere, Bill’s progeny Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) suddenly decides to marry her ex-boyfriend Hoyt Fortenberry (Jim Parrack), with whom she has been back together for one (1) single day, and who has no memory of their previous relationship, its many problems, or why he begged her to glamor him to forget that they’d ever even been a thing in the first place. Her choice seems predominantly based on the fact that this is Bill’s last wish, because I guess no woman on this show deserves to do anything other than what a jackass former Civil War soldier thinks is appropriate. (And I say that as someone who liked Bill more than most!)
“Thank You” even goes full Harry Potter epilogue by the end, jumping ahead in time to show us a happy family dinner party full of paired off people (including Sookie’s brother Jason and Hoyt’s ex Bridget, who seem to have gotten together for the simple lack of other options) all apparently living their best lives. Sookie is pregnant and has a new man, but not content to go out without spitting in fans’ faces one more time, True Blood never reveals more than the back of his head. Because in this bizarro-land version of the show, the fact that she has someone and is having a baby is somehow more important than who that person is, how he treats her, or what their relationship is like. Basically, the only good thing that happens in this show’s closing moments is that Eric and Pam get rich.
But it didn’t have to be like this. This is True Blood, after all. I don’t think anyone was expecting happy families and playdates at the end of it all. I mean, if there were ever a series that was going to end with a canonical vampire throuple that hosted swinger parties with the local werewolf pack, this was it. This show literally could have done anything and it would have made the same amount of sense that anything else in this universe did. And maybe that’s the most disappointing thing of all: that a show that was so dedicated to pushing supernatural boundaries became so pedestrian in the end.
Lacy Baugher Milas is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.