"Turn! Turn! Turn!," "Authority Always Wins," "Whatever I Am, You Made Me," "We'll Meet Again," "Let's Boot and Rally," "Hopeless," "In the Beginning," "Somebody That I Used to Know," "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," "Gone, Gone, Gone," "Sunset," "Save Yourself"
by Bill Chambers In general, TV series aren't built to last beyond four seasons. I think it has something to do with how the educational system teaches us that four-year cycles end in graduation. Showrunners consequently feel an obligation to symbolically reboot in season five--to send the high-schoolers off to college ("Dawson's Creek"), to recast the leads ("The Dukes of Hazzard"), to have Fonzie waterski over Jaws ("Happy Days"). To be fair, redefining the status quo doesn't always mean jumping the shark: for every Cousin Oliver, after all, there's a Dawn Summers. Unfortunately, "True Blood" is not one of the exceptions to the rule, as it goes off the rails in its fifth season in a way that is different from those countless other times it seemed to be flying a kamikaze mission towards ratings oblivion. (This is a show that has elevated jumping the shark to an artform.) A good chunk of the season is devoted to vampires--creatures who can, in the "True Blood"-verse, run like The Flash, fly, and fuck like pornstars--sitting around a conference table debating politics and religion, and the other "super" groups don't exactly pick up the slack, what with the werewolves holding auditions for a new pack leader and the faes throwing slumber parties with their new BFF, Sookie.
The theme this year is divorcing oneself from one's maker and forging new connections, as reflected in the series isolating its regulars into splinter groups once this season-four housekeeping is out of the way, rarely to cross-pollinate them again. It's not unpoetic, given that this is creator Alan Ball's last hurrah as showrunner, but in execution it's reminiscent of "Arrested Development"'s current M.O., albeit without dedicating entire episodes to a single character or dynamic. Still, the effect is no less wearying, as interactions become increasingly samey and one-note. (And a little Terry (Todd Lowe) goes a long, long way. That goes double for Hoyt (Jim Parrack).) Sookie, for all her declarations of independence, is not someone who thrives as a solo act, and that's precisely how she spends the majority of these episodes, in what feels like a concession to Paquin's salary. Without the Three Stooges vying for her heart (even stalwart Alcide (Joe Manganiello) throws in the towel) and with Tara giving her the silent treatment (would that she do the same for us), Sookie's freed up to work one whole shift at Merlotte's, which should keep her solvent until Season Six. I thought they'd long ago abandoned the farce that is her day job, but I suppose an efficient way to top up a mind-reader's self-pity, Sookie's principal motivator, is to surround her with judge-y waitresses and chauvinist-pig customers.
Sookie spends much of the season feeling sorry for herself, this time because of her awesome fairy blood rather than the fact that every hot guy in Bon Temps wants to bang her, but same dif: Bottom line, she will always find another pea under the mattress to complain about; does anybody seriously identify with our heroine? Visiting a heretofore-unseen interdimensional Moulin Rouge run by her fae brethren, she learns not only that some centuries-old vampire might've called dibs on her before she was born (nice of him to wait for a lull in the series to rear his head), but also that her powers are finite, and so she sets about purging them from her system in a bid for normalcy. Normalcy, in a world of vampires, shape-shifters, werewolves, were-panthers, fairies, maenads, necromancers, ghosts, ifrits, brujos, and God knows what else. Whatever. You go, girl.
