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True Blood Has Shape-shifted Into Its Own Multiple Spinoffs

True Blood has never been a show particularly concerned with pacing. Some seasons drag for eight episodes then explode (season two); some start strong and go off the rails (season four). Some characters vastly overstay their welcomes, like this season's Nora, or Debbie, or Crystal. Some never quite get enough to do, like Pam. But this season of TB has been bonkers, even by the show's own bizarre standards. This season, True Blood hasn't been an ensemble drama — it's been an anthology.

Are all these stories going to crash into each other at some point in Sunday's finale? Oh, one hopes. So far, Bill's Lilith fanaticism hasn't had much to do with Sookie's fairy heritage, which has had nothing to do with Sam and Luna, who have barely spoken to Alcide, who hasn't seen Eric since episode six or so; Tara and Pam are off in their own little world; Jessica, Hoyt, and Jason are off in theirs. Hey, remember Lafayette? Does Alcide know who Salome even is? Has Luna ever heard the name "Godric"? How are these people all on the same show? Is this a show about the dangers of religious extremism, a soapy subversion of stories of domestic terrorism, the adorable hijinks of stowaway shape-shifted mice who are trying to rescue a werepuppy? It's all those things! And more! More stories, more characters, more majestic, blood-drenched pubic hair!

Not all these chapters are bad. Some of the vampire stuff has been particularly gross and silly, fulfilling the show's weekly quota of bloodfucking and smoldering stares. Its real strength has been that it's the one plot that involves change: Bill is becoming radicalized, shifting from moody gentleman to chronically baffled Lilith devotee. The flip side has been Sookie, long the weakest character on the show, and now even less compelling because she's staying exactly the same. A lot of pleading, a lot of confusion, a lot of claiming not to know who Ke$ha is, and occasional toughness, particularly when it comes to killing people in her house — we've seen it over and over and over, from the pilot on. Even Tara, who should seem like she's going through huge changes on account of being turned into a vampire, still feels like same old Tara. It's a step up from cage-fighter Tara, but not by much. How can a show about vampires, werewolves, and muscular soft-core porn be this boring sometimes?

Because its stories happen in parallel, not in tandem. This season might as well have been ten separate spinoffs and two "reunion" episodes, given how much the characters have had to do with each other. We'd happily watch Coming Right Up, With Arlene and Lafayette, which would no doubt be light years better than their subpar story arcs this season. We'd probably skip Sheriff Andy and the Case of the Paternity Testing, because who cares, though maybe we'd drop in on Werepuppies: Shape-Shifter Academy every now and then for cuteness purposes. Tech Corner with Molly, sure. Zingers and Romance, staring Russell — season pass. It's just not clear that all these spinoffs add up to a whole season of True Blood.

Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO