Gratuitous Slave Imagery, Hobbit-Troll-Vampires & Team Jesus: Roundtable for True Blood S03E05

Hosted by Thea Lim, featuring Tami Winfrey Harris, Joseph Lamour and Andrea Plaid

The cable gods stopped Latoya from joining us this week, but she promises to rant from the comments section.

Thea: Praise be that this episode was plot heavy, and not as violence-against-women heavy as last episode. I have to say this is the first episode I have enjoyed in a while. Damn you True Blood, for having that once in a while alluring episode that keeps me viewing through the shlock!

Ok, but obviously first things first: dear lord, whose idea was it to have the black woman fleeing a white Southern mansion in a Sojourner Truth outfit then get mauled by a dog (ok it was a werewolf, but it looked like a dog)? Do we buy that that was not a slavery reference – could the writers really be that culturally tone deaf (to their own damn culture!) to not see the significance of that image? And if they did see the significance of that image, why on earth drop it casually into an episode (and show) that has nothing to do with American slavery?

Joe: Ah Thea, you forget, southern black woman running away from an opulent mansion, hungry, barefoot AND bound with rope. Oh yeah, and being chased by animals.

Thea: Ugh.

Andrea: And I thought for two seconds that Cooter was going to rape her once he pushed her on the grass. Just. Too. Much.

Joe: Two of my white friends, (one who’s southern by the way) both said to me after the episode “When we saw Tara ‘running for freedom’, we basically did a double take.” Surely Rutina Wesley must of said something. Right? The writers absolutely have to know what that looks like.

Tami: Could be because I’m currently reading Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, about enslaved black women forced into relationships with their southern slave masters, but that was some seriously loaded imagery. I can’t imagine the director and editors of this episode didn’t see what was clear to nearly every commenter in cyberspace.

Andrea: It’s like what Mollena said about the Ciara/Justin Timberlake interracial BDSM-y video, that moment, IMO, was a cheat precisely because the writers knew the imagery was loaded.

Tami: Also disturbing was the naked disdain everyone at Chez Edgington had for Tara. I understand that vampires view humans as insignificant, but what was up with that “dusky little blood beast” stuff from Talbot? Again, contrast this treatment to the way Sookie moves in the vamp domain. Yes, she has sometimes been ignored and condescended to, but never spoken to like a dog. “Who’s a pretty girl?”

Andrea: Tami, I wanted to knee-kick Talbot in the chin for mock-cooing at Tara like that. And saying that while Tara was getting tied up by her abuser did not sit well with me at all. But I’m going to give Tara props for the deadly side-eye she gives to Talbot while he came at her like that. I think, if Franklin wasn’t tying her up, Tara would’ve delivered a knee-kick herself, vampire strength or not.

What capped off the residents’/guests’ contempt for me was the double throat-chop of Bill flat-out rejecting to help Tara when she needed him (yes, I know he couldn’t do anything because he had to continue his increasingly complicated ploy with Russell et. al., but he dropped that rather conveniently when he heard ol’ Sookie might have been sexing up Alcide) and Lorena’s white-lady-of-the-manor-tinged comment of “Nobody wants her.” After the fact that she (and Bill and Russell) just finished killing an “ethnic” sex worker. In front of the vampire who (abusively) feels the exact opposite (ostenibly) about Tara. Why didn’t Franklin get up in her face the way he got up in Talbot’s? I really want to see Sookie’s reaction when Tara tells her what Bill did to her….though I think it probably wouldn’t matter to Sookie.

Thea: I’m actually really confused at this point as to what exactly Bill’s complicated ploy is. He is pretending to be on Russell’s side and disavow Sophie Anne and break up with Sookie because…?

Andrea: See, the ploy’s so complicated that no one understands it. Thea, you gotta go with the cleverness Alan Ball is laying down, homie! :-D

Kidding! Let me see if I can even understand what the hell Bill’s supposed to be doing: I think it boils down to Bill trying to get away from Russell the best way he can. So, he denounces his fealty to Sophie Ann (per vampire protocol, I’m thinking) and is pledging it to Russell with the added delicacy of throwing Eric and Sophie Ann under the bus in exchange for “getting rid” of Lorena so he can continue his mainstreaming by having a life with Sookie. But, in order to convince Russell he’s on his side and have Lorena think he hasn’t signed off on her death, he had to convince them he no longer loves Sookie. (Wow, those years of watching soap operas sorta paid off…)

Thea: Aha! Thanks Andrea! You are both a pop culture warrior and a master of soap opera literacy.

