Thursday, September 15, 2011

Monstrous Musings: True Blood’s Monstrous Homage to True Love in the Season Four Finale

Natalie Wilson, a Women’s Studies and Literature professor at Cal State San Marcos, is author of the recently released Seduced by Twilight: The Allure and Contradictory Messages of the Popular Saga.
She pens one of the academic blogs analyzing the saga at http://www.seducedbytwilight.wordpress.com/. She is also author of the blog Professor, What if? and writes regularly for Ms Blog, Girl With Pen, and Womanist Musings. Her home page can be found http://www.nataliewilsonphd.wordpress.com and her Twitter handles are @seducedbytwi, @drnataliewilson, and @professorwhatif.

 In the penultimate episode to season four, the closing scenes depicted Sookie looking from Bill to Eric, not sure which she loves – or, more aptly, which she loves more. The season focused on the Sookie/Bill/Eric love triangle a great deal, as in the episode which had Sookie dreaming about a threesome with her two vampire lovers. 

While the love triangle is certainly not a new trope in vampire narratives, True Blood (up until the finale) offered the queerest, most progressive take on the love triangle. Two other vampire series of the moment – Twilight and The Vampire Diaries – also feature love triangles. If we put these three series on a love triangle continuum, Twilight represents the most regressive triangle, Vampire Diaries falls somewhere in the middle, and True Blood  falls most to the progressive side of the continuum.

Rather than the more traditional triangle where males fight over a female pawn, trying to “out-macho” each other as they vie for her affection, True Blood focuses more on Sookie’s feelings of love and desire for both Bill and Eric – she is not a pawn, but an active, desiring subject. Though there is a certain amount of jealousy and fighting between Bill and Eric, it is nowhere near on the scale of that portrayed in traditional representations of the love triangle, as with, for example, the bitter rivalry between Edward Cullen and Jacob Black in Twilight.  

In more traditional love triangles, one of the male suitors is usually framed as the true hero – most often, he is the whiter, richer, more educated and debonair suitor. In contrast, the less wealthy, less white, and/or less educated competitor – as with say Edgar Linton vs. Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights – is framed as the inferior rival. The difference in True Blood is Sookie’s two love interests are more or less equal – both are strong, powerful vampires, both are white, both are complex characters – neither all hero nor all villain. Thus, Sookie is not choosing between the good (white) lover and the bad (dark) lover, but between two quite similar suitors. 

For awhile, the series suggested she may not have to choose – that monogamy is not the only option - a rather radical concept for mainstream culture (except, say, if we’re talking a “sister wives” sort of set up). Other recent narratives, Twilight and Vampire Diaries included, are largely framed around the notion the heroine MUST choose. Thus, the finale, which depicted Sookie as ultimately choosing neither Bill or Eric, disappoints. 

After their near burning at the stake, Eric and Bill each sit on one side of Sookie, supping blood from her wrists. “Ah, here it is,” I thought, “finally she is going to suggest a non-traditional set up of some sort.” Sadly, my hopes for a polyamourous/pansexual vampire/human trio (or more) did not come to fruition. Instead, Sookie went traditional and rejected them both. 

Though Sookie’s sexual agency has been critiqued given that she tends to be attracted to traditional masculinity – to strong, domineering males – at least she is a groundbreaking character in that she openly and without shame desires sex and insists that she can love/desire more than one partner. In a world where heterosexual monogamy is framed as THE happy, desirable ending, this in itself is rather groundbreaking. It goes against the ubiquitous “True Love” model and instead suggests that the concept of true love is fake – much like the “True Blood” of the series that is actually fake, synthetic blood. While I wish there was less focus on rape, sexual violence, and hypermasculinity,  I am thankful that True Blood takes a bite out of the dangerous and seemingly immortal concept of “true love” --- a concept that has not done any favors to women nor to those of us who feel that heterosexual monogamy is not the only possible happy ending. 

Speaking of endings, the season finale not only left me unhappy with Sookie’s traditionally-minded rejection of Bill and Eric, it also killed off practically all of the series non-heterosexual queer characters – Lafayette, Jesus, Tara, Nina. Will season five find us in a hetero-only Bon Temps? Thank goodness Pam lives on. Here’s hoping she might start a “queer vampire army” of some sort that is as quick-witted as she is, that doesn’t balk at criticizing Sookie’s traditional choices and her “fairy vagina” – that frames desire and love as “true” not only when it is heterosexual, monogamous, or involving two partners – but also when it is queer, polyamourous, gender deviant and so on. And, for f***sake Alan Ball, enough with the rape scenes already!