How good could her powers be, really, considering she fails to detect someone sneaking up behind her to knock her out when there's only one other person in the room with her.2 That person is William Sanderson's Sheriff Bud, whose brief return to the show should be cause for celebration but instead undoes the goodwill engendered by his crisp exit in Season Three. Bud has shacked up with plump Sweetie Des Arts (Jennifer Hasty), who's turned his pig farm--in what suggests a premonitory parody of Upstream Color--into the homebase of a redneck militia formed to rid Bon Temps and beyond of all supernatural lifeforms. As we see in a flashback that uses a wide-angle lens on her clownishly tear-streaked face for maximum grotesqueness, Sweetie's husband left her for a shifter. There are a lot of evil women on this show who aren't subjected to that kind of aesthetic humiliation, but they didn't have the gall to be a size 12, I guess. ("True Blood" may take place in Louisiana, but it's written square in the heart of fat-phobic Los Angeles.) Incidentally, Sweetie's crew wears Obama masks when wreaking havoc. I believe it's a joke on a certain hillbilly tendency to hold Obama accountable for everything from the price of gas to papercuts--why, then, don his face before doling out their special brand of justice, thus deifying him? This isn't like Point Break, where the Nixon and Reagan masks reflected the capitalist spirit of robbing banks, or the urban nickname for money ("dead presidents"); it's just more strangled satire from the people who brought you figurative homosexuality in the form of cold, deadly vampirism.
The cultivation of that rancid metaphor continues with this year's Tara subplot, in which Jessica soothes the savage beast that is vampire Tara (and regular Tara, come to think of it) by co-opting the anti-gay-bullying mantra "It gets better." Fanger, please! The point of those words is to inspire hope and patience in the powerless--and that's something the vampires on this show, whatever their persecution complex, most certainly are not. Or can gay kids fly, too? At least Tara actually is gay (again) by the end of the season, her contempt for surrogate mom Pam blossoming over the course of these twelve episodes into a mutual attraction that echoes Eric's own misadventures in incest with "sister" Nora (Lucy "No-Nudity Clause" Griffiths, who's just awful). The two of them plus Bill are being held captive in an underground facility while Roman (Christopher Meloni, trying in vain to turn reams of gibberish into Mamet, perhaps misled by the bald rip-off of the "baseball" moment from The Untouchables), the 500-year-old "guardian" of the recently-secular Vampire Authority, decides what to do with them for, among other things, not killing Denis O'Hare's Russell Edgington3 back in Season Three.
Yes, this is the season that deals with the dangers of religious fundamentalism, again through the stupidest possible vessel for the subject: vampires. It seems there is a church doctrine for vampires even though they're fucking immortal, and an uprising in the name of Lilith--figure of Hebrew legend, Sarah McLachlan inspiration, and alleged first vampire--has given birth to a movement (the Sanguinista) that aims to undo years of mainstreaming and start treating humans like cattle as the so-called "vampire bible" foretold. And so Bill gets religion, in a painfully slow yet dramatically abrupt development that culminates in him drinking a vial that may or may not contain Lilith's blood, dropping dead, and being resurrected as some sort of god. Series-salvaging cliffhanger? Hard to say, but if "True Blood" keeps going like this, they're gonna need a bigger boat.
The A/V on HBO's Blu-ray release of "True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season" is status quo for the series, which continues to be shot on film in HD-friendly Super35, although the teeter-tottering dynamic range may tilt more towards blown-out whites than the crushed blacks it has in the past. The razor-sharp image--behold chin scars and facial down--twinkles with fine grain artificially goosed, per usual, during flashbacks, and the colours remain vibrant no matter how bloodless skin tones get. As expected the audio (5.1 DTS-HD MA) is no less sleek: The show has always had an unusually active mix for the medium and this season is no exception. "True Blood" also, for better or worse, has one of the clearest dialogue tracks on television and uses the discrete soundstage in an endearingly playful way, with the rear channels turned into a peanut gallery by offscreen zingers obviously dubbed in on the fly.
I haven't done the math, but extras seem a little lighter this year, perhaps as a by-product of the network's dwindling interest in the show. (They cut the episode order from 12 to 10 for the current season; I wouldn't be surprised if next year they do away with the rubbery box packaging of these Blu-rays.) All five discs include the traditional "Enhanced Viewing Mode"--pop-up interactivity delivering a mix of cutesy-poo "Authority Confessionals," helpful Flashbacks and Flash Forwards, and assorted "Histories/Bios/Hints/FYIs"--and "Inside the Episode" featurettes (3-4 mins. apiece), where the shows' writers and directors provide recaps from their peculiar, specialized vantage. Dan Minahan, who helmed "Turn! Turn! Turn!," says, for instance, that actor McMillian was prone to overdoing it with the fangs "in a Blacula kind of way," while Ball uses airplane-safety terminology to describe the penultimate instalment of every season including episode 5.11, "Sunset."
