Frenemies, Magical Negroes & Biscuits: True Blood S03E07

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

Dearest Commenters, please refrain from sharing spoilers that come from the books. Feel free to talk openly about anything that has been already aired, but don’t share storylines from the books that have not yet made their way into the show, just for the sake of fans of the TV show who haven’t read the books.

Tara Would Never Turn Her Back on Her Friend

Thea: Once again Tara saves the day by kicking Bill in the face. Ok, maybe it was the arm but I like to think it was the face.

You know, as much as I don’t really mind Bill, I was like “yeeah!” when Tara did that, just because it moved the plot forward in a non-simpering way. I also really like this Getting Shit Done version of Tara. I do NOT care for the way we keep getting scenes with Tara telling Sookie how Bill betrayed her, and Sookie screaming “wahh wahh two wrongs don’t make a right.” Is the idea that an aggregation of these scenes will give the viewer closure for what Bill did to Tara? I think not. It’s infuriating.

I really dislike the way that Sookie is written. I believe (though I could be wrong) that her heartlessness towards Tara (while she accuses Tara of being insensitive) is not so much built into the character herself, but more the product of TB’s writers’ inability to write women who aren’t shallow and self-centered. For example, the only way that Sookie can think of to distract Debbie is by screaming? Can you be any more Damsel in Distress? C’mon.

Andrea: My eyes rolled when she did that. But–as y’all know–I’ve disliked the way Sookie’s been written and portrayed since I started watching this show. She becomes brattier and brattier as each week passes. Her reaction to what Tara expresses about Bill turning his back on her simply fortifies my opinion of her. As Tami rightfully pointed out last week, this is childishness masquerading as sassiness….which, as Sookie proves, has a tendency to curdle into said temper-tantrum throwing state.

I mean, Tara is supposed to be Sookie’s homegurl from back in the day, right? It would seem to me that Sookie could have at least paused when Tara told her what happened just to acknowledge that her dearest friend not only has gone through some atrocious shit but that the shit was exacerbated by her man. And that Tara still–still!–helps Bill out because Tara knows how much Bill matters to Sookie, then even kicks her man’s ass for almost killing Sookie. On the other hand, Sookie “not leaving without Bill” almost gets her supposed bestie Tara (not to mention her protector Alcide) killed. And that doesn’t register anything in Sookie but “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Again, Tara keeps proving she’s the better friend. I just think Tara needs better friends….like Alcide, who at least gave her the space to “relax” (and Tara nearly starts crying, which is a beautiful acting moment by Rutina Wesley) and put his arm around her when the doctor told Tara about Sookie’s condition and that Tara had to notify Jason’s dumb ass. Alcide barely knows Tara and still knows how to act like a friend.

Latoya: Yes, this episode was full of friendship fail.

I’m going to wash my brain out:

She would never turn her back on a friend/she is always there to defend/she is the one on who we can depend…Man, Usgai was a brat too, but she would have never turned her back on her girls (note plural – does Sook have any other female friends?) over Tuxedo Mask. And if for some reason, Tuxedo Mask had left Rei to die, you bet your ass she wouldn’t tell her some “two wrongs don’t make a right” mess.

As a matter of fact:

One of these days, I’m really going to write that piece about Sailor Moon’s pretty soldiers and feminism…

Thea: On the “badly written friendship” tip, it also annoys me the way folks on the show totally ignore each other (don’t call each other when someone goes out of town on a dangerous mission, don’t bring over strudel when someone’s boyfriend got shot in the head…), and then every now and then say things like “you’re all I need.” Like when Jason gets all sentimental over Sookie’s death bed, I was like “Non sequitur!! You never even see them spending time together!!!” This would be realistic (you could just blame it on Jason’s foolishness) if not for the fact that Tara and Sookie’s relationship is exactly the same.

Joe: I tend to think a little more optimistically than most people about Sookie and Tara’s relationship, but she’s wearing me down. At this point I keep hoping Sookie will stop being such a milquetoast with Tara and prove why their friendship exists beyond pure nostalgia and time. Frankly though, we all have that friend who wants to hang (around the clock, no less) while they’re single, but when they’re dating someone they are nowhere to be found. I have the feeling that Sookie is one of those people, and if the preview for the next ep is any indication, Sookie is headed for a single-hood. Or, at the very least a rough patch. Let’s see how Sookie and Tara bond while they’re both single.

Tami: Why exactly are Tara and Sookie friends again? As you all have pointed out, TB’s narrative scarcely explains, other than to note that they were childhood BFFs. It occurs to me that the way the character of Sookie is written, It would not surprise if she had no close female friends. In both book and TV series, she is frightfully self-absorbed and immature. In the books, at least we get to see the character participating in the lives of others, but Ball’s series has so many story lines going that Sookie’s relationships with friends, family and co-workers are reduced to those folks fawning over her very existence and rescuing her when she does something stupid and reckless.

