“If You Throw a Punch, You’re One of Us”: The True Blood Round Table for Episode 2

Hosted by Latoya Peterson, featuring Tami Winfrey Harris, Andrea Plaid, and special guest Joseph Lamour

Lafayette

Note: Thea’s on vacation this week, so we added in friend of the blog Joseph Lamour to provide a fourth member of the side eye crew. As always, spoilers ahead. – LDP


Okay, first off – where are the rest of the non white folks in the South? So far, we have Tara, Lafayette, one vamp, the fake healer, a few one scene extras, and now a bouncer.

Tami: True Blood suffers from a case of “Hollywood diversity,” where you throw in a few people of color to give the appearance of diversity, but not “too many,” which might turn off mainstream (read: white) audiences whom you assume to be uncomfortable with “the other” (read: non-white people). This is important even if you are portraying a real place (NYC) or a fictional town in a real place (Bon Temps, La.) where there are, in reality, lots of people of color.

Andrea:
I’m guessing that Alan Ball and the other TB creatives figured that they could get away with such a thing because Bon Temps is a fictional place. If we ain’t heard of it, goes the thinking, who’s going to question the racial demographics of the town? (Now, why folks thought that thinking would play in a real-life place like New York City is beyond me, beyond some wish-fulfillment fantasy.) But, to me, Ball and Co. sorta play hide-and-seek with the town’s Black community, specifically: as someone pointed out to me, a larger community was glanced at during a college party in town a couple of seasons back. Also, a Twitter cohort and I, in discussing this very same issue, said another big hint was the church Tara’s mom attended, which my tweetpal said seems to be the church where the elders and the missing Bon Temps Black folks go. Also, the TB creatives forgot one vital clue as to why we even get to ask this question: Tara’s hair. Miss Gurl’s braids are tight every blessed week. She’s getting them done by somebody in that town, amirite?

Joe: At the very least, why isn’t there more diversity in the extras? True Blood does indeed suffer from a white-washed tableau of the modern south, and the most characters of color happen to be related. I bet the bouncer will somehow turn out to be related to Tara and Laffy (a distant cousin, perhaps). Wouldn’t you expect the humans to at least be a little, I don’t know, tan in so southern a place, even if they are white? I mean, Jason works all day in the sun, doesn’t he?

Andrea: Joe, now….that would be too much like right.

Can we talk about Tara for a moment? How does she always manage to sleep with the psychopaths (literally and figuratively)? I know I wasn’t the only one wondering how Tara managed to fight off Maryanne time and time again, yet still fall for this regular ass vampire glamouring….

Tami: My assessment of the Tara/Franklin situation is greatly colored by James Frain’s freaky sexiness. I’m going to enjoy it–weirdness aside. That said, I’d really like Tara to get some normal lovin’ on this show. I think it would be intriguing to re-explore the Sam/Tara relationship. They are both appear to be good people with difficult pasts. The characters/actors have solid chemistry. I doubt this will happen, though. As one of the show’s main male characters, Sam must carry a torch for darling “Sookeh!” like every other heterosexual male in town.

Andrea: Hmmmm…ya know, I ain’t gonna lie. That sex scene with Tara and Franklin? That gets four out of five vibrators from me with a side of “daaaaaaaayuuuuuuuum!” However, when Tara asked Franklin why he wouldn’t bite her and he said “Because you want me to,” my panties dried out real quick and my own inner Lafayette came out with, “Hooker, please!” What was he tryna say? If she didn’t want it, Franklin would’ve happily neck-holed Tara? At that point–and I’m gonna borrow a phrase from our Roundtable homie Thea–Frain’s Franklin became awfully rapey to me. His glamouring Tara in order to get into her and Sookie’s home (and back into her panties, I’m guessing) solidified that. But then, that has always been the ur-text of vampires since the creatures came into pop culture, hasn’t it?

But, Tami, I’m not sure if Tara going back to Sam would be a solution, either. Though he was the most solid of the dudes she sexed with, he was a bit flaky with her due to his Sookie torch. I’m thinking Tara may need some…..John Cho Glow!

