Saturday, March 13, 2010
Anne Rice is famous for her Vampire Chronicles, set predominantly among the French mansions and steamy atmosphere of New Orleans and featuring the sexy, sophisticated, and utterly decadent undead. Her novels seamlessly blend the grotesque and romanticized decay of Southern Gothic with the deep recesses of Europe's long, dark history. Philosophy, religion, sensuality, and corruption all intermingle in one of the vampire genre's greatest literary influences, second only to Dracula.
Now imagine Anne Rice has a younger redneck cousin and you'll have a pretty good idea of True Blood.
HBO's True Blood is pretty much the most spectacular vampire series I have ever come across. Main character Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress at Merlotte's Bar & Grill in Bon Temps, Louisiana. She is both blessed and cursed with telepathy, spending much of her time trying to block out the thoughts of others. When she meets Bill Compton, an undead Civil War veteran, the silence from him is irresistible and Sookie is finally able to have her very first real relationship. But dating a vampire only draws her deeper into their seductive yet deadly world, revealed only several years ago thanks to the Japanese invention of True Blood, a synthesized drink publicized as an alternative to real human blood. But really, one character warns Sookie, would you seriously abstain from all your favorite foods and drink nothing but Slim-Fast for all eternity?
In true Faulkner-O'Connor fashion, the humans of Bon Temps are a colorful collection of dysfunctional personalities, including Jason, Sookie's dimwitted stud of a brother, and her best friend Tara, the volatile daughter of a drunken mother who once slurped up her own vomit so she wouldn't waste the alcohol in it. Fellow waitress Arlene has been married four times and boss Sam Merlotte seems to have no past. Plus, there's a serial killer on the loose, targeting female "fang bangers," a derogatory term for humans who sleep with vampires.
My favorite character is definitely Lafayette, Tara's cousin. Officially, he's a line cook at Merlotte's and works on the road crew with Jason. He is also a flamboyantly gansta gay prostitute who runs his own porn site and deals in vampire blood, nicknamed "V," which is far more potent than any street drug. Lafayette is nevertheless a loyal friend and more principled than he initially appears.
In addition to Bill, other vampires include the 1,000-year-old Viking Eric, who also wants Sookie; his lazy assistant Pam; gentle Godric the martyr; Bill's creator Lenora; and the nasty but thankfully short-lived trio of Malcolm, Liam, and Diane.
Much as I enjoyed Season 1 of True Blood, Season 2 is where things really get interesting. We have two parallel plotlines: a anti-vampire megachurch called the Fellowship of the Sun that may have kidnapped Godric and the arrival a maenad who drives the citizens of Bon Temps into a murderous, sex-crazed frenzy in an attempt to summon forth the god Dionysus.
Having been accused of the murders in the first season, Jason Stackhouse, stuck in jail, was an easy recruit to the Fellowship of the Sun. He shells out $3,000 to attend their Leadership Camp, and for the first time in his life, Bon Temps's blockheaded stallion is someone special, one of the elect chosen by God to strike down the up-sepulcher'd army of darkness and drag its monstrous hordes, the parasitic seducers of humanity, into the holy light of the sun. Sarah and Eric Newflin, the Fellowship's smiley and unnervingly clean-cut leaders, invite Jason to stay at their mansion, where Eric shows off his many guns and various sharp weapons fashioned from silver. Meanwhile, back in Bon Temps, Tara, despondent after a drunk-driving incident following Arlene's engagement party, is invited to the luxurious home of Maryann Forrester. She claims to be some sort of social worker, but then there's this weird pig running around and the townsfolk are suddenly acting all crazy.
From the chorus of Euripedes's The Bacchae:
- When shall I dance once more
with bare feet the all-night dances,
tossing my head for joy
in the damp air, in the dew,
as a running fawn might frisk
for the green joy of the wild fields,
free from fear of the hunt,
free from the circling beaters
and the nets of woven mesh
and the hunters hallooing on
their yelping packs? And then, hard pressed,
she sprints with the quickness of the wind,
bounding over the marsh, leaping,
to frisk, jumping for joy,
gay with the green of the leaves,
to dance for joy in the forest,
to dance where the darkness is deepest,
where no man is.
- O Dionysus, reveal yourself a bull! Be manifest
a snake with darting heads, a lion breathing fire!
O Bacchus, come! Come with your smile!
Cast your noose about this man who hunts
your Bacchae! Bring him down, trampled
underfoot by the murderous hordes of your Maenads!
Sam likens Maryann to Satan: the horned harbringer of chaos and wild ecstasy that overwhelms all restraint and morality. Ironically, however, she also counterpart to the equally malevolent influence of the Newflins and the cult-like Fellowship of the Sun. Both are sources of temptation - for power, acceptance, and divine favor - that lead their victims to behave in ways contrary to their normal personalities. What eventually defeats Maryann and the Fellowship are the simple ideals of loyalty, genuine love, and friendship.
(Urban fantasy and the like has given us vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, and shapeshifters of all sorts, but maenads are certainly a new one.)
So needless to say, I love me some True Blood. Of course, I had to read the novels that inspired it all: Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries. Unfortunately. . .
Not since Fledgling have I ever had such high expectations for a vampire book and been so let down. Sorry folks, but this is one of those rare instances of the onscreen adaptation being superior to the literary original. Harris's writing is so amateurish I just couldn't get into Dead Until Dark, on which the first season of True Blood is based. Not as bad as Twilight (now there's a tough act to beat) but still had me wondering how this got ever got published.
But there's always the TV, right?
The title of this post are some lyrics from Depeche Mode's "Corrupt," as featured on the True Blood soundtrack.