From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

True Blood Season 2, Episode 12: “Beyond Here Lies Nothin”

Well, the dust has settled, the tears have fallen, and True Blood has returned to its coffin to hibernate for the winter. Opinions on “Beyond Here Lies Nothin” seem to run the gamut between Best Vampire Finale of All Time and FangFail. Can we find some sort of middle ground? And how does this sophomore season stack up in the final analysis?

In keeping with last year’s half-resolution-half-setup finale structure, Ball and team wrap up the maenad storyline pretty quickly. After learning that Tara and Eggs are tending an ostrich egg for absolutely no freaking reason at all, Sookie is press-ganged into service as the Maid of Honor for Maryann’s pending marriage to Dionysius. (Which is, um, optimistic. Everyone knows you never start the wedding before your groom has entered the physical plane). Happily, Maryann isn’t especially interested in sacrificing Sookie or eating her heart, but she does want our hero to play all the customary bridesmaid’s games. Like, you know, “Lick the Bloody Ostrich Egg.”

Over at Merlotte’s, Bill tries to press-gang Sam into being a hero. I love these two characters together—they’re both awesomely fuddy-duddy for denizens of such a whacked-out world, and you get the sense that they’d get on famously if they weren’t hot (and cold) for the same woman. Sam seems reluctant to face off against Maryann, but Bill won’t take no for an answer. Uh oh.

Eric asks the Queen of Louisiana how to stop a maenad, but she tells him to forget about it and play Yahtzee, which he seems more or less content to do. “There is another problem,” he says. “Bill Compton knows that I’m supplying vamp blood to dealers.” Sophie-Ann asks if Bill knows that the blood is hers, or that Eric is supplying on her behalf. Eric says he doesn’t think so, but he understands that Bill will still need to be dealt with. Iiiiinteresting.

Meanwhile, the wedding preparations are almost complete. The meat statue’s dressed up all pretty and zombies are playing the bridal march on the lawn. All that’s left is for the sacrifice to arrive. While they wait, Maryann asks Sookie to zap her again with her mysterious zappy powers. She’s never felt anything like that energy, and she still can’t figure out what sort of critter she’s found here in Bon Temps. Sookie tries her best, but no zappy magical dice.

And hey, here’s the sacrifice! Bill drags a pleading Sam before the meat statue, and offers him up to Maryann on the condition that she leave Bon Temps once she’s completed her ceremony. A delighted Maryann agrees to the deal, and Sookie looks stricken as Sam is strapped to a pole and the ceremony begins. People chant creepily, Maryann goes into her shaky magic trance thing, and as the chanting reaches fever pitch, zombie Eggs stabs Sam in the heart. Noooo!

Sookie runs to her dying friend, and Sam tells her to screw up the ceremony. Weeping and confused, Sookie promptly pushes over the meat statue withhey!her zappy magical powers. A pissed off, claw-handed Maryann decides that Sookie has become more trouble than she’s worth and chases her into the woods, recalling the chase at the beginning of the season. And right when it seems that our girl Stackhouse is down for the count—

A freaking giant bull appears.

So Maryann’s all, “Holy crap, the horned god has Come.” In one of the most gorgeously shot sequences I’ve seen on a TV show, she approaches the bull, strokes its face, cries. And then the bull gores her through the chest with a horn. Which, you know, comes as a suprise, but the maenad seems cool with it until the horn changes into a hand, and the bull changes into a naked Sam Merlotte. Sam rips out Maryann’s heart, and she makes the same face you would make.

“There is no god,” she rasps.

“No,” says Sam, and crushes her heart.

I can’t emphasize enough how excellent this scene is. Whatever problems plagued the Maryann storyline (about which more in a moment), its culmination is holy-crap-perfect. Not only is it beautifully framed, mythic and raw, but fuddy-duddy puppy Sam gets the most badass moment in the series so far. Awesome.

It turns out Bill came up with the whole bull god plan, and promised to let Sam drink his healing blood after the sacrifice. A few thoughts: a) Oh man, I hope they share emotions now. Cause that would be adorable. b) Sam’s had to look at animals to shift so far. Did they get on Merlotte’s wi-fi and look up bulls on Google Image Search or something? c) Man, those two need to cultivate a bromance.

The last half of the episode is devoted to Bon Temps pulling itself together and moving on into its next exciting chapter. Many viewers seem to dislike this structure, but I adore it. I like getting a meaty bite of the next storyline. Most Bon Tempers decide that they must have been exposed to a gas leak or government experiment or something and shrug the whole incident away, but Eggs wakes up with blood on his hands, and he can’t sleep for his mad, nebulous guilt. Desperate to know what he’s done, he finds Sookie and demands that she show him his crime, and Sookie reluctantly complies. A little psychic probing wipes away the zombie amnesia, and Eggs sees that he was Maryann’s right hand, driving in the knife whenever she wanted someone stabbed. He feels pretty crappy about this.