Thea: I was however, thrilled to see some depth to Tara’s character for the first time in as long as I can remember. The way she changes her tactics with Franklin to try and play along with his game was a surprise (it’s rare that this character tries the subtle approach) and also finally shows that she is in an effing serious situation and the viewer should have some compassion for her…even though there were still several moments in her captivity played for comedic effect. Look how fast I can text motherfucker!

I have to say that I do not care for this Franklin storyline (yes Andrea, even though it gives us James Frain…). On the one hand I like the way it gives Tara a new backdrop and provides opportunities for us to see her character in more depth…something that we’ve definitely been crying for, for ages. But on the other hand, I am so sick of seeing the violence against this woman. I like the way they are showing Tara’s resourcefulness, and I like the way we are meant to root for her (for once), but I don’t want to see her tied up or duct taped or starved anymore.

Contrast that to Sookie, who no one tells what to do, ever.

Tami: I was so happy to see Tara get some spark back…to see her actively attempting to manipulate her captor. I hate that TB is forcing us to feel so ambivalent about her situation. She is in serious peril, but reminders of that are outweighed by campiness. James Frain (hubba) is an awesome character actor who has made Franklin a fan favorite. I’m spotting lots of “Franklin, I’ll be your vampire bride” comments and folks on HBO’s TB boards are calling for him to become a recurring character. I like the character. He’s fun. Problem is, as I mentioned last week, while we fawn over this witty, cracked, speed-texting, weird-sexy vampire, it’s easy to forget the woman he’s keeping bound and gagged, as well as the creepy messages about what constitutes a consensual relationship.

Andrea: See, folks on the True Blood boards got it twisted–I want to be James Frain’s future bride (respect to his lovely present wife, but you know… ;-)), but I just couldn’t be Franklin’s vampire bride. Even when Frain’s bringing the camp and the swagger to his character, I can’t bring myself to even laugh with/at his antics. Franklin is so completely textbook abusive that I just watch him with wide-eyed terror. I really want him to meet his demise, preferably by Tara’s hands. Perhaps then I’ll laugh in relief that Tara got away from him. Then she can go kick Bill’s ass. Then I’ll laugh in joy.

In the meantime, I see Tara’s maneuverings as someone who’s dealt with years and years of deeply dysfunctional people and learning how to placate them to avoid further abuse (i.e. her mom). She also reminds me of so many women who become malleable in order to get out of sexually violent situations, such as the masseuse who came forward with the allegations against Al Gore. Very, very classic survivor’s behavior.

Joe: Tara cannot catch a break, can she? Day Lilies? I thought vampires were intelligent. Or were they just showing how indifferent they were to her even being there?

As your resident Charlaine Harris shaman, Sookie is going to eventually go through some horrible stuff, and Tara is going to be the one with a virtually pleasant life. That is, if they go by the books. Here’s hopin’.

Tami: Joe, I think chances are slim that AB will give TB Tara book Tara’s happy ending. Tara and Sam seem to be the characters he loves to abuse.

Thea: Sidebar: did anyone notice the way that, in the first few frames of the show, Lorena came in toying with a sequined bra, and Russell had glitter all over his face? Geddit? They had just murdered a stripper!…So that’s a fairly callous way to deal with the brutal death of an innocent woman.

Joe: I think we’re supposed to hate these characters, and I hope what eventually happens to some of these vamps in the books happens to them on this show as well. I’m mostly referring to Lorena, even though I dig Mariana Klaveno (as an actress) so much. Same thing goes for Bill.

Thea: But to be less “True Blood I Hate You”, I was completely swooning all over the television when Lafayette (finally!) got his love interest. Hearts! So cute! I think this is the first love match-up on this show that hasn’t got me screwing up my grinch face. Like when Laffy says to Jesus, “…but I saw you.” Swoon! Swoon! Except that Jesus was a little pushy with the “I’ll just hang around your work for 9 hours bit.” In any case I really hope this pans out well for Laffy…sigh.