Joe: Tara has completely fallen off the edge of an emotional cliff this season. Her boyfriend being killed was really the last straw in a long line of effed up things to happen in her life. As someone who’s read the books, the character of Tara doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to picking out men. But, for a second there, it looked like they were making Franklin out to be a sort of vamp Casanova. (I wonder if the script during that sex scene read “Tara rolls back her eyes exorcist-style”). I do agree, Andrea, that Franklin gave a taste of his true character when he wouldn’t bite Tara. I’m a little frightened at Tara’s outlook, especially with her best friend in Mississippi for the foreseeable future.

Tami: I hear you, Andrea. (See my comments below.) This episode had disgusting levels of manipulation and violence against women. And the “Because you want me to” line was clearly not just a bedroom tease.

And how could I forget that Sam was making eyes at Sookie whilst hooking up with Tara on the downlow? I remember thinking that was particularly vile at the time.

In the meantime, let us please reflect for a moment on Lafayette’s flyness. This ep was light on Laffy, but what did you all think about the evolution of his character?

Tami: In spite of my previous complaints of stereotyped black characters on this show, I can’t help but love Lafayette and Nelsan Ellis’ portrayal of the character. I like the way Ellis imbues even the tiniest of actions and the shortest of lines with…Lafayetteness. Take, for instance, the scene where he walks out of his house to find Eric sitting outside in a shiny, new convertible. His look of apprehension coupled with a mumbled “This motherfucker…” was exquisite.

Speaking of stereotypes, Alan Ball has always afforded Lafayette some nuance and humanity, but I appreciate getting a little background in the last episode on why the character deals drugs and pimps himself. That doesn’t totally absolve the show for having the only black men in town be murderers or street pharmaceutical salesmen, but it does add more shades of grey to the black-and-white of one character.

Joe: Fabulous saffron robes aside, it grates me to no end the naïveté of the human characters in the True Blood universe. When a vampire gives you a convertible, you say “Thank You”. Eric could simply rip your head off at any moment! It’s not like the supernatural hold humans in any regard other than employees, sex objects and minions. So why would Eric ever speak of his motivation for suddenly being nice? I do admire, however, how Laffy speaks his mind, no matter what the situation. While in shiny satin, no less.

Andrea: I completely see where you’re coming from,Tami and Joe–and yes, Laffy’s even growing on me with his witty ass–but I’m also getting the feeling, watching the reactions to him on places like Twitter, that Lafayette is becoming the PoC version of Wil & Grace’s Jack, the Sassy Gay Friend that some non-gay PoCs can imagine they’d feel comfy with vis-a-vis his being a fictional character in a fictional town far, far away. The fact that Lafayette’s played by a straight Black man may get kudos from some quarters for being brave in the face of possible typecasting, but I think some real-life gay men may take umbrage with this “best friend” construction of their daily lives, which doesn’t exist just for non-gay PoC consumption or imaginings.

Joe: Way to make me come out in round table already, Andrea. :) Joking. But as a gay man of color, it seems to me Lafayette seems to portray how a lot of gays would act in the face of such latent and sometimes not so latent bigotry. Remember the burger incident from season 1? I think I applauded. I don’t think I’d be able to come up with a great response so quickly, but at the very least I would wish I had said it. Jesus Velasquez (portrayed by Kevin Alejandro) is long rumored to be a love interest for Laffy, and it appears his sassy is a little bit more subdued. It will be interesting to see how they treat his character in that regard.

Andrea: I apologize for that, Joe.

Joe: No harm, no foul :)

Sam’s family is an interesting exploration of class dynamics that is one of the underlying themes in the series. While some things are played for jokes (Miken’s chicken and chiltlins?) What are your thoughts on what his fam is supposed to represent?

