Let me make this clear right from the outset: I am a fan of the HBO series True Blood. Though I wait for the DVD release each year, as opposed to watching the airing on HBO, I am nonetheless a serious fan who loves this show. One of the things programming like this does is make it difficult to continue from season to season with the same intensity, exciting story, and entertaining moments. Yet, there is a reason premium television networks such as Showtime, Starz, and HBO are producing some of the best entertainment on any screen, be it television or theatrical; their writers and film makers have found ways to keep their series fresh with memorable characters who, over time, experience details and specifics of life that most any viewer can relate to, because in some ways, the characters on screen have become larger than life. Season 4 of True Blood is no exception and the ability of this program to mature and advance is one of the reasons True Blood is among the most anticipated, enjoyable, and entertaining programs out there.
One of the most entertaining aspects in regards to recent television is that, with the advent of digital filming and editing practices, much of what we see, from a visual perspective, is just as good as anything we see on the big screen. The problems often lie in the ability of the writers to present quality story. One of the benefits of a team of writers (some of them new and upcoming), on shows like True Blood, is that it ensures a fresh, intriguing, and entertaining approach. Quality film makers are incorporated in the making of quality programming, which allows for character development. While some will think the special effects, horror, and sexual scenes are what such programs are all about, they couldn’t be further from the truth. While those elements exist (these are, after all, adult programs), the heart of the programs is story. That doesn’t exclude the reality that
One of the interesting aspects of this season is the inclusion of new characters, scenarios, and challenges. These range from relational challenges between Sookie, Bill, and Eric, and the inclusion of Fiona Shaw as Marnie Stonebrook, a witch who brings some of the show’s characters into a coven which will challenge the powerful Vampires of Louisiana with the threat of extinction. While Shaw is one of the weaker characters in the series, she is still a strong character, who develops and improves over the course of the season. Other strong aspects of character development include the relationship between Sookie, Eric, and Bill (who has become King of Louisiana). It is intriguing in regards to their relationship, there is also the love/hate relationship between brothers Sam and Tommy. And Jason, Hoyt, and Jessica deal with friendship, love, and broken relationship. That is just to name a few. It is one of the things that make a series like this work; there can be an ensemble cast with various story lines and they all work because there is opportunity to develop each character and the relationships they are in. This season, there is each of these situations and more. They help the story evolve to a heart pounding, confusing, frightening, and shocking conclusion which is among the best conclusions of any series filmed in many years.
This season of True Blood embodies the concepts of working together, facing challenges, and overcoming evil. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Especially when considering that a part of that challenge is seeing vampires as potentially good. While there are good and bad vampires in True Blood, we see some of them as more human than not. Among the challenges are those of the walking dead, the reality of death, eternity, and the search for God. We see one vampire constantly search for truth in the reality of God, while another considers himself an Atheist. There is even a vampire, Jessica, who was active in her youth group at church, prior to becoming a vampire.
We see some of the struggles of Jessica’s Christian upbringing, along with her challenges of being forced into a reality that is contrary to her spiritual upbringing. While we don’t see any strong Christian characters, we do see the dilemma of living out one’s faith in a dark world. We also see the potential of good among people other than those coming from Christian environments. We also see the manipulation of such worlds with deceit among characters, even at times, those characters we see as good. This is a reminder that there is as much potential for evil as there is good among people. Each person is a blend of good and evil and it is the choices they make which determine the reality and the consequences of their lives. There is no doubt as to the conflict between evil and Christianity in True Blood, as can be seen from the opening sequence to the series. The realities of life and death and the eternal are clearly presented.
While True Blood takes on more of a humanistic perspective in its presentation over that of a faith concept, the challenges, confusions, and lives of the characters and their dilemmas are likely one of the reasons people enjoy the program. Of course there is the Messiah character in this year’s episode, Jesus (using the Spanish pronunciation), who offers up love, forgiveness, and sacrifice for the salvation of others. One of the unique aspects about this character which many may have issue with is his homosexual relationship with Lafayette. This shouldn’t take away from his sacrifice and willingness to battle evil, even conquering evil in order to bring about good.