Andrea: I’m with you, Thea. It’s as if the TB creatives are counting on the audience to know the emotive shorthand to respond appropriately–as if saying “you’re all I need” for the corresponding “awwwwww, that’s some lurve!” or to feel all smushy and familial during a sickbed scene. But they fail with me because they don’t set up the situations that would lead the audience to these emotions. That’s may be why, Thea, you were able to call the non sequitor. (I felt the same way.) My favorite part –of the whole ep, really–is when Laffy told Tara and Jason to “stop cussing at her.” Lafayette: keeping it appropriate, y’all.

Lesser Religions and Magical Negroes

Thea: Did anyone catch what Lafayette said about “lesser religions”? I listened to the clip several times but couldn’t catch anything other than “We all is used to lesser religions.” I can’t make head nor tail of that statement.

I liked the Inuit prayer…but it did feel a little appropriative, despite last week’s conversation about the proper way to honour the Orishas. I mean, this is the same show that had three of its characters brutally murder an “ethnic” sex worker a few weeks ago: it has the tendency to make use of people of colour. Or was that truly a shout-out to the power of a politically marginalised culture and its values, and I’m too cynical to see it?

Tami: Thea, it sounded like Laffy said something like “We always use lesser religions to…”

Lafayette’s prayer was a bit too “magical negro” for my tastes. And the use of an (alleged) Inuit prayer just upped the exotification factor. Referring to the spirituality of indigenous people as “lesser religion” is also problematic.

Thea: Yeah, I didn’t understand what he meant by “lesser religions.” Is it that those religions are considered “lesser” by the dominant culture (true), or that they are inherently lesser (untrue)? What about it felt “magical negro” to you?

Andrea: LOL and good call with your Magical Negro reference, Tami. At first, I thought Laffy’s simply a spiritual polyglot, from Tara’s reference to his “juju” to last week’s convo with Jesus about the orishas. (And a polyglot centered around the faith systems of PoCs, which warmed my soul.) But then the prayer over Sookie did put Laffy in a kyriarchal position.

Tami: Thea, from the link above re: magical negro–”He is patient and wise, often dispensing various words of wisdom, and is ‘closer to the earth.’” It just seemed a little much that Lafayette happened to be at his coworker’s bedside spouting ancient indigenous wisdom.

Thea: Blagh. Agreed.

Latoya: Tami, I don’t know about that one. Lafayette refers to a variety of religions throughout the show, and appears to adapt each one to his needs. It’s fairly fluid. I will need to rewind that part about “lesser” back, because the impression I got was Laffy sneered at folks who discounted various types of religion. But, that needs another viewing.

I didn’t see it as magical negro since Laffy is just as likely to curse someone out as he was to offer a prayer. Magical Negroes need a bit more patience for foolishness, methinks.

The Family That Dog Fights Together Stays Together?

Thea: So poll: what do we think about the Mickens’ storyline, which in its supernatural way is dealing with rather earthly theme of chronic abuse? I like the character of Tommy, and how his situation ultimately says that “bad kids” often have pretty serious reasons for being bad. And even though, as Tami pointed out last week, dog fighting is seen as a working class thing and can be a way of villainising poor white people, I do think that the portrait of Ma Mickens goes beyond the caricature of poor white Southern woman that Arlene has fallen into, in that there are nuances to her character.

What I don’t get though, is why Ma Mickens and Tommy have allowed Pa Mickens to dog fight them for so long. It doesn’t appear as if dog fighting is making them big bucks, and considering that they risk death every time they get into the ring, why not get some other low wage job, like working at a grocery store? Why does Tommy hesitate when Sam says he is taking him away from his parents? Is it just that his familial history and abuse history makes it hard for him to leave them? I’m not sure the writing has explained enough what ties these people together. Sam says something to Pa about how he doesn’t know why Ma and Tommy are so afraid of him, and I was like, “yes, I also do not understand this.”

Andrea: Hmmmmm…again, going back to the emotive shortcuts, could it be that what we’re supposed to “know” is that Joe is the abusive alcoholic father who terrorizes his family? And Tommy’s mom is an enabler? And they both prostitute Tommy as a dog for the fights as well as use guilt (“we’ll all starve/be homeless if you don’t fight”) and other forms of unspoken-of abuse in order to keep him fighting?

My big problem with the Mickens storyline is, though they don’t fall into the “bad ol’ Southern bigot” trope (like Arlene), the Mickens still represent the worst of the “white trash” stereotype, in that they’re too stupid/lazy/criminal “to clean themselves up” and take advantage of their white-skinned privileges in order to obtain some material things, like a house and food. (To directly answer your question, Thea: I’m wondering if the parents have such spotty employment and education records that they may not qualify for many low-wage jobs, which also require clean background checks. Also, if they’re living from bout to bout, they may experience the “high” of a big payday if they win the fight, which Joe Micken’s may wind up literally drinking and pissing away.) And, again, this all underscores that we as viewers should not only be happy that Sam got away from these “degenerates,” but we should also congratulate Sam for rescuing his brother from their “irresponsible” poverty.