Joe: I do appreciate that his mother seems to have the most sense (however minuscule) in Sam’s new family. His father seems a whole big pile o’ mess. And not to bring up the most horrifying moment so far in True Blood (and maybe television) history, but I want so badly for Sam to twist his little brother’s head around in much the same way that Bill did Lorena’s. Real talk: Can someone, anyone, give little Tommy Pickens the comeuppance he so richly deserves? Seemingly every sentence out of that boy’s mouth is in defiance to his brother. We get it, Tommy, you don’t like him. I’d love to be shown why. Is he jealous of Sam’s independence? Perhaps. I think on another level he’s scared that Sam is taking away some of the attention. It’s kind of like baby sibling syndrome, in a way.

Tami: I’m not sure that I see the Mickens as that different from the rest of Bon Temps in terms of class. True Blood does take place in a generally working class/poor town–from the looks of it–which is interesting, because you don’t often see main characters on TV living in trailers and dilapidated old country houses. The difference between Sam and his bio family is that they appear to be grifters.

In fact, now that I think about it, it is actually interesting that True Blood shows some complexity in the way they portray the working class/poor. I mean, many a show has used folks like the Mickens as stand ins for (trashy) poor, backwoods folk. But I imagine most of the human characters on this show are working poor (You don’t get rich as a part-time short order cook and seasonal road crew guy with no health insurance and a mother in an institution) and they are given portrayals generally reserved for the middle and upper classes.

Also re: the Mickens–I’m gonna need Pa Mickens to purchase some clean undies, or, better yet, wear some trousers. Out of all the shit that happens every week on True Blood, it is the sight of Joe Lee in his dingy draws that makes me turn away in disgust.

Andrea: Oh snap, Tami! Truuuuuuuuuuuuuue! I about died with Sam when he walked through the door and had to behold that scene. Racialicizens may want to argue with me that Joe Mickens was in the privacy of his home and Sam barged in and he’s got his constitutional rights to lounge in his dirty draws and thangs, but I’m going to say that the man, out of social courtesy, could have gotten his behind up and put on some pants. We know that, considering the subsequent scene of the fam visiting Sam at Merlotte’s, the man owns a pair.

Joe: I just wanted Sam and Tommy to shapeshift and get into a dog-fight and have Sam whup Tommy’s whiny, whippersnapper ass but good just to shut him up.

Tami: Andrea, don’t forget the gratuitous penis tug, Joe Lee does as he rouses himself from the couch to greet Sam. I was too through after that.

Andrea: Gurl, damn near choked myself, I clutched my pearls so hard. Let me become a SCOTUS justice–I’ma write all kinds of amendments against that man-mess. :-D

Seriously, though, let me get back to a point you made about the Mickens and working class/poor people in Bon Temps: I agree that many of the human citizens in the town seem to be of that socio-economic group. But, having lived in a town similarly stratified as Bon Temps, I think the Mickens are supposed to be construed as the town’s “poor white trash” and, therefore, unsympathetic, by their behaviors: the mom giving Sam away without “looking into” the Merlottes; the father’s alcoholism and “crude” behavior of lounging in his unclean drawers and picking them out of his, ahem, pubic area and well as bringing out all the shots on a tray; the uncleaned home; Tommy being a “backyard mechanic” and resentful of Sam’s “better” life via getting adopted and getting a better education. The way the characters are constructed, we are supposed to feel a sigh of relief that, even though Sam had a rough life, his life would have so much worse living with such “uncouth”–or “classless”–folks. By extension, the Mickens’ existence makes nearly everyone else in Bon Temps, by comparison, middle class behavior-wise.

How do you feel about Tara and Sookie’s friendship, particularly post graveyard scene?

Tami: While True Blood established through flashbacks Sookie and Tara’s long friendship, I.m not sure I always feel the strength of their friendship in the present. It’s little things like how they sometimes seem so harsh with each other at times when compassion is needed. Friends fight–sometimes brutally–but they seem really extra sometimes.

Sookie, in general, rarely seems like a good friend, sister, employee, girlfriend, etc. She has an annoying way of making most everything about her and her needs.