In some ways, True Blood has become like a church where people check in each week to see the lives of the characters on screen that are going through the same issues they are. We see the good and bad, right and wrong decisions in the lives of those characters. They can be seen in a positive way, because we also see the consequences of actions. We see this especially in the concluding episode of the season. There are prices to pay for the decisions the characters have made and there is the reality that sometimes, there is little time, if any, to correct the mistakes made. We are reminded of the need to make good of the mistakes we have made and to let those we love know we love them. While there is the reality that sometimes the dead continue living, there is a time for the dead to move on and a finality to life on this earth. In death, the living will once again be with those who have died.
In the real world, outside of the flat television screen, one is reminded of the need to live life and prepare for life after death. While some may see life as a ‘living in the moment’ experience, others see life as one that involves not only the moment, but the things that can be changed by the life one lives. The concept of faith is one of the struggles the character Sookie faces and her struggle is one many can relate to. There are people to love, situations to impact, and a brighter better future where one can provide for others. We see that in her example there is no right or wrong answers, at least that she has discovered. Just like the characters in True Blood, many of us may engage on our own journeys as to what is truth and right. That struggle is one many can relate to because many have been involved in that search for truth. It is likely one of the reasons many are drawn to this series.
The inevitable search for life, the truth involved, and the spiritual answers we are all looking for. Sure there is violence, sex, action, and more, but those are only mirror representations of reality. The search for friendship, longing, and purpose though, whether the character be a vampire, witch, shapeshifter, werewolf, werepanther, fairy, human, gay, straight, Christian, atheist, poor, or wealthy, is displayed quite well in True Blood. There may be a savior awaiting us all named Jesus. While that Jesus will certainly have differences from the character in True Blood, the salvation, love, and sacrifice is still there if we are willing to look. While many may be critical of the components of the show they don’t like, I would hope one would focus on the truths presented in the show that draws people in masses to watch it.
I was initially concerned with where the story was going in Season 4. I wasn’t crazy, especially at first, with the incorporation of the witch story line, but, as the story developed the other story lines took over and the witch story line improved. I especially liked the focus on the various characters. While I had the Blu-ray version of the DVD to preview, complete with a digital download, and the regular DVDs, I didn’t see the necessity of the Blu-ray outside of the special features. I must say, those special features make the purchase of the Blu-ray variation worth it.
The special features on Season 4 are simply put, the best and most enjoyable special features on any DVD I have ever viewed. While there are some good features that resemble other features of the past, like the making of features, the enhanced viewing features are so much worth it! It is the first time that I have gone back to watch every enhanced version on any DVD. I wanted to see more because they actually add so much more to the story, even for those who have watched the seasons in the past.
True fans of the show will be glad they purchased the Blu-ray version just to see the additional background and story added in various ways, including new filmed segments with character commentary. My daughter, who has read all of the books, stated that she felt the fans of the books would appreciate the enhanced viewing more because there is detail about some of the minor characters and situations in the series that go back to the book story line. I realize there are those who don’t have a Blu-ray player, but features like this are one of the reasons Blu-ray won’t die. Some fans enjoy the special features and at present, many of those features can’t be included in a digital format. While the Manufactures Suggested Retail Price for the Blu-ray DVD is high, $79.98, one can buy this at various online stores and discount box stores for around $50. For the fan of the show, it is worth it, and if you don’t have the Blu-ray player, it is worth buying one as you will enjoy it for this series, and likely more to come.
Many will enjoy True Blood Season 4. While I would personally recommend getting the series from season 1, there is enough background with this season, especially with the enhanced versions, that one could start their viewing experience here. I also think the questions of what is good, bad, and the consequences of the decisions one makes are worthwhile topics and are topics one will think about after the initial entertainment is over. I can’t wait for Season 5 and if HBO wants to help out with the monthly premiums, I would love to review it on a week to week basis, otherwise, I am already anxiously waiting for the next season to be released on DVD.