Friday 15 July 2011

Devouring TV: True Blood, Season 4 Episode 3

DISCLAIMER: This post is definitely going to contain spoilers. Massive soul shattering spoilers. So if you haven't seen this episode of True Blood (and you want to at some point) then come back and read this after that point. Because I'm not taking any responsibility for your disappointment and possible anger. Especially after I've written this massive disclaimer!

So, I'm not sure if I've even ever mentioned it on here, but I'm pretty much obsessed with True Blood. There are many many many reasons why it's basically my favourite TV programme (not least that Alan Ball, writer of American Beauty is the series creator) but, let's face it, Alexander Skarsgard being half naked for a good portion of screen time = not a bad thing at all.

And speaking of his half-nakedness, in the episode I want to talk about (which aired on 10th July), there was some pretty gratuitous Skarsgard-nakedness. Now, I would never look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak, and a naked Eric is possibly one of life's greatest gifts, but did he really need to be topless? Let's consider- he is wandering along the roadside, sans his memory and his shirt. Now, we know from the previous episode where he lost his memory, but when he left the coven, he was clothed. Did he rip off his top in distress, or had we just not seen enough of his torso this season? Again, I'm not complaining about this. Just sayin'.
Why are you topless Eric? It makes no sense!! But I sure do like it...

Anyway, putting Eric and his torso to one side for a second, I'm going to try and say something intelligent about True Blood that doesn't even involve any sort of nudity (I KNOW! I'm growing!) But anyway, after I watched it on Tuesday (through what I can only assume is a legal avenue... ok, I'm sorry HBO! But I'm so going to buy the boxset, so don't worry!) I kept thinking about one particular thing that I'm sure my overdeveloped analytical, English degree side of my brain couldn't help thinking. What this episode was essentially all about, I think, was the self, and whether you can ever change or not, or if you can only give the illusion of change, while remaining essentially the same underneath.

I know what you're thinking. How can something that has been described as 'A soap opera with vampires and other supernatural shit' (I'm totally paraphrasing Alan Ball here) have any deeper things going on than just the surface (and admittedly very entertaining) stories? I'll tell you how- by having been seen through my crazy, analyse everything ever creatively written by anyone eyes. But I'm not just talking shit here, and hopefully you'll agree with that assessment when you read what I have to say about it! Or, you know, you will have just read a load of shit, but give me a chance, yeah? This is clearly going to be so good...

So, yes, I thought that in this week's episode, the self was up for debate. There was a scene where Sam and Tara, ex-lovers and now good friends, talk about whether one can essentially change or not. Tara thanks Sam for giving her the push she needed to go and change herself, whereas Sam, feeling that he now knows better, argues that people can't really ever change, and that your old self always keeps catching up with you. This is something that Tara disagrees with, and having seen her exploits in the last two episodes, it is tempting to think that she really has changed- but has she actually just changed the way she lives, and not herself? And are the two interchangable? It's an interesting question, and one which I think we might get answered as the season progresses.

There is a sense in which the humans who live with vampires (and I'm particularly thinking of Hoyt here) never get to fully be themselves, because there is always the opportunity for them to be glamoured and made to believe different things than they actually feel, or rather did feel. This gives vampires, already pretty superior to humans, the opportunity to essentially control them as they see fit. This is something that Jessica did out of love rather than malice, but it's still an unfair way to treat someone you love. In a way then, in this series, you could say that vampires are more themselves than humans are, because there is literally no one who can manipulate them, or make them anything other than what they are.

That is, except for poor Eric, who knows exactly what he is, but not who he is. Having had his entire memory wiped by the witches (who I can't help but think of as evil because I am so strongly on Eric's side), he is suffering an identity crisis of epic proportions- everything he was, as he says, has been taken from him. While this offers the viewer some amusing sweetness from him, it is still a heartbreaking scenario to see him in, and one which raises questions about the self- If someone takes all your memories from you, then who do you get to be? Someone else whose self is in a transitional phase is Jason, being held captive by the now seemingly deranged Crystal and her husband/brother/whatever, who may soon have to identify himself as a panther rather than a mere police officer. The implication seems to be, with these two, that the self is something that can be forcibly taken from you, making you something completely different than who (or what) you used to be. It's a pretty frightening thought, and one which adds depth to the perilous situations that both men find themselves in.

Another candidate for change is Debbie Pelt, last seen beating the crap out of Sookie, but now back in Alcide's bed, supposedly clean and sober. It's yet to be seen whether she really has changed (or, indeed, whether anyone can actually change) and I was quite surprised that we didn't have Sookie reading her mind to try and ascertain just that in this episode. Because of this, I'd imagine that we're meant to think that Debbie has changed, but that maybe she hasn't quite... This is of course just speculation, since Debbie's recovery at all is unprecedented from the source material- who the heck knows what she's going to do next?!

One last person I want to talk about with regards to the self is Sookie herself. Whereas everyone else seems to be changing (to the extent that anyone can change, alright Sam), Sookie is almost doing the opposite- she is exactly the same as she was a year ago, but everything around her has changed. This means that she has to adapt quickly to get any kind of foothold on what has been happening around Bon Temps, which requires a sort of change in itself- being ready for any kind of news, and bracing oneself for it's unrelenting onslaught (things she's had to deal with: Tara's leaving, Bill being King, Eric buying her house, the fact that she's meant to be dead, the whole Debbie and Alcide thing... I could probably go on, but I won't). The fact that so much can change in a year practically confirms the idea that people can and do change, because they have to adapt to things being different all the time; but this everyday changing is not really the same as the kind of radical change that means one person acts completely differently to how they once did. Are they really different, or are they just play-acting because they want the life that being this other person provides? And is there really a difference between the two? Maybe not.

So these are just some thoughts I had about just one episode of this unbelievably moreish series. It's definitely my English training coming into play to some degree, but it's also the hold that the series has on my imagination, forcing me to think about it for much longer than I probably should, which makes me see much more about it than I do while I'm watching it (those thoughts consisting mainly of shirtless Eric, and then, when is shirtless Eric going to be on again?!). This is not at all a bad thing, on the contrary it gives me something to blog about, but it's just a slight indication of my obsession. I am Laura, and I'm a True Blood-aholic. Anyone else out there want to join me?

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