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True Blood hasn't been anyone's favorite show in a while. The once-addictive guilty pleasure is now a Hershey's Kiss from last year's Valentine's Day, a stale hunk of confection whose reappearance in your life inspires little desire to consume. And the show's writers -- led during the first five seasons by creator Alan Ball and these last two by Brian Buckner -- have no one to blame but themselves for the facts that viewership is half of what it used to be and critical reception has melted into a puddle of sticky sop as messy as a staked vampire. That's what happens after spending three seasons erecting bridges to nowhere through complicated storylines that never pay off (whither Bill's convergence with Lilith?) and superfluous characters that are introduced only to be killed off (e.g., every Authority character ever except boss-bitch Nan).
And yet, despite all odds, True Blood has provided one very good reason to stick with the show through its final ten episodes (or revisit it after a justified abandonment): the deathwatch to see who survives Bon Temps, and who doesn't. The introduction of Hep V to the True Blood universe has already led to the startlingly abrupt deaths of Tara (Rutina Wesley) and Alcide (Joe Manganiello), the vampire best friend and werewolf boyfriend, respectively, of protagonist Sookie (Anna Paquin) -- two super-powered characters who should have been able to defend themselves but quickly succumbed to the newly dystopian levels of violence in their small Louisiana town.
The TB-like Hep V is also responsible for the slower demises of vampires Eric (Alexander Skarsgaard) and Bill (Stephen Moyer), and as a viewer who's sat through every single episode of this show and slowly watched the characters morph from lovable Southern Gothic caricatures to unrecognizable strangers whose whims don't make a lick of sense (remember Nice Eric?), it's damn near impossible to resist the near-nihilistic wish that all the characters would meet the true death. (Well, Pam, Jason, and Lafayette can live; True Blood hasn't made a complete brute out of me.) It's not that I hate the characters; it's just that years of poor writing and cast bloat have deadened my affection for them.
In fact, the last five episodes of this final season have played out like a reality competition akin to Survivor or American Idol. Rather than see how the latest iteration of the Sookie-Eric-Bill love triangle plays out, the overarching tension in the show now stems from who will survive the final season as the cast continues to whittle down in the remaining five episodes. Like Joffrey's surprise death in the second episode of this past season of Game of Thrones, the sudden ends of Tara, Alcide, and minor villainess Maxine Fortenberry (Dale Raoul) established a wonderful precedent in displaying the writers' newfound ruthlessness.
True Blood is rightly jeered for ending every episode on a false cliffhanger that usually gets resolved in the first few seconds of the following episode, but now the possible mortality of even longtime characters, like Arlene (Carrie Preston) in the fourth episode, actually feel real. The most recent episode, "Lost Cause," (July 20) amped up this sense of genuine peril by ending the episode with three lives hanging in the balance: those of the now-diseased Bill and fan favorites Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and Sarah "I'm not a monster; I'm a Buddhist" Newlin (Anna Camp).
And like a reality show, the remaining characters move on too quickly for any casualty to really matter -- there's always another twist, another challenge. True Blood has never been a show that takes death seriously anyway; its most affecting loss took place way back in Season 1, when Sookie and Jason's Gram Adele (Lois Smith) was found butchered in her kitchen. Likewise, Tara, Alcide, and Ms. Fortenberry received the hastiest of eulogies from the show; a few words were said at a hoedown in Sookie's house where everyone got gleefully drunk pretty quickly just a few days after much of the town was massacred. Because the show doesn't care to mourn its own characters, it makes the imminent deaths of its characters that much more of a game of deathwatch.
Some shows deserve to be hate-watched; a pompous and self-important show like The Newsroom, for example, deserves the kind of specific mocking that only a careful analysis can yield. True Blood's absurd terribleness (like that time Jason was raped by a pack of meth-addicted werepanthers) was always fodder for that traditional ilk of snarky hate-watching. But most viewers -- those not obsessed with live-tweeting, for example -- would probably rather just change the channel. True Blood's kill-happy final season, though, offers a different kind of hate-watching: a purging farewell to characters we once loved, then were confused by, then just mindlessly stared at out of habit as they stripped down to expose their sculpted hardbodies and made out with other people with hardbodies for no discernible reason.
The years-long descent of True Blood into endless tangles of plot and a never-ending merry-go-round of musical beds has meant watching once thriving characters like Tara, Eric, and Lafayette wither away. Tara's currently a vision, Eric has narrowed his sights to Sarah Newlin, while Lafayette is now reduced almost entirely to snapping his fingers and comforting troubled white people. Even now, with so much to wrap up and just five episodes to go, the writers continue to put the characters through the perpetual-motion machine of plot, engineering romantic reunions between Sookie and Bill (yawn) and Jessica and Jason (been there, done that) even if those relationships no longer make sense for those characters.