Joe: For me, the Mickens storyline left too many questions unanswered. Why, pray tell, do they resort to dog fighting when all a full shape-shifter would have to do to get money is to, I don’t know, turn into a bull and storm a Kwik-e-mart? Or, turn into a raccoon and break into homes of the wealthy? Or, turn into a bird and fly away with a bag of money from an armored car? The possibilities are endless. Their solution is dog fighting? They really scraped the bottom of the white-trash-cliche barrel there.

Latoya: Cosign with Joe. I can believe the Micken’s world view is limited, but it’s clear that Tommy knows how to steal (and his mother disagreed with that), and its a bit difficult to wonder why that particular path was appealing.

Tami: I don’t have a problem with Sam distancing himself from his family, who have proven to be grifters and dog-fighters; I have beef with Alan Ball for drawing the Mickens in such a stereotypical and derisive way. They are yet another example of the show’s disdain for poor people and Southerners. [Dammit if we weren’t exposed to Joe Lee’s dingy drawers again. Enough, True Blood!]

And I’m with Joe. Hell, if you have the power to transform from human to any animal you see, you could earn tall cheddar as part of a Vegas show. Why not hop in the trailer and head West? Dog fighting seems like one of the least lucrative options to take.

Andrea: I’m thinking the choices the Mickens have made may be a combination of limited options and making bad choices in light of them. Robbing homes or knocking over convenient stores is bit high-risk for a shapeshifter; doing a Vegas show makes them obvious targets in a universe that’s already bigoted against supernatural beings anyway. In their way of thinking, dog fighting allows them to not be conspicuous (only the dogs may sense they’re dealing with a not-quite-canine entity) and still get some sort of money to (barely) live on. Dog fighting is gambling, and the Mickens are betting that their “dog” will win and win big. Considering the pile of dead dogs from Tommy’s dogfight, they seem to have the stronger fighter. And, there’s a bit of twisted masculinity for Joe in all of this as well, being that dog fighting is seen as the providence of men and Joe can feel manly by bragging that his fighter is the best there is.

Black People Will Always Take Care of You

Thea: I felt like one of the major themes of this episode was “Black people take care of business.” First with Tara carrying Bill by herself (despite the fact that he is her sworn enemy), then kicking Bill out of the van; then with Laffy telling the nurse to leave Jason alone, and generally being the emotional cornerstore for the group in the hospital.

So, on the one hand, it is nice to see a setup where characters of colour are the only ones with the power or sense to pull things together. We could see this as going along with Renee’s argument that growing up marginalised in Bon Temps has made Tara angry – or in this case, more resilient and pragmatic. On the other hand, this falls into old patterns of people of colour (and in American TV and movies, specifically black people) always taking care of white people. I think I could more easily go along with this display of people of colour power, if we saw the white people take care of the POCs sometimes.

Yet that rarely happens on this show, and when it does, it is in nominal spurts that seem to have solely to do with material support (Sookie invites Tara to live with her; Sookie pays for Eggs’ funeral). As well it is worth considering how the show treats the way Tara and Lafayette take care of the white people around them, versus how it treats the way Sookie takes care of Tara. Is the care offered by Tara and Lafayette seen as just something to be expected? Is the care offered by Sookie portrayed as unusually generous? In other words, is it like the real life pattern wherein people of colour are expected to happily take care of white people, while when white people take care of people of colour they expect a medal (and often get one, please see the movie Amazing Grace).

Andrea: Exactly like real life. Hmph.

Tami: Yeah, this episode really highlighted the chasm between the way TB portrays whiteness vs. non-whiteness; white womanhood vs. black womanhood. Sookie, for all her purported sass and spunk, has a perpetual case of the vapors. She’s all tears and screaming. And everyone is moved by this. Everyone is concerned. Everyone rallies to save her, even putting their own lives in jeopardy to do so.

Tara–who we shouldn’t forget had to try to save herself by chewing her way out of restraints like a badger a few week ago–even puts aside that she has been not only held in bondage for the past several days, but also forced to have sex with her captor against her will. But there is no time to reflect on her own pain, cause, y’know, Sookie wants…Sookie needs…

No one, save Alcide, bothers to address Tara, ask where she has been, determine whether she is okay…no one.

Renee also noted in our weekly podcast that while Sookie needs help to move Bill, TB has Tara easily carrying the weight of a grown man.

Andrea: Preach, Tami!