Joe: I was like, I wish someone would wait around for me like that for nine hours just for the joy of my countenance. Laffy deserves this.

Tami: I squeed at Jesus and Lafayette, but what is up with TB always trying to spin creepy behavior as romantic? I don’t care how hot Kevin Alejandro is, camping out at someone’s job for nine hours? That ain’t cute. His ass would be getting the serious side-eye from me.

Andrea: I’m all on Team Jesus, nine hours waiting for Lafayette notwithstanding. Jesus approached Lafayette as an adult and, with that, is winning Lafayette’s fortressed heart. And I could see that Laffy appreciated that, considering that most of the relationships he has are wildly one-sided because they’re based on using or abuse or some other unhealthiness. I think Ball and Co. should have webisode of Jesus offering flirtation tips. And I glad Ball and Co. aren’t stereotyping Jesus as the “Latin Lover,” but as a Latino who only has eyes for Laffy.

On a larger level, I’m glad to see gay male relationships treated rather respectfully on this show. For all the bullshittery Talbot and Russell have around race and gender, I can also tell they have a genuine old-couple affection for each other (with some hints at polyamory). And Lafayette and Jesus just burn the screen with their combining sexiness for each other. And I’m glad to see two men of color getting all romantic-like, especially two men coming from communities stereotyped as being soooooo much more homophobic than others.

Tami: It will be interesting to see whether, when Jesus and Lafayette get down to bizness, if Ball maintains the eroticism that has accompanied previous hetero sex scenes. And will he allow the tenderness displayed in Sookie/Bill or early Tara/Eggs couplings? If so, it will really be groundbreaking. Also…hot.

Thea: I was yelling “blah blah blah” at the Jason-Crystal love scenes…another sweet blonde nymph. How delightful. I am hoping that she turns into some kind of vicious supernatural creature. Like maybe a troll. Or a hobbit.

Joe: Cough*youmayberight*cough*cough*

Andrea: Or a hobbit-troll-vampire.

Tami: I do not like the Jason Stackhouse character. I do not like him as a cop. I do not like him at Jesus Camp. I do not care for his buff simpleton persona. He is boring. He can disappear and take his random twee little love interest with him. I know where this storyline is going and it is not going to make Jason any more interesting.

Andrea: I don’t like Jason Stackhouse with a mouse or a boat with a goat, either, Tami. He cannot serve me, Tam-I-Am, ‘cause he’s just too stupid. Damn! ::Throws green eggs and ham at Jason::

Thea: Mandatory link-True-Blood-to-Twilight-to-tease-Tami comment: are Alan Ball etc gunning for a werewolf-vampire-human love triangle with Alcide, Bill and Sookie? Who has nicer abs, Alcide or Jacob? Team Alcide!

Joe: Anyone who isn’t team Alicide hasn’t seen this. Or this.

Tami: Thea, you have been warned…

Team Alcide all the way! I like my supes grown and sexy. Sparkles are for kids.

Andrea: Dunno, Tami. I’m starting to think Alcide is this show’s Jacob, the way every show has him shirtless in instances that have me thinking, “Really? Did that really require shirtlessness?” That said, I’m alllllllll on Team Alcide. The actor looks like he does a day of lumberjack work, runs home to shower, and is just dabbing the last drops of water before he reports to the True Blood set. More than that, I can appreciate the character’s big ol’ heart-on-his-sleeve-ness. If I was Sookie, I’d go with Alcide instead of Bill’s traitorous ass. Better yet, I think Tara and Alcide would be a cool couple. Their honesty would smooth out each other’s edges, and Tara deserves someone who would cherish her without putting her in Freedom Gowns….not even as a wedding dress.

Thea: I suspect our roundtable has been neglecting Kenya. What are our general thoughts on her? I like how she was talking about red mulch this episode. (Big ups to the woman gardeners of colour!) After last week’s roundtable some of our commenters were disappointed that we didn’t mention her “all you need to do is shoot a black man to get promoted” comment. For me, that comment came to close on the heels of the Oscar Grant verdict to be funny. In any case it would be nice if she got a larger role. She is an interesting character, and she is markedly different from any of the other woman characters on the show. I’m glad that the writers had the decency to include at least one woman character on the show who is not flighty and easy prey to macho charm.