Indeed, he feels so crappy that he finds Andy Bellefleur and begs the newly reinstated detective to lock him up. This is somehow both the most interesting and the most irritating thing Ball and company have done with Eggs; on one hand it feels utterly contrived, but on the other, Eggs’ obsession with justice is genuinely moving. He served his time for the crimes he committed in the past, he thought that he’d balanced the scales, and now the notion that he’s done more wrong than penance knocks him on his ass. When Andy refuses—’cause hey, he knows Maryann was responsible for the whole thing—Eggs gets up in Andy’s face, waving around the knife that killed Miss Jeanette and Daphne, insisting that the evidence is right here, just lock him up…

At which point Jason shoots him in the head, mistakenly believing that his new BFF Andy is in danger.

Now, this is some bullshit. This is some bullshit for the same reason that Daphne’s death was some bullshit. Many viewers actively despised Eggs and Daphne (sometimes with puzzling intensity), but I suspect this is only because the screenwriters never deigned to treat those two as characters. They were plot coupons and devices for other characters’ development, always meant to die after they’d served their plotty purposes. That is, needless to say, lazy writing. Both of these characters were only given any real depth in their final minutes; imagine how much more moving their deaths might have been if they’d been treated as real people. True Blood‘s supporting cast is its greatest strength, so it’s doubly frustrating when the writers waste and mishandle characters.

Anyway, Jason’s horrified to realize that he killed an innocent man, but Andy takes the gun, sends him away, and tells everyone that Eggs confessed to murder before attacking him. Tara is devastated.

Sam tracks down his adoptive parents, who apparently kicked him out when they saw their boy changing into a puppy. Sam wants to know where to find his biological parents, but his mom warns him not to try. “They are bad, bad people,” she says. Finally, he manages to extract names and an address from his bedridden father.

Finally, Bill takes Sookie out to a fancy restaurant. The place is empty—he’s rented the entire building for their special night together. Sookie’s sort of confused until Bill pulls out a ring and proposes. Aww, Bill. Sookie doesn’t know what to say, and is so flustered that she runs off to the restroom to compose herself. While she’s away, a mysterious pair of hands attacks Bill with a silver garrotte. Sookie emerges from the restroom crying “Yes! Yes, I will marry you, Bill Compton!” but Vampire Bill is nowhere to be seen. Credits roll.

Taken on its own, I thought the finale was fantastic, a considerable step up from last season’s ending. The end of the Maryann arc was as raw and weird as it needed to be, and the first steps along the way of next year’s story were exciting. But the finale was also shaped by poor season-wide decisions that kept the show from real greatness, and it’s not hard to understand why some folks felt underwhelmed.

In interviews, Alan Ball has stated that the writers very deliberately split the characters up into isolated groups of two and three. This was a terrible idea, and they must know it—Ball has said that they won’t be doing the same thing for Season 3. True Blood is an ensemble piece, and hacking apart your ensemble is just plain dumb. It also makes it extra-obvious when you don’t know what to do with half of your characters. As I mentioned before, Daphne and Eggs were never allowed to transcend their plotty purposes. Tara and Lafayette seemed prepared for major roles at the beginning of this season, and were quickly left to serve as plot coupons or to tread water in the background. (That the writers were clearly least certain of what to do with their black characters is both troubling and difficult not to notice; hopefully this’ll change quickly next year.) Eric, foregrounded more and more as the season wore on, played literally no role whatsoever in the finale, to the dismay of his many fans. Ultimately, this mix of broad structural wonkiness, strange pacing, and lazy character development was at the root of most flaws in any given episode.

There was a lot to love about Season 2, and it certainly retained all of True Blood‘s peculiar charms. There were many moments of genuine emotional power, and many moments of awesome, staggering weirdness. The Jessica-Hoyt romance was a piece of brilliance, every actor acquitted him- or herself wonderfully, and Bon Temps remained beautiful to behold. True Blood remained one of the very best shows on TV, but it was also deeply uneven, a juggling act much clumsier in its second performance. Not quite a sophomore slump, but Ball and company are capable of better, and this flawed show makes me all the more eager to see the bizarre beauty I know they can achieve.

Episode Grade: 8 out of 10

Season Grade: 7.5 out of 10

eric-newEric Gregory spends too much time writing and hiding from the light. His stories have recently appeared (or are forthcoming) in Interzone, Black Static, Strange Horizons, Apex Book Company’s The Blackness Within, and other cool venues.

He blogs semi-regularly about books, writing, food, and sundry.

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