Joe: Have you ever heard of the truism “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. When you figure out which it is, you know what to do.”? I think Tara and Sookie never think fondly of each other for more than an episode. I’m pretty sure they’re going to be in it for the long haul, but they bicker like Marcia and Jan. In spite of all of that, I do like that Tara and Sookie’s friendship withstood another test. It’s quite sweet that Sookie would use the money Eric gave her to pay for the funeral of someone she didn’t much trust, but that her friend loved. We all have that friend that we can’t stay mad at. Although, I still wonder why Tara felt the need to be mad at her bestie in the first place. Basically, I’d really like to rediscover why they’re friends at all.

Andrea: But there’s a dynamic with them that I find off-balance: Sookie has the power to make Tara literally homeless, as she did when she kicked Tara out of the house for becoming physically violent with her for what Tara perceived to be Sookie’s role in Egg’s being killed. Yes, Sookie was mostly definitely justified in having Tara removed at that moment but, because of what you pointed out, Joe, about their seeming to not like each other beyond an episode, the friendship doesn’t seemed based on equals or affection, but rescuer/rescuee–Sookie and her fam always as the former, Tara as the latter (except for Jason’s V-induced erection incident). Makes me wonder if Sookie’s going to kick Tara out for having Franklin in the house and spilling the beans about Bill.

There has been a lot of dreaming this season. What do you think Alan Ball and the other writers are trying to accomplish with all these dream sequences?

Tami: My assumption has been that the dream sequences provide background and context not as easily conveyed on screen as in the books. The narrative does become complicated with new supernatural creatures with various back stories and “rules” to follow, not to mention the lives of the core group in Bon Temps. Seeing Bill’s flashback to the scene with Lorena, his wife and dead son gave us shorthand into his character and his future decisions and actions.

Joe: The friends I was watching this week’s episode with made a great point. Can vampires even dream? Which makes me wonder: even if they can, can they interrupt it by waking up in the middle of their slumber, all atwitter about painful memories of times past? I thought vampires slept like rocks. Alan Ball seems to be using the dream as a plot device, when really a well placed gaze out a window would suffice.

Tami: Okay, not race related, but did anyone else feel uncomfortable about the manipulation and violence directed toward women in this episode? Shakesville had a good post on the gender aspect of True Blood around the premiere. Many aspects of the show that would read as sexism elsewhere do not bother me as I think the vampire narrative gives them different context. But last night felt heavy with Franklin’s sexual sadism; his manipulation of Jessica and Tara; the were biker’s near attack of Sookie; and, most of all, Bill’s hate fucking of Lorena, during which he twisted her head around backwards so he wouldn’t have to look at her. Add to that the fact that Bill, our “hero,” wanted to rape Lorena to punish her, but was frustrated by her actually wanting to have sex with him. Something felt particularly hateful last night. I didn’t like it.

Joe: The only thing I really have to say in that regard about this particular episode, is that in a show full of excess, the last sex scene managed to be excessive.

Andrea: Yep, Tami and Joe, that last scene between Bill and his maker was waaaaaaaaaaaay too rapey for me to the point I damn near started triggering. It’s the fucked-up sleight of hand that Sut Jhally and other cultural critics, especially feminist ones, talk about rape as the ultimate surrender, that a rape really is never rape because the victim will always, ultimately say yes–the perpetrator just has to “do it” violently or coercively enough to make it so. Thus, goes the thinking, rape is really just bad, bad hate sex. (Another example of this: Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, between Greer and Nola.) Alan Ball and company created the perfect rape-culture fantasy [Sunday] night. Shake my damn head.

Tami: Did anyone see Slate’s article [Monday] on how TB is “reinventing sex?”

Andrea: Yep, just read it. And…no, True Blood isn’t reinventing sex to me so much as making rape sexier–it should sounds oxymoronic, but considering the culture we live in, it’s a disturbingly logical conclusion. But again, this–and in only this do I agree with the Slate piece–is the ur-text of the vampire myth.