Tami: I can’t get excited about Kenya, because “tough, black lady cop” is such a television cliche–another illustration of the strong, asexual black woman stereotype. If they give Kenya some dimension, I’ll applaud.

Thea: I agreed with what commenter karinova said last week in response to Kenya’s “you have to shoot a black man” to get ahead comment:

I got the sense that while the writers just barely grok these things they scratched the surface of, they can pat themselves on the back for “including” them in the form of that bit of “realistic” (yet humorous!) dialogue— and maybe some viewers can, too, for “getting” it— but I just don’t feel like it did the Kenya character any favors. Somehow, it didn’t make her realer. She managed to come off sassy (with her eye-rolling one-liner), angry (she always seems ticked), racially oversensitive, and hard (aww, c’mon: poor Andy!), all at the same time.

As with some of the one-liners dropped by Tara and Lafayette, often the characters of colour on TB are given so-called “fight the power” speeches as a way of making the show look much more progressive than it is. I would like for Kenya to be able to transcend the role of “TB’s black friend who makes us look less racist” – but I’m not super hopeful that she will, seeing how she fulfills those stereotypes you speak of, Tami.

Tami: I find it interesting when I spot photos and interviews with TB’s actors of color. (Tara, Kenya, Lafayette and Lettie Mae) Their characters can feel so flat , such caricatures of blackness, that seeing them as people with multiple dimensions feels strange. I don’t feel the same way when I see Stephen Moyer or Anna Paquin or Alexander Skarsgaard outside of the show.

Andrea: Hmmm…I completely feel what you’re saying about Kenya. But I do like how she handled Jason’s self-entitled white-boy privilege in this episode with a succinct looking away and eyeroll and treating him like the unqualified underling that he is. I think she perfectly crystallized the sentiments several PoCs who’ve dealt with similar types of people in the workplace. Beyond that, Kenya’s aiight. I want her to solve the case of Tara going missing and whup Franklin’s ass for taking her.

Thea: And open mic! Terry moves in with Arlene! Jason’s abs get an entire scene to themselves! Eric is given a dripping-with-pathos backstory! And, praise the Lord, Sookie develops physical powers! Also, this Sam adoption storyline is bonkers. I prefer Sam when he is not cherchez-ing la femme.

Joe: Remember last season, Sookie experienced the same sort of power burst prompting the Maenad to say “What are you?”. Truth is, I think only Alan Ball does since that definitely didn’t happen in the books. But if you’ve read them, you get a hint (well, more than a hint) to her family’s back story.

Tami: Can I just say that I loves me some Terry Belfleur? He’s such a sweetie. His teary happiness at finding a family (albeit with Arlene) was cute.

So, what do we think is the deal with Pa Mickens? I think he’s been dog fighting his pit bull-shifting son. Remember all those wounds Tommy had in the second ep? I’m annoyed that the show seems to be hinting at incest. It seems like a cheap ploy, not to mention that it trivializes abuse.

Thea: Good lord! Incest? I didn’t pick up on that at all. How low can you go? The idea of dog fighting…that’s sick. I’m trying to figure out what it could be that keeps Tommy fused to his dad – something they both benefit from? I like how this is showing another side to Sam’s character, other than his sad-ass-follow-Sookie-around face.

Andrea: I initially read Pa Mickens–the deities only know why–as a vampire or some other supernatural being who has the ability to “own” like vampires, the way he was carrying on about owning Tommy. I sort of wonder if Joe is a shapeshifter himself. I know Sam picked up on a jacked-up vibe from the father. I can also easily see Joe being a dog fighter and using Tommy’s ability to get money to fuel his addiction–in essence, prostituting his own son.

On a larger level, Ball and Co. is really making their collective contempt for poor whites quite glowing, from Arlene’s exchange with Jessica to the Mickens’ existences on this show. The hinting at incest/abuse adds to that nastiness. Compared to this, the way True Blood handles issues about race (if not racism) looks rather sophisticated…which really isn’t saying too much, is it?