Commentary tracks begin on Disc 2 with "We'll Meet Again" (5.4), in which repeated assurances that actor Chris Bauer--here joined by writer Alexander Woo and director Romeo Tirone--is slimmer and nicer-looking in person (whether these are directed at him or us is hard to say) quickly give way to distracted silence. Disc 4's "Somebody That I Used to Know" (5.8) pairs writer and co-executive producer Mark Hudis with actor and first-time helmer Moyer, who does that thing of overrationalizing and aggrandizing every single decision he made in his filmmaking debut like he's Orson Welles reincarnate. Also, from the sounds of it he's in love with co-star Sam Trammell. I will comfort his wife accordingly. Meanwhile, O'Hare, actress Carrie Preston, and director Dan Attias riff on "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (5.9), a commentary that gets off to an uproarious start because the episode in question opens with a naked male extra strapped to a table. (Preston says the guy later introduced himself to her at a Hollywood party.) Interesting to hear, if obvious in retrospect, that the Merlotte's players rarely cross paths with the likes of O'Hare--Preston says that in her experience, "True Blood" is a show about a bar. Furthermore, those groan-inducing "iStakes" were apparently incredibly expensive to fabricate.
Yakkers adorn both hours on the fifth and final disc: writer Angela Robinson joins director Lesli Linka Glatter on "Sunset" while Paquin, Ball, and director Michael Lehmann team up for the commentary on "Save Yourself" (5.12). To the former, these two demonstrate that "amazing" is the latest verbal tic to manifest itself in contemporary conversation. They had an amazing time working together. I did enjoy the tiny window into the writing process--by this point in the season, the scripts are apparently racing to keep up with production, and this episode, in particular, clocked in so short that HBO made them go back and shoot some padding. Amazing. As for the "Save Yourself" yak-track, I was surprised it wasn't more sentimental. And though Ball reassures Paquin in the final seconds that his office door will always be open, this was recorded long before shooting commenced on Season Six, which by all accounts was an epic fail since no one was minding the store.
Disc 5 additionally collates all of the Authority Confessionals--for Nora, Rosalyn, Salome, Kibwe, Steve, and Russell--and contains "True Blood Lines," text-based bios arranged by species for virtually every speaking character. The only other supplement is back on Disc 3: "'True Blood' Episode Six: Autopsy" (63 mins., HD) has the ostensible "game-changer" "Hopeless" (5.6) playing in more or less real time beneath B-roll and picture-window interviews with pertinent cast and crew. I can't say I learned much, apart from the fact that Lowe's natural speaking voice is about an octave higher than the one he puts on for Terry. Besides overrating the emotional effectiveness of the episode's many temporary goodbyes (such as Bill's would-be glamouring of Sookie), Ball reveals that the crypt serving as Russell's hideout is really the "Six Feet Under" set, so realistically ruined by the art department that several members of the production worried for their health.
A complete DVD/Digital Copy of the set, on two platters, is bundled with the BD gatefold.
1. What I want to tell the makers of "True Blood", or at least Eric, is that it doesn't matter if you push a vacuum cleaner at super-speed: the vacuum itself will not suck things up any faster. return
2. That's nothing compared to Sam and (the stacked but thoroughly uninteresting) Luna's infiltration of the VA compound: They sneak in as mice, Sam escapes Bill's clutches therein by turning into a fly, but neither can figure out how to free Luna (Janina Gavankar) from a jail cell with bars that must be eight inches apart. return
3. Who goes out like a punk in one of the show's signature hasty resolutions to a gonzo cliffhanger. return