Hands down, the profanity-laced quote that best sums up my feelings about HBO’s steamy vampire series True Blood came out of the mouth of Pam the vampire in season four (completely NSFW clip here). In the middle of dealing with necromanc, witches, a missing Maker and a slew of touchy vampire political issues, Pam finally broke down and uttered the unavoidable truth that seems to be at the heart of a lot of fans reaction to True Blood: she’s so over Sookie Stackhouse, and frankly, so am I.
With season five of the show taking back the time slot that it shares with Game of Thrones, Truebies are presented with the further adventures of the Bon Temp vampires, with a healthy helping of werewolf and shapeshifter struggles, and my favorite ongoing question: will Lafayette and Tara ever catch a break? But nowhere in these plot lines is there anything exciting for the character around whom the series is based. It doesn’t matter how hard Anna Paquin tries, good actress though she is: the truth is that the character of Sookie has been relegated to plot device-and-wish fulfillment status, and the longer it goes on, the more glaringly empty Sookie becomes.
(Minor spoilers for the season five premiere!)
The problems began when the creators of True Blood decided on their format for the show. The Sookie Stackhouse novels work with the half-faery protagonist because they are told from the first-person, in which Sookie’s vapid, brainless smiles and behavior are explained away as a tactic for dealing with the alienation she feels by being able to read other people’s minds. Despite taking the time in the show to explain that fact, when creators brought the storyline away from Sookie’s viewpoint and began to explore multiple character story lines, they took us away from the insights into Sookie’s personality that the first person allowed. What is left is a hollowed out plot-driver, a woman whose earnest attempts at goodness and kindness seem unrealistic and contrived when compared to the fleshed-out actions of her co-stars’ characters.
What boggles my mind is how the show’s creators managed to take smaller characters like Tara and Lafayette and give them lives so far outside of the scope of the books while neglecting their lead actress. Lafayette is a nobody in the series, a throwaway murder victim who has exploded into amazing, scene-stopping glory on television. Tara is completely changed from the books, from a dress shop girl to a volatile powerhouse whose family dynamics and personal problems has made her so much more than the sum of her literary counterpart. So how is it that Sookie has become such an empty shirt while other characters have blossomed? I’ve christened this the Blank Slate problem.
True Blood was meant to be your guilty pleasure. It’s supernatural sexiness done up in a classy package —because it’s on HBO—but it makes no bones about the fact that it’s there to do bad things to you. For people to feel the freedom to step into the shoes of the protagonist and experience all the fantasy hotness—like frolicking in the woods with Vampire Bill and Eric Northman in all his always-naked glory—there can’t be much character to Sookie. She has to be a blank slate, a good girl who is wanted and desired but who is vulnerable enough to be empathized with by the audience. She has to be beautiful but not too pretty, awkward enough to be recognizable as human, and full of super magical powers that make her special. She is the empty shoes that Bella Swan was made in Twilight, the place where the viewer can slip into her role in their minds without being too distracted by issues of characterization or depth. Sookie is a Mary Sue, there to drive along the plot with her very presence without being at all offensive, and the audience is along for the ride.
The trouble with Blank Slate characters like that is they quickly become irritating alongside fully fleshed out characters. When you can no longer justify caring about what happens to the protagonist because their actions are arbitrarily based on where the plot needs to go, or when they waffle on the most basic of decisions so as to drag out a hackneyed plot device, the character becomes tiring.
Personally, I don’t care any longer over who Sookie will end up with romantically. She spends so much time worrying about it she is barely ever seen doing anything else—when does the woman go to work, anyway? Season four’s decision not to choose either vampire was an obvious attempt to include the werewolf Alcide as a possible lover just for the sake of making things spicier, but comes off for Sookie as emotionally nonsensical and pointless. Will she choose Bill? Or Eric? What about Alcide? Tune in next season while she weeps copiously over her indecision while I continue to absolutely not care.
I laughed aloud when even Sookie’s vampire lovers in the premiere of season five echoed what is effectively my feeling on the subject. Eric declares “F*** Sookie!” when Bill wants to rush to her rescue, and that’s my feeling exactly. Their plot has moved on to bigger and better things than the two biggest vampires in Louisiana being cabana boys to a Bon Temp waitress. It’s why Eric is the one on most of the ad posters these days and not Sookie—the creators know what characters are carrying the show. We come to see Alexander Skarsgård and Ryan Kwanten, Deborah Ann Woll as the show-stopping Jessica and Joe Manganiello as Alcide. And of course, Kristin Bauer van Straten as the most fabulous vampire ever, Pam. Because I would rather watch True Blood for more of this...
...than more of this:
The realization of how useless and incidental Sookie has become came in the season premiere when I realized that her entire storyline could have been completed that episode by Lafayette. Sookie’s presence was completely unnecessary in almost every scene she was in, and that’s the taste left in my mouth going forward. True Blood never really was about Sookie Stackhouse, not in its incarnation on HBO, and while we might have to put up with her for the sake of plot, we certainly don’t need her. Instead, I’d watch the Eric Northman Hour all day long. Or better yet, if we need a blond lady, let’s have a show about Pam.
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com