Thea: Well, the V is given as a reason for why Tara can carry Bill on her own – but still, it was aggravating to see the black woman be emotionally strong and also good at physical labour, while the white woman dissolves into tears while asking for help to move a heavy bundle. Both characterisations are narrow, unfair and hurtful to black and white women.

Open Mic!: Bad dialogue, Lorena’s outfits, and Sophie Anne in a cage

Annnnd open mic: Lorena dies just like that, the magister gets beheaded, no sign of Crystal (thanks be for small mercies), no sign of Jesus (I was hoping he would turn up in the hospital in nurses’ crocs, but no such luck), Pam is liberated and Eric continues to wear that sexy sweater.

Andrea: My thought on Lorena’s departure: “Girl, bye!” My favoritest, Pam, is free! She’s free! And Alcide proves he’s mighty and sturdy as an oak, probably because he’s tall and strapping as an oak. :-D Though–perversely enough– I was missing ye olde Franklin…oh wait, he’s off trying to get his head together. Literally.

Joe: Coot! I’ll miss you. They really underutilized Grant Bowler as an actor, and turned him into a V hungry fool. True Blood has a tendency to cast fantastic actors and give them mediocrity.

Also, Alan Ball: Writer of American Beauty. Oscar winner. There is really no excuse for the dialogue in the rococo painting that was Sookie’s (hallucination? alternate reality?) Whatever it was, it was one of the most campy things I’ve seen (and heard!) on True Blood. And that is saying something, considering what we’ve seen in the three seasons of the show.

Latoya: Sigh. Watching this episode gave me sad face for two reasons: (1) once again, the return of vampire women in refrigerators. Are you telling me Lorena can have her head turned around and walk that off, but a severely weakened Bill can hold her hostage with a thin chain of silver? Did you see how many chains were draped around Bill and Pam? And what the fuck was up with putting Sophie Anne in a birdcage (and I’m shocked that it wasn’t gilded, for all the symbolism). Didn’t she threaten to defang Eric last season? Now she’s all pouts and plots. Man, I didn’t even like the Lorena plot, but come on – must all women be damsels in waiting? (Unless they are black women, but that’s been covered above.) How the hell did all these people survive for centuries if they fall to pieces at every little thing?

(2) Wait, Sookie had to discover she was a fairy before she realized fucking with Bill might be a bad idea? See, this is why I read about women with magical powers. Regardless of if they are from the otherworld, witches living with vamps and fairies, or born with tattoo-demons, they all have one thing that I so desperately crave in my heroines: common fucking sense! I don’t know why an extra jolt of strength or the addition of magical powers makes a heroine more likely to weigh her options and think her way out of problems, but I’ll take it. That scene with Sookie screaming after she saw Bill in next week’s preview gave me so much hope. I barely have the patience for one dumb blonde cliche per series, and that title is currently held by Jason Stackhouse. I need Sook to step her mental game up.

Tami: R.I.P., Lorena. I will miss that vamp’s wardrobe. The ruffled blouse she died in was delish!

Andrea, gurl, I missed James Frain, too, but King Russell brought the campiness in his place. I love what Denis O’Hare is doing with this character. He commands the room like a true monarch even next to the tall Swede in the yummy sweater.

Thank God Pammy is safe. Even though Ball made her yet another damsel in distress, she was, at least, one bad-assed damsel. Loved when she said of the Tiffany earrings: “Good. They’ll match my chains.”

Have ya’ll seen any of the early viral advertising for True Blood? In season one, HBO’s marketing department was working overtime, setting up really detailed websites for the Fellowship of the Sun and the American Vampire League, plus loading faux news reports and films to You Tube. I was intrigued to discover the existence of a black vampire king, Vampire Lamar, in the grassroots campaign. Check him out here and in this clip about a supposed vamp march on Washington.

Note how in the second clip he seems to relate violence against vampires to violence against black people during our struggle for civil rights. Wish TB could explore something like this within the show. It would be interesting to analyze how someone from a marginalized group might handle the power of being a vampire. Would racism translate to the supernatural world?

Andrea: Tami, that would be too much like right and, considering what we’ve seen so far, Ball would drop the ball. Furthermore, you know full well the moment would be reduced to Sookie’s nymph ass hollering about how we’re all post-supernatural or something.

Joe, hold on….you mean this Alan Ball is that Alan Ball? Oh see….this little Black girl’s face says everything I feel about Mr. Ball right now.

Joe: Pfffthhh!

Thea: I was happy that there was quite a bit of comedy in this ep. “I never really thought I was smart enough to get depressed.”

Joe: “But, here I am.” I thought that was really endearing to hear Jason say that.

Andrea: As pearl-tastic as Sophie-Ann’s been these last two eps, her being in a cage? So not the comedy.

Tami: Someone on my Twitter feed wondered if “I want you to taste my biscuits” might become the new euphemism for “the nasty.”

Andrea: That’s my new come-on line.

Thea: Ha!